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On the 23rd of February of each year, the Crimean Tatars commemorate the anniversary of the tragic death of Numan Çelebicihan, the first president of the independent Crimean Republic. In January 1918, just barely two months after he was elected to lead his nation at the historic Kurultay of the Crimean Tatar people, the Bolshevik forces invaded Crimea. He was arrested and imprisoned in Sevastopol. On February 23, a firing squad of the Black Sea Fleet executed him and threw his body into the sea. The Crimean Tatar nation continues to mourn the brutal murder of its promising young leader at the age of 33. A lawyer by training and an elected Muftu (Muslim jurist) of Crimea, Numan Çelebicihan was also an accomplished poet. Among his well known poems are Savlikman Kal Tatarlik (Farewell Tatarness), Bastirik (Prison), and Ant Etkemen (I pledged)
Who was Numan Çelebicihan?
Numan Çelebicihan was born in 1885, in the village of Buyuk Sonak, in Congar region of Crimea. His father's name was Ibrahim Çelebi, a member of a well to do Crimean Tatar family. His mother also was from a well to do family, daughter of Cihansah Çelebi. He received his early education in his village. Afterwards, due to lack of opportunity, Çelebicihan was sent to Gulumbey Medrese, one of the well known medreses of that time, with the help of his uncles. Later on he was sent to Istanbul to further his education.
Numan Çelebicihan arrived in Istanbul in 1908, attended Vefa Lisesi (High School) and later Law School. He resided in Karagumruk section of Istanbul where a small group of Crimean Tatar students lived. One of the first organizations he founded, while a student in Istanbul, was "Yas Tatar Yazgiclar Ciyini" (Young Tatar Writers' Association). He founded this association with his friend Habibullah Temircan in 1910, and published his first literary works such as Karilgaclar Duasi (Swallows' Prayer), Altin Yarik (Golden Light) and Siirler Cunku (Collection of Poems). He was the original founder of "Crimean Tatar Student Association" and also "Vatan" (Homeland), which became the seed for the political organization "Milli Firka" to carry on the independent movement in Crimea during the most turbulent period in its history.
After graduating from Law School, Celebicihan returned to Crimea to get involved in the independence movement, and was elected to represent the Or region of Crimea in the upcoming historical Kurultay. He was one of the most popular delegates because of his young age and education he received in Istanbul. Soon during the historic opening of the Kurultay on November 26,1917, Numan Çelebicihan was elected the first president of the young Crimean Republic. When he selected his cabinet (among them Cafer Seydamet Kirimer), his entire cabinet was introduced to the Kurultay by the first temporary chairman of the Kurultay Haci Ali Efendi, the oldest delegate from Kapisxor, Sudak (who is the great grandfather of the author of this article). The long waited independence of Crimea lasted only till January of 1918 when the Bolsheviks took control of Crimea. Çelebicihan was among the first of the Crimean Tatar leaders to be arrested; he was arrested by the Black Sea Fleet Sailors and imprisoned in Akyar (Sevastopol). Shortly after, on February 23, 1918, he was taken from his prison cell and executed by a firing squad. His body was cut to pieces and tossed into the Black Sea.
Çelebicihan was not only the first president of the independent Crimean Republic and Mufti of Crimea, he was also an accomplished poet and writer. In addition to his aforementioned works, his poems such as Ant Etkemen (I've Pledged), Bastirik (Prison), Haygidi... (Oh for...), Savlikman Kal Tatarlik! (Farewell Tatarness!), Yolcu Garip (Poor Traveler), and Tilkiden Selam (Greetings from the Fox) are his most popular poems. Ant Etkemen became so popular that it became the lyrics of the Crimean Tatar national anthem, and according to Sevki Bektore, "... was sung for the first time during the historic Kurultay (1917)...." His most memorable poem, however, is Savlikman Kal Tatarlik which he scribbled on the walls of Akmescit (Simferopol) train station on his way to report to military service during World War I.
Yes, Numan Çelebicihan was savagely murdered eighty years ago, and the national struggle he contributed so much, unfortunately, still continues today. His people's struggle is yet to be recognized by the international community. The Crimean Tatars will someday be totally rehabilitated, and the Crimean Tatar people's human and national rights will someday be totally restored. The Crimean Tatar nation will, sooner or later, join the Community of Nations, properly recognized as a nation. When that day comes, the first statue that will be erected in the center of Akmescit (Simferopol) will be Celebicihan's.
To Çelebicihan and all the Crimean Tatar martyrs we say "Allah rahmet eylesin!" Let the Blessings of Allah be upon You! Your sacrifices will not be in vain!
Mubeyyin Batu Altan,
*Celebicihan's name, according to Sevki Bektore, a well-known Crimean Tatar educator, poet and political activist who had personally known him, is written as one word. In his popular article Antli Sehit** published in the journal Kirim in 1961, Sevki Bektore clarifies Celebicihan's name and states that it is the combination of his family name Celebi and first part of his maternal grandfather's first name Cihansah, hence Celebicihan.
[It should be noted here that Çelebicihan's name is generally spelled as Çelebi Cihan in published literature.-- Ed.]
** Antli Sehit is the speech prepared by Sevki Bektore who was going to deliver it during the commemoration of 43rd anniversary of Çelebicihan's martyrdom in Istanbul on February 26, 1961. Unfortunately Sevki Bektore had to leave the commemoration ceremonies due to sudden illness and this famous speech was read by rahmetli Ismail Noyan, the late father of our Idil Noyan Izmirli. (Kirim, No. 8, February 1961, p.169). Since he had known him personally I consider rahmetli Sevki Bektore's information to be the most credible. Therefore I used his speech, Antli Sehit, as my main source.
Presented below are three of his popular poems: Ant etkenmen (I've pledged), Savlikman Kal Tatarlik! (Farewell Tatarness!), and Bastirik (Prison). Ant etkenmen was translated by S.Ahmet Kirimca and published in The Tatars of Crimea; Return to the Homeland, Edward A. Allworth, Editor (p.74 ). Savlikman Kal Tatarlik and Bastirik have been translated by Mubeyyin Batu Altan, and are believed to be the first English translation and publication of these powerful poems.
SAVLIKMAN KAL TATARLIK (Farewell Tatarness!)
See also: Celebicihan's Opening Speech to Kurultay