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Çelebicihan Remembered: Eyewitness Accounts
Mubeyyin B. Altan
The first and only democratically elected president of Crimean Tatar people, Numan Çelebicihan was brutally murdered by his Bolshevik captors on February 23, 1918. He was assassinated at the prime of his life when he was getting ready to take his nation to new heights. He instantly became a legend among his people when the news of his murder in Akyar (Sevastopol) prison reached Akmescit (Simferopol), the capital of the independent Crimean Republic.
Crimean Tatars continue to mourn his tragic death to this day. They only know him from the few existing photographs. What kind of person was he? What did he look like? The founders of the Crimea Foundation in New York, Fikret Yurter, Mehmet Sevdiyar and Mubeyyin B. Altan, had the opportunity to meet and interview three elderly Crimean Tatars in 1972, who had personally seen Çelebicihan prior to his tragic assassination. This was a brief but historic interview with the late Hamide Bektöre who remembered Çelebicihan's student days in Istanbul; Mustafa Altuner, an elderly Crimean Tatar who had the opportunity to meet Çelebicihan on multiple occasions in Bahçesaray; and Halime Balıç who had seen him briefly right after his election as the President of Crimea in 1917 in Alushta, Crimea.
The following personal memoirs are from the 1972 audio recording (in Turkish), now part of the archives of the Crimea Foundation. Translated into English by the author of this article, they provide rare eyewitness accounts of Numan Çelebicihan by three Crimean Tatars who had seen him before and after his election as the first president of Crimea. His death was an enormous loss for the Crimean Tatar people who desperately needed his leadership to grow as a nation. Nearly ninety years after his death, the ever-suffering Crimean Tatars remain a divided nation, and continue to yearn for his leadership. May Allahís blessings be upon him!
Hamide Bektöreís Description of Numan ÇelebicihanHamide Bektöre was the wife of Şevki Bektöre, one of the beloved national poets of Crimean Tatars. She was interviewed in her Brooklyn (New York) apartment by the Crimea Foundation members in 1972. The following is a summary of her description of Çelebicihan:
I was sixteen years old when I first saw Numan Çelebicihan in Karagumruk (Istanbul). We used to stay at our relative Mehmet Kahraman agabeyís konak (house) in Karagumruk. I remember as if it was yesterday when I first saw him passing by our relativeís house. Physically he was medium height and athletically built, dark hair with a slight mustache. He always walked with powerful steps (sert adimlarla), always looked serious, and wore a huge bow tie. My sisters Esma and Ayse were older than me and they used to wait for him and watch him from behind the special windows of the house. He was wearing a special bow tie, which stood out and caught the attention of the girls. Whenever Çelebicihan appeared nearby, Ayse ablam used to yell out: "Yel yepelek, yelken kobelek, which likened his bow tie to a butterfly (Kobelek) and sail (yelken)....
How Mustafa Altuner Remembered Numan Çelebicihan
The late Mustafa Altuner, a respected member of the Crimean Tatar community in New York, was one of the fortunate Crimean Tatars who had met Numan Çelebicihan personally several times. The following is a summary of the brief interview the Crimea Foundation had with him in 1972.
I first met Numan Çelebicihan in Bahçesaray in 1912. He had just returned to Crimea from Istanbul after graduating from law school and stayed at Ismail Gaspiraliís house. He attended a popular play "Olacakka Çare Olmaz" (What Will happen Will Happen) by Seyit Abdullah Ozenbasli and I first saw him at that play. He was there with his friends and he impressed me as a very confident, articulate and respectful person.
Halime Balıç Remembered Numan Çelebicihan
Halime Balıç was an elderly member of the Crimean Tatar community in New York. She was interviewed in Queens, New York, in 1972. She did not have detailed information, but her brief description of Çelebicihan confirmed the above two descriptions.
I was born in Korbek, Crimea. My fatherís name was Ablakim and motherís name was Sefika. After my marriage we moved to Akmescit (Simferopol) where most of my life was spent. I personally saw Numan Çelebicihan only once in Alushta, Crimea. I was a young middle school student there. Çelebicihan had come to Alushta after his election as President of Crimea to meet the people and express his thanks. I remember that there was a huge crowd that had come to greet him and among them were teachers from all the towns of Yaliboyu (Littoral of Crimea). I saw him arriving with his wife and some of his friends such as Habibullah Odabas, Bekir Odabas and others. He had delivered a thank you speech but it was so long ago that I donít remember the details of his speech. I remember him as a medium built, dark-haired man. I also remember his partvel (brief case), made of dark leather with silver ornaments. We were told that he was going to a meeting at the Livadya Palace.
* Translator's note: Historical sources indicate that about 3,000 Crimean Tatar cavalrymen were also engaged in the battle with the Bolshevik forces. Because the event took place a long time ago, the interviewee likely had forgotten the details of this military conflict.
Posted: 18 February 2005
ICC Web site includes the following additional documents and articles on Numan «elebicihan: