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Squatting, Self-Immolation, and the Repatriation of Crimean Tatars

  • Greta Uehling (a1)

In the summer of 1978, a Crimean Tatar man named Musa Mamut walked out of his home in a small village in the Crimea toward a policeman waiting for him at his front gate. He was to be taken to the station for questioning, and quite possibly arrested for “violation of the passport regime.” But Mamut had already drenched himself with gasoline and, lighting a match, was engulfed in flames. He ran toward the policeman, who ran the other way. A deliveryman tripped Musa, and two friends who had been passing by extinguished the flames. His friends took him to the Simferopol city hospital, where he died six days later, never expressing any regret for what he did.

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1. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 1991), p. 10.

2. Ernst Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1983); Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).

3. Julie Skurski, “The Ambiguities of Authenticity in Latin America: Dona Barbara and the Construction of Nationl Identity,” Poetics Today, Vol. 15, No. 4, 1994, pp. 605642.

4. Anderson, Imagined Communities, p. 7.

5. Marianne Gullestad, The Art of Social Relations (Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, 1992). It is particularly appropriate to ascribe less importance to the categories “elite” and “common” in the Crimean Tatar case because a defining feature of the National Movement is its populist vision. One of the primary criteria by which the quality of an activist or leader is assessed is his or her ability to “work with the people” and “be with the people.” It is also important not to draw too distinct a line given that deportation and repatriation have acted as leveling mechanisms and have rearranged established social hierarchies.

6. Tom Nairn, “Scotland and Europe,” in Geoff Eley and Ronald Grigor Suny, eds, Becoming National (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 84.

7. Miroslav Hroch, “From National Movement to the Fully Formed Nation: The Nation-Building Process in Europe,” in Geoff Eley and Ronald Grigor Suny, eds, Becoming National (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 66.

8. See Gullestad, op. cit. Some information about the socioeconomic background of the informants may be helpful. Redvan was a veteran with incomplete primary education. Zikie also had minimal education and had worked as a child care provider and as an agricultural day laborer. Unus completed his education and works in a small rural cultural center. R. Dzhemilev worked as the head of a construction firm before his imprisonment for political activities. While Dzhemilev was once at the forefront of Tatar politics, he currently devotes his time to community service and writing. Earlier in his career, he had many contacts among Russian dissidents and intellectuals, but now remains at home.

9. Nancy Ries, Russian Talk: Culture and Conversation during Perestroika (Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1997).

10. Reshat Dzhemilev, compiler, Zhivoi Fakel [Human Torch] (New York: Crimea Foundation, 1986).

11. I originally wanted to interview the informants individually, but given the tiny house in a remote village on a winter night, it would have been inappropriate to impose these circumstances. Tonkin's observations contributed to my re-evaluation of the interview transcript and decision not to discount it: “researchers often assume that their work is doing an interview with interviewees. They have not been taught to consider that interviews are oral genres.” We may learn by accommodating. Elizabeth Tonkin, Narrating Our Pasts: The Social Construction of Oral History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 54.

12. Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination. ed. Michael Holquist, translated by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), p. 426. Also see Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, translated and edited by Caryl Emerson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), p. 184.

13. William Hanks, Language and Communicative Practices (Boulder: Westview, 1996), p. 202.

14. On the basis of Bakhtin and Voloshinov's works, Hill develops the idea of a system of voices and emphasizes that quoted speech is particularly good for the embedding of evaluation. In this particular conversation, that evaluation takes shape as normative standards for participation in the National Movement. See Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics 1984; Valentin Nikolaevich Voloshinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, translated by Ladislav Matejka and I. R. Titunik (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1986 [1929]); and Jane Hill, “The Voices of Don Gabriel: Responsibility and Self in a Modern Mexicano Narrative,” in Bruce Mannheim and Dennis Tedlock, eds, The Dialogic Interpretation of Culture (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. 1995), pp. 97147.

15. Goffman, Forms of Talk, pp. 143144.

16. Erving Goffman, Forms of Talk (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981), p. 144. Goffman identified the roles of animator, author, principal, and figure. Principal is what Goffman described as “someone whose position is established by the words that are spoken, someone whose beliefs have been told, someone who is committed to what the words say.” The animator, in contrast, is the “talking machine,” not a full-fledged social role but a functional role. The author is at the heart of the system as someone who “has selected the sentiments that are being expressed and the words in which they are encoded.” The sentiments of patriotism are believed to be Mamut's. Because it is Mamut's sentiments that are believed to be originally encoded, speakers would like to establish themselves as principal in this dialogue.

17. Goffman, op. cit., p. 144.

18. Hanks, op. cit., p. 212.

19. I was reminded of this point, by an anonym ous reviewer for Nationalities Papers.

20. Grigori Matveevich Aleksandrov, Fakel nad Krimom [Torch Over Crimea] (Bakchesarai: Avdet, 1991). The word samizdat refers to the self-published and distributed manuscripts that bypassed censorship in the Soviet Union.

21. As cited in Edward Allworth, The Tatars of the Crimea (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1988), p. 242.

22. Reprinted in Dzhemilev, op. cit., p. 83.

23. See, for example, Vladimir Poliakov, Krim: Sud, by Narodov i Ludey [Crimea: Fate of Nations and Peoples] (Simferopol: International Renaissance Foundation, 1998), p. 62; and Allworth, op. cit., p. 40.

24. Dzhemilev, op. cit., p. 73.

25. Bruce Mannheim and Dennis Tedlock, “Introduction,” in Bruce Mannheim, and Dennis Tedlock, eds, The Dialogic Emergence of Culture (Urbana, IL and Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), pp. 132.

26. Interview with author, Besh-Terek, Ukraine, 2 January, 1998. RC refers to Redvan Charukov, RD to Reshat Dzhemilev; UM to Unus Mamut; ZM to Zikic Mamut; IK to Izzet Khairov and GU to the author

27. Ibid.

28. 28. Ibid.

29. It may seem extraordinary that the community was willing to part with three of its members even though it was technically against the letter of the Koran's law. However, the focus for those seeking to defend Islam (and the Soviet regime was experienced as oppressive of Islam) is action more than belief, practice rather than doctrine. The term shari'a deals with more than law in the strict sense, literally meaning “the way to the watering place.” Therefore it combines the sense of a means of sustenance in this world and access to the divine in the world to come. See Malise Ruthven, Islam: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 75.

30. Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, p. 184.

31. 31. Interview with author, Besh-Terek, Ukraine, 2 January, 1998.

32. See Dzhemilev, op. cit.

33. Marea Teski and Jacob J. Clemo, “Introduction,” in Marea C. and Jacob J. Teski, eds, The Labyrinth of Memory: Ethnographic Journeys (Westport, CT and London: Bergin & Garvey, 1995), pp. 110.

34. Goffman, op. cit., 1981.

35. Hanks, op. cit., 1996.

36. Nairn, “Scotland and Europe,” p. 84. See also Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789–1848, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1962; and Anthony Smith, Theories of Nationalism, London: Duckworth, 1971.

37. Arjun Appadurai, “Topographies of the Self: Praise and Emotion in Hindu India,” in Catherine A. Lutz and Lila Abu-Lughod, eds, Language and the Politics of Emotion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 92112.

38. See Lauren Berlant, The Anatomy of National Fantasy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981). Also see Geoff Eley and Ronald Grigor Suny, “Introduction: From the Moment of Social History to the Work of Cultural Representation,” in Geoff Eley and Ronald Grigor Suny, eds, Becoming National (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 337, for a discussion of these dynamics.

39. Again, by shifting the focus away from different groups of people to different kinds of social practice, we can avoid the difficulties that a hierarchical model of nationalism presents. Rather than extrapolate how the elite construct comes to be commonly held, we can look more closely at the emergence of cultural meanings in a variety of settings to see the emergence of patriotic sentiments. I am not trying to suggest that these sentiments are evenly distributed but that the issue has been unfortunately framed in a way that blocks clarification of the dynamics.

40. Douglas McAdam, Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency 1930–1970 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), pp. 127, 134135.

41. The opinion expressed by the informants is not to be confused with the author's opinion. Alternative spelling “Jemilev.”

42. Interview with author, Besh-Terek, Crimea, 2 January, 1998.

43. Ibid.

44. According to the Migration Department of the Soviet of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, 250, 000 Crimean Tatars had been repatriated as of 1 May 1998.

45. Otriadi Militsii Osobovo Naznachenia special police forces typically assigned to public disturbances and somewhat analogous to the National Guard in the United States.

46. Interview with author, Mejlis, Ukraine, 8 August, 1996.

47. The informant wishes to remain anonymous. Interview with author, Simferopol, 3 August 1995.

48. J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962).

49. Izzet Khairov, interview with author, Tashkent, 13 February 1997.

50. Dmitri Bushev, “Simferopolskie Tragedii” [Simferopol Tragedies], Kievskoe Vremya [Kiev Times], 25 November 1997, p. 1.

51. Ibid., p. 1.

52. Charles Tilly, “Afterword: Political Memories in Space and Time,” in Jonathan Boyarin, ed., Remapping Memory: The Politics of TimeSpace (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990), p. 247.

53. These informants wish to remain anonymous. Interview with author, Simferopol, Ukraine, 5 December 1997.

54. By their own accounts, the Crimean Tatars are Muslims who were secularized under Soviet influence, but are now rediscovering Islam. There is a two-fold aspect to their Muslim identity: in Arabic, “Islam” means self-surrender to God as revealed through the message and life of the Prophet Muhammad. However, there is a secondary meaning of “Muslim,” which according to Ruthven shades into the first. In this understanding, a Muslim is an individual born to a Muslim father who takes on his or her parents' confessional identity without necessarily subscribing to the beliefs and practices of the faith. See Ruthven, op. cit., p. 3. This is the basis of an ambiguity inherent in Crimean Tatars' self-identification as Muslims.

55. Interview with author, Besh-Terek, Ukraine, 2 January, 1998.

56. The word “immolation” derives from the Latin root immolat(us), meaning to sprinkle holy grits in the sacrificial ceremony. See N. Subrahmanian, “Suicide,” in N. Subrahmanian, ed., Self-Immolation in Tamil Society (Madurai N. G.O. Colony: International Institute of Tamil Historical Studies, 1983), p. 19. The origin of the word in Latin has religious associations, but “immolation” has come to include non-religious acts as well.

57. Subrahmanian, Self-immolation in Tamil Society, pp. 1750.

58. A. V. Rao, “Suicide,” in N. Subrahmanian, ed., Self-immolation in Tamil Society (Madurai N. G.O. Colony: International Institute of Tamil Historical Studies, 1983), p. 3.

59. Jack D. Douglas, The Social Meaning of Suicide (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967).

60. Emile Durkheim, Suicide: a study in sociology, translated by John A. Spaulding and George Simpson (Glencoe, IL: United States: Free Press, 1951).

61. Maurice L. Farber, Theory of Suicide (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1968), p. 11.

62. This letter is dated 15 August 1978. It was in the possession of Zikie at the time of the interview with the author.

63. Kurt Treptow, “The Winter of Despair: Jan Palach and the Collapse of the Prague Spring,” Ukrainian Quarterly, Vol. 45, No.1, 1993, pp. 3147.

64. Treptow, op. cit., p. 43.

65. Interview with author, Besh-Terek, Ukraine, 2 January 1998.

66. Dzhemilev, op. cit., p. 70.

67. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, p. 428.

68. Tonkin, op. cit., p. 54.

69. See, for example, Ann Laura Stoler and Karen Strassler, “Castings for the Colonial: On Memory-Work in ‘New-Order’ Java,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, Fall 1999; and Hayden White, The Content of The Form: Narrative discourse and Historical Representation (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987).

70. Judith Irvine, “Registering Affect: Heteroglossia in the Linguistic Expression of Emotion,” in Catherine A. Lutz and Lila Abu Lughod, eds, Language and the Politics of Emotion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 130.

A version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN) at Columbia University in April 1999. The research was made possible by a 1997 International Dissertation Research Fellowship (IDRF) sponsored by the Social Science Research Council in partnership with American Council of Learned Societies with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as well as Grant 6187 from the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. A previous research trip to Uzbekistan was made possible by a 1996 grant from the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Michigan with funding provided by the Ford Foundation and National Council for Soviet and East European Research. The author wishes to thank the anonymous reviewers of the ASN for their thoughtful and stimulating comments on an earlier draft of this article.

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