In May 1944, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the mass deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar population from the region to Central Asia, collectively accusing the community of collaborating with Nazi Germany. Tens of thousands of Crimean Tatars died while being transported on cattle trains or during the first few months after they arrived in Central Asia. Ukraine’s parliament has recognized the Crimean Tatars’ deportation as an act of genocide. But in the early 20th century, Crimean Tatar culture was flourishing.
RFE/RL shared the archive photos of Crimean Tatars to demonstrate the life in Crimea before the deportation.
Bakhchysaray, 1920s. Men covered their heads with a low cap made of sheep leather, a skullcap, or fez hat. A shirt with wide sleeves was tucked into wide cloth harem pants and was belted with a wide sash. A short vest with buttons was put on top of the shirt, and a long caftan on top of it. A woman makes coffee in Bakhchysaray during the 1920s. Coffee is central to Crimean Tatar cuisine and the culture as a whole. Every house had a coffee pot on the table. By the end of the 19th century, there were 62 coffee houses in Bakhchysaray. A coppersmith works in his shop in Bakhchysaray. Nonferrous metals were handled by coppersmiths. Household utensils were made of tin plated with copper, ritual vessels and chandeliers for mosques were made of brass. Coffee grinders were assembled from brass and iron parts. A saddler’s shop in Bakhchysaray, 1920s. Horse breeding played a huge role in Crimean Tatar society, and horses always needed harnesses and saddles. During the period of the Crimean Khanate, from 1441 to 1783, the city of Qarasuvbazar (known today as Bilohirsk) was referred to as the capital of saddlers. An embroiderer works in Bakhchysaray. Crimean Tatar clothes, shoes, and textiles could not be imagined without embroidery. Ornaments differed by region. Fish and boat patterns were used in the embroideries of eastern Crimea, while embroiderers on the steppe preferred a burgundy color. Algae were depicted on the southern coast with lilac, violet and white colors predominating. A spinner during the 1920s. Women’s clothes were wide and long with shirts below the knees, long dresses with wide sleeves, as well as colored harem pants. Outer clothing was a tight-fitting caftan, or robe, with narrow sleeves. A short fur coat was worn over the caftan. A house in southwestern Crimea, 1920s. The standard interior of the main room included an open fireplace with a chimney and a cauldron suspended from it on a chain. Along the walls, there were low sofas with mattresses and pillows. Numerous towels were used to decorate the walls, and there were carpets on the floor. A street vendor in Bakhchysaray during the 1920s. Most artisans sold their own goods in their shops, but every Crimean town also had bustling bazaars. Street vendors would sell necklaces, chains, dresses, and chubuk, which were parts of a smoking pipe. Villagers pose on the Crimean steppe, where cattle breeding was combined with agriculture. The time for planting and harvesting was determined by the elders. A Crimean Tatar proverb says, “To mow is to swing, to reap is to squat, but only cheese is pressed in the pasture” meaning that the work of the farmer was considered more difficult than the work of a herder. Due to the climate, gardening in Crimea never reached a commercial scale but vegetables were grown for personal consumption. In Crimean Tatar cuisine, salads with cabbage, cucumbers, and carrots are standard fare. Then there are more elaborate dishes like cabbage rolls or lamb soup, known as lagman. There were four main types of Crimean Tatar dwellings. There were one-story townhouses like this one in Bakhchysaray. There were two-story homes at the foot of the mountains and one-story homes on the steppe made with mud, dung, straw, or brick. And there were one-story, stone coastal buildings. The famous Crimean fabric, atma, was made from cotton and linen. The textile was handmade and there were spinning wheels in every Crimean Tatar house. The fabric was used to make clothes, bedspreads, and towels. Spinning was a woman’s job, but weaving was done by male craftsmen. A man sells beans in Bakhchysaray. Beans were a part of the cuisine in all regions of Crimea. Possible dishes were a meat soup with green beans seasoned with sour milk, noodle soup with boiled beans, or just beans served with noodles. A tanner in Bakhchysaray during the 1920s. Cattle breeding was at the core of Crimean Tatar agriculture. In addition to meat, milk, and wool, livestock also provided leather. In Bakhchysaray and Karasubazar there were up to 40 leather manufactures during the 1920s. Another tanner in Bakhchysaray during the 1920s. Shoes were made of leather. Men wore shirts, low boots with horseshoes. In winter, women wore boots at home, and in summer, they wore embroidered shoes without backs and pointed socks. Crimean Tatar women in Bakhchysaray during the 1920s sport braided hair. It was common for them to wear a velvet hat embroidered with gold, silver, or sometimes decorated with small coins. The entrance to the Zincirli Madrasah (Zyndzhyrly-medrese) in Salachik during the 1920s. The town was emptied during the deportation and the site is part of the city of Bakhchysaray today. Built in the 1500s, the Zincirli Madrasah was one of Crimea’s first and largest Muslim schools. Today it is the only remaining madrasah on the peninsula.