Monday, September 24, 2012

Coming Back--English video on Crimean Tartar deportation and return

On June 5th, the well-known Arabic news service Al Jazeera aired Coming Back, an in depth program on the deportation and subsequent return of the Crimean Tatars to Crimea. Produced by Turkish filmmaker Ahmet Seven, this 45-minute program relies on personal interviews to tell the story of the devastating deportation of the Crimean Tatars on May 18, 1944, and the conditions they faced on their return to the peninsula fifty years later.

A special feature of the film is the little known story of the village of Arabat on the Asov Sea in northeastern Crimea. Two hundred Crimean Tatars lived in this village at the time of deportation, mostly women, children, and old people, as, like in all Crimean Tatar communities, the men were away serving in the Soviet army. A bureaucratic oversight resulted in the villagers being bypassed in the massive deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar population that took place on May 18th. The story goes that several weeks later when Stalin was arranging a ceremony to mark the successful execution of the deportation plan, the Soviet Army officer in charge of the deportation heard of the Crimean Tatar villagers still remaining in Arabat. Wanting to show a 100% percent successful campaign, he ordered the villagers to be herded onto barges, and the barges taken out to sea and sunk. There were no survivors.

Though there is no actual proof of this horrendous crime, it is widely accepted as true across Crimea. In the Coming Back video, the filmmaker tells this story and documents the attempts to find evidence to authenticate it. 

Coming Back is narrated in English, and all interviews are subtitled in English. It is, as far as I know, the only English language documentary about the tragic story of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars and their return to their homeland.  Though I was disappointed to see that the film only painted a bleak picture of current Crimean Tatar life in Crimea and overlooked the many vibrant aspects of Crimean Tatar society, I do think it is a very important attempt at educating the broader world of a  little known piece of history.

You can find a link to the video on the sidebar. Please take a few minutes to watch this story of the Crimean Tatar people.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

With my cousin Sara Paretsky in Istanbul

I was fortunate enough to spend the first weekend in September in the amazing city of Istanbul. I had travelled there to meet my cousin Sara Paretsky. Sara is a well-known mystery writer in America.( Her novels have been translated into more than thirty languages, and recently into Turkish. She came to Istanbul to meet with her Turkish publishers and also for us to have a chance to spend some time together, something we were unable to do while I was in America.
With Sara in Hagia Sophia
We rented an apartment in the Galata district of old Istanbul. The historic Galata Tower was right outside our door, and we had a wonderful time exploring the district and the Sultanahmet area—the location of the famous Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace. We also had dinner with Inci Bowman ( in the lovely garden restaurant of the Hotel Yesil Ev, behind the Blue Mosque. It was a special treat while we were there to hear the beautiful voices of the famous (according to the waiter) muzzeins on two different minarets of the mosque, calling back and forth the ezan (call to prayer).
Sara at her publisher with a copy of Hardball, translated into Turkish
On the last day of our visit, we traveled across the Bosphorus strait to the Asian side--less like a tourist city and more the heart of where Istanbul citizens live and work. The delightful staff of Artemis, Sara’s Turkish publisher, welcomed us to their office where a stack of Sara’s hot-off-the-press 13th V.I. Warshawski novel, Hardball, translated into Turkish, was awaiting her autograph.
Ferry building on the Bosphorus where we met for tea
Later in the afternoon, we also had a chance to meet with Isenbike Togan. I had become acquainted with Isen when she came to Simferopol for an international conference celebrating the work of her father, the famous Turkologist Ahmet-Zaki Validi Togan (see Nov. 9, 2010 blog post). We have since been in touch via email, and she continued to extend her invitation to visit Istanbul. As it turned out, her daughter who lives in America was also visiting and so Isen’s time was limited, but it meant we had the opportunity to meet Sara, a lovely and talented young woman. 
From left: Isen's daughter Sara, Sara Paretsky, Barbara Wieser, Isenbike Togan
We sat in a café in a historic building overlooking the dock where the ferry boats from the European side of Istanbul arrive and depart. Sharing a cup of tea with companions whose backgrounds span both America and Turkey while looking out on the boat traffic crisscrossing this waterway connecting the continents of Europe and Asia, was a perfect ending to a wonderful three days in Istanbul with my beloved cousin Sara.

Friday, September 14, 2012

I return to Crimea

The cool weather of autumn has returned to Crimea and so have I. I spent six weeks in America this summer, visiting friends and family, and wrapping up my life there, though in anticipation of what, I am not sure, but certainly a different life than the one I had before the Peace Corps brought me to Crimea.
One of my “wrapping up” projects in America was to sell my home and most of my belongings. I decided to have a fundraising garage sale and donate the proceeds to the library’s Kindness Campaign (see blog post March 16, 2012). I sent out an email to all my friends and acquaintances and to the mailing list of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers organization in Minnesota. It was a great success—a chance to see many of the people in my life and to talk with different RPCV’s from Minnesota. Many people were generous with their purchases when they understood that all the money was going to support my Peace Corps project.  When I returned to Crimea, I was able to present the library with $1100, the proceeds from the sale.
The nephew of Ukraine Peace Corps Director and I pose in front of my house with the sign advertsing my garage sale.
Shortly after my return to Crimea, I had the opportunity to meet with Inci Bowman from the International Committee for Crimea ( who was in Simferopol for a conference. We spent an enjoyable two hours together, discussing the possible collaborations between ICC and the library and other Crimean Tatar organizations in Simferopol. Later, I also met with her in Istanbul where I traveled to see my cousin (see next blog post).
I also had the opportunity to attend a seminar organized by the Information Resource Center of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine at the Honchar Library in Kherson, a city of about 350,000 six hours north of here.  The seminar was titled “Providing Library Access to the Visually Impaired and Blind: Current Capabilities and Experience.”  It was attended by library directors from across Ukraine along with representatives from organizations for the blind and companies providing adaptive equipment and software.  The Gasprinskiy Library was invited to make a presentation about our current Peace Corps sponsored project, “Improving the Lives of the Visually Impaired in Crimea,” which was well received.
Seminar participants in front of the Honchar Library.

Though the seminar was conducted mostly in Ukrainian, and therefore I understood very little, I still appreciated the opportunity to meet with librarians in Ukraine and also to see what technologies are now available to increase the accessibility of visually impaired people to the internet and the other resources of a library. I also met with the Peace Corps Volunteers located in Kherson and learned of their various projects.
The morning after my return I flew to Istanbul to meet with my cousin, American writer Sara Paretsky. I will tell about our adventures in my next post.