A late 19th century Krymchak family.
This is a beautiful triptych painting that depicts in detail the history of the Krymchaks in Crimea.
Traditional Krymchak clothing
The entrance to the museum, located only a few blocks from the Gasprinskiy Library.
After the museum tour, we had tea with Qrimzalar Society members. The man in the middle with the white shirt is the artist of the triptych.
This week, Nadjie Yagya, my counterpart at the library, and I visited the Krymchak Museum in Simferopol and met members of the Qrimzahlar Crimean Republic Society for Culture and Enlightenment. A few weeks earlier I had met Rabbi Misha Kapustin, Rabbi of the Reformed Judaism synagogue here in Simferopol, and he had told me about the Krymchaks and offered to take me to the museum. I invited Nadjie to come along because although, of course, she knew about the Krymchaks, she was unaware of the museum.
The Krymchak Museum is a small but very well organized museum that gives the history of the Krymchak people in Crimea. The Krymchaks are a Jewish community that developed in Crimea in the medieval period of Crimean history. No one seems to know for sure what their origins are or how they adopted Judaism, but they were an established ethnic-religious group on the peninsula for many centuries, numbering approximate 7000 in 1913. Their dress, music, appearance, and customs were very closely tied to the Crimean Tatars, and they spoke a similar Turkic based language.
As professed Jews, approximately 80% of the Krymchak population was killed by the Nazis in the Second World War. Some Krymchaks were also deported along with the Crimean Tatars in 1944. Today, there are very few Krymchak people left, living mostly in Crimea and Israel, and according to the museum director, only one fully fluent native speaker. The Qrimzahlar Crimean Republic Society for Culture and Enlightenment was formed in 1989 to promote the preservation of the Krymchak cultural heritage.
One of the main goals of the Gasprinskiy Library is the preservation of the Crimean Tatar language, also an endangered language, with only 5% of Crimean Tatar children able to speak their native tongue. Nadjie and I have been discussing the possibility of a language training center devoted to the threatened Crimean languages of Crimean Tatar, Krymchak, and Karaite (another Jewish ethnic minority in Crimea), because they are all very similar Turkic based languages. Visiting the museum and meeting members of their preservation organization helped to give us the impetus we need to continue work on this important project. And I found out later that two of the museum staff want to come to my little English class at the library! So I look forward to future collaboration with the Krymchak people and learning more about their culture and how they coexisted side by side with the Crimean Tatars--Jews and Muslims together--for centuries.
For more information about the Krymchaks, see their website, www.crymchaks.org.