The Tatars of Crimea: return to the homeland

This book is not simply about the deportation and return of the Crimean Tatars but rather about the intellectual and cultural development of the Crimean Tatar people before, during and after deportation. In this respect it places the Tatar people more in a general study of the development of Islamic thinking and reform in the late 19th Century rather than just simply a book about one of many ethnic groups who where the subject of Stalin’s cultural and ethnic genocide.

The book consists of a collection of mostly Tatar scholars who have each devoted a chapter to one specific study of the Tatar people. Of great interest is their intellectual development in the late 19th Century. Most Western studies of Islam during this period usually regard this as a period of stagnation where ultra conservative religious scholars are put against western minded reformists. In fact, from this book we can see that many of the great Tatar reformists where in fact from a traditional background studying in the Madrasas and their views of reform where ones that sought greater social development of the Tatar people while maintaining their traditions. For these intellectuals the need was to improve literacy amongst the Tatar people (One major problem was that the Arabic script was not appropriate for the Tatar language and needed to be amended to cater for their needs) Another being the call for Tatar students to study abroad particually in Russia medicine in order to improve the health care of the Crimean Tatars. These intellectuals saw a Crimea where the Tatar people could rightfully take their place as equals amongst nations rather than a displaced minority in their own lands.

we read about how they also developed a national anthem and where moving closely towards a full sovereign nation. It should come as no surprise that it was here that perhaps the earliest democratic Muslim state was formed (And quickly destroyed by the Bolsheviks) The book continues into the exile of the Tatar people and how they struggled to keep hold of their identity through song and poetry and their recent return to the Crimea only to find much of their native homeland taken from them and now occupied by Russians and they reduced to shanty towns on the outskirts of the major cities.

This is a fascinating read and one I would recommend.

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