While perusing through periodicals from the Romanian Crimean Tatar community published from 1897 to 1940, I came across an exciting and perhaps controversial discovery. Some of the works were not published in Crimean Tatar, but were published in Romanian.
The commonly held opinion that this group was free from outside societal influences could be in error. This southern Romanian province populated by Turkic people produced literary figureheads such as Murat Ablai, Ridvan Feuzi, Ilias Mârza and Ali Âytar. These widely held ‘voices of a generation’ had chosen to write and publish their works in Romanian and not in Crimean Tatar.
Granted Romanian was the official language of the country, but the argument that these writers represent the linguistic and cultural identity of Crimean Tatars living in Romania could be open for discussion. Should their place within the Romanian Crimean Tatar literary movement be jeopardized by their choice to publish in a language other than Crimean Tatar?
Though I stand in the minority for my own personal opinion, I stand with a resounding ‘yes.’ Now before this blog post is inundated with a series of comments about my ‘wrong’ opinions, my cultural insensitivity and why I should go to the doctor to get my head checked – let me give you some reasons why.
For the most part, language ‘interference’ is a naturally occurring phenomenon in cultural communication. An opus of Crimean Tatar literature exposed to outside influences could hardly be called pure and homogeneous in its literary traditions.
The influence of Ottoman literature can be seen in Crimean Tatar’s own ‘divan’ poetry which would dominate since the late XV century and only decline in popularity during the late XVIII century, after the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Empire. These works were often so complex and mirrored by Turkish influences that only the most highly educated and worldly readers ofCrimean Tatar nobility, which at the time was synonymous with a classical education in written Ottoman Turkish available exclusively in Turkey, would understand the scope of the presented text.
Ottoman literature had not only introduced Crimean Tatar literature to new literary forms and genres, it also changed the style of writing and most notably, the author’s choice of language in literature.
The language of the ‘divan’ poetry was quite complex as it required usage of an Ottoman vocabulary mixed with grammatical structures of Persian and Arabic origin. For centuries, Ottoman Turkish maintained a strong presence in Crimean Tatar affairs as the choice language of law, economics and science.
The fact that the Crimean Tatar literature of the Khanate era was heavily influenced by Ottoman Turkish does not belittle the importance of the brilliant literary works written at the time. Moreover, some of the works created during the Khanate time are considered to be the gems of the Crimean Tatar literary heritage.
Even later, when Crimea was no longer shadowed by Turkey in politics or economics, the question of the official language of the Crimean Tatar literature remained a polarizing topic fueled by passion and personal opinion.
According to Crimean Tatar literary critic and writer Hamdi Giraybay, there were three main literary schools of thought in early XX century. Of the three, only one acknowledged the right to use a ‘local dialect’ (which would now be recognized as dialects of Crimean Tatar) to serve as a language for Crimean Tatar literature. Though Turkish and ‘Crimean Tatar’ of that time period did not differentiate to the extent of the Crimean Tatar and Turkish that we know today, the majority believed that Turkish (or as prolific Crimean Tatar researcher Ismail Kerim would care to specify as the ‘Istanbul dialect’ of Turkish) would be able to better serve the demands of Crimean Tatar literature.
However, we can find many examples of Crimean Tatar writers in the modern history, who chose to write their works in two languages: the author’s language of choice and the language of the target audience.
Under the regime of the Soviet Union, the Crimean Tatar community was forced to become multilingual and this influence can be found in the works of such authors as Shamil Aladin, Ervin Umerov, Nuzet Umerov, Seitumer Emin and Tair Khalilov. These writers chose to use Crimean Tatar and Russian to write their literary works. Dzhengiz Dagdzhi was another author, who used two languages, although in his case these two were his native Crimean Tatar and Turkish.
After the Deportation of 1944, those that found themselves in Uzbekistan adopted Uzbek as their second language of choice. Among them, the most recognizable names are Isa Abduraman and Sheryan Ali. Moreover, such writers, as Emil Amit, Aydin Shem and Edem Orazly, have used exclusively Russian in their published works. As a well-known Crimean Tatar linguist A. Emirova notes, ‘the works of these authors have never been an object of a special research’ [Эмирова 2012, 148]. Meanwhile, there is little doubt that all aforementioned Crimean Tatar writers have made significant contribution to the Crimean Tatar literature.
In my opinion, the argument that the chosen language of literature is an important aspect of literary criticism which often leads to the slippery slope of pigeonholing an author into a ‘group’ is far less relevant and interesting than addressing the way language can shape the writer’s world and how we appreciate that writer’s work.
Though language is not the only criteria in literary criticism determining association of the writer with a nation or an ethnic group, it is so identifiable with a society or political thought that it can create strong opinions in people.
Moreover, it would be superficial to claim that a language of writing is enough to determine what culture or what literature author represents. Cultural experience shared by generations, traditions and common ethnic history reflected in the literary works form national or ethnic paradigm of a writer.
In this sense, poems written by Crimean Tatar diaspora representatives in Romania bear all traits of ethnically charged literature of cultural identity.
Among the poems of Crimean Tatar writers published in Romania, special note must be made of a poem of Ridvan Feuzi titled ‘Aguarelă de ramazan’ (‘A sketch of Ramadan’) that was published in ‘Bora’ magazine [Feuzi 1938, № 7, p. 4]. In the work, Ridvan Feuzi (alleged to be a close relative of Irfan Feuzi, the editor-in-chief of ‘Bora’), weaves a tapestry of colorful vignettes which take place over the course of one evening during Ramadan.
The images of a dark night, a call to prayer, a minaret lit with evening lights, crowds of people praying ‘the Almighty’ soothe the psyche of Crimean Tatar settlers. In the poem, religion is shown as the foundation which keeps the Crimean Tatar community strong even during times of exile.
The most prolific of all Crimean Tatar authors in the interwar Romania was Murat Ablai, who was a main contributor to the Journal ‘Revista Musulmanilor Dobrugeni’ (‘The Journal of Dobrudja Muslims’). It was published in 1928 and presented materials almost exclusively written in Romanian except for one verse, ‘Khiymetli Dostum’ (‘Dear friend’) [Tatarzade 1928, № 6, p. 2]. Little is known about Murat Ablai, but it is widely accepted that the writer was a descendant of Crimean Tatar refugees that had left Crimea.
As a writer, Murat Ablai published a series of articles on the most disputed issues of the Crimean Tatar community in Romania, like emigration to Turkey (‘Sǎ nu mai emigrǎm!’ (‘We shall not emigrate!’) [Ablai 1928, № 2, p. 2]) or war against Bulgaria (‘Carte Postala’ (‘A postcard’) [Ablai 1928, № 1, p. 4]). Alongside the politically charged pieces, Murat Ablai also published folklore, such as ‘Şerif gel stricat’ (‘Broken chest of Sherif’) [Ablai 1928, № 1, p. 6].
He has also published six poems (‘Mândru sunt’ (‘I am proud’ [Ablai 1928, № 2, p. 2]), ‘Sunt Tătar’ (‘I am Tatar!’) [Ablai 1928, № 3, p. 7] ‘Viaţa tătarului’ (‘The Tatar life’) ‘ [Ablai 1928, № 4, p. 4], ‘Tătarul gospodar’ („Tatar landlord’ [Ablai 1928, № 4, p. 6]), „Musulmanii’ („Muslims’) ‘ [Ablai 1928, № 5, p. 2], ‘Desnădejdea’ („Disappointed’) [Ablai 1928, № 1, p. 4]) – all in Romanian.
A main protagonist of Murat Ablai’s poems is often a Crimean Tatar peasant, which many Crimean Tatar refugees in Romania could relate to and found easily identifiable. Contrary to the politically and socially charged poetry influenced by Mehmet Niyazi, Murat Ablai’s poems gloss over societal problems and choose instead to focus on idyllic peasant life. In his poem titled ‘I am proud’, the author creates a countryside isolated from the chaotic life of big cities. The main character enjoys serenity of his peaceful life:
Eu îmi duc viaţa ‘n tihnă,
Iarna mi-o fac la odihnă,
Şi pe geam mă uit la ger
Sau la luna de pe cer.
Translation:I live my life in peace,
I rest in the winter time,
And through my frosty window
I gaze at the Moon.
He further explores a rural lifestyle of a Crimean Tatar peasant in another verse titled ‘Tatar Landlord’ by portraying Dobrudja as a land of peace. A world of a bucolic perfection with ‘fat cows’, ‘beautiful sheep, rams and horses’, „stallions’, ‘yards’ and ‘fertile land.’ Murat Ablai is able to present a romantic image of the Southern Romanian province through his use of words and style of writing.
However, it would be incorrect to assume that the poet was always creating a true life account of a Crimean Tatar’s life as Paradise on Earth. A poor Crimean Tatar has to pay a price for all of that ‘peaceful solitude away from the mayhem lifestyle of big cities.’ In the writer’s next poem titled ‘Tatar’s life’ Murat Ablai portrays a hardworking and diligent Crimean Tatar peasant doomed to exhausting physical labor:
Deşi-i cam rău pus
Duce viaţa ‘n sus,
Mereu se trudeşte
Şi din greu trăeşte.
Although I have to struggle,
Life goes on,
Work never ends,
And I live this hard life.
As a representative of an exiled nation, the author cannot interpret the story in the direction of ‘τέλος’, the ultimate meaning. The story of exile is not over, it is a story in the process. Identification of Crimean Tatars with mighty Khan warriors that once ruled Eastern Europe is contradictory to a miserable present condition of the Crimean Tatar peasantry in Romania.
Murat Ablai’s disappointment with new found social position of Crimean Tatars is best described in his poem titled „Desnădejdea’ (‘Disappointed’). The author is well aware of the heroic past of his people („Sunt cînâtit şi musulman, Şi descind din neam de Han’ (‘I am honest Muslim and I am descendant of the Khan.’)). Murat Ablai has to deal with the humiliation of the Crimean Tatar peasantry becoming part of a caste system in their new found country. Bereft of the Motherland and stripped of economic wealth, he expresses his unhappiness in the lack of support from the new homeland:
Sunt crescut doar în noroi
Şi-am dus greul în răsboiu,
Am luptat crunt pentru ţără
Dar astăzi sunt de ocară.
Ţara îmi gândeşte bine
Dar nu ştiu de unde-mi vine
Numai negru, numai rău —
Ştie numai Dumnezău.
We have grown in mud
And I took the brunt of the war,
We fought bitterly for the country
But today we are in disgrace.
(It seems) the country means good for me
But I do not see where it comes from –
All I see is dark and sinister –
Only God knows why it is so.
The poignant message to his compatriots ends with bitter lines:
…Vremea zboară; se tot duce
Alinare nu-mi aduce
lar la cer cat în zadar,
Biet amărât de tătar.
…Time is flying; it is all going away
And it does not bring me compassion.
The Heaven send nothing to me,
Poor Damn Tatar.
The story told to us by Murat Ablai has no beginning and no end – it is a revelation of a person cut from his roots, from his land, from his past and his future. What it shows, however, corresponds with Edward Saïd’s description of exile as „solitude’: a daunting feeling of loneliness of an exiled people rejected by one state and not fully accepted by another. However, the poem is clearly free from any sort of political agenda.
Quite different from Murat Ablai’s poetry is the poem ‘Dor de Patrie’ (‘Love to the Motherland’) published by Ilias Mârza and Ali Âytar at ‘Bora’ magazine [Mârza I., Âytar A., 1938, № 4-5, p. 8]. Although written in Romanian, this work is undoubtedly inspired by Crimean Tatar patriotism and fuelled by the hope for eventual return to the native land. In the poem, Crimea is portrayed as a chained living creature tortured by Bolsheviks.
Zaci în lanţuri ferecată,
Şi feciorii tăi îfi plâng,
Soarta ta cea blestemată…
Crimea is a sacred Land
You were chained
Your children cry
They mourn your pitiful fate…
Similar to many other Crimean Tatar writers in exile, Ilias Mârza and Ali Âytar raise the awareness of their compatriots about the present condition of the exiled Crimean Tatar people. Their own lives are intertwined with the fate of their Motherland, Crimea. There is no past without Crimea, there is no future without it – this kind of message the authors send to their readers, Crimean Tatar settlers in Romania. This kind of thinking helps the authors to ponder exile in terms of a completed story, that awaits its happy ending:
O! Crimee… sfânt pământ,
Patria noastră iubită,
Na mai plânge… în curând
Te vom face fericită…
O, Crimea…the sacred land
Our beloved Motherland
Do not cry… very soon
We will save you if God wills!
Ultimately, it is the aspiration to gain back their ‘Paradise Lost’ that has fueled literary works of those Crimean Tatar writers, who chose Romanian as the primary language in their poems. We cannot but agree with Edward Saïd who believed in the essential association of nationalism with exile. ‘Nationalism is an assertion of belonging in and to a place, a people, a heritage. It affirms the home created by a community of language, culture and customs; and, by so doing, it fends off exile and fights to prevent its ravages’ [Saïd 2000, 178]. In the poem by Ridvan Feuzi we see Islam as a symbol of the national consolidation. Murat Ablai presents customs and common history as the cornerstone of the Crimean Tatar community living in exile. Ilias Mârza and Ali Âytar assert belonging to Crimea, their homeland, as the foundation of their people’s unity.
These works found in Romania are hard to separate from the Crimean Tatar literary heritage. They can and they should be researched in the context of the Crimean Tatar diaspora literature. All abovementioned Crimean Tatar writers, who chose Romanian as the language of their literature, created poems deeply rooted in the Crimean Tatar experience and identity and basking in the love for their people.
Ablai, M. Carte Postala // Revista Musulmanilor Dobrugeni – 1928 – № 1, p. 4
Ablai, M. Desnădejdea // Revista Musulmanilor Dobrugeni – 1928 – № 1, p. 4
Ablai, M. Mândru sunt // Revista Musulmanilor Dobrugeni – 1928 – № 2, p. 2
Ablai, M. Musulmanii // Revista Musulmanilor Dobrugeni – 1928 – № 5, p. 2
Ablai, M. Sǎ nu mai emigrǎm! // Revista Musulmanilor Dobrugeni – 1928 – № 2, p. 2
Ablai, M. Sunt Tătar // Revista Musulmanilor Dobrugeni – 1928 – № 3, p. 7
Ablai, M. Şerif gel stricat // Revista Musulmanilor Dobrugeni – 1928 – № 1, p.
Ablai, M. Tătarul gospodar // Revista Musulmanilor Dobrugeni – 1928 – № 4, p. 6
Ablai, M. Viaţa tătarului // Revista Musulmanilor Dobrugeni – 1928 – № 4, p. 4
Feuzi, R. Aguarelă de ramazan // Bora – 1938 – № 7, p. 4
Mârza I., Âytar A. Dor de Patrie // Bora – 1938 – № 4-5, p. 8
Said E. Reflections on Exile // Reflections on exile and other essays – Cambridge, 2000. – C. 173–186
Tatarzade, F. Ö., Khiymetli dostum // Revista Musulmanilor Dobrugeni – 1928 – № 6, p. 2
Эмирова А.М. Поэтика Эрвина Умерова: Эзопов язык и фигура умолчания // Культура народов Причерноморья. – Симферополь, 2012. – № 223. – pp. 148 – 150
Special thanks to Vadim Mirejev for assistance and Sergean Ömer for his help with translation of the original texts
© Maksym Mirieiev 2012