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Krymchaks (Ukraine)

Last modified: 2011-03-19 by andrew weeks
Keywords: ukraine | krymchaks | crimea |
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proposed flag
image by Antonio MARTINS-Tuvalkin, 2 March 2010

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Following on Mikhail Revnivtsev's report to RussoVex, I've done some additional research and here is the flag of the small and very little known nation of Krymchaks (more precisely, a proposed flag for the Krymchak cultural society - "Krymchakhlar").
Krymchaks are one of the last remnants of the original population of the Khazar Empire. Lived, poor but happy, under the relatively benevolent rule of the Crimean khans, experienced a severe persecution by the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, faced almost total extermination (75%) by the Nazis during the German occupation of the peninsula in 1941-43, to be dispersed throughout the world in the recent years. Their numbers' estimates range from 1 500 to 2 700 with the most often accepted count of 1 500 of which about 200 live in Crimea (Ukraine), 160 in Russia, 1 000 in Israel and the rest in Uzbekistan, Georgia, United States, Turkey, Germany and Poland.
Wikipedia describes them in English: "The Krymchaks are a community of Turkic-speaking adherents of Rabbinic Judaism living in Crimea. They have historically lived in close proximity to the Crimean Karaites. At first krymchak was a Russian descriptive used to differentiate them from their Ashkenazi coreligionists, as well as other Jewish communities in the former Russian Empire such as the Georgian Jews, but in the second half of the 19th century this name was adopted by the Krymchaks themselves. Before this their self-designation was"Срель балалары" (Srel balalary) - literally "Children of Israel". The Crimean Tatars referred to them as zulufl? cufutlar ("Jews with pe'ot") to distinguish them from the Karaims, who were called zulufs?z cufutlar ("Jews without pe'ot") (pe'ot = sidelocks)
The Krymchaks speak a modified form of the Crimean Tatar language, called the Krymchak language. It contains numerous Hebrew and Aramaic loan-words and was traditionally written in Hebrew characters (now it is written in Cyrillic script).
They are probably partially descended from Jewish colonists who settled along the Black Sea in ancient times. Jewish communities existed in many of the Greek colonies in the region. Recently-excavated inscriptions in Crimea have revealed a Jewish presence at least as early as the first century BCE. In some Crimean towns, monotheistic pagan cults called sebomenoi theon hypsiston ("Worshippers of the All-Highest God", or "God-Fearers") existed. These quasi-proselytes kept the Jewish commandments but remained uncircumcised and retained certain pagan customs. Eventually, these sects disappeared as their members adopted either Christianity or normative Judaism. Another version that after repression of Bar Kokhba's revolt, by the emperor Hadrian those Jews who weren't executed were exiled to Crimean peninsula.
The late classical era saw great upheaval in the region as Crimea was occupied by Goths, Huns, Bulgars, and other peoples. Jewish merchants such as the Radhanites began to develop extensive contacts in the Pontic region during this period, and probably maintained c lose relations with the proto-Krymchak communities.
In the late 600s most of Crimea fell to the Khazars. The extent to which the Krymchaks influenced the ultimate conversion of the Khazars and the development of Khazar Judaism is unknown. During the period of Khazar rule, intermarriage between Crimean Jews and Khazars is likely, and the Krymchaks probably absorbed numerous Khazar refugees during the decline and fall of the Khazar kingdom (a Khazar successor state, ruled by Georgius Tzul, was centered on Kerch). It is known that Kipchak converts to Judaism existed, and it is possible that from these converts the Krymchaks adopted their distinctive language.
The Mongol conquerors of the Pontic region were promoters of religious freedom, and the Genoese occupation of the southern Crimea (1315-1475) saw rising degrees of Jewish settlement in the region. The Jewish community was divided among those who prayed according to the Sephardi, the Ashkenazi, and the Romaniote rites. Only in 1515 were the different styles united into a distinctive Krymchak rite by Rabbi Moshe Ha-Golah, a Chief Rabbi of Kiev who had settled in Crimea.
Under the Crimean Khanate the Jews were lived in separate quarters and payed the dhimmi-tax (the Jizya). A limited judicial autonomy was granted according to the Ottoman millet system. Overt, violent persecution was extremely rare.
During the Cossack rebellions and pogroms of the mid 1600s, the Krymchaks were active in ransoming fellow Jews who had been taken captive.
Russian Empire annexed Crimea in 1783. The Krymchaks were thereafter subjected to the same religious persecution imposed on other Jews in Russia. Unlike their Karaite neighbors, the Krymchaks suffered the full brunt of anti-Jewish restrictions.
During the 1800s many Ashkenazim from Ukraine and Lithuania began to settle in Crimea. Compared with these Ashkenazim the Krymchaks seemed somewhat backward; their illiteracy rates, for example, were quite high, and they held fast to many superstitions. Intermarriage with the Ashkenazim reduced the numbers of the distinct Krymchak community dramatically. By 1900 there were 60,000 Ashkenazim and only 6,000 Krymchaks in Crimea.
In the mid 1800s the Krymchaks became followers of Rabbi Chaim Hezekiah Medini, a Sephardi rabbi born in Jerusalem who had come to Crimea from Constantinople. His followers accorded him the title of gaon. Settling in Karasu Bazaar, the largest Krymchak community in Crimea, Rabbi Medini spent his life raising educational standards among the Jews of Crimea.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, civil war tore apart Crimea. Many Krymchaks were killed in the fighting between the Red Army, the White Movement and the Green Army. More still died in the famines of the early 1920s and the early 1930s. Many emigrated to the Holy Land, the United States, and Turkey.
Under Stalin, the Krymchaks were forbidden to write in Hebrew and were ordered to employ a Cyrillic alphabet to write their own language. Synagogues and yeshivot were closed by government decree. Krymchaks were compelled to work in factories and collective farms.
Unlike the Karaim, the Krymchaks were targeted for annihilation by the Nazis. Six thousand Krymchaks, almost 75% of their population, were killed by the Nazis. Moreover, upon the return of Soviet authority to the region, many Krymchaks found themselves mistakenly deported to Central Asia along with their Crimean Tatar neighbors.
By 2000 only about 2,500 Krymchaks lived in the former Soviet Union, about half in Ukraine and the remainder in Georgia, Russia, and Uzbekistan. A few hundred Krymchaks still clinging to their Crimean identity live in the United States and Israel: animator Ralph Bakshi is the most famous of these."
More comprehensive account available at the Electronic Jewish Encyclopedia.
The flag and the emblem are presented at <> and are described as:
Flag: Yellow - Fatherland - Crimea, where the roots of the Krymchak people are. Thin Red Line - which runs in the middle of a big white stripe symbolizes the big bridge of friendship and peace among the peoples of the Crimea. The blue color represents the Khazar Khanate where the Krimchaks originated. The red lines indicate the two wars that affected the great majority of Krymchak people.
Emblem: Surrounded by the unfinished circle representing the Crimean Peninsula. Left side - the Black Sea, and the right - Sea of Azov. Both of these seas encircle the peninsula of Crimea.
Left and right sides are framed by the national colors of the Krimchaks. The not completed line shows the way up to God Tanry - a petition to Him for the blessings.
In the center - Mount Ak-Kaya, which the ancestors of the Krimchaks revered as sacred. Ak-Kaya (White Rock) is located in Belogorske (Karasu-bazar) - the town which used to be populated by the Ktimchak majority in the past. Below the mountain is the River Kara-Su, and still lower - "Krymchak side" wher the Krymchaks live.
Above the mountain there is an eagle with open wings carrying a chick on its back.
This is taken from the Krymchak epic "The Eagle and Its Sons". Also above the mountain the sun rises symbolizing the revival of the people from the tragic events of the past.
The symbols were designed ny Dmitry Chubar and won the preliminary approval of the Russian Guild of Heraldic Artists.
Note the similarity of the Krymchak flag with the one of the Karaims.
Chrystian Kretowicz, 28 February 2010

Proposed Emblem

image by Chrystian Kretowicz, 28 February 2010

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