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Emigration: "the Curse" of a Nation
A Poem by Hamdi Giraybay*

By Mubeyyin Batu Altan

The Crimean Tatars continue to struggle to regain their human and national rights, and most importantly their ancestral homeland, the Crimea. The current ongoing migration is from their places of exile in Central Asia to the Crimea. This is a new trend; for over two centuries they were forced to leave Crimea for various parts of the Ottoman Empire such as Romania, Bulgaria but mostly Anatolia, today's Turkey. The mass emigrations of Crimean Tatars constitute one of the most important periods in the Crimean Tatar history. The Tsarist authorities, who toyed with the Crimean Tatars by offering them independence from the Ottoman Empire, did not waste any time annexing this highly strategic peninsula and eventually forced the Turkic-Muslim Crimean Tatars to abandon their ancestral homeland. Abandoned they did; the Crimean Tatars left in large numbers, in waves. The emigrations of 1785-1790, 1798, 1812, 1833, 1856-1862 and 1898 are well known emigrations. There has been some research done on these emigrations, especially on the period of 1856-1862, the post Crimean War emigration during which over 800,000 Crimean Tatars left their homeland leaving most of their belongings behind. One of the most comprehensive works on Crimean Tatar emigrations was published by Dr. Ahmet Ozenbasli, Carlik Hakimiyetinde Kirim Faciasi Yahut Tatar Hicretleri (Simferopol, 1925). The question of emigration continued to occupy the minds of Crimean Tatars, as seen in the following poem written by one of the popular Crimean Tatar poets, Hamdi Giraybay. In this poem, which is a true story told by an elderly Crimean, Hamdi Giraybay deals with one of the major reasons of emigration: confiscation of Crimean Tatar lands. Poet Giraybay describes how the Crimean Tatar peasants were deceived by a newcomer, a Russian elite who took advantage of illiterate peasants. There had been hundreds and thousands of incidents such as the one described by Hamdi Giraybay, but there was no one to defend the Crimean Tatar peasants who ended up losing their land. The only way they could deal with this was by emigrating to "Aktoprak," the Ottoman Turkey. Even later, in the twentieth century "emigration to Turkey" was the way chosen to fight the Soviet oppression. The sad reality of all this is that there was practically no one to urge and convince the Crimean Tatars to remain in their homeland and fight against the oppressors. Emigration was, indeed, the "curse" of the Crimean Tatars; it cost them their homeland. Today, as we approach the twenty-first century, they remain as one of the very few nations still without a homeland. The Crimean Tatars are forced to struggle to return to Crimea and fight for their national and human rights. It makes one wonder what their status would have been, if the Crimean Tatars had not abandoned their homeland and were able to fight against their oppressors.


(H)icret - Emigration

by Hamdi Giraybay

This is a true story which happened in the village of Cavke, near Akmescit (Simferopol). It was told by a certain Cemil aqay to Hamdi Giraybay in 1923 in Istanbul. Giraybay wrote the poem on November 4,1923 in Istanbul. "Hicret" was first published in the Crimean Tatar journal Ileri in 1927, and most recently in Yildiz, a Crimean Tatar journal (in cyrillic letters). The following is a rough translation of "Hicret" from Crimean Tatar by Mubeyyin B. Altan.

One day a blue eyed infidel,
stormed into the village as fast as wind.
He wanted to meet the whole village at Kultepe.
Who knows who he is, or what he is?
What does this Kazak say? What does he want?
Let us go and hear him out.
Where did he come from? What did he come for?
Let us hear what has to say.
"I hope he is not Nabor; Oh, God! Please have mercy!"
said young fugitives (who were dodging the Russian draft)
Whatever it is, the folks got mellowed, and
the entire village gathered at Kultepe.
Finally the weird Kazak with bulging eyes,
arrived with the head of the village, galava.
In his own language he said a lot of things,
and praised the village folks :
" moya znayit Tatarin","Xorosho!".
" Soldat " Kadir listened carefully and translated:
This man came from Petersburg....
He has a few horses that he wants
to graze in our land just for a few months.
He is begging us to help him. In return
he also will help us and pay us in gold ...
He has come from St Petersburg. How should
a simple peasant know the customs of this stranger.
Sir galava (village chief) finally spoke: "Well
people, what do you say to this (proposal)?
Could he graze his horses in our land
just for a few months?"
Well it is "Nabor" time, let him graze them this
summer if that is all he wants.
This will keep him quiet for a while. Besides,
what can we say when the (galava), representative
of the government puts it this way. There is
no need for payment; perhaps he will give us a hand
when he returns to St. Petersburg.
He can ask the tsar to pardon the
young fugitives (draft dodgers). Let him
use his influence where he can.
With these thoughts, the entire village
agreed to his request, with one exception
Bekbar aqay who said:" He might
have a trick up his sleeve". But the
folks did not listen to Bekbar aqay.
Instead, they all fell for Kazak's sweet talk.

"Spasiba (thank you), spasiba! So xorosho(nice) you all are,
I really like you Tatars!"
Well now, the old certificates (of land ownership) is no longer valid,
you need to obtain new ones" he said.
"Sir Galava, what does this mean, is there really such a law?"
As soon as the translator Kadir finished his translation,
the stranger, angrily popping his eyes open, delivered
a long speech and said: "Of course, it is so, and
there is such a law.
You have only two months to have your certificates changed".
"Well, if we send our certificates to change,
they probably will lay around the office
for three months, at least. You are going there anyway;
Could you, Mr Kinyaz(Kazak) please do us
a favor, exchange these certificates for us"
said Ali Bay.
"Ok, Ok! give me the certificates,
I'll do it for you. Just show me where
your land is! Let me show them to Pristav-
he'll bring your new cerificates in a week."

"Thank you your highness, sir kinyaz,
for the favor you are doing us".
Then kinyaz and the galava collected the old
certificates; he left with all
the certificates in his pocket.
A few days later the grazing land
of the village was full of horses,
Not four, not five but over five hundred .

A few months later he got sick,
and died in St Petersburg.
He had brought his horses just
for few months; but
it has been a year, no sight
of any departure yet.
His next to kin came and shouted:
" I am the owner of these lands!"
He began measuring and marking (the land)
from the center of this town.
He did not touch only one land
which was the village's cemetery land.
Well, the old kinyaz had taken our
certificates, and changed them all
to his name. That is why his next to kin
entered our village as if he owned it all,
leaving the simple peasants without any land.

When one of Kinyaz's men entered,
the land of Kurtaqay, and tried
to measure what he owned as land;
It was the wife of Kurtaqay, Erzade
who stood tall against this intruding man.
She grabbed an iron rod used for measuring land,
Lifted up against the Zemzemer and said:
"I am sixty years old and until this day,
no one mistreated me!" And then she began
to chase the Zemzemer man.
She paid no attention to those who
begged her to stop. Kazak was in a daze and did not
know what to say except, "postoy, postoy!"
With all her anger Erzade said: "Postoy, mostoy,
I don't know and I don't care. No one can
cheat me and enter my land!"
Kazak realized finally that he was helpless
against Erzade who cried
and cried with anger all day long.

Towards the evening all the Kazaks
returned, spreading terror by yelling
"Tatarin(Tatars), if you oppose and talk,
You will be punished so severely
that no one will be able to walk.
With such threats thrown at them by infidels,
the villagers gathered after the Cuma prayers
when Molla said: "There is no life
for Muslims here in this land no more!
It is time to move to Aktoprak, there!
Katip aqay said with tears in his eyes:
"Icret (migration) is now a must,
from now on we can't stay in a land
owned by the enemy of our religion."
Thus the emigration soon began.
People began to leave their fatherland;
leaving their homes, even their barns
full of goods and grain behind.
The only one who opposed to Icret,
Bekbar aqay said: "Hey cemaat,
think about it first. Don't do it.
Don't leave your fathers' and ancestors' land.
Let us torch his (kazak's) palace,
what can he do to us.
He is only one against the whole village of us!
I had told you so,
I had told you not to trust!"
All the talk of Bekbar aqay, could not convince
the folks who said:
"It is Allah's will. It is the end, Ahir Zaman!
It is our destiny, our Kismet; food, no more
water for us to have no more !"
The whole village migrated, moved out
within just a month.
The homes turned into ghettos, where is
that lively town?
Even the birds, nested under the roofs,
screamed in pain.
Bekbar aqay remained to fight,
to fight against the Kazak,
the new owner of the land.
He never lost his dignity, never became a slave,
despite all the pressure put on by Kazak,
the new owner of the land.

Bekbar aqay died in his own bed,
in his own house,
in his fatherland.
He was buried in his own plot
in his own village's cemetery land.
His children and grandchildren
continued to fight, awaiting for justice,
justice for all.
They, at the end, were able to rebuild
a home on the vakif land.


Known as Hamdi Giraybay in Crimean Tatar literature, Abdulzaat Abdullatifoglu was born in Kefe (Feodosia) in 1898. He started writing poetry at a young age and later attended the University of Istanbul, graduating in 1926. His thesis was on the history of Crimea, with an emphasis on Crimean Tatar literature. He returned to Crimea that year. In 1928, he was arrested during the Soviet purges and was accused of being a nationalist. He died in a Moscow prison in 1930. — Ed.


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