About Crimea and Russian & Ottoman Empires

Whenever driving from Ankara to Bursa (the first Ottoman capital) or Kutahya, center of Ottoman ceramics, I always stopped by Eskisehir for lunch, where Tatars sell fried slim-rolled bread of wheat and cheese, somewhat like puris in India, except it is very delicious. Yes, I missed Indian pickle called achaar, which actually comes from the Turkish verb achak, which opens (the appetite).

Cimmerians, Bulgars, Greeks, Scythians, Goths, Huns, Khazars, Kievan Rus', Byzantine Greeks, Kipchaks, Ottoman Turks, Golden Horde Tatars and the Mongols each controlled Crimea in its earlier history. In 13th century, it was controlled by the Venetians and the Genoese. Before that Greek colonies of western Asian Minor coast had their trading posts.

They were followed by the Crimean Khanate and the Ottoman Empire in the 15th to 18th centuries, the Russian Empire in the 18th to 20th centuries, Germany during World War II and the USSR during the rest of the 20th century. Crimea a part of Russian Soviet republic was gifted by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to Ukraine.
However like others in India I learnt about Crimea from our school textbooks about the British nurse Florence Nightingale, who nursed allied troops in the war against Russia for the Ottoman Empire of which Crimea was then a part. However after the roll back of the Ottoman Empire, Crimea became part of the advancing Czarist Empire.

Like other later empires say of the British, French and other European powers and after World War II, USA the links and residual connections between the Imperial power and their former colonies remain intact in some form or the other. Citizens from former European colonies migrated to the European nations and now USA. The migration continues even today, to which the former colonial masters are now putting up strong resistance, except for those who are highly qualified.

As the Ottoman Empire started shrinking, its subjects, especially the Muslims started migrating to Ottoman heartland i.e. Anatolia and even to the Balkans provinces/Velayat. The Ottoman policy was to scatter migrations from its former territories, not only in Anatolia, but also to its Arab provinces, an example being the Cherkes and Chechens from Caucasia settled around Amman, the capital of the Kingdom of Jordan, where they form the Royal guards of the Hashemite ruler. Crimean Tatars are one of the diverse peoples comprising the modern nation of Turkey.

However, Turkey’s alliance with Western powers against Russian expansionism had some reasons behind the Crimean War (1853–1856). Ottoman Turkey had been in conflict with Russia, and after the war broke out, Russia lost to an alliance of Ottoman Turkey, France, Britain and Sardinia.

And the Crimean War transformed the region. With this defeat, Russia ceased for a time to be a security threat in the Black Sea and to Turkey. Because of wars, battles and population exchanges and mass movements the present-day states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine, along with the Crimean and Caucasus regions, underwent changes in large and small ways.

From the Ottoman Empire more than 25 new states have emerged so far and counting. Later we will look at the problems because of the Crimea Tatars in Turkey.

The Crimean War represented one of the main causes of the demise of the Concert of Europe, the balance of power that had dominated the continent since the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

There are many intriguing elements in the current conflict between the West and Russia over Crimea. Some believed that the post–Cold War period had ended, but the international system is now on the brink of a “neo–Cold War.” In fact for US led West the Cold War never finished, and the former tried to strangle the Russian people. Promises made when USSR allowed German re-unification not to extend NATO east of Germany were broken with impunity. Ukraine is another stark example.

According to a Turkish analyst, the US and Europe do not recognize the so-called referendum backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin that garnered 95% approval, (it was similar to elections in Serbia, Georgia and in Ukraine earlier). Putin then signed a decree annexing Crimea to Russia. What can Turkey, as the spokesman for its Tatar kin, and the Western world, which considers the referendum illegal, can do now. Go to war with Russia as during 1853–1856? , with serious problems at home and abroad with all its neighbors, courtesy, a hot headed and maverick prime minister.

It is agreed that a war is not in the cards and that the United States and the rest of the West would commit themselves to what remains of Ukraine. In short, they will try to live with the loss of Crimea. Russia therefore stands today as a country not to be contained by British, French and Turkish troops by declaring war as in the mid-1850s.

Another striking difference between the 19th and 21st centuries is that in 1856 in the aftermath of the Crimean War, France emerged as the ascendant power in Europe. Since WWII, the United States has surpassed Britain as a power, while in the Crimean crisis, Germany, not France, is the ascendant in Europe. Also, Turkey of the 21st century, until recently criticized because of its foreign minister's pursuit of “neo-Ottoman” policies, does not possess the same clout as the 1850s Ottomans in international or regional politics.

The Turkish public, preoccupied with rough and turbulent domestic politics , has not taken note of this shortcoming, but the international actors reaping the by-products of the crisis — Russia and Ukraine and Syria — could not have missed it. Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, at a joint press briefing in Turkey with the Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Cemiloglu [formerly Jamilev], said Crimea belonged to Ukraine and declared Russian claims to Crimea illegal. The Tatars today constitute only 10% of the Crimean population as result of ethnic cleansing that peaked during the Stalin era.

Movement of Populations Post Crimean War;

The flow of populations became a torrent after the Crimean War following new persecutions elsewhere in Europe. The war itself led the Russians to change their relatively tolerant policy toward the Tatars and Circassians into one of active persecution and resettlement from their original homes to desolate areas in Siberia and even farther east. (This was repeated during World War II) The result was mass migration into Ottoman territory, often with the encouragement of the Russians, who were glad to get rid of the old population to Russianize and Christianize the southern areas of their new empire.

From individual accounts it appears that the numbers were immense. Some 176,700 Tatars from the Nogay and Kuban settled in central and southern Anatolia between 1854 and 1860. Approximately a million came in the next decade, of which a third were settled in Rumeli, the rest in Anatolia and Syria. From the Crimea alone, from 1854 to 1876, 1.4 million Tatars migrated into the Ottoman Empire.

Even Slavic migration begun before the Crimean War intensified - Cossacks who fled from the Russian army settled as farmers in Macedonia, Thrace and western Anatolia. Bulgarians settled in the Crimea to replace the Tatars returned to their homes in the Ottoman Empire from an alien environment.

The mass migration of Muslims continued, though at a somewhat less intense pace, during the early years of Abdulhamit II, mostly in consequence of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1888 and the autonomy given to Bulgaria and Romania, Austrian control of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the cession of northern Dobruca to Romania and northern Macedonia to Serbia. Official statistics estimated that over a million refugees entered the empire between 1876 and 1895. The number of male Muslims doubled during the years from 1831 to 1882, with the proportion of Muslims to non-Muslims increasing substantially.

The immigrants were settled widely throughout the empire, many in villages that had been abandoned and some in eastern Anatolia, particularly in Cilicia (Adana region) and Arab lands like Syria, sometimes leading to conflict and problems. The lands could not have been intensively cultivated and the rural middle class built up had it not been for the tremendous influx of refugees who provided the necessary labor and males for future wars.

Amazons in Ottoman Harems!

But the ingress and intermingling of Caucasian people with the Turks is much deeper among its elite. “Young girls of extraordinary beauty, plucked from the slave market, were sent to the sultan’s court, often as gifts from his governors. Among the singular, lasting privileges of the valide [mother] sultana was the right to present her son with a slave girl on the eve of Kurban Bayram [sacrificial day]. The girls were all non-Muslims, uprooted at a tender age. The sultans were partial to the fair, doe-eyed beauties from the Caucasus region. Circassians, Georgians and Abkhazians were proud mountain girls, believed to be the descendents of the Amazon women who had lived in Scythia near the Black Sea in ancient times and who had swept down through Greece as far as Athens, waging a war that nearly ended the city's glamorous history.

“Now they were being kidnapped or sold by impoverished parents. A customs declaration from around 1790 establishes their worth at about 20 percent to 40 percent of a horse. The promise of a life of luxury and ease overcame parental scruples against delivering their children into concubines. Many Circassian and Georgian families encouraged their daughters to enter that life willingly. They were immediately converted to Islam and began an arduous training in palace etiquette and Islamic culture.” (From Harem by Alev Lytle Croutier).

Lucie Duff Gordon also reported it in her 1864 travel diary. While the earlier mothers of sultans were Greek or Serbian princesses married to the rulers, after the capital shifted to Constantinople, everyone was a member of the harem under valide sultana's control, with those giving birth to children, especially boys, jumping up in the harem hierarchy.

Many of the mother sultanas were Circassians and Georgians, one even French, Aimee de Rivery. They exercised great influence over their sons, now the sultan. The harem politics also became a reason for the decline of the empire. The word odalisque literally “woman in the room”, comes from oda (room). But harem life was embellished by feverish European imagination, whose rulers were no less sensual, but lacked wealth and culture at that time.

In friendly arguments with Turkish friends, mostly diplomats, I would tease them, “What do you mean you are a Turk. You don't even look like a Turk. They are chinky-eyed and have little hair on their face. Of course you speak good Turkish, as you have been practicing it for 500 years.” This devastating repartee usually ended the argument. Most would smile and happily admit that his grand uncle or grandmother came from Circassia or Bosnia. During the days of the empire, the elite called itself the Ottomans. The word Turk was reserved for the village yokel and a term of contempt. It was Kemal Ataturk who bestowed dignity on the word Turk.

Turkey boasts of over forty civilizations. The Turkic tribes entered Anatolia only in 11 century and in 1453 conquerred the Byzantine capital Constantinople when it became the Ottoman Istanbul, with the 6th century magnificent St. Sophia Church converted into a mosque. But Turkey and Istanbul has monuments and ruins from its millennium and half long Roman and Byzantine past (Turkey has more Greek monuments than Greece and more Roman sites than Italy). It has many historic Christian places, i.e. Chalcedon, Nicomedea, Nicea or all the churches of revelation; for, Asia Minor as Turkey was then known was also a cradle of Christianity. Also Testament's Mount Ararat and Noah’s Ark with ruins of beautiful Armenian Churches and Urartian monuments in the region of Kars and Van. The fabled Pontus Trabzon, Sumela monastry on the Black Sea coast of the Golden Fleece, whence emerged Xenophon and his ten thousand after an arduous journey through Kurdish speaking lands. Divrigi, with its masterpieces of pre-Ottoman architecture. Amazon Queen founded Sinop, the birthplace of cynic Diogenes who told off Alexander the Great for shutting out his sunlight.


More by :  K. Gajendra Singh

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