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Book Review

Dream Land:
One Girl's Struggle to Find Her True Home

By Lily Hyde
London: Walker Books, Ltd., 2008

Papa! Mama!...Lutfi, come quickly! But no one came except the bulldozer. There were about five men hanging out the sides of the cab, shouting drunkenly. Behind, the cars came to a halt, and more came out. Safi recognized many of them...The bulldozer came towards the house. The men whooped and yelled over its grinding roar...'Papa!' Safi shrieked. She ran from the woods and out in front of the bulldozer, waving her arms...'stop, oh, please go away!'.... The bulldozer came on. The men driving it were drunk and wild; too late, she realized they had not even seen her. The blade of the bulldozer was right upon her. They were not going to stop.... The roar of the bulldozer and the splintering of crash as it drove into their house. The walls cracked and split. The roof sagged.
For a moment it was a struggle between the bulldozer and the house. Then the bulldozer won, and in a crumble of stone and cement, the house collapsed... (pp. 234-235)

Safi's attempt to save the house her family built with great difficulties and sacrifice, by throwing herself in front of a roaring bulldozer driven by drunken men, reminds us the "Alushta Incident" of 1992 when a group of chauvinist local residents, encouraged by local authorities, attacked a Crimean Tatar settlement.

Dream Land This is the story of a twelve year old Crimean Tatar girl Safinar (Safi) Ismailova and her family's valiant struggle to build their new home and start a new life in their ancestral homeland. Lily Hyde, a British journalist, in Safi(nar)'s struggle, actually tells the compelling story of the entire Crimean Tatar nation's struggle to regain their human and national rights in a simple but eloquent language.

Having the privilege of reading the pre-published version of Dream Land under the title Crimean Salt, I was pleased and pleasantly surprised to see Dream Land as the finalized title of this fascinating novel. Crimea has indeed been the Dream Land for hundreds and thousands of Crimean Tatars ever since the annexation of Crimea by Czarina Catherine II on April 8, 1783 that forced them to leave their beloved homeland.

Author's dedication of her book, "For the Crimean Tatars," is indeed a nice gesture that shows her deep concern for this still suffering people. Lily Hyde in her 278-page and 25 section novel with the story of Safinar informs her readers about the socio economic and political issues such as the land, educational, and housing problems currently facing the Tatars population in Crimea today.

The journey that Safinar and her family began in 1992, leaving their fairly comfortable life in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, and then trying to resettle in her khartbaba's (grandfather) village Adim Chokrak near Bakhchisaray for months, is poignantly told by the author. Safinar's family is forced to occupy the land illegally where they start building their home which is the same process used by hundreds and thousands of Crimean Tatar families. It is highly important and critical to emphasize that before they illegally occupy the land Crimean Tatars go through all legal channels and wait in many instances not for months but for years to obtain their land. This point is made clearly by the author:

Papa (Safi's father) and Mehmed, with Mehmed's brother, Ibrahim, and their cousin, Refat had petitioned the authorities in Bakhchisaray for months to give them back the land where Grandpa's village had stood. (When the authorities ignored their petition) these men were helping Papa build the first home at Mangup, and when it was finished, they would work together to build the rest so that their families could come home too.... (p. 50)

The author in a fluid language, tells Safi's argument with her history teacher at her school. Safi notices the omission of Crimean Tatar names from the list of "Partizan-guerrilla" fighters who fought against the Nazi forces in Crimea. She tells her teacher that Crimean Tatars also fought against the enemy to protect the Soviet motherland which infuriates her history teacher. How Safi faces a serious discrimination at school and also on the school bus is another example of multiple problems the returnees encounter in their struggle to resettle in their true homeland.

My trepidation was about the handling of one of the most critical issues, the issue of "collaboration with the enemy" by a non-Crimean Tatar author. Would she be able to convince her young readers that "collaboration with the enemy," the official Soviet allegation for deporting Crimean Tatars en masse, was just an allegation even the Soviet authorities admitted? In Section 10, for example, the author tells the story of how Ismail aga's (Safi's grandfather) cousin Khatije had joined the "Partizans" and fought against the Nazi forces. The author summarizes Khatije's actions as:

...Khatije was a hero, wasn't she?
She helped blow up bridges. She ambushed a whole German Battalion outside Sevastopol. When she was caught, she never told the fascists anything, and they hanged her.... It is all in the official records, if you know how to look. You have to know, because she is not called Khatije in the records; she is called scout Katya. All the Crimean Tatar names have been changed to Russian ones.... (p.112)

Dream Land includes many interesting aspects of Crimean Tatar history as in the following few examples:

  • In Section 13, with the story of Alim Aydamak, the Crimean Tatar Robin Hood, the author gives her young readers a taste of Crimean Tatar folklore. Lily Hyde also cleverly has Safi's Grandfather point out the importance of coffee in Crimean Tatar culture in his story of "Kahve degirmeni and Cezve" - Coffee Grinder and Coffee pot.
  • In Section 3, pp. 34-36, the story of how one of the most prestigious learning institutions, Zincirli Medrese, is converted to a mental hospital,
  • In section 20, how the anniversary of Surgun-Mass Deportation is commemorated in Crimea,
  • In Section 21, the Arabat Incident- the tragic story of the Crimean Tatar from a few fishing villages on the Arabat strip in Azov Sea who were, by mistake not deported on May 18,1944.
  • In Section 19, you'll meet Arkady Yakubovich, a Russian born in Alupka who spoke better Crimean Tatar than Crimean Tatars, who said: "...remember how we all spoke Tatar here, before the war?...Crimea was never the same after you Tatars left...."
  • In Section 12, the story of Zarema whose husband Remzi, a veteran of Crimean Tatar National Movement, left her and returned to Uzbekistan because he could not handle the stress of being subjected to all kinds of problems, such as waiting for land, unemployment and police brutality.

The author states that "Crimean Tatars never ceased to call Crimea home" and goes on to tell Safi's and her family's compelling story of struggle and suffering for just to be in their only home, Crimea. When the family tea house, chaykhane, is finally completed the following words of Safi's father Asim puts it all in perspective: "...Now I know we're home...Our very own tea, brewed on our very own land, and drunk in our very own chaykhane...." (p. 58). One of the strongest statements in regards to Crimean Tatars' attachment to their homeland belongs to Safinar's grandfather Ismail aga who states:

"When the Soviet soldiers took us away in 1944, they couldn't have known what they were doing.... They said we had betrayed them, but it was them that betrayed Crimea. By deporting us Tatars, they cut out its soul. All those years in exile, we kept ourselves alive by tending the soul of Crimea... (pp. 38-39)

I express my gratitude and many thanks to Lily Hyde for introducing the plight of the Crimean Tatar people to her young readers throughout the world, and to Amnesty International for endorsing this fascinating novel, the story of the Crimean Tatars. I strongly hope that Dream Land is translated into as many languages as possible (with the aid of UNESCO) so the young readers throughout the world can learn about the plight of an indigenous people who were subjected to genocide by the Soviet Government sixty five years ago but never lost their "Crimean Soul," and continued to fight and are still fighting for their human and national rights brutally taken away from them.

I sincerely hope that Lily Hyde, the esteemed author of Dream Land will continue to write about Crimean Tatars, and for her next project she consider the story of thousands of other Safi's who still remain in Central Asia and still dream about returning to their only homeland, Crimea, like Safinar Ismailova. Dream Land is available at www.amazon.com or the Publisher's Web site.

Mubeyyin Batu Altan

Posted: 10 February 2009


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