Language of the Month: Crimean/Crimean Tatar (Qırımca or Qırımtatarca)

Ever since the early modern era, Eastern Europe has always been a bigger hotbed of tension than the rest of the continent and this has led to more territorial, ethnic, religious, linguistic, and ideological conflicts in this region. Such conflicts in the region continue even today. We've all seen the news on the current situation in Ukraine. The Euromaidan protests of late 2013 led to a crisis in February of last year known as the Crimean Crisis. This in turn culminated in the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. While the peninsula is de jure Ukrainian territory, its largely Russophone population was used as a justification by the Russian government to annex it, leading to icy relations between Russia and Ukraine. However, while the media and much of the world tends to view the conflict as an issue only between Russians and Ukrainians, one important detail is forgotten: the indigenous Crimean Tatars.

Crimean Tatars (whom shall be referred to as "Crimeans" in this article to avoid confusion with the Tatar people of Tatarstan) are a Sunni Muslim and Turkic ethnicity indigenous to Crimea and are actively trying to reassert their culture there. The people are often called "Tatar" and this leads to confusion with the actual ethnic group known as the Tatars (or Volga Tatars), who live in Tatarstan, and while related to Crimeans (as they're both Sunni Muslim and Turkic), are different as Tatars speak a language from the Uralo-Caspian branch of the Kypchak group of Turkic languages while Crimeans speak a language from the Ponto-Caspian group and because Crimeans have had more influences from Turks and Ukrainians while Tatars have had more interactions with the peoples of the Volga like the Udmurts, Mari, and Mordvins (the term "Tatar" or "Tartar" has also been used to denote several other ethnic groups incorrectly such as the Kalmyks and Manchus; Crimeans and their language have also been erroneously referred to as "Crimean Turkish"). Although Crimea has been controlled by numerous powers throughout its long history, the Crimeans were the ones who succeeded in giving the region its current common name ("Crimea" comes from the word Qırım) and have influenced many topographic names (e.g. the name of Crimea's most famous city, Yalta, is taken directly from Crimean). Their culture and language has been influenced by several groups in different ways which has led to variations in both which can be seen in the three sub-ethnicities: the Tats, (who make up 55% of Crimeans and whose dialect is the language's standard), the Yalıboyu (who make up 30% of the population and speak a heavily Turkish-influenced dialect), and the Noğay (who make up 15% of the population and speak a more explicitly Kypchak language). The Crimean language has about 450,000 speakers and is considered endangered.

Crimea was the center of the Crimean Khanate (Qırım Hanlığı in Crimean) which was a powerful Turkic Khanate created in 1449 as the result of the Golden Horde deteriorating. In 1478, the Ottoman Empire forced the Khan of Crimea to declare Crimea a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. In practice however, the Ottomans treated the Crimeans as allies than vassals. The Crimean Khanate terrorized Eastern Europe under the aegis of the Ottoman Empire and served as an essential ally in the Empire's wars in Europe (such as the Ottoman-Hungarian wars) where they served as elite troops. The Khanate was also known for being a center of the Middle Eastern slave trade as more than a million East Slavs and others were captured for the slave market by the Crimeans. The Khanate also became a renowned center of culture due to its famous libraries and its capital having the reputation of being an extremely clean and green city.

The fall of Crimea was a result of the Ottoman Empire weakening over time and this made Crimea more susceptible to attacks from Russia. In 1774, after the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca ended a war between the Russian and Ottoman Empires, Crimea was no longer under Ottoman protection and this led to increased pressure from Russia and culminated in the Russian annexation of the Khanate in 1783. Many Crimeans, including the last Khan, Şahin Geray, fled to the Ottoman Empire and this is why there are Crimean communities today in Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey. The Crimean War also had a devastating effect as indigenous Crimeans were seen as a fifth column by the Russian government because one of their enemies was the Ottoman Empire and this resulted in many fleeing to Turkey and Crimeans becoming a minority in Crimea (subsequent mass immigration from Russia worsened this). When the Russian Revolution and the consequent Russian Civil War occurred in 1917, the Crimeans were able to establish the Crimean People's Republic (the first secular state in the Muslim world) under Noman Çelebicihan. However, it was crushed by Bolshevik forces and many Crimeans fled to other parts of Europe as a result.

In the Soviet Union, Crimeans suffered tremendously. Although they at first prospered due to the Korenizatsiya policy, which supported the cultivation of minority languages, this changed in the 1930s when Joseph Stalin consolidated his power in the USSR and decided to promote the Russian language more overtly. This culminated in the liquidation of many Crimeans who were seen as nationalists and therefore "enemies of the people" as well as a reduction in schooling in Crimean and the closing of many libraries and mosques in Crimea. Many Crimeans also died in the 1930s as a result of famine which wiped out about half the population. This led to anti-Soviet sentiments arising amongst them and is the reason why many chose to support the Wehrmacht in 1941 after Germany invaded the Soviet Union. However, the vast majority of Crimeans stayed loyal to the Soviets and several distinguished themselves in combat and earned the Hero of the Soviet Union award (the USSR's highest military honor) such as Ahmet-Han Sultan (a Crimean who became a notable Soviet pilot). Unfortunately, the participation of some Crimeans on the Axis side was used by Joseph Stalin to justify the deportation of them from their homelands (several other minorities, such as Chechens, Volga Germans, and Kalmyks, also suffered a similar fate on the grounds of alleged mass collaboration with Germany). The deportation of the Crimeans is known as the Sürgün (Crimean for exile).

The Sürgün occurred on May 18th 1944 and involved Soviet soldiers marching into settlements in Crimea and announcing the immediate removal of Crimeans to Central Asia and other parts of Russia. Crimeans were given little time to prepare and stuffed into trains bound to other parts of the USSR and as a result of the unsanitary conditions as well as overcrowding on the trains, more than 100,000 (over 40% of the population) perished. Furthermore, the people were stigmatized as they were branded as traitors by the Soviet government. Crimeans were dispersed but the vast majority was deported to Central Asia (mainly Uzbekistan, which is why there are still many Crimean speakers there). Many Crimeans suffered in Uzbekistan as they contracted Malaria, which they had no resistance to, and also suffered discrimination from local Uzbeks. The Crimeans were not allowed to return to Crimea en masse until 1989 and therefore had to develop their culture while in exile (this led to the creation of a Crimean newspaper in Tashkent, Uzbekistan). Russians made up the majority of Crimea's population when they started to return and as a result, the Crimeans only make up 12.7% of Crimea's population despite there being more than 250,000 of them in Crimea. Moreover, their efforts to reestablish dominance in their homeland is heavily opposed by the Russian population of Crimea. After the fall of the USSR, Crimea became an autonomous region of newly independent Ukraine with Russian, Ukrainian, and Crimean as official languages. The use of Crimean has increased due to the higher birthrate of the returning Crimeans and an increase in schools that teach the language (a notable example being the Simferopol International School, opened in 2003).

Crimean is unique amongst the Turkic languages because it's been seen as both a member of the Kypchak group of Turkic languages (which includes Kazakh, Tatar, and Bashkir), and the Oghuz group (which includes Turkish, Gagauz, and Turkmen). Although Crimean is nowadays usually seen as a Kypchak language, it has had heavy influences from Oghuz languages (especially Turkish) which are most prominent in the Yalıboyu dialect. An example of this is in the words for "goodbye" which are "Sağlıqnen qalıñız" (said by person leaving) and "Sağlıqnen barıñız" (said by person staying) in the Tat dialect, but are "Oşçakal" (said by the person leaving) and "Küle küle" (said by the person staying) in the Yalıboyu dialect (in Turkish, the words for "goodbye" are "Hoşçakal" and "Güle güle"). There are three alphabets for the language: an Arabic one that is no longer in use, a Latin one almost identical to that of Turkish (with the addition of the letters "Qq" and "Ññ"), and a Cyrillic one preferred by the Russian government currently controlling Crimea. The language's grammar is almost identical to that of Turkish and shares features like a flexible word order (an example being in the sentence "Menim vaqtım yoq"—"I don't have time" which can also be rendered as "Yoq vaqtım", although this is slightly rude) and using the word "bar" (equivalent to Turkish "var") to indicate possession. This can be seen in the sentences "Deñizde adalar bar." (Crimean) and "Denizde adalar var." (Turkish) which mean "There are islands in the sea." ("Deñizde" means "at sea" and "adalar" means "islands or archipelago").

Resources for learning Crimean are incredibly difficult to find in English. Phrasebooks and other resources exist only for Russian (and possibly Ukrainian and Turkish) speakers. However, the language is becoming more widespread amongst younger Crimeans and it has a significant media presence. This has led to two notable films that use Crimean: the 1999 Polish historical drama film Ogniem i Mieczem (which focuses on the Khmelnytsky Uprising, which the Crimean Khanate had participated in), and the 2013 Ukrainian historical drama film Haytarma (which is about the Sürgün). The Crimean anthem, Ant Etkemen, is also easy to find online, and groups dedicated to the revival of Crimean culture and language have also been increasing (one of these groups being the International Committee for Crimea, based in Washington DC).

Crimea is currently in a serious situation. After the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014, Crimeans have reported mass persecution against them by Russian authorities in ways such as kidnappings, murders, and the closing of Crimean libraries. The Russian Federation has officially declared the Crimeans as a group to be protected and that everyone in Crimea has equal rights but many Crimeans see these as empty words. Moreover, the people are somewhat divided in opinion because while the majority support the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars (an organization representing them) and the Kurultai (the Crimean Tatar parliament), some support the militant pro-Russian group Milliy Fırqa. Because of this situation, the situation of the Crimean language and people is precarious. Nevertheless, if more people learn Crimean, the Crimean people will have a much better likelihood of surviving their current crisis.

EnglishCrimean/Qırımca (Tat dialect)

Hello/Welcome Meraba/Hoş keldiñız
Thank you Savbol (or) Sağ ol
You're welcome/Please Rica etem
Excuse me Bağışlarsıñız
Where is the toilet? Tuvalet ne yerde?
Goodbye Sağlıqnen qalıñız! (said by person leaving), Sağlıqnen barıñız! (said by person staying)
How are you? Kayta Katesin?
Nice to meet you Siznen tanış olğanımdan pek memnünim
Do you understand? Siz añlaysıñızmı?
I don't understand Men anlamayım
My name is_ Menim adım _
Help! Yardım etmek!
How do you say _ in Crimean? _ Kelimesini Qırımtatarca'da nasıl aytılır?
English İnglizce
Japanese Yaponca
Russian Rusça
Turkish Türkçe
I don't speak Crimean (well) Qırımtatarca (pek yahşi) laf etmeyim
I'm sorry Afu etiñiz.
Yes/No/And Ebet/Yoq/Ve
Right/Left Sağğa /Solğa
Certainly Kesiñliqle
I am... Men…
Happy Birthday! Tuvgan künün kutlu bolsın!
Happy New Year! Cenı cılınız kutlu bolsın
Friend/Friends Dost/Dostlar
Who/What/When/Where/Why/How/This/That
Kim/Ne/Ne vaqıt/Ne yerde/Ne içun/Nasıl/Bu/O
Where is my room Menim odam ne yerde?
Don't touch me there! Maña toqunma!

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