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HISTORY AND CULTURE OF THE CRIMEAN TATARS ON THE INTERNET (*)

By Ayder Seitosmanov

Before I proceed to the main part of my presentation, I would like to give a short historical background on the Crimean Tatars.

The Crimean Tatars are the native people of Muslim faith inhabiting the south-eastern part of Europe. The state of Crimean Tatars was named as the Crimean Khanate, which was established on the Crimean peninsula in the 14th century. The 14th and 15th centuries were the peak of high development in the history and ethnic culture of the Crimean Tatars.

After the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Empire in the 18th century, the Crimean Khanate stopped existing. From that time until the tragic events of 1944, hundreds of thousands of Crimean Tatars were compelled to abandon their native land. At the same time, the historical and cultural heritage of the people was destroyed. By the beginning of World War I, the Crimean Tatars had been transformed into an ethnic minority on their native land. The final step in this long-term oppression and genocide was taken by the Soviet Government on 18 May 1944. On this day, the whole nation was deported to remote regions of Central Asia. This brutal and inhuman action resulted in the death of thousands of people. Shortly thereafter, all the place names on the peninsula, somehow connected to the Crimean Tatars, were changed. All books in the Crimean Tatar language were burnt, and schools and libraries were closed. In places of deportation, the totalitarian system established a cruel regime that violated elementary human rights. Practically, a huge prison for the whole nation was organized. In spite of cruel repression by the authorities, in the early 1950's there began among the Crimean Tatars a massive resistance which eventually became one of the main components of democratic opposition in the former USSR. The democratic struggle of the Crimean Tatars for their own rights lasted for nearly 40 years in a state which violated democratic laws. In the early 1990's, more than 250,000 Crimean Tatars returned to their historical motherland in Crimea. Here, in Crimea, there appeared a hope of the rebirth and preservation of the Crimean Tatars as an ethnic group. But the rebirth is impossible without an informational support of the process.

The idea of using modern information technologies for the accumulation and conservation of, and access to information about the history and culture of the Crimean Tatars appeared as far back as in 1995. The main idea is that it is necessary for Crimean Tatars to have access to information on Crimean Tatars themselves. However, before the practical realization of this idea, the following questions are to be answered:

Who are the potential consumers of this information?

We think we can divide them into three groups:

 

  1. Crimean Tatars living in Crimea. This group includes teachers and pupils of Crimean Tatar schools, students, and philologists. It should be mentioned that our program "Internet for Schools" is not just the provision of schools with an access to INTERNET. It is a specific method of improving the people's knowledge of their own history and culture. Meeting information requirements of this group is important since they are the people responsible for the preservation of Crimean Tatar ethnic culture.

     

  2. The Crimean Tatar diaspora in the USA, Turkey, Germany and other countries are playing an enormous role in reviving the culture and education of Crimean Tatars in Crimea. It would be a big mistake to neglect the role of the information support provided by this group.

     

  3. Another group of information consumers are those interested in the history and culture of Crimean Tatars due to different reasons. The Crimea, as a region with a rich history and specific geopolitical location, always attracted the attention of historians and politicians.

Where are the main information sources located?

Generally, in libraries of Russia and Turkey. Efforts to fund the Crimean Tatar Library in Simferopol (Crimea, Ukraine) and to develop its collections are continuing. Also considerable information is available in private libraries in Crimea.

There are also other questions:

What are the rules of access to information?

What are the criteria for setting the priorities for converting the various types of information into the electronic form?

The main goal of my organization, "Crimean Tatar Initiative," is to assist with the information supply (provision). To achieve this goal, we solve the problems of hardware support for schools and libraries, conduct training courses relating to the INTERNET, and form our own electronic resources.

We also actively participate in international projects relating to the expansion of information access to the culture and history of Crimean Tatars.

Of course, this is just the beginning of our activities, and we can speak of the following electronic resources concerning Crimean Tatars.

 

  • SOTA's WEB-site: www.euronet.nl/users/sota/krimtatar.html

    This is the first and the major home page on the Crimean Tatars. It was created by a historian, Mehmet Tutundji, Director of SOTA, a research center in Holland. This is a multiform, well structured, and regularly updated homepage. You can find a great deal of information there concerning the history, politics and culture of the Crimean Tatars.

     

  • Recently, we included a new section, Crimean Tatar Non-Governmental Organizations. This was a joint project of the Crimean Tatar Initiative and the Rebirth of Crimea Foundation, assisted by the International Committee for Crimea in Washington, D.C. Here one finds information about the various activities of public organizations. This material is also interesting as it provides one with an insight into the development of civil society in Crimea.

     

  • Another program in which we actively participate is the International project "Dictionary of Dissidents." This project, supported by the National Endowment for Democracy in the USA, aims to create a bibliographic encyclopedia of 1,000 persons, who in the 1950s thru the 1980s personified a democratic opposition in Eastern Europe and the USSR. One of the sections is on the Crimean Tatars. This homepage will be opened in July 1999. Due to the unique collection of material on this Web site, one will be able to get much information on the democratic struggle of the Crimean Tatars for their own rights.

While working with Crimean Tatar schools, we actively try to get the pupils themselves interested in creating school WEB-pages. This information is unique because nowadays there are only six Crimean Tatar schools in Ukraine. In a few weeks, we plan to place one of the home pages on the server of the ILIAC. During the annual conference "Crimea-99," we also plan to conduct a seminar, "Children on the INTERNET" in the Crimean Tatar school in Eski Kirim (Stary Krim).

We are also involved in a long-term project "Electronic library of Crimean Tatars." It is about collecting full texts and creating a detailed library about the Crimean Tatars by electronic means.

And now a word about our participation in the ILIAC project. Of course, we do not pretend to be working with enormous information resources as other regional partners of ILIAC do. But at the same time, the resources formed by our organization are unique, and may be of interest to other countries. We are looking forward to demonstrating the first results of our work at the "Crimea-99" conference.

At last, I would also like to say, with our professional and technical potential of "Crimean Tatar Initiative" Foundation, we readily assist other libraries of Crimea with the development of their electronic resources. As an example, let me mention our work concerning the creation of a WEB page of the library in Yevpatoria and a training seminar for university libraries that we are planning to offer in April.

 


(*) Presented at a conference, "Russian and CIS Electronic Resources: Full Current Survey and Forecast for Future," organized by the International Library Information and Analytical Center (ILIAC), March 11-12, 1999, Washington, D.C. Mr. Seitosman is the Executive Director, Crimean Tatar Initiative, Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine.


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