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Memoirs of Fevzi Altug (1878-1934)

Fevzi Altug. Thornbush: Memoirs of a Crimean Tatar Nationalist and Educator Relating to the Russian Civil War and the Famine of 1921-1922. Translated into English, with Introduction and Notes by Inci A. Bowman. Istanbul: The Isis Press, 2004.

Fevzi Altug (1878-1934), a Crimean Tatar nationalist and educator, published short articles relating to his experiences during the Russian Civil War and the Famine of 1921-22 in Crimea. They appeared between 1929 and 1931 in Milli Yul and Yana Milli Yul, issued in Berlin by the Volga Tatar nationalist and author Ayaz Ishaki. The original text, published in Arabic letters, is in Turkish, but with many Tatar and Ottoman words. Thornbush is the first set of Crimean Tatar memoirs to be translated into English. Altug's memoirs contribute new information and insight into the Crimean history. They describe the interractions between the Crimean Tatars and the Russian authorities (Tsarist and Soviet), and the sorrowful conditions of the man-made Famine in Crimea, which took the lives of 100,000 people. Personal narratives and writings in native languages are important, as they provide a different perspective than official documents and statements. Memoirs and related native literature are an indispensible part of historical documentation.

Fevzi Altug, ca. 1905

Fevzi Altug, ca. 1905

Born near Gözleve (Evpatoria), Crimea, Fevzi Altug was educated in Istanbul and lived most of his life in Turkey. Beginning in 1905, he worked for Ismail Bey Gaspirali (1851-1914) in Bahçesaray and taught school in Crimea for two years. Back in Istanbul in 1908, he got involved in the activities of the Union and Progress Party and continued to teach school. When he decided in 1918 to return to Crimea to work for the independence of Crimean Tatars, he was the headmaster of a middle school in Istanbul and had a wife and four children. Shortly after he arrived in Gözleve with his family, where he was to serve as head of the Rustiye (middle school), the German forces withdrew from Crimea. During the following civil war the Altug family was subjected to extreme hardships. In March 1922, they finally left Crimea, the land of terror, famine and epidemics. Altug continued to teach in Istanbul and died of tuberculosis in 1934.

The summaries of translated memoirs included in Thornbush are given below:


Chapter 1. An Open Letter to the Bolsheviks

The memoir begins with a description of how Fevzi Altug joined the Crimean Tatar national movement and pledged to work toward bringing down the Tsarist regime that had deprived his people of their land, educational opportunities, and civil rights. Like many Tatar youth, he believed initially in Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who had promised to grant ethnic minorities autonomy and to respect their national rights. He regrets, however, that the Bolsheviks betrayed the Crimean Tatars and committed atrocities against his people. Oppressive policies of the Tsarist government eventually led to its collapse, and he predicts that the same unlawful behavior will also bring down the Communists. An interesting episode described in the memoir is the meeting between the author and Salomon Krym, who headed the provisional Crimean government under the protection of the White Volunteer Army from November 1918 to April 1919. Krym made him a lucrative offer to work for the Whites, who were receiving assistance from the English forces occupying southern Russia. Declaring his independence and commitment to the Crimean Tatar cause, Altug declined Krym's offer.

The original, "Bolşeviklerge Açık Mektup," was published in Milli Yul, No. 18-19 (1929): 13-15.

Chapter 2. General Borovsky, White and Red Russians

The event described in this memoir took place during the occupation of Crimea by the White Russian forces early in 1919. A provisional government under the direction of Salomon Krym was in power. When the White military command requested assistance from the Tatar population, the Kurultay (Assembly) refused. The Russian authorities then held new elections to form another representative body that would yield to its demands. At a meeting of the new Crimean Tatar Deputies with the Russian officers, Fevzi Altug served as the spokesman for the group. He explained the reasons why Crimean Tatars would not provide military aid to the Russians: They had suffered great losses, no longer trusted the Whites or the Reds, and were opposed to spilling anymore blood of their fellow men. These events indicate that the Crimean Tatars had relative autonomy then and the White Russian Army did not have full control in Crimea.

The original memoir, "General Barovski, Beyaz ve Kızıl Ruslar," was published in Yana Milli Yul, No. 6 (1930): 6-9.

Chapter 3. A Recollection from Crimea

The event described in this story took place in late summer or early fall of 1921, when Fevzi Altug served as Director of Education in the Sudak region. This was about the time of the establishment of the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Crimean ASSR) in October 1921 by the Soviet authorities. The memoir sheds light on persisting negative attitudes of the local Russians toward the Tatar population, the composition of the local administration of Sudak, and the efforts of the Tatars to administer and to protect their own orphanage (Children's Home). This was also the time when food supplies were getting scarce in Crimea, just before the onslaught of the deadly famine of 1921-1922. Altug occupied the position of Director of Education from August 1921 to January 1922, when he resigned and went back to a nearby village of Otuz Köy, where his immediate family was living. Two months later the Altug family left Crimea, never to return again.

The original memoir, "Kırım'dan bir İskerme," was published in Milli Yul, No. 14-15 (1929): 12-14.

Chapter 4. What Did the Gold of the Tatars Show?

The ravaging famine that followed the Russian Civil War affected about twenty-four million people living in the Volga-Ural region and Ukraine. While the Russian people had suffered shortages of food and even death by starvation before, and no measurable rain fell in the Volga valley in the spring of 1921, the main cause of famine was the indiscriminate requisitioning of food by the Bolsheviks. In Crimea, a region that had even produced surplus food in 1920, the famine was clearly man-made, resulting from deliberate official policies. In this memoir, Fevzi Altug describes how the Bolsheviks confiscated the people's foodstuffs first and then forced the Crimean Tatars to give up their precious belongings in exchange for small amounts of grain. He accuses the Bolshevik administration of plotting to exterminate his people (genocide). The first deaths from starvation began occurring late in 1921 and continued through the summer of 1922. After experiencing extreme hardships and seeing death and devastation brought on by famine, Altug and his family left Crimea in March 1922.

The original memoir, "Tatarların Altunları Ne Kösterdi?" appeared in Yana Milli Yul, No. 3 (1930): 5-7.

Chapter 5. Memories of My Last Trip from Crimea

This 1929 memoir begins with a poem written by Fevzi Altug, just as he and his family left Crimea in March 1922. It expresses the thoughts and feelings of a Crimean Tatar teacher who had returned to his native land in 1918 with great hopes of helping to build a free nation. After living through the chaos and destruction brought by the Russian Civil War and the Famine of 1921-1922, he realizes that Crimean Tatars will not be free as long as Russians are in power. He reaffirms his mistrust of the Bolsheviks and urges his people to unite. In the prose that follows, he describes the horrible conditions of the famine victims and questions the Soviet nationalities policy of establishing republics, which he sees as a way to weaken and oppress further the national minorities living in Russia. He cites, as an example, the important meeting held between the Crimean people and the Soviet authorities that he attended in September 1921, the meeting which eventually led to the establishment of the Crimean ASSR. The Tatars lived up to their part of the bargain, he says, but eventually all ended in more arrests, deportations, death and destruction, including the execution of Veli Ibrahimov.

The original memoir, "Kırım'dan Son Dönüşüm Hatıraları," appeared in Milli Yul, No. 22-23 (1929): 4-5.

Chapter 6. The Brutality of Russians

In this last published memoir, Fevzi Altug summarizes the Bolshevik atrocities committed against the Crimean Tatars and the Soviet purges in the period following the removal of Veli Ibrahimov (1928). He first describes the confiscation of property and foodstuffs after the Communists gained full control of Crimea, the pitiful conditions during the Famine of 1921-1922, and the indifference of Russian authorities while their own families continued to live in comfort. Those Tatars who managed to survive these calamities worked hard to put their lives together only to be arrested, killed or deported after being declared "kulaks" and "bourgeois nationalists" in the late 1920s. He estimates that 100,000 Tatars perished during the early Soviet period and moans the fact that no one in the civilized world cared. Neighboring countries and friends of Soviet Russia considered it a matter of internal policy and did not want to interfere. He concludes that it should be the obligation of the international community to stop the Russian brutality and assault on the Tatar people.

The original memoir, "Rusların Vahşilikleri," appeared in Yana Milli Yul No.2 (1931): 14-16.

Posted: 24 July 2004

Thornbush: Memoirs of a Crimean Tatar Nationalist and Educator Relating to the Russian Civil War and the Famine of 1921-1922 by Fevzi Altug may be ordered from:

The Isis Press
Şemsibey Sokak 10
Beylerbeyi, 34676 Istanbul
Tel: (90 216) 321 38 51
Fax: (90 216) 321 86 66

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