International Committee for Crimea

ICC, P.O. Box 15078, Washington, DC 20003.

HOME Recent Studies on Crimean Tatars SEARCH
 

Kemal Altintas of Bilkent University, Ankara, attended INET 2001: The Internet Global Summit, 5-8 June 2001, in Stockholm, Sweeden, and participated in a session titled "Indigenous and Diaspora Groups and the Internet." The following paper was submitted to INET and formed the basis of Mr. Altintas' presentation. For additional information on INET 2001: The Internet Global Summit, see: http://www.isoc.org/inet2001/index.shtml


e-TATARS: VIRTUAL COMMUNITY OF THE CRIMEAN TATAR DIASPORA

Kemal Altintas,1 Fevzi Alimoglu,2 Mubeyyin Batu Altan,3 Kursat Cagiltay,4 and Kemal Seitveliyev5

Abstract

The Crimean Tatars are Turkic people who have inhabited the Crimean peninsula for more than seven centuries. Beginning in 1783, under oppressive Tsarist policy, the Crimean Tatars began leaving their homeland and this continued thru the 19th century. With the 1944 deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar population by Stalin, it seemed that the Tatar presence in the Crimea was completely eliminated. After forty years of forbearance and persistent struggle, Crimean Tatars began returning to their homeland. Today Crimean Tatar communities are found in Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Germany, the United States, and Central Asia, especially Uzbekistan.

In the last decade, with the rise of the Internet, the Crimean Tatar Diaspora began using the Internet services to bring together the Tatars all around the world in an electronic environment. They utilize the Internet to publicize their cause to an international audience and have access to scholars, human rights activists, and journalists. Several Web sites and e-mail lists were created for this purpose, and even fundraising activities were initiated by e-mail. The Internet has changed the way the Crimean Tatars accomplish their political goals. We further argue that today there is a strong virtual Tatar Diaspora on the Net.

In this presentation we will describe in detail how the Internet has contributed to Crimean Tatar Diaspora's activities, how the situation was before and how the Net changed it. In addition, the future plans and projects will also be mentioned.

Key-Words: Crimean Tatars, Diaspora, Virtual Community


As my neighbors emigrate
As they drink their last cup of coffee
I would like to be there so that I can say "Stay!"
So that I can say "There is nothing like your homeland!"

Bekir Sidki Çobanzade
From Ah Tabilsam, Budapest, 1917

1. Introduction

The term 'Diaspora' originated from the Greek words dia (through) and speirein (to scatter). Even though this term is used in different ways, it is generally accepted that a 'diaspora' is a geographically scattered nation. The original Greek use of the term had a negative connotation, implying processes of dispersion and decomposition, or a dissolution into various parts (e.g. atoms) without any further relation to each other. If we look at the history of Crimean Tatars, we see that they experienced a similar dispersion and dissolution. Especially after the 1944 deportation, they were wiped out from their homeland and lost communication with the Tatar Diaspora in different countries. However, especially in the last 20-30 years, Crimean Tatars started to recover from this forced separation and dissolution.

In this paper, we intend to show the ways the Internet is helping Crimean Tatars to accomplish their political goals and the nature of the cyber community they have formed over the Net.

2. Crimean Tatars: History

Location of Crimea

Figure 1. Location of Crimea

The Crimean Tatars are native inhabitants of the Crimean peninsula, now a part of Ukraine (Figure 1). According to historians, they are considered to be descendants of Turkic peoples (e.g. Khazars, Petchenegs, Kipchacks), who had settled in Eastern Europe as early as the seventh century. The sixteenth century was the most powerful era in the history of the Crimean Tatars.

The Crimea was a very important part of a number of large Turkic states and empires such as Hun Empire, Khazar Empire and the Golden Horde. The Crimean Khanate, a successor state to the Golden Horde, ruled in Crimea and beyond from the mid fifteenth to the late eighteenth centuries. Following revolts and unrest, Russian Empire invaded and annexed the Crimea in 1783, officially ending the rule of the Khanate.

 

3. Crimean Tatar Diaspora

Under the oppressive Tsarist policies, Crimean Tatars began leaving their homeland. Emigrations to the lands of the Ottoman Empire continued thru the nineteenth century, especially after the Crimean War (1853-56), when hundreds of thousands of Crimean Tatars were forced to migrate in a short period. "Crimea without Crimean Tatars" was a Russian political goal, which was also adopted by the Soviet rulers.

It was estimated that between 1783 and 1920, some 1.800.000 Crimean Tatars were forced to emigrate to the Ottoman Empire and thus became a "minority" in their ancestral homeland. The Crimean Tatar population decreased to less than 300,000 on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Perhaps the most terrible date in the Crimean Tatar history is May 18, 1944. On that day and the following days, the entire Crimean Tatar population, mostly women, children and the elderly, was rounded up, taken to the nearest train station to be loaded onto cattle wagons, and shipped off to the Urals, Siberia and Central Asia (mostly Uzbekistan). Due to hunger, thirst, and disease, about half of the total Crimean Tatar population perished during deportation. The survivors of this tragic event were forced to live in "Special Settlement Camps."

Crimean Tatar Diaspora

Figure 2. Crimean Tatar Diaspora

The Crimean Tatars' national struggle for repatriation continued well into 1980s. During the Gorbachov years, the Glasnost and Perestroika (openness and restructuring) policy allowed the Crimean Tatars in exile to return to their homeland from different parts of the former Soviet Union.

Today, about 300,000 Crimean Tatars are living in Crimea, attempting to rebuild a new life and a new future. However, another 300,000 are still in exile in Central Asia, especially in Uzbekistan. There is an estimated five million people of Crimean origin living in Turkey, descendants of those who emigrated in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Other Crimean Tatar communities are also found in Romania, Bulgaria, Germany and the United States. (Figure 2) There may also be scattered small communities in almost every Western country.

4. Past: Communication with the Diaspora before the Internet

It is very unfortunate that the Western world and the Crimean Tatar Diaspora were unaware of the details of the remarkable national struggle of the Crimean Tatar people for quite sometime. The Soviet authorities skillfully kept the news from reaching outside the iron curtain until July 1969 when the Crimean Tatars held their first public demonstration in a Moscow square, which coincided with the Tashkent trials.6

July 1, 1969 marks a turning point in the history of Crimean Tatar National Movement. Ten Crimean Tatar dissidents went on trial in Tashkent, Uzbek SSR, for allegedly defaming the Soviet motherland. The transcripts of the Tashkent trials were smuggled out of the USSR and reached London, England. These transcripts provided a great deal of information on the plight of the Crimean Tatar people in the Soviet Union, not only for the western media, but also for the Crimean Tatar Diaspora. After learning more about the status of their compatriots' courageous fight against the Soviet authorities, a small group of Crimean Tatars in New York became actively involved in supporting the Crimean Tatar National Movement. 7

Before the Internet era and during the Soviet regime, phone contacts between leading Crimean Tatar political dissidents and diaspora members were extremely limited. In addition to the lack of telecommunication facilities in the USSR, there were other problems associated with the secrecy of dissident activities. For example, members of the Crimean Tatar National Center in New York gathered once a month and contacted leaders of the Crimean Tatars in the Soviet Union via telephone to find out the status of the national movement. Since the telephones were tapped, and the KGB usually listened to conversations, special code words were used to find out how things were progressing. For example, "How are the carnations growing in your garden?" meant, "How is the national movement going?" Carnation symbolized the national movement.

The use of regular mail was also very limited during that time, and especially for certain critical documents it was almost impossible to use the postal system. From time to time, the National Center in New York received documents relating to the Crimean Tatar National Movement that were smuggled out of the Soviet Union. Depending on the importance, these documents were either distributed to other organizations or published by the Center itself. For example, in the early 1970s a member of the National Center traveled to London to hand deliver some documents to the editor of the Chronicle of Current Events, a journal specializing in human rights movements in the USSR and Eastern Europe. During this trip the National Center learned that The Herzen Foundation in Amsterdam was planning to publish the Tashkent Trials. The New York group not only made a small contribution toward the publication but also provided translations from Crimean Tatar to Russian. The Taskentsky Prosess, published by the Herzen Foundation in 1976, is one of the extensive works compiled on the Crimean Tatar National Movement. Another striking example of limited communication between the Crimean Tatars in the Soviet Union and the diaspora involves the hunger strike of legendary Crimean Tatar leader, Mustafa Cemiloglu (Cemilev) in June 1975. A New York congressman was informed of the hunger strike after a two-month delay because of slow and clandestine nature of communications.

The above activities are some examples of how the Crimean Tatar Diaspora in the United States tried to support the Crimean Tatar National Movement in the Soviet Union during the pre-Internet era. They show how difficult it was to disseminate information during the most crucial period of the Crimean Tatar National Movement. It is also important to remember that all these activities were carried out by a handful of dedicated individuals who sacrificed a great deal of their time and effort to disseminate information about an extremely important cause, the survival of an ethnic group as a nation and people. It was a very difficult time because the means to inform the American and world public were very limited. Under the normal circumstances, all these activities enabled the Crimean Tatar Diaspora in New York to reach a small audience, 500 to 1,000 at the most. It took quite some time to get the political or other important messages out. There was no Internet then, and one could not sit in front of a small tube and reach out to a large audience to disseminate one's message.

5. Today: The Internet and the Communication with the Diaspora

In the mid 1990s, Crimean Tatars in Crimea and the Diaspora began using the Internet services to bring together the Tatars all around the world in an electronic environment. Today they utilize the Internet to publicize their cause to an international audience and have access to scholars, human rights activists, and journalists. Several Web sites and electronic discussion lists were created for this purpose, and even such activities as fundraising were initiated by e-mail.

5.1. Background

Similar to many other less developed parts of the world, Crimea also suffers from a lack of quality telecommunications infrastructure. Crimea had a very limited Eunet/Relcom connectivity at the beginning of the 1990s. In 1993, TUBITAK (Turkish NSF) attempted to bring Internet connectivity to a research center in Crimea with NATO funding. However this attempt was not successful for several reasons. Finally, in 1995, Crimean Tatars established the first e-mail connection by the Rebirth of Crimea Foundation in Bakhchisaray.

5.2. Crimean Tatar Internet Resources

5.2.1. Electronic Discussion Lists

Crimea-L is a moderated discussion list dedicated to Crimea and Crimean Tatar people. It is open to any interested individual who may wish to join it. It was established on 24 November 1998 by the International Committee for Crimea (Washington, DC), with the efforts of Fevzi Alimoglu, who remains the moderator of Crimea-L.

As of April 2001, Crimea-L has over 400 members. Since its founding, the membership has been increasing steadily, with 272 members on Sept. 5, and 336 members on December 31, 2000. An analysis of the membership list at the end of 2000 showed that at least 23 countries are represented on Crimea-L. While most members live in Turkey, U.S., Ukraine, Germany, and Russia, the group extends from Brazil to Estonia, and from Canada to Australia. Remaining countries include Norway, England, Holland, France, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Yugoslavia, Czech Republic, Romania, Israel, Uzbekistan and New Zealand. (There may be members from other countries, but it is not possible to determine one's country from e-mail addresses such as yahoo.com, aol.com or hotmail.com.) We believe that those who speak Turkish or Tatar form the majority. In an effort to reach all those interested in Crimea and Crimean Tatars, members continue to communicate in English and Turkish.

Crimea-L distributes announcements, news and messages relating to different aspects of Crimean Tatar history, culture, and social conditions and promotion of democracy in Crimea. It remains a major tool of communication among the Crimean Tatars and their friends. When Crimea-L first started, it was hosted by www.teklan.com.tr. The new provider, however, is Yahoo Groups (formerly eGroups.com). Crimea-L can be reached at:
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crimea-l 

In addition to Crimea-L, other mailing lists for the diaspora in Romania and Bulgaria have been established. For example, Tatar-ro is a list for the Tatars in Romanian, with the URL:
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/tatar-ro
and Tatar-bg is mainly used by Tatars in Bulgaria, with the URL:
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/tatar-bg

5.2.2. Major Web Sites

There are many Web sites that provide information about Crimean Tatars, their history and culture, and the current situation in Crimea. While several sites are sponsored by organizations such as SOTA (a research center in Haarlem, The Netherlands) and the International Committee for Crimea (Washington, DC), others are initiated and maintained by individuals.

a. Tatar.Net is a site intended to be a directory of Crimean Tatar resources on the Internet. It does not have any documents on site but provides links to ever growing information on the subject, as new sites and Web pages are launched almost weekly. URL: http://www.tatar.net 

b. The first Web site dedicated to Crimean Tatars, "Home of the Crimean Tatars," was established by SOTA in 1996. It contains information on the history, art, architecture, and culture of the Crimean Tatar people. URL: http://www.euronet.nl/users/sota/krimtatar.html 

c. The International Committee for Crimea, based in Washington, DC, also maintains a Web site that includes, brief reports, book reviews, scholarly papers, information about Crimean Tatar NGOs and related documents. URL: http://www.iccrimea.org 

d. A diaspora organization, Kirim Turkleri Kultur ve Yardimlasma Dernegi, in Ankara, Turkey, sponsors a very useful Web site in Turkish. URL: http://www.kirimdernegi.org.tr 

e. Among the Web sites maintained by individuals, Vatankirim.net is worth noting. Named after the Crimean homeland (Vatan Kirim), the site contains a lot of information about Tatar culture and history in Turkish. URL: http://www.vatankirim.net 

 

5.3. Access Figures about the Crimean Tatar Internet Resources

In order to give the readers an idea about the access frequencies of some of the major Crimean Tatar resources, some statistics are presented below. In one month, from March 14, 2001 to April 14, 2001, the Crimean Tatar Internet Resources, www.tatar.net, had 843 visitors, which amounts to 27.2 visitors per day. This site is completely devoted to Crimean Tatar issues, and presumably the visitors are interested in subjects relating to Crimean Tatars. The number of visitors per month rose from 325 in June 2000 (10.8 per day) to 726 in April 2001 (24.2 per day). These figures reflect only the number of hits for the front index page.

The number of visitors to the oldest site, "The Home of the Crimean Tatars," has been relatively steady between September 1999 and March 2001, with a monthly average of 1,119 (58.9 visitors per day). However, the number of hits jumped on May 18, 2000, the anniversary of the tragic deportation of Crimean Tatars by Stalin, making the total number of visitors for May 2000 equal to 2,438 (78.6 per day). These figures reflect the number of hits only for the front index page. As this page has lots of documents, the total number of hits for the site is assumed to be much higher.

5.4. Use of the Internet by Crimean Tatars

Most of the members of the Crimean Tatar diaspora, who left Crimea more than a hundred years ago, are not aware of the history of their ancestral land and the current situation in Crimea. Internet helps them to gather information about their history and culture as well as political and socio- economic conditions in Crimea. They can maintain contact with those Crimean Tatars who have returned to their homeland after forty years in exile. The information they gather from the discussion lists and the Web directs them to other sources, books, journals and related printed materials. After having gained some information from the Web, many seek other Crimean Tatars and want to get involved in the activities of their local organizations. Currently, the Internet is the main source for obtaining information about their culture, including folk songs. With the excitement aroused by finding the songs they heard from their grandparents on the Internet, for example, many try to reach for more and want to know more about their own people. (It is almost impossible to find such items in music or book stores in the countries where Diaspora lives.)

In the following section, we describe several cases that demonstrate the different uses of the Internet by Crimean Tatars.

5.4.1. Fundraising for the students in Crimea

With the special efforts of Ismet Yuksel, a fundraising activity was started thru Crimea-L, the electronic discussion list. The aim is to provide financial assistance to Tatar children living in Crimea, who are in extreme poverty. Some members of Crimea-L pledged to make a monthly contribution to support a needy child each. At the moment, hundreds of children are assisted, and additional pledges from individuals and organizations are expected. The announcements relating to the campaign are made through Crimea-L and the financial records of each sponsoring family or individual are sent through the Internet.

5.4.2. Resource and News Sharing

The Internet is widely used for fast information flow between Crimea and the Crimean Tatar Diaspora. For example, announcements of news, upcoming events and legislation, and reports are shared and issues concerning Crimean Tatars regularly discussed through the electronic lists. News about Crimea and Crimean Tatars are followed and collected by several centers in Crimea. They extensively use the Internet to collect information and publish on websites such as: http://www.qirim.mainpage.net and http://ru.internations.net/seda/

A private Web site, www.crimeanews.com, which used to carry news from Crimea both in English and Russian has recently ceased publication.

5.4.3. Gaspirali Web Sites by the "Gaspirali Group"

The year 2001 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ismail Bey Gaspirali (1851-1914), the famous Crimean Tatar leader, educator and publisher. As part of the activities planned to celebrate the life Gaspirali , two Web sites, in Turkish and English respectively, were prepared:
http://www.ismailgaspirali.org  and   http://www.iccrimea.org/gaspirali/
Members of the "Gaspirali Group," responsible for Web sites coordinated all work by e-mail, and some of the individuals involved in the project have never met in the real world.

5.4.4. Reports and Other Scholarly Work

Reports and articles about the history of Tatars, their struggle in the past and the current situation in Crimea are regularly published on the Web site of the International Committee of Crimea: http://www.iccrimea.org
These documents represent the work of Crimean Tatar, American, Turkish and Ukrainian researchers and scholars.

5.4.5. This Paper

This paper by itself is a good example of the productive use of the Internet by Crimean Tatars. The authors planned the paper, worked out the details of the content, and wrote it over the Internet by using different Internet services (e.g. e-mail, FTP, Web sites, etc.) While several authors know each other personally, others have only "met" each other on the net.

5.4.6. Meeting between the Delegation from Crimea and Diaspora Members in Toronto, Canada

A meeting between the Crimean Tatar community of Toronto, Canada, and a group of visiting Crimean Tatar leaders in December 2000 would have been impossible without the Internet. This meeting was entirely organized through the Internet. The news about the visit of the delegation was obtained from two different sources by e-mail, which was also the same medium for notifying the diaspora members.

6. Problems

It is clear that the use of the Internet by Crimean Tatars is restricted to a relatively elite group of individuals with higher socio-economic standing. The cost of electronic communication remains very high for most people in the world. In Crimea and Uzbekistan, especially, private use of the Internet is virtually non-existent. The average monthly income of a person in Crimea is $25-30 US, while the cost of Internet usage is $1-2 per hour. It is certainly beyond the means of an individual to afford a home computer and access to the Internet. The contact with Crimea is maintained thru the individuals who work at the various Crimean Tatar NGOs. The situation in Uzbekistan is even worse. In addition to harder economical conditions, the use of the Internet is kept under control. A report by Reporters Without Borders states that the Internet communication in Uzbekistan is strictly controlled and monitored by the government. In some countries like Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, the costs for individual users are consciously kept high to discourage them from using the Internet. 8

The differences in language and alphabet also pose another set of problems in communication. Many members of the diaspora and even some individuals in Crimea, for example, cannot speak Crimean Tatar. The Crimean Tatars who were born in the former Soviet Union speak Russian and even Crimean Tatar is written in the Cyrillic alphabet. Those who were born outside of the former Soviet Union use mostly the Latin alphabet and cannot read Crimean Tatar in Cyrillic characters. To facilitate communication among the various Crimean Tatar groups, alphabet converters between Cyrillic and Latin scripts are needed. Web-based converters from Russian to Western languages (e.g. English, German, French, Spanish, and others) are often useful for those who do not know Russian but can read these languages. There is no Russian to Turkish translator we know of, and such a tool would have a tremendous effect, making "a ton" of material automatically available to a large group of Crimean Tatar Diaspora who cannot read Russian.

7. Future

In addition to the previously mentioned activities of Crimean Tatars, there are ongoing and planned projects, based on several different Internet services.

A project involving "Machine translation between Turkish and Crimean Tatar" is still continuing in the Computer Science Department, Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey. It includes a morphological analyzer for Crimean Tatar language and a translation system from Turkish to Crimean Tatar. This will make many Turkish resources readable in Crimean Tatar.

There are also plans to publish a variety of resources in Crimean Tatar. In the near future, Crimean Tatar stories, poems, and song lyrics will be available in digital format. Such plans also include existing folk songs, recipes, photographs, and historical documents that will be published on the Web.

Providing different educational services for the students in Crimea is another major future activity. Through the use of synchronous and asynchronous services of the Internet courses and seminars of interest will be presented for the Tatars in Crimea. The involvement of economically disadvantaged Tatars in Crimea in Internet-based activities is another planned project. For this purpose computers and the Internet will be made accessible through the Crimean Tatar NGOs or other public facilities.

8. Conclusion

With the use of the Internet, Crimean Tatars living in diaspora no longer feel isolated. Electronic communication between the diaspora and homeland Crimea has been established. Through Web sites and discussion lists created by Crimean Tatars, one can obtain and exchange information about Crimean Tatar history and culture, and follow the news relating to Crimea. Stories, grievances, and demands of Crimean Tatars are disseminated instantly and worldwide. The Internet makes it possible to reach Crimean Tatars in different parts of the world that would have been impossible in the pre-Internet period. New relationships are formed daily, and the ability to form a network of individuals with similar concerns and hopes is important in defining a national identity. The existence of the Internet has finally provided the means for Crimean Tatars, scattered and exiled, to form a virtual community and to draw international attention to their cause.

Endnotes

1Kemal Altintas, Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey. E-mail: kemal@bilkent.edu.tr

2Fevzi Alimoglu, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA. E-mail: alimoglu@cns.bu.edu

3Mubeyyin Batu Altan, Institute of Oriental Studies, Kiev, Ukraine. E-mail: batu@prodigy.net

4Kursat Cagiltay, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA. E-mail: kursat@indiana.edu

5Kemal Seitveliyev, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA. E-mail: seitvel@fas.harvard.edu

6 Peter Reddaway, "The Crimean Tatar Drive for Repatriation: Some Comparisons with other Movements of Dissidents in the USSR." In: Tatars of Crimea: Their Struggle for Survival. Durham: Duke University Press, 1988, p. 196.

7 Mubeyyin B. Altan, "The Crimean Tatar National Movement and the American Diaspora," April 2001. See: http://www.iccrimea.org/scholarly/diaspora.html 
The section 4 of this paper is based on the above online article.

8 For an article by Reporters without Borders report, see: http://www.rsf.fr/uk/homennemis.html 

Additional Sources

Eren, Nermin, "Crimean Tatar Communities Abroad." In: The Tatars of Crimea: Return to the Homeland, ed. E. A. Allworth. Durham: Duke University Press, 1998. pp. 323-51.

Fisher, Alan. Crimean Tatars. Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1978.

Maksudoglu, Mehmet, "Tatarlar Kimdir?" Emel, No. 214, May-June 1996, pp. 22-29.

Rorlich, Azade-Ayse, "One or More Tatar Nations?" In: Muslim Communities Reemerge, ed. A. Kappeler, G. Simon, G. Brunner. Durham: Duke University Press, 1994. pp. 61-79.

Acknowledgement

We'd like to give special thanks to Mrs. Inci Bowman for the preparation of this paper. Without her help, we couldn't have finished it.


ICC Home Page