Many stories are told all around the world everyday, every hour and every moment. Each in a different taste, a different language and a different country. The story of the old man crying by the river in Crimea is one of them. It’s a mournful story making its listeners cry as well as its owner. Woven with the thread of sorrow, the story turns into tears whenever it’s told. However, this time the old man is crying with happiness. Onto the Crimean land, he is pouring down the tears he has been holding back for years.
Along with the tears, comes out the longing for his homeland which he had to leave when he was just nine and the weight of a vow that he promised to keep all his life. Now, in Crimea, by the river he used to go fishing as a kid, he is letting out this weight through his tears. He is fulfilling a will at the age of 85. No village, no house, no nation left. What a grief! Now, he’s here. In Crimea to whose name one of the saddest songs on earth is sung.
“I was born on a farmland in Crimea. We were the landowners and we had a lot of fields. My uncles were there too. There were 8-10 houses on our farm. We were quite well-off. We had many workers, we raised animals and we cultivated the land. We worked in many fields.”, said Enver.
Enver living in Yıldızören Village in Eskisehir province in Turkey, was born in 1923 on a farmland in Crimea. Living on the land he saw after his first glimpse was possible only until he was nine. Later, actually there is no “later” in this story. Like the other thousands of Crimean Turks, he was going to be forced into exile in a black train. Meanwhile Enver is a name or surname in Bosnian, Albanian and Turkish. Anyway. And Enver, he said:
“Communists started a new tax for us. A tax we couldn’t afford. Too much. My father sold all our gold, money, this and that and we paid the tax. This was repeated for a few more times. Then, we sold all our properties and belongings. We had nothing left. The next tax came and we were not even able to find food for ourselves. Meanwhile, they sent us into exile for 8 days and 8 nights. And the train was an old black one, not like the modern ones.”
The first migrations from Crimea, which remained as Ottoman territory until late 18th century, started with the Russian invasion in 1783. In the 19th century, first with the Crimean War, following that with the Ottoman-Russian War, mass migrations to the ‘white lands’ started. The share given to Crimean Turks from the 20th century was massive wars, massive invasions and massive exiles.
“In 1944, they dismissed us from Crimea. The soldiers came at 2-4 a.m. woke all the Crimean Tatars up including, the elderly the children, the women and the sick ones. They said; “Be quick. You have 24 hours to go. Leave here in 15 minutes, quickly”. I was a 3 year old child. I didn’t understand much but, we suffered from hunger on the way. As my mom told, we spent 10-14 days on the way to exile. People were falling down and dying because of starvation. Men, women, children were all dying. The dead ones were thrown out of the train. They carried us all to Uzbekistan, Ural mountains.”
“In 1990, we came to Crimea in winter. When winter was over, I was not to be defeated by hunger. I escaped. In 1991, March 31st, I came to Bakhchysarai. I went to a store and bought some equipment. It was raining, so I built a shelter for the night. I slept under the rain, all wet, but in my homeland!”
Thousands of stories are written with different characters but about the common suffering in the Ural Mountains, the Middle Asian plateaus and Siberian concentration camps.
“They send us to Ural Mountains in exile. Some of us were to go to Siberia. There were gold factories there. They picked 50-100 people including my father. But we stayed there. We were very weak now. And my mom had a baby. In needed care. I needed care too, but my mom was not even able to take care of herself.
My father, found somebody -he was in exile too of course- and said: ‘You help my wife get out of here, when I find a way, I’ll come and take you to Crimea‘. They made a deal. We were determined to escape now. We dug a hole under the barb wire of the camp and went out. My mom, the baby in her arms and me. Three of us. But we were instructed not to go with any other trains than the ones coming there. ‘Go this way and do this…‘
However, since my mom could not eat anything she didn’t have any milk. But the baby needed breastfeeding. It got so thin and frail. Then my mom said: ‘There’s probably a village there. I should go check‘. There were dogs howling far in the woods. She left us –the two kids– at a certain spot near the bridge and went.
She asked for some bread. It turned out that it was a Russian village. Russians are reliable. They gave her the bread. They are merciful. However, the communists ruin one’s life. Anyway, they gave us the bread. I was eating but my mom was supposed to eat and have milk for the baby and the baby would be fed.
A long process, I felt a little alive when I ate and we started to walk again. After a few hours, the baby died. My mom couldn’t put it anywhere. She was crying ‘I can’t leave it‘. I was crying too. She carried the baby for three days. We couldn’t find anywhere to bury her. Actually there were some places, but mom did not leave it. Then, somewhere –in Moscow I guess– we sat in a train station.
So confused, we didn’t know where to go. We were sitting at the corner and it was a little dark. My mom had put the body of the baby behind her. There were cleaners sweeping the floors. One of them came near us and said ‘What happened? Why aren’t you leaving? The last train is gone. There’s no other train‘.
My mom couldn’t say anything with her teary eyes and then the man noticed. And then, ‘What do you have behind you?‘ and when he checked, he saw the dead child. ‘Have you escaped from exile?‘ he asked. He was a Tatar too. We got along. After finishing his work, he took our baby. He found a car and we went to a far place in the city, and we buried the baby there.
Somehow we managed to find an illegal ticket. We were going to go to Crimea by train. And we did. My father had given my mom an empty envelope with his address on it. He said ‘Send this to me without writing anything when you set foot in Crimea, then I’ll know that you’ve arrived‘. That’s what we did. We sent it.”
On returning to Crimea, Enver and his mother sent an empty envelope to Siberia like leaving a bottle in the sea. Then, his father escaped from Siberia and found them. But soon after, the parents set off heading to Batumi, with the hope of finding a safe place. Whereas nine-year old Enver was to live nearly one more year with one of the farm workers.
A lonely child in Crimea, without a father, without a mother, without anybody. After long years, a lonely old man is looking for his village and childhood on the lands where all the traces are lost. He’s asking about his relatives to the elderly he runs into to the doors he knocks.
With the hope of finding a familiar face, he calls out to his lost relatives and village on the Crimean TV. Because he promised his parents: “I won’t even go on a pilgrimage, I’ll go to Crimea” regarding this as a will. Nevertheless, everywhere is so familiar, yet so strange. Time has taken everything away, and erased all the traces.
Now we are guests in a town near Akmescid, or Simferopol with its new name. At the table of a family which was sent to Uzbekistan by Joseph Stalin with the massive immigration in 1944 and returned to Crimea with a late permission in 1988. We are together with the people who built up new houses, who held onto their land again and called it ‘home’ with love, hope and determination although the land had been taken from them. They don’t know Enver’s village either. Despite a very slight loss of hope, we’ll keep on searching.
We will find the old Salgir Kiyat Village following the dreams of a boy who lost his way, his home and his nation. The village which protected a child who drifted apart from his parents at the age of 9. Kneeling down by the river, the child waited for his father to find him. We are walking in the streets, markets of the historical capital of Crimean Turks; Bakhchysarai. Enver is hopefully asking about the Salgir Kiyat Village to the ones that returned from he long middle Asian exile not to their homes but to their homelands at least. Not giving up, like looking for a lost lover.
In this old city which served as a center to Crimean Khans, Ismail from Gaspira printed the first Turkish newspaper and taught at the Zincirli Madrasah where he triggered a big educational step. That Madrasah also symbolizes the struggle of the Crimean Turks to survive on these lands. The whereabouts of Salgir Kiyat Village should be asked to the walls of Han Palace and the elderly walking in its garden.
What happened to the village when that little boy was taken to Batumi by his father? What about the boy who lost a sister in exile? Which dangers were overcome, which strengths were tested, and which prices were paid to pass from Batumi to Turkey?
Then, let’s listen:
“I had another sister in Batumi. Remember I said we came to Batumi, then I had a sister. Her name was Habibe. My mom put that baby in a sack and carried it on her back. We were escaping again through the forest. My mom had got tired. On her feed, she had what we call ‘carik’ made of animal skin. After a while, they got holes under them. They stuck onto my mom’s toenails.
When we came to Turkey, the doctors pulled them off and the nails came out together with the shoes. She wouldn’t go to my father. My mom couldn’t hold her. Whenever my father took her, she cried. Anyway, after 17 days, the guide said ‘We are getting close to the border‘. Don’t make this baby cry. Either throw it away or hush it. Do something. I can’t take the responsibility of this many people.
We couldn’t leave the baby naturally. One day, we were climbing up a mountain. We climbed and climbed. I was near my mom, not leaving her. The others were gone. We climbed for a few hours. My mom, run out of all her strength like all of us, held the branch of a tree. And it broke. When it was detached, my mom started to roll down the mountain with the baby on her back. There weren’t many trees there. She rolled for 15-20 meters and was stopped by another tree. The child fainted. My father went and held my mother’s hand. The guide said: ‘Throw this child away‘. My mother didn’t. My father took the baby to throw her away.
Then the guide said, ‘don’t throw her away, she would be miserable. Put her under a tree. Maybe someone might find her or she could die slowly‘. They said it was our destiny and put the baby under the tree. My mother couldn’t leave. I said ‘I wouldn’t leave either if my mother didn’t‘. We took the child back. She had fainted already; she didn’t make any noise. We came here after many misfortunes. It will take a long time to tell.”
A father living with the hope of returning to his village someday, a mother holding her baby tight not to leave another child on the way to exile. Then, Habibe; born in Batumi and had a life to live in Turkey. One by one, they all left the old man, like a falling star. Only a ‘promise’ was left behind…
“Oh my poor mother, she was yearning to come here! My father too. They couldn’t fulfill their dream. I had promised them; If I can live long enough to have the opportunity, I won’t even go on a pilgrimage but I will fulfill your will. It’s been 73 years. And Thank God, he granted me this chance…“