Crimean Tatars: A to Z

A (Alphabet)

Today in use there are the two types of alphabet: Cyrillic and Latin. Initially Crimean Tatars used Arabic script for their writing. In 1928 it was replaced with Latin alphabet. Cyrilics was introduced in 1938 based on the Russian alphabet. Cyrilic alphabet was the only official one that Crimean Tatars had between 1938 and 1997. All its letters coincide with those of the Russian alphabet. The 1990s saw the start of the gradual transition of the language to the new Latin alphabet based on the Turkish one. In 1997 the new Latin alphabet was officially approved by the Parliament (Rada) of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. De-facto authorities of the annexed Crimea are now in try to re-introduce Cyrilics for the Crimean Tatar language. The Crimean Tatar community prefers Latin characters as they better correspond to the language’s phonetics.

B (Bakhchysarai)

Bakhchysarai Khan residency

It is a town, administrative center in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. In the V-VI centuries on the outskirts of the present-day Bakhchysarai a cave city Kyrk-Or appeared. In the XV century Kyrk-Or became residence of the Crimean Khan Haci I Giray. His son Mengli Giray constructed a new palace Devlet Sarai at the foot of Kyrk-Or. The palace has not made it to nowadays. At the beginning of the XVI century a new Khan palace started being constructed. It was called Bakhchysarai (translated as the “palace in the garden” from the Tatar). Later this name spread to the city that quickly grew around the palace and became the capital of the Crimean Khanate. In 1532 Khan’s residence was officially moved to the Bakhchysarai Palace. It is also considered to be the year when the city itself was founded.

C (Coffee)

Coffee is an integral part of the Crimean Tatar routines. Coffee is usually served in small cups with sugar. Traditionally as soon as the lady of the house heard a guest enter the house she immediately started making coffee. The Crimean Tatar saying goes: “Coffee and tobacco is all you need for happiness.”

D (Deportation)

Deportation of Crimean Tatars

Soviet authorities, namely NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs), started forcible deportation of Crimean Tatars from the peninsula on May 18, 1944. The official explanation for these actions was alleged collaboration of some Crimean Tatars with the Nazi Germany during the WWII.

E (Eupatoria or Yevpatoria)


It is a resort town with a port located on the western coast of the Crimean Peninsula. Yevpatoria is famous with its thermal and salt waters as well as with the mud baths. Yevpatoria originated as a small Greek settlement around 500 BC. In 1475, the region was seized by the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans called the town Gözleve which means “one hundred eyes” or “a house and an eye”. The word originates from the Ottoman word meaning “to watch, to overlook”. Gözleve became one of the most important cities of the Crimean Khanate in XVI-XVIII centuries. Only Bakhchysarai outnumbered it by the number of houses. The town accommodated a slave market and was a destination for numerous Cossack sea trips.

F (Festivities)

There are six most popular Crimean Tatar festivities. Jyl Hecesi (or New Year). Crimean Muslims celebrate it on December 22, on the day of the winter solstice. It marks the coming of winter. It is a family holiday that bears no complicated rituals. Navrez is the day of farmers, celebrated on March 20 or 21 (spring equinox). It marks the beginning of spring, the first day of a new year as well as the start of a new agricultural season. Hıdırlez is a holiday marked on the first week of May when the first spike of grain appears in the field. Festivities praise labor and social activities. Derviza is observed during the autumn equinox, on September 22. The celebration is held near a sacred place. An animal (a ram in Crimea) is usually sacrificed. Eid al-Fitr starts right when Ramadan is over. Following the festive namaz (Salah) Crimean Tatars give out alms to those suffering, to poor, orphans, homeless and single elderly. It is the day to ask each other for forgiveness, the time for all who have quarreled to make peace. Four days ahead of the holiday Crimean Tatars start the cleaning. Men visit and tidy up the graves of their relatives. Women clean houses and cook up festive dishes. It is traditional to buy new shoes and clothes for children as well as candies. It is also considered a must to treat the dog with the delicious dishes cooked. Eid al-Adha is one of the main Muslim holidays. It is marked for three days.

G (Giray dynasty)

Sahin Giray

The dynasty of Crimean Khans of the XV-XVIII centuries and a side branch of the Tatar family of Genghisids. In 1449, the founder of the dynasty Haci I Giray made use of the Golden Horde’s decline to announce the independence of the Crimean Khanate. In 1475, the son of Haci I Giray Khan Mengli I Giray had to accept the status of a vassal of an Ottoman sultan. In the beginning of the war for Ukrainian national liberation of 1648-1657 Khan Islam III Giray allied with the Ukrainian Hetman Bohdan Khmelnitsky. He though betrayed his allies during the Battle of Zboriv in 1649, Battle of Berestechko in 1651 and Battle of Zhvanets in 1653 not to let the Ukrainian army win in these key combat episodes. After Crimea was seized by the Russian Empire in 1783, the last Crimean Khan Sahin Giray had to abdicate and leave for Turkey.

H (Hymn, or anthem)

On June 30, 1991, Qurultay (see the description below) adopted the official anthem of the Crimean Tatars, the Qırımtatar milliy gimni. The song chosen was “Ant etkenmen” (I’ve pledged) written by Noman Çelebicihan. There is also another song that the Crimean Tatars consider to be their second anthem. In 1960, some Tatars were granted exclusive right to return back to Crimea after the deportation of 1944. Among them were Fatma Khalilova and Shukry Osmanov who wrote and sang the song “Ey Güzel Qırım” (My lovely Crimea). The song became unofficial anthem of all the Crimean Tatars who dreamt about returning to their native land.

I (Enver İzmaylov)

Crimean Tatar guitar player, composer, awarded artist. Independently from western guitar players Enver İzmaylov invented the tapping technique, the guitar playing style when both hands rest on the instrument’s neck. İzmaylov has been a member of Ukraine’s Jazz Association since 1995. The Crimean Tatar musician holds numerous awards from international festivals including from the International Guitar Festival in Lausanne, Switzerland.

J (Jamala)


Susana Camaladinova better known by her stage name Jamala is a Ukrainian artist of Crimea Tatar and Armenian origin. Jamala graduated from the National music academy of Ukraine. She is the author of most of the verse and music for her songs. Jazz, soul, funk, folk, pop and electro are the styles that Jamala performs in. She has also taken part in opera plays and music shows. Last year Jamala won the Eurovision song contest in Stockholm with the “1944” song that bears its name from the year when Soviet authorities deported Crimean Tatars from the peninsula. Jamala was an ardent Euromaidan supporter, she has condemned the Russian annexation of Crimea.

K (Crimean Khanate)

Crimean Khanate

Monarchy of the Crimean Tatar Giray dynasty existed between 1449 and 1783. The Crimean Khanate comprised of the territory of Crimea, steppes of the modern-day southern Ukraine, the area between the Dnister and the Don rivers as well as the lands of the northern Kuban. The Khanate was founded by Haci I Giray after the political dispersal of the Golden Horde. In 1478 with his son Mengli ruling, the Khanate became protectorate of the Ottoman Empire. Over the XV-XVIII centuries the Khanate was in a state of permanent wars with their northern neighbors – Zaporizhian Cossacks, Lithuania, Poland, Moscovia and Don Cossacks. It was largely destroyed during the Russian-Ottoman war of 1735-1739. The Crimean Khanate gained its independence in 1774 after the Ottoman Empire was defeated by Russia. A decade later, in 1783, it was annexed by the Russian Empire.

L (Literature)

Crimean Tatar literature got its start in times of the Golden Horde, flourished during the Crimean Khanate era and saw its renaissance in the end of the XIX century. Poem “Jusuf and Zuleykha” written by Mahmud Kirimli in the XIII century is considered to be one of the first Crimean Tatar literary pieces. During the Golden Horde times (in the XIII century – first half of the XV century), after Islam was adopted, the so-called palace poetry emerged also known as the “divan” or secular literature. Khans and aristocrats were its authors. All pieces of the period were written with the use of the Arabic script. Poetry was the leading literary genre of the time. Among the prominent poets there were Abdul-Mejid Efendi, Usein Kefeviy, Mengli I Giray, Bora Gazi, Rammel Hoja, Ashik Umer, Mustafa Cevheriy, Leilya Bikech, Ashik Arif, Janmuhammed, Edip Efendi and a female poet Khan-zade-khanum who was the wife of the Khan Bakhadyr I Giray. After the Russian takeover, the literary life of Crimean Tatars stopped as the Khans were principal patrons of the poetry. Key literary figure in the end of the XIX – in the beginning of the XX century was Ismail Gaspirali (Gasprinski) who was the pioneer of tales and novels in the Crimean Tatar literature. The deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944 actually interrupted the literary tradition. Soviet narrative was silencing the fact of existence of the Crimean Tatar literature until the 70s.

M (Mejlis)

Refat Chubarov

Mejlis is the highest representative body of the Crimean Tatars. According to its statute Mejlis aims to overcome the consequences of the genocide committed against the Crimean Tatars by the Moscow authorities, to restore the rights of the Crimean Tatars as well as to preserve their national and cultural identity. Mejlis has been subject to repressions after Crimea was annexed by Russia. In 2016, it was outlawed by the Russian authorities. Mejlis head Refat Chubarov was banned from entry to Crimea.

N (Noman)

Noman Çelebicihan

Noman Çelebicihan (1885-1918) was a Crimean Tatar politician and public actor. One of the organizers of the first Qurultay, first head of government of the Crimean people’s republic established in 1917 as well as the first mufti of Muslims in Crimea, Lithuania, Poland and Belarus. His verse “Ant etkenmen!” (I’ve pledged) became the text of the national anthem of the Crimean Tatars.

O (Origin)

Crimean Tatars have formed as an ethnic group in Crimea, they consider themselves descendants of various peoples that populated Crimea through various epochs. Main ethnic groups that contributed to forming of the Crimean Tatar people included Tauri, Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans, Greeks, Goths, Romans, Khazars, Pechenegs, Italians, Circassians and Turks. Key role in the ethnogenesis of the Crimean Tatars belongs to the western Kypchaks well-known in the Kievan Rus’ as Polovtsi and as Cumans in Western Europe. This diverse ethnic mixture grew into the Crimean Tatar people over the centuries. Factors that helped consolidate them in one nation were common territory, the Turkic language and Islam. Crimean Tatars finally formed as a people during the Crimean Khanate times. The Khanate existed from 1441 till 1783. Most of the time through its history it was dependent on the Ottoman Empire and was its ally.

P (Pilaf)


One of the most popular Crimean Tatar dishes. Despite the fact that in each area pilaf is cooked based on a different recipe, the basis for the dish remains unchanged. Its main components are meat, rice, onion and spices. Pilaf first appeared in the cuisine of the Turkic nomads in the Central Asia. They were traditionally growing sheep and trading with China exchanging the livestock for rice. However, legends say that pilaf originated as Alexander the Great brought the dish from Persians. Various cuisines include pilaf, it is treated as a dish for special occasions.

Q (Qurultay)


Representative body, nationwide congress of the Turkic peoples set to adopt decisions on the most important political, social and cultural issues of the Crimean Tatars. Qurultay members are appointed by Mejlis through secret voting. Qurultay can be compared to veche, Cossack Rada, church council or other types of collective decision-making in which each participant has one vote.

R (Religion)

The vast majority of the Crimean Tatars are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi Madhhab school. The Sunni Islam or Sunnism is the principal direction of Islam, it is sometimes referred to as the “orthodox Islam”. It is believed that only a highly reputable person with knowledge of theology and law can become a Caliph, religious leader. Hanafi Madhhab is one of the four legal schools in the present-day Sunni Islam. Historically Islamization of the Crimean Tatars went simultaneously with forming of the ethnic group itself, it was a very long process. The first step in it was seizure of Sudak, a settlement in Crimea, and its outskirts in the XIII century by the Seljuks. Islam spread massively in Crimea through the Golden Horde and Crimean Khanate times.

S (Amet-Khan Sultan)

Amet-Khan Sultan

Amet-Khan Sultan is a national Crimean Tatar hero. Sultan was a Soviet ace who took part in the World War II. He was the only Soviet pilot to have tested over 50 types of aircrafts, he actually tested 107 aircrafts in the air. At the initiative of Sultan’s brothers-in-arms, French pilots of the Normandie-Niemen regiment, the Crimean Tatar was awarded the title of honorary pilot of the French Airforce. On May 14, 2015 the Ukrainian Parliament renamed the Simferopol airport after Amet-Khan Sultan.

T (Turnover or çiberek)


Cheboreki is a turnover made of flour and water paste, filled with minced mutton and spicy herbs and fried in oil. Sometimes cheese is used as filling as well. Chebureki is considered to be one of the main national dishes of the Crimean peoples: Crimean Tatars, Black Sea Greeks, Krymchaks etc. Chebureki is traditionally eaten with hands. It is advised to hold it vertically and start eating it from the top as in the middle of Chebureki there’s much oil that once it comes out, may dirty hands and clothes.

U (Umer)

Aşıq Ümer

Aşıq Ümer was a Crimean Tatar romantic poet who lived in 1621-1707. Aşıq is the type of romantic poetry (“Aşıq” means “in love” in the Crimean Tatar language). Aşıq poets accompany their verse by playing saz, a traditional string instrument. Present-day Aşıq readings take place annualy in Yevpatoria, the city in Crimea where the medieval poet was born.

V (Vine, grapevine)

Crimean vineyards

Wine-making existed in Crimea since antiquity. “Excellent wine is made everywhere across the Tauric peninsula,” wrote nobleman Martin Bronevski in 1578, the royal envoy of the Polish King Stephen Bathory to the Crimean Khan Mehmed I Giray. Grapes were grown not only in the south but also in the steppe within the Crimean Khanate. Islam used to be the state religion of the Khanate and thus alcohol consumption was prohibited. Nevertheless Crimean Khans were served best types of Crimean wine. Wine-making actively developed in the XIX century when count Mikhail Vorontsov started growing wine grapes in the south of the peninsula. After the annexation Crimea’s wine sector lost most of its international market shares due to the sanctions.

W (Railway wagon)


Railway wagon or “teplushka” (from Ukrainian “teplo” – warm) is a freight wagon, used to transport both cattle and people. The name originated in the 1870s as a short name from the heat-insulated wagon. In 1944 Crimean Tatars were deported in such wagons. Survivors of those events remember: “In the morning instead of greetings, they were swearing and asking us: ‘Are there corpses?’ People were sticking to the dead, crying and did not want to let take them away. The soldiers were throwing the bodies of adults out of the doors, those of children out of the windows”.

X (Xenophobia)

Deportation of Crimean Tatars

Despite of the fact that Crimean Tatars lived in their own land, they often became subject to xenophobia and discrimination on the part of foreign peoples who came to the peninsula. In 1783 after the Russian Empire defeated the Ottoman Empire, Crimea was at first occupied and then annexed by Russia. It was the beginning of the era that the Crimean Tatars call “the Black Century”. Pressure from the Russian administration as well as the land expropriation from the rural population caused massive emigration of the Crimean Tatars to the Ottoman Empire. It’s their descendants who have formed up the Crimean Tatar diaspora in Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania. It also caused the decline of agriculture and depopulation of Crimea’s steppe area. Majority of the Crimean Tatar elite also left at that time. In parallel the Russian government was colonizing Crimea by moving people from the metropolis. It led to the fact that out of one million native Crimean people that lived in Crimea when it was annexed by Russia, only 200 thousand persons stayed on the peninsula until the end of the XIX century. They constituted just one quarter of the entire population of Crimea at the time. In 1921, the Crimean Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic was created as part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. After a short-lasting renaissance of national life that included opening of national schools, theatres and newspapers publishing, there were Stalin’s repressions of 1937. Majority of the Crimean Tatar intelligentsia was repressed. In 1941 Crimea was in control by the Nazi. 1944 became the year of the main tragedy in the Crimean Tatar history. On May 18, 1944 by the order of Stalin Crimean Tatars were accused of collaborationism and deported from Crimea.

Y (Yalta)


Yalta is a resort city on the southern coast of the Crimean peninsula, one of the key health resorts in Crimea. Yalta was first mentioned in historic documents in the XII century as a Byzantine port and a fishing settlement. It became part of history books as the city hosted the Yalta Conference in 1945, where the leaders of the US, the UK and the Soviet Union met to discuss the post-World War II agenda.

Z (Marlen Zmorka)

Marlen Zmorka

Ukrainian racing cyclist born in 1993, Crimea native. Zmorka is the winner of numerous international championships. In 2015, he won gold at the National Under-23 Time Trial Championships. Last year he came first at the Sharjah International Cycling Tour. Zmorka has been professional cyclist since 2008. He graduated from the Mykolaiv sports college. The athlete is currently part of the UAE cycling team.