Staunton, September 26 – Four days after the Russian occupation authorities closed down the Gasprinsky Library in Simferopol as part of their effort to rein in the Crimean Tatars, later reopening it presumably under tighter control, the same officials allowed a meeting to take place in Bakchisarai in honor of the centenary of the death of the man after whom that library was named.
On August 19, the Russian-orchestrated Council of Ministers of the Republic of Ukraine took a decision to “liquidate” the Ismail Gasprinsky Crimean Tatar Library” and implemented it the following day, thus ending that institution’s existence just before its 24th anniversary. But shortly thereafter, they reopened it.
The action came as Russian security agencies were raising the headquarters of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, the offices of the Avdet newspaper, and the homes of individual Crimean Tatars ostensibly in a search for radical Islamist and Crimean Tatar nationalist literature.
But then on September 23, the occupation authorities did nothing to stop the convention of a scholarly conference on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the man for whom the library they had shut down was named: Ismail Gasprinsky, the great Crimean Tatar advocate of education, modernity, and progressive Islam.
What makes this conjunction of events so tragic and so absurd is that the conference on Gasprinsky and the echo that it and his ideas have among Crimean Tatars and other Turkic peoples is so much greater and — from the perspective of Moscow — more threatening than the continued existence of a library named for him even if they are now in direct control of it.
At the Bakchisarai meeting, scholars discussed Gasprinsky’s work as editor of the first Turkic-language Muslim newspaper in the Russian Empire, Tercuman, which appeared between 1883 and 1918, his impact on the Crimean Tatars and other Turks in Russia then and later, and his ideas on educational and religious reform.
One reason the Russian occupation authorities probably allowed the meeting to go forward is that it took place under the auspices of a UNESCO approval of Turkey’s request to designate this year as a memorial to Ismail Gasprinsky, something even Sevastopol may not have wanted to challenge.
Evidence of Gasprinsky’s continuing influence in the Turkic world was provided by a meeting in the capital of Tatarstan in his memory. Nail Nabiullin, leader of Tatarstan’s Azatlyk Movement, told the group that “Gasprinsky is a key and unifiying personality for all Turkic peoples,” someone comparable insignificance to Chingiz-Khan and Ataturk.
And historian Rafael Mukhametdinov explained why: Gasprinsky promoted a language all Turks could read, developed an educational program all of them could use, and promoted their unity with the slogan, dilde, fikirde, iste birlik (“unity in language, thought and work”) which is still relevant for the Turkic peoples.
Indeed, the Kazan meeting showed just how that is so in the current situation: Its participants concluded their session by singing the national hymn of the Crimean Tatars and the state hymn of the Republic of Tatarstan and expressing their support for the Crimean Tatars in their struggle against the Russian occupation of their land.