International Committee for Crimea
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Surgun Stories Series
By Serife Umer
I was born in 1936 in the village of Biten in Crimea. My father's name was Umer Akay, and my mother's name was Dudu. My father worked as the shepherd of the village, and my mother took care of the animals at home. My sisters worked in the kolkhoz. Our family consisted of 11 people. There were 14 people living in the house, with my sisters and their children. My sisters' husbands were in the army, fighting at the front during World War II.
We were also deported in 1944 along with the rest of our people. We were settled in the village of Cambay near the city of Samarkand in Uzbekistan. Members of our family who could not bear the extremely hard conditions started dying one by one. Only my mother and I were left, living in the stable of the Kolkhoz. In less than a month, my mother also got sick. When she fell gravely ill, she said to me "Light the lamps, my daughter."
Perhaps she thought I would be afraid of being alone. Losing all my family must have given me an enormous fear of being alone, a fear almost as intense as the fear of death. I did not light the lamp, as I did not want anyone to come and remove my mother. I went to bed and snuggled up to my mother's dead body. I did not want the neighbors to know that my mother had died. In the morning, I would stand in front of the door and tell them "My mother is very sick, please don't disturb her." I would not let anyone in. In the evenings, I went to bed again with my mother's body. Four days later, the neighbors realized that my mother had passed away, and pulled me out of her bed. Since that day, I have not been able to sleep at night. It feels as if I sit and wait for my mother. Instead, I take naps late in the afternoon.
After my mother's death, sister Emine sent me to the orphanage of our kolkhoz. Tesela Zeytullayeva, whom I had met earlier, worked there as an aide. She became a surrogate mother for me, however, in 1947 the Crimean Tatars employed in child care began losing their jobs. Tesela, who worked in our orphanage, was also laid off. She was like a mother to me, and I did not want to lose her. I begged her to take me with her, and she took me to her family.
After I graduated from middle school, I attended high school for trades in Samarkand. Like all Crimean Tatars, I always felt a yearning for my homeland Crimea. I managed to return to Crimea in 1972.
I met with a lot of hardship and cruelty in Crimea. We often endured being thrown out of our settlements, imprisoned, and beaten. Once I was so frustrated that I said to the police chief, Zolotov: "You are a fascist." He called the police officers and told them: "Put this woman in prison." They tried to drag me and push me into the police van, ignoring the fact that I was very pregnant. I was resisting, not wanting to get into the van, and hitting the people around me. When the people gathered on the street and tried to defend me, the police had to let me go. Later I heard from my friends that they took my photograph at the scene and posted in on the bulletin board for criminals. A few days later, I was taken to the hospital, where I gave birth to my baby. They did not show me my baby even after 15 days. I was told that my baby was very weak and that I could not see her. To this day, my child stutters and her hands shake when she gets excited. Perhaps my baby was affected adversely when the soldiers dragged me.
They refused to give me a job and a residency permit, because I was a Crimean Tatar and my photograph was posted to the bulletin board for criminals. They did not even want me to live there. We had to sleep in the street, as we had no home. You see, despite all the hardships endured, I continued to live in my homeland Crimea.
Translated into English by Inci Bowman.
Return to: Surgun Stories Series (Personal Narratives by Survivors or Eye-witness Accounts)
Posted: 27 May 2009