The oc­cu­pied le­gacy

Who should pro­tect the cul­tural her­itage of Crimea?

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Mykhailo Yakubovych

Who should pro­tect the cul­tural her­itage of Crimea?

In 2017, Ukrainian me­dia buzzed about the “bar­bar­ian re­con­struc­tion” of the Khan’s Palace in Bakhchysarai, a com­plex of palaces that were home for Crimean khans con­structed in the 15th cen­tury. It ac­quired its modern looks in the 18th cen­tury with a se­ries of re­con­struc­tions af­ter a by­pass­ing unit of Rus­sian Feld­marschall Kristof Minikh burned the khans’ res­i­dence down in 1736.

To Crimean Tatars and many other peo­ples of the re­gion this palace is the equiv­a­lent of the het­mans’ palace in Chy­hyryn for Ukraini­ans, Ver­sailles in Paris for the French or Top­kapi in Is­tan­bul for the Turks – a sym­bol of their past power. Af­ter the Bakhchysarai com­plex ended up in the hands of the oc­cu­pa­tional au­thor­i­ties in 2014, the preser­va­tion of this his­tor­i­cal site be­came a burn­ing topic.

The Rus­sia me­dia re­port that Ukraine has ne­glected the site so Rus­sia is now in­vest­ing new fund­ing to re­vive it. The Ukrainian me­dia re­port that it is be­ing ru­ined but don’t of­fer more de­tails. UNESCO has is­sued some state­ments on it: the Khan’s Palace was nom­i­nated for the World Her­itage list in 2003. State­ments have also been pub­lished by the Ukrainian Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs and Crimean Tatar or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing the Me­jlis, the rep­re­sen­ta­tive body of Crimean Tatars. A “trial process” against the “gov­ern­ment of Crimea” is on­go­ing in the oc­cu­pied penin­sula. Ac­cord­ing to the lo­cal me­dia, it is about neg­li­gent treat­ment of or­na­ments in the palace -some cal­li­graphic scrip­tures have been plas­tered with con­crete by the work­ers do­ing the re­pairs, the old roof was re­placed with modern tiles, and more.

This puts the oc­cu­pa­tional au­thor­i­ties in a strange po­si­tion: they build a ma­jor mosque in Sim­fer­opol and con­stantly re­port im­prove­ments for Crimean Tatars on the one hand, while mak­ing such a gross rep­u­ta­tion-dam­ag­ing mis­take on the other hand. It looks like the on­go­ing rapid rewrit­ing of his­tor­i­cal mem­ory to fit Rus­sia’s nar­ra­tive will re­veal more of sim­i­lar “re­con­struc­tion” or “restora­tion” fails by Rus­sia in the oc­cu­pied Crimea. Re­ports of sim­i­lar dam­age have come from Kher­sones Tavriysky, a cul­tural re­serve where “re­con­struc­tions” were made us­ing modern ma­te­ri­als and a street stage was in­stalled at a his­tor­i­cal site. Ac­cess to these sites has been re­stricted so they are re­ceiv­ing fewer vis­i­tors.

While the Khan’s Palace is in the spot­light, other sites are as im­por­tant to re­mem­ber. The nar­ra­tive of old Crimean his­tory goes far beyond the penin­sula as it cov­ers the traces of Tur­kic po­lit­i­cal pres­ence in South­ern Ukraine. Un­for­tu­nately, many Ukraini­ans see this pe­riod as a time of alien ri­vals and ag­gres­sive con­querors, and as some­thing very re­mote from the his­tory on which Ukraine is based in their eyes, that is the his­tory of Kyiv Rus and the Cos­sacks.

We will not aim to dis­pute the de­mo­graphic losses suf­fered from the Tatar and No­gai as­saults against Ukrainian cities and set­tle­ments, al­though the ac­tual sci­en­tific dis­cus­sion on this topic is still ahead. But the other side of this medal was the do­mes­ti­ca­tion of the steppe and the in­cor­po­ra­tion of it into the Ukrainian mind­set. In our minds to­day, Ukraine is un­think­able as the South-Western forests with­out South-Eastern steppes.

Another di­men­sion of that Tur­kic le­gacy is po­lit­i­cal: as Ukraine is wait­ing for a to­mos of au­to­cephaly for its Church, it re­calls that the steppe re­gions had been the “canon­i­cal ter­ri­tory” of the Ec­u­meni­cal Pa­tri­ar­chate of Con­stantino­ple (Is­tan­bul) be­fore they were con­quered by Rus­sia. Un­til re­cently, only his­to­ri­ans dis­cussed this. Now, some sources claim, this fact can be help­ful in Ukraine’s pur­suit of au­to­cephaly.

The ques­tion is what of this his­tory – more fa­mil­iar to some of us, and less so to oth­ers – can be res­cued so that it can speak for it­self in the fu­ture. The Tur­kic sites of the Great Steppe in­clude nu­mer­ous tombs with Ot­toman scrip­tures. Pre­vi­ously, some of them ended up in Ukrainian mu­se­ums while most were sim­ply crum­bling. These tombs have not yet been cat­a­logued prop­erly. Other sites in­clude the Akker­man Fortress, the mosque in Iz­mail, the sites in Ochakiv, Myko­layiv and Dnipro. Quite re­cently, Dnipro mu­nic­i­pal au­thor­i­ties trans­ferred to the Crimean Tatar com­mu­nity the build­ing of an old mosque. This marked an im­por­tant de­vel­op­ment for the Mus­lim Crimean Tatars and the right step in terms of mem­ory pol­icy and restora­tion of jus­tice.

Not all sites get this lucky. I stud­ied Crimean Tatar manuscripts that are now scat­tered any­where from the US to Iran, and was ex­tremely happy to find some in Lviv’s His­tory of Re­li­gion Mu­seum. Af­ter I re­searched the ma­te­ri­als stored at the mu­seum – they come from Zin­cirli Madrasa, the old­est Islamic ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­ity of Eastern Europe lo­cated in Crimea – I found out that most of the col­lec­tion re­turned to Crimea in 2008. These Crimean stocks were orig­i­nally moved to Lviv in the 1970s when the first Mu­seum of Re­li­gion His­tory and Athe­ism in the Ukrainian SSR opened there. Af­ter Zin­cirli was re­stored in 2008, the manuscripts were re­turned to it. In 2007, Turkey in­vested al­most US $3mn in the site and Zin­cirli opened as a mu­seum com­plex in 2009. Ten years later, the oc­cu­pants re­moved the Ukrainian and Turk­ish flags from the name­plate. Some Rus­sian blog­gers only lamented about the fact that plate scripts were in Turk­ish, Ukrainian and English, not in Rus­sian. No Crimean sources re­port about what hap­pened to the manuscripts, in­clud­ing at least sev­eral dozen hand­writ­ten Qu­rans of the 16-19th cen­turies, whether they are still stored in Bakhchysarai, and

whether all of the mu­seum’s other ma­te­ri­als re­main in­tact.

It is no se­cret that many arche­o­log­i­cal and other ar­ti­facts from Ukraine used to of­ten end up in Euro­pean or Rus­sian markets. Un­til re­cently, a web­site worked that sold all kinds of finds, in­clud­ing from Crimea. A col­league once showed me a frag­ment of an in­ter­est­ing as­tro­nomic de­vice with Ara­bic scripts on it found near Crimea – he bought it for peanuts at one of web­site’s auc­tions. As a rule, ar­ti­facts end up on the black mar­ket far more of­ten than they do in the hands of re­searchers or mu­se­ums. Also, there have been mas­sive cases of steal­ing ar­ti­facts from mu­se­ums in Ukraine. Book ar­chives on Ukraine’s ter­ri­tory were of­ten dam­aged by bur­glars, fires or po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions. For ex­am­ple, Stalin’s regime handed over a third of the stocks held at the Lviv Os­so­lineum Li­brary to the Pol­ish Peo­ple’s Repub­lic in 1947.

In the 21st cen­tury, it is cru­cial to pre­serve sites and ar­ti­facts both phys­i­cally and dig­i­tally. Modern Dig­i­tal Hu­man­i­ties have de­vel­oped to the point of cre­at­ing global data­bases of manuscripts and are about to of­fer more op­por­tu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing search, anal­y­sis, copy­ing and read­ing of the newly dig­i­tal­ized manuscripts. Un­til re­cently, all this took some very painstak­ing ef­forts. Dig­i­tal­ized manuscripts to­day of­fer ac­cess to ma­te­ri­als that have been de­stroyed, are en­dan­gered or lost. This makes the work of re­searchers so much eas­ier.

At one point, the re­mains of Os­so­lineum’s hand­writ­ten funds (now held at the Va­syl Ste­fanyk Lviv National Re­search Li­brary) were scanned and posted for free ac­cess on a Pol­ish site. We are only dream­ing about some­thing sim­i­lar: Ukrainian re­searchers are still fac­ing quite a few bu­reau­cratic bar­ri­ers when ac­cess­ing ar­chives. For ex­am­ple, ev­ery lo­cal sci­en­tist in Turkey where some of the largest col­lec­tions in the world are stored has the right to get copies of manuscripts free of charge. In Ukraine, ob­tain­ing copies of manuscripts is of­ten a chal­lenge. Some mu­se­ums wel­come co­op­er­a­tion from re­searchers while oth­ers don’t pro­vide full cat­a­logue in­for­ma­tion. To make things worse, the re­cent Res­o­lu­tion № 2059/5 by the Min­istry of Jus­tice es­sen­tially bans free copy­ing of most doc­u­ments, in­clud­ing manuscripts, ar­chive re­searchers lament, so the copy­ing of doc­u­ments by or­der­ing the ser­vice from a given ar­chive be­comes pretty costly. It’s easy to un­der­stand the scale of the chal­lenge: a re­quest to copy a hun­dred pages of a doc­u­ment from the 17th or 18th cen­tury means spend­ing al­most the whole monthly salary for a Ukrainian re­searcher. Mean­while, the Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties have in­cluded hun­dreds of Crimean sites and ar­ti­facts in their records and are ac­tively de­vel­op­ing their own in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Crimea’s an­cient and modern his­tory. Rus­sia has sev­eral re­search cen­ters work­ing since 2014 that have pub­lished many jour­nals, col­lec­tions, magazines, trans­la­tions – in­clud­ing of Crimean clas­sics – and his­tory books. Not all of them serve the pur­pose of Rus­sia’s nar­ra­tive as their au­thors had been worked on their top­ics long be­fore the oc­cu­pa­tion of Crimea. Still, this is a Rus­sian view of the Crimea, and it is de­vel­op­ing un­der a pat­tern ap­plied to other Mus­lim sub­jects of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion. What makes the sit­u­a­tion of Crimea dif­fer­ent is that the of­fi­cial Rus­sian his­to­ri­og­ra­phy of­ten treats Crimean Tatars as the in­com­ing set­tlers, and Crimea as “Rus­sian land”. All these ma­te­ri­als are trans­lated into other lan­guages and pro­moted in the global re­search com­mu­nity thereby shap­ing the “Rus­sian hu­man­i­tar­ian aura” for Crimea and the Rus­sian school of Crimean stud­ies. Also, kazasker or ka­di­asker books, the long-time records of the chief judge from the Bakhchysarai court that make one of the most valu­able source of Crimea’s his­tory – were partly de­stroyed and partly taken to St. Peters­burg back in the day. They now re­main at the Rus­sian National Li­brary.

A great con­trib­u­tor to the re­search of Crimea’s his­tory was the Foun­da­tion of Bekir Çoban-zade founded by Re­sul Velil­i­ayev, a well-known Crimean busi­ness­man and phi­lan­thropist. The foun­da­tion pub­lished manuscripts and funded an an­nual fel­low­ship to re­search Crimean Tatar his­tory. The foun­da­tion was ac­tive through­out the pe­riod of oc­cu­pa­tion. Then Re­sul Velil­i­ayev was arrested in April 2018 un­der bo­gus al­le­ga­tion of stock­ing up on ex­pired can­dies to sell them later. He has al­ready spent sev­eral months un­der de­ten­tion at the Moscow Le­for­tovo prison. Com­men­ta­tors as­sume that this case can be po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated: many in Crimea and Moscow don’t like any “in­de­pen­dent” Crimean Tatar ac­tiv­ity. In Oc­to­ber, a Ku­rul­tai of Crimean Mus­lims is sched­uled to take place as yet another at­tempt to le­git­imize fig­ures loyal to the Krem­lin as so-called lead­ers of the Crimean Tatar peo­ple.

In­te­grat­ing a smaller cul­ture into the greater con­cept by mo­nop­o­liz­ing the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of it per­fectly fits into the con­cept of colo­nial pol­i­tics. That’s how old ori­en­tal ar­chives were com­piled in the early modern Europe. The com­pila- tion of ori­en­tal funds in the Es­co­rial Royal Li­brary be­gan with the Span­ish pi­rates seiz­ing a Moroc­can boat with Ara­bic manuscripts and gift­ing them to Phillip II. Such ap­proaches could have been a norm 300 years ago but can hardly be nor­mal to­day when the re­search of old times is based on pub­lic avail­abil­ity of sources. While many EU mem­ber-states al­lo­cate mul­ti­mil­lion grants to sup­port the re­search of manuscripts and art pieces pre­served in the lo­cal li­braries, this win­dow of op­por­tu­nity is slowly clos­ing down in many prob­lem­atic ar­eas.

In Ukraine, de­por­ta­tion of Crimean Tatars stands within the same cat­e­gory as the Holodomor and is echoed by the cur­rent oc­cu­pa­tion of Crimea. Many ef­forts are fo­cused on keep­ing the topic of Crimea on the sur­face of in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics. Cul­ture – of Crimean Tatars and oth­ers – plays a sig­nif­i­cant role in this. It makes sense to in­ter­pret all cul­tural val­ues re­main­ing in Crimea as stolen. But this raises many nu­ances and prob­lems from the per­spec­tive of in­ter­na­tional law. As a re­sult of some of these prob­lems, Scythian gold from a Crimean mu­seum that was dis­played in the Nether­lands sev­eral years ago has not yet been re­turned to Ukraine. Time has come to cre­ate com­pre­hen­sive data­bases or cat­a­logues that would al­low us to de­velop clearer de­mands re­gard­ing the preser­va­tion of this le­gacy. This is a task not just for the fans of old his­tory and ar­ti­facts, mu­seum staff or the min­istries in charge. The prob­lem is that all this Crimean his­tory is grad­u­ally used to le­gal­ize the oc­cu­pa­tion of the penin­sula. Some cru­cial cul­tural val­ues can be taken out of Crimea (that’s why it’s im­por­tant to dis­cuss this with in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions that have some tools of in­flu­ence).

A pretty straight­for­ward, yet dif­fi­cult and costly task is to cre­ate a hub in Ukraine for the cul­tures of indige­nous peo­ples, thus turn­ing it into the main cen­ter for broad­cast­ing cul­tural senses, and his­toric mem­ory to a cer­tain ex­tent. This will prob­a­bly take more than just in­struct­ing a re­spec­tive in­sti­tute at the National Academy of Sci­ences. What we need is an in­sti­tu­tion with a modern model, modern fund­ing and aca­demic pro­duc­tiv­ity. Mean­while, Crimea seems to in­creas­ingly turn into a cul­tural is­land with fewer bridges con­nect­ing it to Ukraine.

Af­ter Zin­cirli was re­stored in 2008, the manuscripts were re­turned to it. In 2007, Turkey in­vested al­most US $3mn in the site and Zin­cirli opened as a mu­seum com­plex in 2009

Bar­bar­ian restora­tion. Rus­sian ini­tia­tives in Bakhchysarai have re­sulted in bar­baric ren­o­va­tion of the Khan's Palace

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