Ismail Bey Gaspirali and Crimean Tatar Emigrations

Mübeyyin B. Altan

Emigrations had affected the history of Crimean Tatars to such a degree that they became to be known as "the curse of the nation."1 Beginning with the annexation of Crimea by Tsarist Russia on April 8, 1783,2 the Crimean Tatars were forced to leave their ancestral homeland in massive numbers, most of them leaving all their belongings behind. The process of emigration, unfortunately, continued well into the twentieth century until the brutal and systematic deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar population from Crimea, primarily to Central Asia, the Urals and Siberia on May 18,1944.3

There will always be questions as to why the Crimean Tatars left their homeland in such large numbers, instead of remaining there to fight against the Tsarist regime's political pressures. Was there any organized resistance against the Tsarist government? Unfortunately there was not any significant organized resistance because during the Tsarist period Crimean Tatars were not, politically or otherwise, well prepared to take on a strong imperial power. Cafer Seydahmet Kirimer, the former Foreign Minister and Justice Minister of Independent Crimea of 1917 provides an interesting explanation for the Crimean Tatar mass emigrations:

Despite the administrative and political oppression of the Tsarist Russia applied on the Crimean Tatar people, the major reason for the Crimean Tatars' emigrations, in my opinion, was the lack of milli ruh (national conscience) of the Crimean Tatar people. The Crimean Tatars at that period of time were much closely attached to their religious beliefs and to the Caliph (the highest symbol of Islam) than they were to their own personal well being, to their homeland and even to their own fate. Being well aware of this blind faith of the Crimean Tatar people, the Tsarist administration exploited it by sending especially trained saboteurs, mainly Turkish speaking Armenians and Greeks to the Crimea and having them distribute special pamphlets, supposedly written on behalf of the Ottoman Sultan, urging them to immigrate to Ottoman Turkey.4

Cafer Seydamet Kirimer interestingly directs his criticism towards the Crimean Tatar people for not resisting the Tsarist pressure to ethnically cleanse Crimea from the Crimean Tatars. The absence of Crimean Tatar intelligentsia left the ordinary, uneducated Crimean Tatars wide open for any type of political and economic exploitation and they certainly were exploited. While the rest of the European nations were undergoing social, political and economic modernization, the Crimean Tatars entered into the darkest era of their history. The next hundred years, from April 8, 1783, until the publication of the first Crimean Tatar newspaper, Tercüman (Interpreter), on April 10, 1883, were the darkest era of the Crimean Tatar history. The Crimean Tatar population declined drastically due to a series of mass emigration to Ak Toprak5 and later to the Republic of Turkey.6 There was no leadership or intelligentsia to guide the panic stricken Crimean Tatars through these tragic times. The Crimean Tatars' social, cultural and economic institutions were mostly destroyed. Everything was done to eradicate the Crimean Tatar presence in Crimea. As Hakan Kirimli put it, Kirim Tatar toplumu öylesine ezilmiş durumdaydı ki, Rus hakimiyetinin başından XIX . yüzyılın son çeyreğine kadar önemli herhangi bir sahada temeyyüz etmiş tek bir şahsı dahi gösterebilmek hiçte kolay değildir. (The Crimean Tatar society was so crushed that it is very difficult to point to one single major figure in any sphere of life from Russian annexation [of Crimea] until the last quarter of the nineteenth century.)7 Among all the national minorities throughout the nineteenth century, the Crimean Tatars experienced the worst of the policies of Russification anywhere in the Russian Empire. They "bore the brunt of the Tsarist persecution with the result that on several occasions there was a mass exodus to Turkey."8

National Awakening of Crimean Tatars

It was almost a century after the annexation of Crimea by Russia that the Crimean Tatar people began to develop a milli ruh or national conscience. Thanks to Ismail Bey Gaspirali's one-man crusade against Tsarist Russia's treatment of its Muslim subjects, a spark of hope was lit for Crimean Tatars and the rest of the Russian Muslims. Ismail Bey Gaspirali, a Crimean Tatar educator, reformer and journalist, was one of the first intellectuals who diagnosed the cause of the socio-political weaknesses of, not only his own people, the Crimean Tatars, but also the entire Russian Muslim community. He strongly suggested that it was obscurantism, caused by a totally inadequate and obsolete Muslim educational system that prevented the Crimean Tatars and the rest of the Russian Muslims to develop a milli ruh. He dedicated his entire life to raising the level of Muslim education in Russia. Ismail Bey strongly believed that only through a quality secular education the national consciousness of the Crimean Tatars, as well as all the Russian Muslims, could be raised to resist the Russian oppression and survive as people and nations. It is not the intention of this author to review the entire agenda of Ismail Bey Gaspirali's educational reforms, which is difficult to accomplish in a short article such as this. The purpose of this article is to review briefly Ismail Bey Gaspirali's thoughts on Crimean Tatar emigrations, which profoundly affected the Crimean Tatar history.

Ismail Bey Gaspirali was the first Crimean Tatar leader who addressed the "emigration" issue openly through his popular newspaper, Tercüman. In 1902 he wrote and published the following known articles on Crimean Tatar emigrations:9

May 15, 1902 - "Lazim Bir Nasihat, Gafil Olma!" (An Admonition is needed, don't be Careless!)
October 21, 1902 - "Hicret" (Emigration)
November 3, 1902 - "Hicret Pasaportu" (Passport for Emigration)
November 11, 1902 - "Dost Davusu" (Voice of a Friend)

In "Lazim Bir Nasihat, Gafil Olma," Gaspirali urges his compatriots to be careful in discarding their properties and states: Ey aziz kardaşlar! Satmak kolay, almak güçtür; gitmek kolay, dönmek güçtür;. Yıkılmak kolay, kalkmak güçtür! (Dear brothers! To sell is easy, but to purchase is difficult; to leave is easy, but to return is hard. To fall is easy, but to get up is quite hard!)10 Ismail Bey attempted to discourage Crimean Tatars any way he could think of. In his article "Icret Pasaportu-Emigration Passport," published on November 3, he points out the financial problems the emigrant could face just as he tried to obtain a passport:

A passport to travel abroad costs 10-15 rubles and therefore it does not make much sense to waste such huge sum. If they give travel passports, then they will give them without any special difficulties; but for some reason an official of the province refuses to distribute them, then it is foolish to waste lots of money on various appeals and advocates. You will be just throwing your money away.11

He also tried to persuade his compatriots that once they reached their destination, they would face more difficulties than they could imagine:

You must keep in mind that the Turkish government considers as immigrants only those people who have an immigrant passport; i.e. those freely given up their Russian citizenship. Those simpletons who have gotten a visa for pilgrimage, business or to visit relatives and think they have the rights to settle in Turkey, are gravely mistaken.12

In his well known article, "Dost Davusu" (Voice of a friend), published on November 11, 1902, Gaspirali points out the physical difficulties the emigrants might encounter:

Dear Ali Cafer...At present, it is winter, and cold; the earth (ground) is covered with snow and here you are preparing to go.... Everything is living in its burrow; all things living are hiding from the frigidity and cold. Who is driving you, my dear, that you throw yourself with your family and baby in this cold time on a journey across the stormy sea? Why, my dear, do you subject the children of your blood to this misery?13

He also tries to discourage the would-be emigrants by stating that life in the Ottoman Porte is not any better than life in the Crimea:

Everyone should think twice before selling everything and setting off on an unknown journey with children and elderly. There is no land of milk and honey over there. Anywhere and everywhere one must work diligently, skillfully and untiringly for his daily bread. The rules of life are the same in the Crimea as they are in Turkey or Japan.14

Ismail Bey's well-known articles on emigrations, where he openly criticized and also advised his compatriots against emigration, did not appear in Tercüman until 1902. The importance of 1902 might be understood better if we consider that "in 1901, due to governments Russification policy, which Muslims regarded as a threat to their Islamic faith and heritage, more than fifty thousand Crimean Tatars left Russia."15 These articles, openly criticizing emigration of his compatriots from the Crimea to Turkey, appear towards the end of mass emigrations. There is no statistical evidence to show how effective Gaspirali's campaign against emigration was, but from a psychological point of view; at least, he was the first one to try to inform his people about the negative aspects of emigration. He made his point quite clear by stating:

If it was up to me, I would not let any Turkish (Tatar) son move from his place. Because each leaving Turk (Tatar) affects and leads astray ten others, and he himself finds no salvation from emigration: a homeland destroyed, but no (new) one is built, no one benefited, everyone is harmed.16

Ismail Bey's most interesting article on Crimean Tatar emigrations appeared in Türk Yurdu, published in Turkey, and not in Tercüman. In this particular article titled "Muhaceret-i Muntazama" (Orderly Emigration), Ismail Bey describes what emigration means to different countries and even provides some statistics. He informs his readers that a total of almost a million Crimean Tatars have immigrated to Ottoman Turkey since the annexation of Crimea by Russia. He considers the Crimean Tatar emigrations to be harmful to both the emigrant supplying country as well as emigrant admitting country, in this case Crimea and Ottoman Empire, respectively. Ismail Bey states:

The emigration from Russia was not quite beneficial for the Ottoman State, and it was quite harmful for those who remained behind. Because every family who lost one or two (of its members) to emigration was harmed because those who remained behind began to live as if they were guests, did not seek employment and therefore, families badly suffered economically. They (those who did not yet emigrate) were just good for nothing and good for nobody.17

It must be mentioned that Ismail Bey's concern for Crimean Tatar emigrations was not limited to the Tercüman articles published in 1902. In a fictional novel titled Darul Rahat Müslümanları (Muslims of the Dominion of Tranquillity) and published in 1906,18 he described the capture of Andalusia (A Muslim State) by Spain in 1491 during the reign of King Ferdinand, which one can associate with the annexation of the Crimea by Russia in 1783. Ismail Bey cleverly used Andalusia for Crimea and King Ferdinand for Catherine II or even Potemkin. The description of the capture of Andalusia by King Ferdinand, his declaration of guaranteed protection of life and property of Muslims, guaranteed rights to pursue the Muslim tradition and customs, full protection of mosques and medreses at the early stages of annexation, and the abolishment of all these rights once the new regime was established, significantly show similarities to events faced by the Crimean Tatars in 1783. Ismail Bey stated that "the year fourteen ninety one is the end of Muslim state of Granada and Andalusia. In that year, the last abode of Islam, Alhambra was entered into the Spanish rule when Caliph Abdulla surrendered it to King Ferdinand".19 Again, this is Ismail Bey's explanation of how Muslim Crimea was surrendered to Tsarist Russia by Şahin Giray Khan in 1783.

As King Ferdinand did in 1491, Tsarina Catherine II, in her official declaration on April 8, 1783, promised to protect the Muslim Crimean Tatars, guaranteeing them full protection of their lives, properties, religion, schools and mosques. Ismail Bey describes these events to his readers as follows:

The agreement of surrender and departure of the province, between Caliph Abu Abdulla and Ferdinand, was signed with a guarantee of full protection of Muslims' lives, properties, religion and mescids (houses of prayer). They were also guaranteed to pursue their Islamic way of life and full safety of their Medreses (Muslim institute of higher learning). The Muslims were guaranteed also the right to emigrate to the south and to Magrib (Moracco). Muslims, old and young, remained in their homeland and burst into tears when they heard this declaration.20

He clearly implies the option of Crimean Tatars to emigrate south to the Ottoman Empire.

After gaining more power, after the king of Spain's capture of Andalusia, a Muslim State of peoples of the late Seyh Musa, some Muslims realized that the Spaniards would not tolerate them, and would cause them harm, and they decided to move to more secure lands. Once they gained control of the Muslim land of Andalusia, the Spaniards tore up all the agreements, and inflicted thousands with (great) force and cruelties on them (Muslims). They broke the wings of Muslim population by forbidding the ezan (call for prayer) and namaz (praying), Muslim teachings at schools, capturing the Vakf land and the treasury and transferring these to their own church. They were indicting (imprisoning) the Muslims themselves and their children on hearsay (without evidence) even for the smallest mistake they made.21

Darul Rahat Müslümanları is, by no means, about Crimean Tatar emigrations. The above passages drawn from Darul Rahat Müslümanları are just a few examples of how Ismail Bey attempted to portray the social ills of the Russian Muslims. He also cleverly told his readers the annexation of his homeland and its profound affects on his backward people.


This was an attempt to describe briefly Ismail Bey Gaspirali's thoughts on Crimean Tatar emigrations, which profoundly affected the history of the Crimean Tatar people. He is generally criticized for not getting involved with Crimean Tatar emigrations earlier. It is true that Ismail Bey Gaspirali's attempt to openly discourage his compatriots from abandoning their ancestral homeland, the Crimea, was too late; the majority of the Crimean Tatars had already fled their ancestral homeland and resettled in the Ottoman Empire. As this author tried to present in this short article, Ismail Bey Gaspirali was concerned with the issue of emigration earlier than most thought. Even without mentioning emigrations, his daring attempt to elevate the cultural level of the entire Russian Muslim community, which included his own people, was indirectly related to the process of mass exodus from Crimea. By reforming an ancient and backward educational system, Ismail Bey Gaspirali laid a strong foundation for the future of his people. His emergence from a community who was intentionally kept backward was indeed "Godsend". Ismail Bey Gaspirali was the individual who really made a monumental difference in the national awakening of the Crimean Tatars and the rest of the Turkic-Muslim people of the Russian Empire and the development of the milli ruh or national conscious. It is unfortunate that Ismail Bey was not born a half a century earlier to awaken the national conscience of the Crimean Tatar people during the height of the Crimean Tatar emigrations to the Ottoman Empire. One wanders what would have happened if Ismail Bey Gaspirali was born in 1800, instead of 1851, and successfully carried out his reforms. What would have happened if Ismail Bey had succeeded in creating a strong Crimean Tatar community, which was highly educated and dedicated to prevent its members from leaving their ancestral homeland before the Crimean War? What would have happened if Crimean Tatars had remained as a majority in their homeland? Perhaps the world would not have witnessed the Kirim Faciasi (Crimean Tatar Tragedy) or the Mass Deportation of May 18, 1944 (Surgun). Perhaps, among the community of nations, one would be able to see the Crimean Tatar Nation, dedicated to a peaceful and prosperous world.


1 Dilaver Osmanov, "Icret, Bu Bizim Belamizdir," Yani Dunya, No.33-37, August 24 - September 9, 1991.

2 The date of official annexation of Crimea, April 8,1783, is accepted as the beginning of emigration of the Crimean Tatars from Crimea to the Ottoman Empire and later to the Republic of Turkey.

3 From 1944 to 1956, the survivors of the mass deportation, Surgun, were forced to live in "Special Settlement Camps" where they were not allowed to visit even family members in other camps without permission. With the first opportunity they were given soon after Nikita Khrushchev's famous secret speech during the 20th Communist Party Congress, denouncing Joseph Stalin's policies on nationalities, the Crimean Tatars began their national campaign to return to Crimea, a campaign that still continues today. This, of course, is a totally new process in the Crimean Tatar history, which until then recorded only the mass exodus of Crimean Tatar people from their ancestral homeland, the Crimea.

4 Ethem Fevzi Gozaydin, Kirim: Kirim Turklerinin Yerlesme ve Gocmeleri, Istanbul, 1948. The Preface was written by Cafer Seydahmet Kirimer.

5 The Ottoman Turkey was known as Ak Toprak among Crimean Tatars where many of them emigrated eventually. The following are the better known of the mass exodus of the Crimean Tatars:

Emigration of 1785-1800: Nearly 300, 000 Crimean Tatars were forced to emigrate.
Emigrations of 1806-1812
Emigration of 1828: 200,000 Crimean Tatars emigrated.
Emigration of 1861-1869: 150. 000 Crimean Tatars left Crimea.
Emigration of 1890: 20,000 Crimean Tatars left Crimea in one year.

6 The author of this article researched the emigrations of Crimean Tatars from Crimea to Turkey in the twentieth century. About 10,000 Crimean Tatars were able to emigrate in the 1930s, and another 10,000 Crimean Tatars were able to leave Crimea on the eve of mass deportation of 1944 and eventually emigrate to Turkey from refugee camps in Europe in the 1940s.

7 Hakan Kirimli, Kirim Tatarlarinda Milli Kimlik ve Milli Hareketler (1905-1916), Turk Tarih Kurumu Basimevi, Ankara, 1996, p.37.

8 Ivar Spector, The Soviet Union and The Muslim World, 1917-1958, University of Washington Press, 1959, pp. 30-31.

9 Cafer Seydahmet Kirimer, Gaspirali Ismail Bey - Dilde, Fikirde, Iste Birlik, Avrasya Bir Vakfi Yayinlari, Istanbul, pp. 181-182.

10 Ibid., p.182.

11 From the author's personal archive. Brian Williams' translation from Tercüman.

12 From the author's personal archive. Brian Williams' translation from Tercüman.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 Spector, Soviet Union, p.31.

16 From the author's private archive. Brian William' translation from Tercüman.

17 Quoted in: Cafer Seydahmet Kirimer, Gaspirali Ismail Bey - Dilde, Fikirde, Iste Birlik, Avrasya Bir Vakfi, Istanbul, p 180.

18 Ismail Bey Gasprinskii, "Darul Rahat Müslümanlari," Yildiz, No.1, 1993, pp. 49-120.

19 Ibid., p.71.

20 Ibid., p.71.

21 Gasprinskii, "Darul Rahat Müslümanlari," p. 72.


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