A displaced people’s influence on poetry in exile: Experience of Crimean Tatars living in Romania in the first half of XX century

The article explores influence of exile on the literature of the Crimean Tatar diaspora living in Romania. It focuses on the literary works written by the key diaspora poets in the first half of the XX century. The article analyses a process of self-identification writers go through after a loss of their homeland.

Annexation of Crimea by the Russian Empire in 1783 had a great impact on the entire Turkic speaking population of the entire North Black Sea region. Deprived of statehood, banished from community lands, and forced to subdue their religious feelings, many Crimean Tatars chose to migrate to the territories of the brotherly Ottoman Empire. Many of them moved to the territory of modern Turkey. However, there were thousands of Crimean Tatars who migrated to Dobrudja, the then territory under the Turkish protectorate, which later became a Romanian province.

791px-Карло_Боссоли._Татары,_путешествующие_по_степиWhat has happened in 1783 had a great impact on the Crimean Tatar culture and, particularly, the Crimean Tatar literature. The next hundred years under the Russian ruling is known in the Crimean Tatar history as a “Qara Asır” (“Black Century”), which gave Crimean Tatar literature only a handful of prolific writers. The true Renaissance started in the Crimean Tatar literature only with the raise of Ismail Gasprinskiy, whose ideology “Unity in actions, thoughts and language” inspired many Crimean Tatar authors to create new novels, poems, seek for new genres and topics in the literature.

The Crimean Tatar literature in Romania has taken a different way. Bitter understanding of the separation with the patria, estrangement from the families left in Crimea, turned out to be a pivotal theme for many literary works written in migration [10, p. 131]. It has truly become a sturdy axle for the literature of Crimean Tatar diaspora in Romania. Because the migration of the Crimean Tatar population from the sacred “Yeşil Ada” (“Green Island”) was not voluntary, it left a bitter aftertaste that largely shaped and defined the literature of the Crimean Tatar diaspora in Romania. Because the migration process was caused by the political, cultural and fiscal pressure, rather than natural reasons [9, p. 57], it has transformed the tone and essence of the literary works of the Crimean Tatar diaspora in Romania in early XX century. In the majority of works published in 1900-1930-s, we find some sort of political manifesto, a protest against the discriminating policies practiced by the Russian government on the territory of Crimea. Henceforth, the experience of displacement in the literary works of Crimean Tatar authors was much more than just a description of lost cities, villages and houses. It turned out to be indignation with the form of the political punishment imposed on the largely Muslim population of the newly occupied territory.

This exodus created a paradoxical situation, where national awareness in the Crimean Tatar literature in Crimea itself was subdued by the demands of the new Soviet authorities that intended to use the literature as a tool of creating a new Soviet identity, In reality, the new Soviet authorities underplayed the ethnic differences, highly encouraged writers to stress on the differences between the economic classes and severely punished anybody, who dared to wear their Crimean Tatar patriotism on a sleeve. On the other hand, a short-term Crimean Tatar Republic that emerged in 1918, gave a false hope for the restoration of the Crimean Tatar statehood for those compatriots that lived in exile. Menacing suppression of the Crimean Tatar Republic and a brutal murder of Noman Chelebidzhihan, the leader of the Crimean Tatar Republic, lead to disappointment and indignation with the Soviet authorities, which were viewed as an heir of the Russian Empire.

Mehmet Niyazi

The Crimean Tatar literature of Romania in the first half of the XX century bears all classical traits of the diaspora literature: nostalgia over the lost motherland, search for the new space, attempts to find a logical explanation of what caused them to leave. Taking into account historical circumstances under which Crimean Tatars lived in Romania, we should consider the fact that the literature of Crimean Tatar populating Dobrudja was built around the feeling of the lost paradise and displacement from the ethnic culture. Religion, unity based on the ethnic principle, and history, all that was vigorously washed out of the Crimean Tatar literature in the Autonomous Crimean Tatar Republic in 1920-1940-ies, has become a cornerstone for the Crimean Tatar writers in exile.

Mehmet Niyazi, arguably the first big name in the Crimean Tatar Diaspora literature in early XX century, addresses his readers with indignant, full of pain and fierce patriotism poetry that leaves a sense of outrage against the injustice to his outcast compatriots. In his highly emotional verses Mehmet Niyazi recreates vivid images of “the Paradise Lost”. Niyazi puts a lot of feelings into his poetry, as he personally experienced exile. Born in the family of Crimean Tatars who fled to neighbor Romania still ruled by the Ottoman Empire, Mehmet Niyazi decides to settle down in Crimea in 1898, full of hopes to start a teaching career there. It was a great time, the poet recollects. “I was enchanted by the paradise”, the poet wrote in his memoirs decades later. It was not too long though, when he was forced to leave the peninsula by the local police. He comes back to Crimea again on several occasions, but he was never meant to live in this “Paradise” permanently.

The poet refuses to assimilate to a new culture, new language and new land. Instead, he strives to reinstate his lost identity and reunite with his Motherland:

Bo dertni men qaydan aldım? Qaydayman?

Belki curtsız qalgan öksiz balaman…

Curt degende cüregimden ot çığa.

Dertim de şu: Curt diy de qozğalaman…


Where is this pain from? Where am I?

Perhaps, I am an orphan without Motherland…

When I hear “Motherland” I feel fire in my soul.

My pain is caused by sadness over Motherland.

 («Where am I?»)

Like many other writers in exile, Mehmet Niyazi wants to be on the winner’s side despite of the harsh reality. In his work “Reflections on Exile” Edward Said writes that

“Exiles feel an urgent need to reconstitute their broken lives, usually by choosing to see themselves as a part of a triumphant ideology or a restored people.” [6, p. 177]

Mehmet Niyazi’s poetry is drenched in nostalgic longing for the land of ancestors [2, p. 23]. In his works he is looking for a dreamscape. In some of his poems, Niyazi reconstructs a perfect kingdom that once existed in Crimea. In his verse titled “Ğamlı bir hatıra” (“A sad memory”) he mentions those things left in the Crimea that are dear to his heart:

“Ecdadımızın meshedi, maqbeleri qaldı,”

‘Hananı Qırımın dahi miğfeleri qaldı,’

‘Tahtı, qılıcı, milleti, namusu o yerde’

“Our ancestors’ tombs are left there,”

“Crimean khans’ combat helmets are left there,”

“Throne, sword, statehood and honor are in this land”

The issue with the triumphant history is that it is in the past.

“The crucial thing is that a state of exile free from this triumphant ideology – designed to reassemble an exile’s broken history into a new whole – is virtually unbearable”,

Edward Said says [6, p. 177].

This is exactly what we observe in an untitled verse addressed to a Crimean Khan Mehmet IV Giray (pen name Kamil), who was famous for his Sufi patience and piety, rather than military or diplomatic achievements:

Yurdumun haline eyledim nazar,

Her yeri delinmiş bır mezar ancak,

Doğmamış bir güneş, gelmemiş bahar…

Kamili Han etmiş seni de Huda

Ettin mi borcunu hakkıyla eda?..

Ettin mi yurduna canın feda?..

Yurt için ölenler bahtiyar ancak!..

I have looked around my country,

Everything is desolated, only tombs are around,

Sun has not risen, spring did not come…

Kamil, is not that God that made thee Khan,

Have you paid your duty?

Have you sacrificed your life for your homeland?

Blessed are those who die for the Motherland!

In this koşma, which imitates Kamil’s poetic style, he reproaches the khan for his passive reign that lead to decline of the Crimean Khanate [8, p. 55]. In other verses we see Niyazi protesting against silent conformation and taking active stance of a prophet rather than narrator. The author does not want to be a passive observer; he wants his people to return to Crimea. “Our hands are not tied… Why cannot we go back?”, the poet addresses his readers. In his poems, the writer leaves little, if any, room for doubt. He depicts his homeland as Eldorado and calls upon all Crimean Tatars to return home.

In the literature of Crimean Tatars in Romania, the poet’s own homeland is often personified as a woman: either mother that lost children or a beautiful young girl. The metaphorical device which utilizes feminine personifications is crucial for the Crimean Tatar poetic tradition. In his poem “Öz curtumda garipmen” (“I am sad in my own land”), poet declares his love to his homeland that he calls “a beautiful girl”. In the poem, Mehmet Niyazi has a conversation with Crimea. He portrays it as “hopeless, sick beautiful girl” that lost connection with its people [5, p. 23]. In this verse, the poet cherishes hope that a day will come when this “beautiful girl” will reunite with him and his people.

The dream of return which haunts Mehmet Niyazi is epitomized by the image of the reunion at the native land. In the poem called “Dobrucadan sizge selam ketirdim” (“I brought you greetings from Dobrudja”), he calls on his compatriots in Dobrudja and Crimea to join efforts in a struggle for the right to live in his homeland: “Let everybody hear about the Tatar pride, let us not allow the enemy to split us again!”

Another writer, Abdulla Veli Şuyıp who started writing at a very early age adds his voice to that of Mehmet Niyazi. His verses are simpler and less sophisticated. His works include standard patriotic sentiments a la Niyazi, where the author presents Crimea’s past as the world of bucolic perfection. In pursuit of the heroic past, Abdulla Veli Şuayıp makes strong connections between Crimean Tatars and fırmer ground of historical agents:

“We are grandchildren of Chengiz-Khan, we are children of Timur, we have left a glorious trace in the past. Having come from Altay and Alataw, we have written the world history by demonstrating our courage” [3, p. 61].

The poetry of Abdula Veli Şuayıp presents Crimea’s embellished past, which seems to be more of a perfect dream of the perfect country.

Not all Dobrudja-born writers shared the same feeling of loss; some of them embraced the territory as their new small motherland. Of those people, Isa Halim Yusuf is the most known poet. Born in Romania in 1894, he was a member of the poetic school of Mehmet Niyazi. He belonged to a generation that witnessed horrors of the World War I. Dobrudja itself became a battlefield and many young men of Turkic origin fought back to back with Romanians. The Treaty of Neuilly, signed in 1919 between Bulgaria and the Allies of World War I gave all Dobrudja region to Romania. In his verse titled “Ey Dobruca!” (“Hey, Dobrudja”), the poet reminds readers about all compatriots who are buried in the land of Dobrudja, who fought and died for their new motherland [1, p. 174]. The author takes active stand, saying that he needs “no other Motherland”:

“Why would I need another Motherland? I was born here, I grew up here, I wish to die here”.

The poem itself is straight, one would say it is simply a manifesto of loyalty to the land Isa Halim Yusuf was born in.

Some lyric poets simply express regret and sadness over their lost motherland, like little children that woke up in a strange unfamiliar place. Of these, Saliha Hacı Fazıl Mehmet communicated a physical sence of loss the best. In her poem “Nobody comes”, Saliha Hacı Fazıl writes about her Motherland in terms of a nest left by birds [4, p. 30]. In the verse, the poetess creates a suspense of waiting: “Days, weeks and months pass by,” she writes. However, waiting is useless, as nobody comes back to Crimea. What is done is done, and although there is still a simmering hope for return, it does not look very promising in her verse. In this poem, Saliha Hacı Fazıl does not offer any solution to the problem, she simply regrets the loss.

The youngest of the discussed generation of Crimean Tatar poets in Romania, Necip Hacı Fazıl, wrote a poetry that was simple and romantic, because it was controlled by a set of pure emotions. Most of his early patriotic verses Necip Hacı Fazıl published in “Milli Yol” (“National Way”), a journal trumpeting ideas of the Prometheus Movement in Europe which aimed for the independence of Soviet nationalities. In his verse titled “Tilegim” (“My wish”), he presents himself as a pilgrim, who has lost his horse and his belongings, but, most importantly, he has lost his way to the homeland. He is a wanderer in an alien universe, whose only dream is to stop his endless and purposeless journey:

“Yurtumdan uzak tüşkenmen; öksüz baladay,

Anda mında horlanıp, tentıgıp curgende,

Anıyman uyum bolğan balaban bir ülke”.


“I have drifted away from my homeland, as orphan,

When I am staggering after having suffered torments,

I recall a great country that used to be my home”.

“My wish”

Although some of his poems centered around the image of a weary pilgrim with burden of sorrow on his back, his poetry still gives readers a glimpse of hope that justice will eventually be reinstated. Unlike his sister, Saliha Hacı Fazıl, the poet refuses to abandon hope to return to the homeland. Hope to reunite with the Motherland is probably the strongest feeling a person experiences reading his poetry. Endless faith juxtaposed against the tragedy of exile gives his poetry childish freshness and faith in the eventual return from exile. In his verse, he expresses a strong belief that “The Blue Banner (Crimean Tatar national flag) could raise again, like a leaf springs from a burgeon”. A hope that Crimean Tatar people will find their lost Motherland again permeates Necip Hacı Fazıl’s poetry on all levels. Overall, his poetry is very upbeat. It leaves no room for sorrow: “You did not come to cry to this world!”, the poet addresses a young man in his poem titled “Tatar Cigitine” (“To a Young Tatar Man”). “Do not feel sorrow, young man! Our crescent will not be hiden among clouds,” Necip Hacı Fazıl writes in the poem. The author does not want his compatriots to be passive bystanders in history; vice versa, he desires them to remember “the glorious days of our fathers”. Most importantly, he yearns his compatriots, young Crimean Tatars living in exile, to create new history, to struggle for a better future [7, p. 34].

The unjust estrangement of exile has become a main topic discussed in the poetry of the Crimean Tatar diaspora in Dobrudja. The exile poetry of Crimean Tatars in Romania is very rich in cultural symbols that all Crimean Tatars share. In attempt to save the community’s unity, poets reconstruct historical memory in their works, often referring to the Medieval times when the Crimean Khanate reached its heyday. Many writers glorify the past, presenting it as a bucolic perfection. Some of the writers simply reflect on the past, while others actively call upon their compatriots to struggle for their right to return to Crimea. It is noteworthy that some poets stopped dwelling on Crimea and embrace Dobrudja as their new “smaller” homeland that hosted the refugees.

The imposition of national paradigm on the individual experience results in the most influential and prolific poetry the literature of the Crimean Tatar diaspora in Romania could give. Although writers chose different strategies to resolve the existing conflict of banishment from Crimea, they enabled a nation in exile to reinstate its core values: historical memory, language and ethnic identity through their literary works.

Reference list

  1. Ekrem M. Din istorii turcilor dobrugeni. – Bucureşti, 1994. – 255 c.
  2. Ergen T. Mehmet Niyazi (1878-1931) // Emelimiz Kırım, 1997. – № 18. – С. 22-24
  3. Mahmut N. Romanya’da Türk Tatar edebiyatı – 12 Abdula Veli Şuayıp (1913-1991) // Kırım. – 2000. – № 30. – С. 59-61
  4. Mahmut N. Romanya’da Türk Tatar edebiyatı – 11 Saliha Hacı Fazıl Mehmet (1903-1961) // Kırım. – 2000. – № 30. – С. 33-37
  5. Niyazi M. Sağış. – Bukreş, 1998. – 59 c.
  6. Said E. Reflections on Exile // Reflections on exile and other essays – Cambridge, 2000. – C. 173–186
  7. Seitabla R. Necip Hacı Fazılın şiirlerinde milliyetçilik duygusu // Kırım, 2006, № 3 – С. 34
  8. Vuap-Mocanu Ş. Milli şairimiz Mehmet Niyazi hakkında yeni bildireler, 75 de ani de la moartea lui Mehmet Niyazi. – Köstence, 2006 – С. 46–56
  9. Williams B. Dar al-Harb. A history of the Crimean Tatar migration of 1860-61 // Birlik, 2006. – № 1. – С. 45-80
  1. Къуртумеров Э. Иджреттеки эдебиятымыз тарихына къыскъа бир назар // Йылдыз, 2005. – № 6. – С. 129–135

© Maksym Mirieiev 2012


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