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Hijra and Forced Migration from Nineteenth-Century Russia to the Ottoman Empire. A Critical Analysis of the Great Crimean Tatar Emigration of 1860-1861 Author(s): Brian Glyn Williams Source: Cahiers du Monde russe, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 2000), pp. 79-108 Published by: EHESS Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20171169 Accessed: 29/03/2010 10:03
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BRIAN GLYN WILLIAMS
HURA AND FORCED MIGRATION FROM NINETEENTH-CENTURY RUSSIA
TO THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE
A critical analysis of the Great Crimean Tatar emigration of 1860-1861
The largest examples of forced migrations in Europe since the World War II
era have involved the expulsion of Muslim ethnic groups from their homelands by Orthodox Slavs. Hundreds of thousands of Bulgarian Turks were expelled from
Bulgaria by Todor Zhivkov's communist regime during the late 1980s; hundreds of
thousands of Bosniacs were cleansed from their lands by Republika Srbska forces
in the mid-1990s; and, most recently, close to half a million Kosovar Muslims have
been forced from their lands by Yugoslav forces in Kosovo in Spring of 1999. This
process can be seen as a continuation of the "Great Retreat" of Muslim ethnies from
the Balkans, Pontic rim and Caucasus related to the nineteenth-century collapse of
Ottoman Muslim power in this region. The first "dominoe" to fall in this historic
process of retreat by former Ottoman Muslim populations was a small Turco
Muslim ethnic group known as the Crimean Tatars. An analysis of the Crimean
Tatar mass migrations from the Russian Empire to the Ottoman Empire in the
nineteenth century can shed some light on the process that has seen millions of
Muslims uprooted and forced to migrate to the Muslim core of the Otttoman
Empire, Anatolia. To understand the migration of the Crimean Tatars one must go back to the period of the Crimean War.
In the aftermath of the Crimean War of 1853-1856 approximately 200,000 Crimean Tatars from a total population of roughly 300,000 living in the
Russian Empire's Tauride Province (the Crimean peninsula and neighboring steppe
lands) abandoned their ancestral lands and migrated to the Ottoman Empire in a
process known as hijra (religious migration). The strange mass movement of two
Cahiers du Monde russe, 41/1, Janvier-mars 2000, pp. 79-108.
80 BRIAN GLYN WILLIAMS
thirds of this Muslim people from their ancestral lands to the ak toprak ("white
soil", i.e. sacred land) of the Ottoman caliph-sultan is one of the least understood
migrations related to Russian colonial rule in the Muslim borderlands.
While this migration can be seen in part as a sub-plot to the Great Retreat of
Muslim ethnies such as the Circassians, Ubykhs, Abkhazians, Chechens, Nogais,
Bosniacs, Pomaks, Balkan Turks, Laz and other Muslim groups related to the
nineteenth-century collapse of Muslim rule in the Balkans, the Pontic rim and the
Caucasus, this movement had its own peculiar dynamics. As will be demonstrated, this little understood migration was partially the result of colonial policies specific to the Tauride province and internal mechanisms working within nineteenth
century Crimean Muslim society. In addition, events surrounding the Crimean
War, which was fought across the lands of Crimea long settled by Tatar peasants, acted as a catalyst for this mass emigration. In order to understand the background to this migration, which took place between 1859 and 1862, one must in fact look
back to the Crimean Tatars' position during the Crimean War.
There are considerable differences of opinion between many nineteenth-century tsarist officials and Soviet propagandists on one side and the Crimean Tatars and
their sympathizers (many of whom were Russian) on the other side concerning the
Crimean Tatars' role during the Crimean War. General Menshikov (the commander of the Crimean front during the Crimean War) and several Soviet
historians have generally depicted the Crimean Tatars as traitors to the Russian
rodina (homeland) during this conflict. The Crimean Tatars' communal betrayal of
Russia during this war is presented in many post-1944 sources as a rehearsal for this
nation's later "mass betrayal" of the Soviet Union during World War II.
P. N. Nadinskii's work Essays on the history of the Crimea (Ocherki po istorii
Kryma), published just seven years after the deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar
nation in 1944, is considered a classic of historical revisionism and generally paints a negative picture of the Crimean Tatars.
In this work Nadinskii writes "The massive migration of the Tatars to Turkey also appeared as a direct response to the war. The main cause of this emigration was
the Tatars' fear of just retribution for their traitorous behavior during the war."1 It
was, according to this popular viewpoint, the Crimean Tatars' "fanatical"
attachment to their co-religionists, the Turks, that led this people into collusion with
the Ottomans and their allies during the Crimean War. At the conclusion of the war,
according to anti-Tatar accounts, the Crimea's Muslim population, in a religious
frenzy, abandoned the Russian Empire in a mass migration to join their Muslim
allies in the Ottoman Empire. On the other hand, the Crimean Tatars and their sympathizers stress this
people's loyalty during the Crimean War and claim that they were actually the
passive victims of Russian attacks during the conflict. A nineteenth-century Russian writer living in the Crimea, Evgenii Markov, claims that the Russian
populace of the Crimea (as opposed to the officials in far off St. Petersburg) felt that
1. P. N. Nadinskii, Ocherki po istorii Kryma (Simferopol': Krymizdat, 1951): 140.
HURA AND FORCED MIGRATION 81
the Crimean Tatars had actually been loyal during the war. According to this source
"With one voice they say that, without the Tatars, we would have fallen; all means
of transport were exclusively in their hands."2 A second Russian source, G.I. Levitskii claims that "All this slander and censure" against the Crimean Tatars
was an obvious pretext by those not familiar with the Crimea or its Tatar inhabitants
to rid this territory of its Muslim population.3 General Totleben, the defender of Sevastopol during the Allied French, British,
Ottoman and Sardinian invasion of the Crimea (1854-1856), mentions that
relations between the Russian peasants and Muslim Tatars of the Crimea during the
war were friendly and writes: "Between the Russians and Tatars there is no
noticeable mutual hatred and our simple people now are extraordinarily regretful about the departure of the latter."4 From London, the exiled Russian writer
Alexander Herzen wrote:
"The general opinion of all those who know the Crimea is unanimously in favor of the Tatars. This people is quiet and submissive and does not have any sort of
prejudice against the Russian government, in spite of all the oppression, it has never thought about going over to its co-religionists and for long has not been fanatic."5
An examination of the Crimean Tatars' status during the Crimean War (and earlier
Russo-Turkish wars) favors the latter viewpoint and, in many ways, explains the
unprecedented mass migrations of Crimean Tatars to the Ottoman Empire during the mid-nineteenth century. Most contemporary accounts indicate that the Crimean
Tatars were victimized during the Crimean War and this experience destabilized
this community and left it prone to calls for migration from community religious leaders.
The status of the Crimean Tatars during the early Russo-Turkish wars
It is generally agreed that the roots of the mass nineteenth-century migration of the
Crimean Tatars to the Ottoman Empire lay in this minority's treatment during the
Crimean War of 1853-1856. While there were many factors