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This book invites you to undertake a trip (both in time and space) to the realm of Crimean Judea in order to get acquainted with its most enigmatic inhabitants — Crimean Jews, Rabbanites, Karaites, Khazars, Ashkenazim, Krymchaks, and Subbotniks (Russian converts to Judaism). The readers should not be astonished by the affinity between the culture and history of the «Crimean» Judea and «real, i.e. Palestinian» Judea. After all, the Crimea and Palestine for many centuries had been parts of the same state — Byzantine and (until 1783) Ottoman empires. The bibliography of the publications related to the history of the Crimean Jews is quite large and consists of several thousand items written in various European and Oriental languages. Nevertheless, there is no comprehensive work dedicated to the general history of Crimean Jewry. In this book I would like to attempt to combine the knowledge which I received in the West with my first-hand acquaintance with local Crimean material. This book is a result of my long-term research in many West and East European, Crimean, Russian, and Israeli libraries and archives. The book is based primarily on archival sources and on the author's field work in the Crimea.
Chapter 1. Crimean Jews in ancient period
The Crimea, a peninsula lying in the Northern part of the Black Sea at the juncture of trade routes from Europe to the East, since ancient times has been inhabited by various ethnic groups and nations. The Romans, Greeks, Byzantines, Goths, Alans, Khazars, Ottoman Turks, Crimean Tatars, and Russians succeeded one another in the struggle for dominance over the Crimea. The first Jewish settlers appeared in the Crimea after the conquests of Alexander the Great, when Judea became a part of the Hellenistic Orient. In all probability, they came to the Crimea from Asia Minor and the Caucasus not later than the first century A.D. (or maybe even in the second century B.Ñ.) and settled mainly in two Greek towns, Bosporus (Panticapaeum, at present Kertch) and Chersonesos (at present, Sevastopol). Thus, the Jewish community of the Crimea is one of the most ancient Jewish communities in Europe. It seems that the Jews inhabited Bosporus until the sixth century A.D. and left the town after the Huns' invasion. The community of Chersonesos lived in this town much longer, from ca. 300 until at least 1096/7. Furthermore, in ancient times the Jews also lived in other Crimean towns located on the territories of today's Partenit and Vilino. There is no doubt that it was Jews (and not the Khazars) that left numerous tombs and stelae with images of seven- and nine-branched candelabrum. These epigraphic monuments can be dated as belonging to the period between the second and the ninth centuries A.D. It is argued in the chapter that contrary to traditional views (E. Schürer et alia) the so-called cult of the Most High God apparently did not have any Jewish connotation.
Chapter 2. Under the rule oftheByzantians and the «foolish» Khazars
In the period from the sixth to the tenth centuries the Crimean Jewish diaspora was greatly enlarged after the arrival of the Greek Jews escaping the persecution of Byzantine emperors. In the eighth century the Jewish population of the Black Sea area was so large that the Byzantine chronicler Theofanes listed the Jews first among the ethnic groups inhabiting the peninsula. From the seventh-tenth centuries A.D. the vast steppe area starting from the territory of the present day post-Soviet republics of Middle Asia up to the Northern Caucasus, Ukraine and upper Volga was occupied by the kingdom of the nomadic Khazars. Their state, the Khazar Kaganate, might be compared with the colossus standing on feet of clay — the feature of many empires of the medieval period. Among the peoples living in the Kaganate were Turks, Finno-Ugrians, Slavs, Jews and alia — each of them speaking their own languages, each of them professing their own religions and cults, from monotheistic Christianity, Islam, and Judaism up to Turkic paganism and shamanism. At some point, we are not sure when precisely — maybe in 740, maybe later, in 860 — the ruling aristocracy of the Kaganate decided to accept Judaism and declare the Jewish faith to be the main religion of the country. It is still rather unclear when, how and under which circumstances the Khazars accepted Judaism. There is no doubt, nevertheless, that they accepted it in Rabbinic (or simplified Rabbinic) form. Theories regarding the would be «Karaite» character of Khazars' Judaization are not based on any historical source.
In 965—968 the Khazars were defeated by the army of the Rus' prince Sviatoslav. Since then the Khazars, their state, and even their name practically disappeared from the political map of medieval Europe. There are only a few scattered and not too reliable references to the Khazars in the eleventh — thirteenth centuries. As M.I. Artamonov, one of the most authoritative scholars in the field of Khazar Studies pointed out, «the search for the descendants of the Khazars seems to be fruitless,» mostly because of the fact that the Khazars «dissolved in the Cuman sea.» Nevertheless, the riveting story of the disappearance of the whole mighty kingdom, destruction of its towns and settlements and apparent dissolving of its inhabitants among several other neighbouring states and nations became a topic of heated debates and discussions, starting, perhaps, from the twelfth century Jewish poet and writer Yehuda (Judah) Halevi, through the Orientalists and theologians of early modern times up to «political» historians and ideologists of our days. Paradoxically enough, this purely wissenschaflich problem related to the history of the early medieval Khazar state became'a serious issue in the political games of European nationalists of the nineteenth-twentieth centuries.
The question of where one can find the descendants of the Khazars who disappeared in the eleventh-thirteenth century and who they might be seems to be a especially misused topic. It evoked many non-academic theories, often disguised under the mask of academic studies. Lev Gumilev, whose writing about Khazars are considered nowadays to be a mere historiographical nonsense, «discovered» descendants of the Khazars among the Slavic Brodniki or Astrakhan and Don Cossacks; Arthur Koestler considered them to be the «Thirteenth Tribe of Israel,» the ancestral root of the whole of Ashkenazic Jewry; some «trace» Khazars in the mountainous Jews of the Caucasus, Slavic Judaisants-Subbotniks, Crimean Karaites and Krimchaks. Quite unconvincing also seems to be the argumentation of Norman Golb and Omeljan Pritsak, who tried to prove the Khazar origins of Kiev and the early Kievan state.
In the 1980s the interest in the Khazarian topic became even stronger — being caused, first of all, by the publication of the «Khazar dictionary» by the famous Serbian writer Milorad Pavic. This article is an attempt to trace most important examples of the use and misuse of the Khazarian history in the European national ideologies and politically motivated scholarships; especially significant in this context would be ideological debates and theories concerning the supposed Khazar origins of the East European Karaites. Purely academic publications, whose approach to Khazar history was not distorted by any ideological agenda, will be used here only to show the groundlessness of pseudo-scholarly abuse of this subject.
From the end of the seventh through the end of the ninth centuries the Crimea had also been partly occupied by the Khazars. Many Crimean towns situated in the eastern, central, and southern parts of the peninsula are listed among other settlements belonging to the Khazar Kagan in the famous correspondence between the Kagan Joseph and Hasdai Ibn Shaprut (ante 965). Despite the fact that the Kaganate lost its power in the Crimea after it was defeated by the Russian prince Sviatoslav (965—968), the traces of the Khazars' influence were so visible and distinctive that the Crimea was called «Gazaria» or «Khazaria» by the Genoese settlers and European travellers as late as the end of the sixteenth century. In Khazar times the Byzantine town of Chersonesos was visited by the famous missionary, Cyril (Constantine) who apparently studied there the Hebrew grammar (c. 860). According to another hagiographie source, in 1096/7 the local Jews were expelled from Chersonesos — presumably, because of their cruel attitude towards Christian slaves. This seems to be the last reference to the presence of the Jews in the Crimea prior to the arrival of the Karaites and European Rabbinic Jews (ancestors of today's Krymchaks), in the thirteenth century.
Chapter 3. The Karaites
The Karaites are members of an independent religious movement within Judaism that spread from the countries of the Middle East to Byzantium, North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, and Europe. The Karaites derive their name from the Hebrew word for Scripture (qara'im, bne' miqra, ba'alei miqra). The first of these terms, qara'im, should be translated as «Scripturalists» or «champions of the Scripture»; the terms bne' miqra, and ba'alei miqra may be translated as «Sons of the Scripture» or «Masters of the Scripture.» The name itself reflects the main characteristic of the sect, viz. the recognition of the TaNaKh (a.k.a Old Testament) as the sole and direct source of religious law, with the rejection of the Oral Law (a.k.a. the Talmud, a later Rabbinic commentary and legal code based on the TaNaKh). To oversimplify the issue, the Karaite objection to the Oral Law lay in its introduction into Judaism of many non-TaNaKh based regulations composed by the Rabbis. Due to the prominence of the Rabbanites in Jewish life, much Karaite literature was directed specifically against the doctrine the Rabbanites.
The first indisputable evidence regarding the presence of the Karaites in the Crimea is the report of a conflict between the Rabbinic Jews and Karaite Jews in the town of Solkhat in 1279. Some scholars suggest that the first reference to a possible Karaite presence in the vicinities of the Crimea might be found in the travel account of Moses Petahyah of Regensburg (Ratisbon) (between 1177—1187). According to his account, Petahyah embarked from Prague and, after visiting Poland and Russia, reached the «Land of Qedar.» Most scholars identify the latter with the Southern Ukraine. For the Crimea, Petahyah used another term, Khazaria. In this «Qedar» he met certain Jewish minim (Heb. «heretics») whose main distinctive feature was a strict observance of the Sabbath. Some believe this part of Petahyah's narrative should be interpreted as the first direct testimony to the presence of a Karaite population. Others suggest that Petahyah was referring to the remnants of the Khazarian population rather than the Karaites. The author of this book is inclined to think that Petahyah's remark is too brief and too uncertain to come to some decisive conclusions concerning the ethnic identification of these Judaic minim. Thus, until new testimonies and sources related to this problem are found, it is only possible to state that, in all probability, the Karaites migrated to the Crimean peninsula no earlier than the first half of the thirteenth century. While the exact circumstances and precise date of their arrival is difficult to establish, it is very tempting to suppose that the migration of the Karaites to the Crimea went by two main routes: one that brought the earliest, most likely Turkic (Qypchak) speaking, Karaites together with the Tatar conquerors of the Crimea in the mid-thirteenth century, and the other, which was realized through the migration from the Karaite communities of Byzantium.
From the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries, the main Karaite seats in the Crimea were Eski-Kyrym, Caffa, Kyrk-Yer (later: Chufut-Kale) and Mangup in the Crimea. In addition, there also were Karaite quarters in other Crimean towns, such as Karasubazar (Belogorsk), and Gözleve (Eupatoria). At the end of the eighteenth/beginning of the nineteenth centuries, Karaite communities appeared in Bakhchesaray, Or (Ferakh-Kerman, Perekop), Armianskiy Bazar (Armiansk), Sevastopol', Simferopol', and Kerch. In Tatar period there apparently was Karaite population in the Crimean settlements of Yashlov, Tash-Yargan, and Tepe-Kermen.
As all Jews who lived in the territory of the countries of the Ottoman Empire, the Crimean Karaites received the protected minority status of dhimmis. According to the pact of 'Umar, which was introduced as a legal and administrative article in the seventh-eighth centuries, dhimmis, on the one hand, received many privileges (e.g. the right to settle down in Muslim lands and to be protected by Muslim authorities), on the other, they had to pay jizya (a poll-tax) and were subjected to numerous economic and ideological restrictions.
As has been mentioned, the main difference between the religious doctrine of the Karaite and Rabbanite Jews is found in the Karaite's negation of the binding authority of the Talmud and their recognition of the TaNaKh as the only true source of religious law. In addition, the Karaites did not recognize the use of Rabbinic paraphernalia such as the mezuzah, tefilin, and the structures of a miqweh. There were also a number of other differences, first of all, in the sphere of the calendar, dietary and marriage laws, rights of inheritance, ceremony of circumcision, etc. Many of the religious practices of the Crimean Karaites bore a seemingly Oriental character, examples include: ablution before entering the synagogue (called by the present-day East European Karaites «kenasa/kenese» (sing; pl.«kenasalar / keneseler»)), the directing of the Torah closet to the South, and entering the synagogue sanctuary bare-footed (there are no benches inside a Karaite sanctuary, and it is covered by carpeted floors). Some scholars explain these observances by tracing them to Islamic influence, others say they are drawn or interpreted from a literal understanding of Biblical laws. The Karaites contend that these practices stem from the observance of Biblical purity laws, which were extended from the temple, at a ceremonial level, to the synagogue.
It is very difficult to characterize in one word the complex nature of the relations between the Karaite and Rabbanite Jews, which had been formed by the representatives of these two different trends of Judaism in the course of more than thousand years, from the emergence of the Karaite movement in the mid-eighth century until today. These relations, which balanced between such polar feelings as brotherly friendship and bitter animosity, were determined by an understanding of mutual belonging to one religious entity on the one hand, and by a hostile attitude towards their brethren's «heretical» interpretation of religious law, on the other. Over many centuries of the history of the contacts between the Karaites and Rabbanites, it is possible to come across such manifestations of these ambivalent feelings as: brotherly love, help and advice, and, simultaneously, scorn, abhorrence, and even betrayal. In the Tatar and Ottoman Crimea relations between the Crimean Karaites and Rabbanites (Krymchaks) were quite peaceful, and certain long-term animosity did not come out of the frames of internal confessional differences and controversies. Moreover, many documents testify to mutual understandings and frequent assistance between these two groups. This comparatively serene atmosphere started to worsen in the first half of the nineteenth century, after the propagandists activity of Abraham Firkovich and the grant of a special status by the Russian government to the Karaites, which completely separated them from the burdens and sufferings of other Jewish subjects in the Empire.
The relations between the Karaites and their Muslim neighbours, Tatars and Ottoman Turks, were also not uniform. On the one hand, being attracted by their knowledge of Turkic languages and a similitude in their way of life, the Crimean Tatars eagerly participated in the trade with the Karaites, and found in them friendly companions whilst visiting coffee-houses, smoking pipes and drinking coffee. Khans often distinguished the loyalty and acumen of the Karaites when placing them in important administrative posts of the Khanate, and granting them numerous privileges. However, written sources of the eighteenth — nineteenth centuries are full of references to oppressive measures of the khans' administration towards the Karaites, and a rather pejorative attitude of the Tatars to the Karaites on an every-day level.
According to the estimations of M.S. Kupovetski, in 1783 the Karaite population of the Russian Empire consisted of 3800 Karaites with 2600 Karaites living in the Crimea.
Chapter 4. The Krymchaks
Modern ethnography defines the Krymchaks as an ethnic entity formed as amalgam of several Jewish groups which settled in the Crimea in the late Middle Ages and early modern time. The «Krymchaks» is a very late and in many respects artificial term which appeared in the first half of the nineteenth century, soon after the annexation of the Crimea by Russian Empire (1783). This term was invented to designate the local Turkic-speaking Rabbanite Jews who were distinctively different from the rest of Jewish population which began settling in the Crimea after 1783. One of the Krymchaki leaders, Isaac Kaya (1887—1956), explained the meaning of this term as follows: «The Krymchaks represent a special group of Jews who had been living in the Crimean peninsula since ancient times and in many respects had adopted the Tatar culture».
The Krymchak community was formed in the Crimea from the late Middle Ages through the nineteenth century from emigrants of various Jewish communities of Europe, Asia Minor, the Caucasus and the Near East. Among these emigrants were not only the Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazic Jews, but also Graeco-, Ladino-, Tat-, and Arab-speaking Jews from Byzantium (Ottoman Empire), Spain, Italy, the Caucasus, Russia, and some Oriental countries. Surnames of modern Krymchaks are eloquent witnesses to the varied geographic origin of Krymchak settlers. Thus, for example, the surnames Berman, Gutman and Ashkenazi (and its Krymchaki form «Achkinazi») belonged to Yiddish-speaking emigrants from Europe and Russia; Abraben, Piastro, Lombrozo and Trevgoda — to Sephardic Jews from Italy and Spain; Bakshi, Stamboli, Izmirli, Tokatly and Mizrahi — to Jews coming from the Ottoman Empire and the Muslim East. The surnames «Lekhno» and «Varshavskii» belonged to emigrants from Poland, «Gota» and «Weinberg» — from Germany, «Gurdzhi» — from the Caucasus etc. Many surnames attested the Crimean origin or professions of their owners: «Mangupli» means «from Mangup» (a medieval stronghold in the Crimea), «Demerdzhi» — «smith», while «Taukchi» — «poultry farmer». About 40 percent of the Krymchaki surnames are derivatives from Hebrew (e.g. Peisah, Purim, Rabenu, Levi, Bentovim, Rafailov etc.).
In the Tatar and Ottoman Crimea the Krymchaks lived mostly in Caffa. At the beginning of the sixteenth century part of the community emigrated to the adjacent town of Karasubazar (Belogorsk). The Krymchak community became a unified community formed out of members of different Jewish 'edot perhaps only in the seventeenth through the eighteenth centuries. Furthermore, ethnic processes of acculturation / amalgamation within the community continued also in the nineteenth century. Starting from medieval times the Crimean Rab-banites, as well as their neighbours, non-Talmudic Crimean Karaites, were under the strong Tatar influence which, however, was limited only to the sphere of culture, language, and every day life and customs. Especially important was a linguistic aspect: the Crimean Rabbanites (Krymchaks) adopted the Krymchak dialect (or, rather, ethnolect) of the Crimean Tatar language as the language of their every day use (a.k.a. Judeo-Tatar). Starting from the nineteenth century some Krymchak authors (apparently following leaders of the Karaite community) sometimes called the Krymchak ethnolect «Cagatay / Dzhagatay language.» This tendency became stronger after the war since in the period of Stalin's deportations it was dangerous to acknowledge the fact that the Krymchaks spoke the Crimean Tatar language. This is why after the war and after the disintegration of the Soviet Union many Krymchak leaders claimed that the Krymchaks spoke «Krymchak» or «Cagatay» language.
These claims, however, merely demonstrate changes in the ethnic identity of the Krymchaks and have nothing to do with linguistics. Similar ideological (and not scholarly) reasons forced many Crimean Karaites and Turkologists to claim that the Crimean Karaites spoke some sort of a separate «Karaim language,» whereas in fact they certainly spoke an ethnolect of Crimean Tatar. In fact, Dzhagatay (Cagatay), the official language of the Golden Horde, is considerably different from the Krymchak and Karaim ethnolects of Crimean Tatar. Majority of modern linguists came to the conclusion that in spite of a number of phonological and lexical differences, the Krymchak ethnolect of the Crimean Tatar language cannot be con-sidered a separate Turkic language. This fact was certainly realized by Krymchak authors as well: Nisim Levi Chakhchir, for example, called this language «the Tatar language which we use among ourselves». The Krymchaks who took part in the census of 1913 also called their native language «Tatar» or «Crimean-Tatar». Isaac Kaya, the author of numerous primers and manuals of the Crimean Tatar language and Krymchak ethnolect, also called the Krymchak's spoken language «Tatar».
This is why in my book I call the Krymchak's Turkic language «the Krymchak ethnolect of the Crimean Tatar language» (or, in abridged form, «the Krymchak ethnolect»). From the eighteenth through the twentieth century this ethnolect was used to compose secular and religious works, fairy-tales, songs, and verses; furthermore, the Krymchaks also translated a number of sacred texts from Hebrew into the Krymchak ethnolect. In spite of the active use of the Krymchak ethnolect for literary purposes, Hebrew remained the main language of liturgy, prayers, correspondence, tombstone inscriptions, and scholarly treatises perhaps until the beginning of the twentieth century. Some Krymchaks continued to use the Krymchak ethnolect and Hebrew characters even after the war.
In the course of the nineteenth century the Krymchak community grew as a result of the active absorption of the Jewish emigrants coming to the Crimea from the western provinces of Russian empire. This is why the community became many times larger: from around 600—800 souls in 1783 to almost 7000 souls in 1913.
Chapter 5. Under the Protection of Two Empires (19th and 20th centuries)
After the annexation of the Crimea (1783) and the incorporation of some parts of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth into Russia (in 1772, 1793, and 1795), almost all European Karaites became subjects of Russian Empire. Azaria ben Eliah mentioned that «Besides Karaites and Jews living in Karasubazar, there were not any other ra'aya [= non-Muslim subjects] left in the Crimea.» Nevertheless, in 1791 the Crimea was officially included into the territory of the Pale of Settlement. This is why from the end of the eighteenth century on «Polish» Rabbanite Jews from the western provinces of Russian Empire started emigrating to the Crimea and settling down there. Until the time of the Crimean war (1853—1856) «Polish» Jewish community was rather insignificant. Nevertheless, in the second half of the nineteenth century, and especially after 1881 Ashkenazic emigrants already constituted a significant part of the Crimean population.
After the forced removal of the local Crimean Christian population (1777) and mass migration of the Tatars, the Crimean Karaites found themselves in a very advantageous situation. As a result of the migrations, they turned out to be the most influential commercial power of the depopulated, but still highly important, new southern region of Russia. In the nineteenth century, the Karaites started to settle throughout the Russian Empire and Europe. By the end of the century, scattered Karaite communities were present in many large cities of Russia and Europe: St. Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa, Kharkov, Poltava, Nikolaev, Elisavetgrad, Ecaterinoslav, Berdiansk, Kishinev, Kharbin, Vienna, Warsaw, et alia. Moreover, at the end of the eighteenth century, the Karaites started to receive preferential legal treatment: in 1795 they were relieved of the double tax imposed upon the Jews, and in 1827 they were exempted (unlike the Rabbanites) from the obligatory military service in the Russian army. Until these measures were taken, despite all the polemics and quarrels, the history of the Karaite and Rabbanite Jews was similar; thus, clearly, this moment is a turning point in the history of the East European Karaites. As time passed, the distance between the privileged Karaites and their Rabbanite brethren grew, reaching its climax in 1863, when the Karaites were accorded full rights of citizenship in the Russian Empire, and were integrated into society, serving in the tsar's army, and in the government.
It seems that, largely due to the aforementioned securing of its financial and economic prosperity and stable position in the society, the Karaite population of the Empire obtained an incredible demographic growth. From 3800 Karaites in 1783, the Karaite population grew to 12 894 (6372 — males; 6522 — females) in 1897. This means that it became more than three times larger! According to the census of 1897 there were 6166 Karaites in Tavricheskaya guberniya, 1383 in Poland-Lithuania, 5345 in other parts of Russia (including Siberia and Middle Asia). The largest were the communities of the following towns: Eupatoria — 1505, Theodosia — 1233, Odessa — 1049, Sevastopol' — 813, Simferopol' — 709, Nikolaev — 554, Troki — 377, Wilno — 155. According to the data of Tavricheskoe gubernskoe zemstvo (a kind of local government) in 1907 there were already 8683 Karaites in Tavricheskaya guberniya.
The nineteenth century also marked the appearance of a number of theories related to the origins and history of the Karaites, popularized both by the Karaite leaders and non-Karaite scholars. According to some, the Karaites had come to the Crimea before the time of Christ. Consequently, they were the only true, ancient Biblical Jews. It followed from this statement that the Karaites could not be blamed for the crucifixion and participating in the composition of the Talmud: the defensive mechanism that had often been employed by small Jewish communities at the time of Christian persecutions. Later, at the end of the nineteenth — first half of the twentieth century, East European Karaite authors created a completely different version of their ethnic history, which denied all links to the Jewish people, and stressed their origins from Turkic Khazar proselites, converted to Karaism in the eighth century.
Abraham Firkovich (or Firkowicz) is, undoubtedly, one of the most prominent and controversial figures in the history of Karaism in the nineteenth century. Born in Lutsk, Poland (present-day Ukraine) in 1787, Firkovich moved to Eupatoria (Gözleve) in the 1820s, and later to Chufut-Kale, where he died in 1874. The manuscripts gathered by him represent one of the most valuable collections of Judaica in the Russian national library in St.Petersburg. Firkovich's main book, Avne Zikkaron (Vilna, 1872), contains his vision of the history of the Karaite movement, including an absolutely new history of Karaite settlement in the Crimea, epitaphs from the tombstones of the cemeteries of Chufut-Kale, Mangup, Eupatoria, and Troki, and a discussion of many other controversial problems in Karaite history. After his death in Chufut-Kale in 1874, the Even Reshef, as Firkovich was also called, was buried in the cemetery in the Jehosaphath valley, whose history he investigated in the last 35 years of his life. Debates concerning the veracity and exactness of Firkovich's discoveries, which arose already during his lifetime, are still going on. In 1839, a historic expedition, headed by Abraham Firkovich (1787—1874), was organized. The expedition, with the help of local officials, sometimes with the application of force, managed to «discover» valuable epigraphic and manuscript data that later resulted in an absolutely new understanding of Karaite history, fully reflected in the Firkovich's famous Avne' Zikkaron (Vilna 1872). According to this concept the Karaites, the only true Biblical Jews, and the descendants of the ancient Judeans, arrived in the Crimea as early as the sixth century B.Ñ., i.e. much earlier than the crucifixion of Jesus and composition of the «vicious» Talmud. Moreover, it was Karaite missionaries that converted the nomadic Khazars to Judaism. Unlike the «newcomers» (Talmudic Jews), the Karaites were always honest, and loyal to the governments of the countries where they lived. All this provided grounds for understanding the Karaites as the most ancient part of the Crimean population, loyal to Christianity and faithful to Russian empire.
In 1986 Seraya Szapszal (or: Shapshal; 1873—1961), a young Karaite student of the Oriental department (sic!) of St.Petersburg university, published a revolutionary brochure on the Karaite history, where he decisively stated that the Crimean Karaites had been a product of «complete assimilation» between the Semitic Karaites and Turkic Khazars — a bold statement, which had not been said by any other Karaite author before him. However, even he himself clearly understood that before his lifetime and his «discoveries,» his Karaite ancestors considered themselves to be Jews. In 1915—1917 his thesis about the Khazar origins of the Karaites was accepted as an official Karaite doctrine, though, it seems, not all members of the community, and especially the elder generation and religious officials, were eager to accept it.
In the 1860s the Subbotniks, Russian converts to Judaism, began settling down in the Crimea. Furthermore, they began associating themselves with Karaite, i.e. non-Talmudic, Judaism. The Crimean Jews did not suffer from the pogroms in 1881/2 — there simply were no pogroms in the Crimea during this time. This fact promoted a mass emigration of the Ashkenazic Jews to the peninsula. Nevertheless, in 1905 the second wave of pogroms reached also the Crimea.
In 1913 the Krymchak community carried out a community census. According to the census there were around five (or seven) thousand Krymchaks in the Russian Empire. Before the beginning of the Second World War there were around eight thousand Krymchaks. Majority of them lived in Simferopol', Karasubazar, Kerch, Theodosia, and Sevastopol'. The Rabbanite Ashkenazic population of the Crimea in 1914 consisted of about 40 000—45 000 souls. After the trials and tribulations of revolutionary times, many Jews left the Crimea. Nevertheless, there was still a sizable Jewish community there between the two world wars. In the Soviet period the Krymchaks began more actively using Russian, but still remembered their Turkic ethnolect. In interwar years the Krymchaks largely switched from the Hebrew font to Latin characters (a similar reform took place among the Crimean Tatars). At the same time the Soviet atheist regime closed the Krymchak synagogue (called by the Krymchaks also qahal or qa'al). In the interwar period most Krymchaks lived in Simferopol'. At the end of the 1920s / early 1930s emigrants from Karasubazar founded two Krymchak kolkhozes — «Krymchak» and «Yeni Krymchak». In 1924 started Jewish colonization of the northern Crimea — the so-called Agrojoint project. In fact, northern part of the Crimea became a sort of Jewish agricultural paradise with numerous villages bearing Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian and even Esperanto names.
The development of Jewish life in the Crimea was disrupted by the German occupation. Almost everyone who stayed in the Crimea and was not evacuated — was brutally killed. Around 70—80 percent of the Krymchaks were massacred by the Nazis in the course of the «solution» of the «Jewish question» in the occupied Crimea. It seems that none other ethnic group which lived in the Soviet Union suffered as much as the Krymchaks.
Friends, we committed a mistake,
We remained in the Crimea.
In the fields of the Crimea We were sacrificed...
Oh my people, is there any remedy
Against our misfortune?
It means that this is their destiny!
Do not forget our misfortunate people
Murdered by the hands of the soldiers...
This is how these events are described in a folk song composed in the Krymchak ethnolect by an anonymous Krymchak author who apparently managed to survive the Holocaust in contrast to his brethren massacred by the Nazis. The Karaites, who managed to present themselves to the Nazis as descendants of Turkic (i.e. not Semitic!) Khazars, were not systematically killed by the Nazis and survived the Holocaust virtually unscathed.
In April-May 1944 the Crimea was completely liberated from the German occupation. In June 1944 there were only... 499 Ashkenazic Jews and Krymchaks in the Crimea. It seems that there also were around 2000—3000 Karaites. The Krymchak community never managed to recover from the tragedy. After the war there were 700—750 Krymchaks living in the Crimea; 2000 lived in the whole of the Soviet Union in 1959, and only 1448 in 1989. Thus, by the end of the twentieth century the community turned out to be on the brink of extinction. The number of the Karaite community also rapidly dwindled and in 1989 there were only about 1500 Karaites living in the Crimea. The Ashkenazic Jews started gradually settling down in the Crimea after the end of the war. In 1989 there were around 15 000 Ashkenazic living in the peninsula.
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 many Ashkenazim, Karaites, and Krymchaks left the Crimea and emigrated to Israel. Some, nevertheless, remained. According to the recent census (2001) there were as many as 4500 Jews, 672 Karaites and 204 Krymchaks living in the Crimea. As you can see, there is no point to worry about the future of the Ashkenazic Jewish community. Nevertheless, the fate of the Karaite and, especially, of the Krymchak community seems to be less clear, first of all, from the demographic point of view. I do not want to be pessimistic. In my opinion, the continuation of the existence of these two communities depends first of all on the Krymchaks and the Karaites themselves. If they will be able to make youths of the Crimea, Russia, and Israel interested in their history and culture — who knows, maybe we shall see the renaissance of these most interesting ethnic groups.
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