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The Crimean Tatars
By Alan W. Fisher
Hoover Institution PressCopyright © 1978 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All rights reserved.
The Origins of the Crimean Tatar Khanate
Notwithstanding a certain self-assuredness that pervades most accounts of Crimean history, the origins of the Crimean Tatars are as obscure as the origins of most peoples. The task of finding these origins would be considerably easier, in fact, if there were general agreement among historians as to the definition of Crimean Tatar. The question of their origins predates the first Crimean Khanate, which appeared in the early 1440s under the leadership of Khan Haci Giray. This khanate's existence is attested to by historical sources from both Asia and Europe. Who were the peoples who made up the population of the new khanate? Where had they come from, and when? The paucity and unreliability of contemporary sources makes the answers to these questions difficult.
The Crimean peninsula is divided into two parts that are separated by the mountainous ridge north of the Black Sea's coastline. Along the coast, in Haci Giray's time, there were several large towns — Kaffa (Kefe), Evpatoria (Gözleve), and Tana (Azov, Azak) — that by eastern European standards were really cities. They were inhabited for the most part by Greek, Armenian, and Jewish populations, yet there was a sizeable Italian and Frankish minority in political and economic command. From contemporary accounts of visiting merchants and travelers, these cities were teeming urban areas, each with a full complement of public buildings, market places, harbor complexes, and crowded living quarters. Although the architectural style of the cities, which emphasized the utilitarian rather than the beautiful, was by no means comparable to that of the Italian and Frankish homelands, visitors from both east and west could not mistake the fact that these cities were European in influence.
To the north of the mountains, the land was inhabited by various nomadic tribes who were for the most part Islamic and who spoke various Turkic dialects. For centuries, these tribes had intermittently passed through the northern Black Sea area on their excursions into eastern Europe, and during this period, their main impact upon the area seems to have been a disruptive one. It consisted of breaking up or seriously damaging existing local political and economic organization.
In the mid-thirteenth century, during the invasions by the armies of Batu Khan, founder of the Golden Horde, these Turkic nomads gained political ascendancy over the previously settled Slavic and Italian populations. Slavic sources show that, just before Batu's invasion in the 1220s, the towns of Sudak and Korsun in the southern Crimea paid the Polovtsy a tribute in order to protect themselves against nomadic raids. Sudak itself was leveled by the Tatars just after the battle of the Kalka in 1223 and again soon after by an army sent by Ala ed Din, the Seljuk sultan of Rum (Konya). It was in the years following this last attack that Seljuk and Oguz Turkish groups, most of which came from Anatolia, began their settlement of the northern Crimean plains.
Turkish sources clearly indicate that during the second half of the thirteenth century, under the encouragement of Berke Khan, ruler of the Golden Horde, many Seljuk Turks settled in the Crimea. According to the Ottoman chronicler, Münicimbasi, one of the four daughters of the Seljuk sultan married Berke Khan. According to Seid Lukman's Ottoman chronicle, Izz ed Din, a son of this Seljuk wife, received from Berke the lands and towns of Solhat and Sudak in the Crimea and brought Anatolian Turks to settle there. By the end of the thirteenth century. Arab travelers through the region reported that the population of Sudak was largely Turkish.
At first this settlement of the Crimean interior and of Sudak on the coast proceeded without interfering with the Frankish and Slavic populations on the southern shore of the Crimean peninsula. But at the end of the thirteenth century, Emir Nogai, governor of the Crimean and steppe province of the Golden Horde, demanded payment of taxes and tribute from the Genoese city of Kaffa on the southeastern coast of the Crimea. On the latter's refusal, he attacked and pillaged the city. Clearly the relationship between the Turkic population in the north and the Christian population of the south was entering a new stage.
One of the immediate results of this attack was the recognition by the Genoese of the Tatars' right to exact payment of taxes, and with this came partial acceptance of Tatar political authority over the whole region. Turkish settlement on the shore of the Black Sea itself followed. It is after this point that many Tatar names appear among the inhabitants of Kefe and Sudak.
Throughout the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, the Tatar khans at Saray on the Volga considered themselves the rulers of the Crimea. They made good this claim by appointing governors of the Crimean and steppe province, whose seat of power was Solhat, later to be called Eski Kirim ("Old Crimea"). This city remained the main Tatar center on the peninsula until the formation of the Giray dynasty in the mid-fifteenth century. It was a religious center with mosques, dervish monasteries, and schools (medresses) all with their mullas, sheikhs, and kadis (legal scholars and judges). Solhat served as a source of Muslim missionary activity in the north and in the Caucasus. In addition, Arab travelers reported a large number of caravan-sarais and a strong fortress of stone. Iakobson provides a picture of a school and mosque in Solhat, built by Khan Uzbek in 1314 and still extant.
Solhat was never the official residence for the khans of the Golden Horde, but it became a place of refuge for unsuccessful aspirants to the throne. It also served as the locale for diplomatic relations between the Golden Horde and the Turkic Mamluk dynasty of Egypt. Sultan Baybars built a large mosque in Solhat and modestly named it for himself.
It was not until the end of the fourteenth century that any of the Tatar governors in the Crimea began to attempt to establish an independent political power based on their control of the Crimea. The first appears to have been Tas Timur who had his name inscribed on coinage minted and intended for exclusive use in the peninsula. He called the Crimea his yurt ("patrimony"), and with the policy continued by his sons, granted the position there as a hereditary position: thus, Tas Timur rightly may be considered as the creator of the base for a future independent polity in the Crimea.
Haci Giray Khan
Historians of all persuasions are agreed that one of Tas Timur's successors, Haci Giray, was the first khan of an independent Crimean Khanate. There is some controversy, however, about Haci Giray — his character, the origin of his name, his exact relationship to the khans of the Golden Horde, and his relationship to Tas Timur. The reasons behind this controversy (which centers primarily around Haci's genealogy) relate to the Crimeans' desire to show their legitimacy as heirs of some of the horde's political and territorial traditions. In the sixteenth century, the Muscovite grand princes (and later the tsars) made similar claims to the legitimate inheritance of these horde traditions. It was felt that the ruler who could make the best case for his own horde traditions had the best chance of becoming the ruler of the Golden Horde's territories — the steppe between southern Poland and central Asia.
The most reasonable account of Haci Giray's appearance seems to be that provided by V. D. Smirnov, who bases his views on Lithuanian and Polish chronicles. Stryikovski's Polish chronicle explains it thus: "That year (1443) the Tatars of Perekop, Barin, and Sirin, whose khan died without heir, sent to Casimir, grand prince of Lithuania, with the request that he give them Haci Giray as khan, who having fled from the Great Horde, was there in refuge." According to this view, Haci Giray had been born in Lithuania, made an attempt for supremacy in the Golden Horde in 1428, and after his failure had returned to Lithuania. When he was invited by the Tatars in the Crimea to come and rule over them, he accepted and began to base his political authority solely on the fact that he was khan in the Crimea. At that time Crimean coins began to bear his name, and in place of the former Tatar kipçak seal, a new seal for the Crimean khans was initiated. It bore the image of an owl.
There is little ground for debate, however, about the policy that Haci Giray pursued once he was khan in the Crimea. After his attempts to gain the throne of the Golden Horde for himself, Haci set about to establish an independent state in the Crimea. To accomplish this, he needed (1) to gain as many allies as possible from among his and the horde's neighbors, and (2) to attract as many Tatar clans and nobles to his side as he could. There was no question that the khans of the horde would oppose his policy. If he failed to build a strong base in the Crimea, it was likely that his attempts at independence would fail.
Haci Giray's first step was to seek as many allies as he could. He was not particular with regard to the religion or nationality of the neighboring rulers and states whose support he sought. Before 1453, when Sultan Mehmed II captured Constantinople and began to incorporate all of the shores of the Black Sea into his empire, Haci vacillated between friendship and alliance with Poland-Lithuania and the Muscovite Russia (Muscovy). So long as his major threat came from the Golden Horde, Muscovy was his natural ally — Muscovy's grand princes had been struggling against Tatar overlordship for some time. But there were occasions when close relations with the Kingdom of Poland seemed to offer more advantages to the Crimean ruler. In 1445 at a time when the khan of the Golden Horde was threatening both Crimean and Polish territory in the south, Haci Giray made his first Polish/Lithuanian alliance with Casimir IV. In 1452 Haci attacked the invading khan, Seyyid Ahmed, and together with Polish/Lithuanian forces was able to defeat him.
Relations with the Ottoman Empire
The year 1453 brought a dramatic change to the geopolitical situation in the Black Sea region. The Ottoman sultan, Mehmed II, achieved the centuries-old Muslim and Turkic dream of seizing Constantinople, the capital of the East Roman Empire. This event showed that the relatively new Ottoman Empire was without doubt the greatest power in southeastern Europe. It created a completely new situation for the Italian colonies along the Crimean shore whose trade had to pass through the straits now controlled by the Turks.
As a self-proclaimed heir of the political and some of the territorial traditions of the Golden Horde, Haci Giray had from the beginning considered the Italian colonies to be within his sovereign domains. According to Ankarali Hekim Yahya, a mid-fifteeth-century Ottoman chronicler, Haci Giray was sovereign of Kirkyer, Eski Kirim, Taman, Kerch, the Kuban, Kipçak, and — most important — Kefe. With the Ottomans on the Bosphorus, Haci Giray and Mehmed II had complementary interests in the activities of the Genoese in the Crimea. In 1454, the Crimean khan made an agreement with Mehmed II to attack and capture Kefe from the Genoese. While an Ottoman fleet approached Kefe, the khan laid siege to the city by land with a force of 7000 Tatar cavalry. But on this occasion, the town was able to withstand the joint attack. Finally, after the Genoese agreed to pay to the Tatars an annual tribute of 1200 gold pieces, Haci Giray and the Ottomans withdrew. After this date, coinage from the khanate bears both Tatar and Genoese markings.
Although this joint attack was the first sign of the future Crimean-Ottoman political and military relationship, the final connection was not to be made until the reign of Haci Giray's successor, Devlet Giray, twenty years later. Until then, in defense of his own independence and sovereignty, the khan's main attention was still directed toward the steppe and horde politics. Constant struggles against the Golden Horde khans marked the last ten years of Haci Giray's life.
Haci Giray's second major step in setting the basis for Crimean independence from the Golden Horde was the attraction of many Tatar clans and aristocrats. The fact that the horde khans proved unable to end his claims to a separate sovereignty led many of the most important Tatar clans to move to lands under Haci Giray's authority. Between 1453 and 1466 at least three such clans (the sirins, the Barins, and the Konghurats) made the westward move. The rulers of the Golden Horde had relied on support of these clans in the past. Ironically, this immigration created both the basis for khanate strength vis à vis the Golden Horde and the basis for internal khanate weakness. The fact that so many of the horde's leading clans and leaders transferred their loyalty to the fledgling Crimean Khanate greatly strengthened the position of the Crimean khans in their struggles against the horde. Their migration added numerically to the Tatar population on the peninsula and gave to the khan both a larger military force and increased economic power. It also brought to the khanate the causes of internal weakness that had plagued the horde in past decades — competing claims for power and sovereignty on the part of the clan leaders against their khan.
It was not only large numbers of Tatars who moved west, but also clans that had a long tradition of political power, clans that for centuries had played important roles in the politics of the horde. The leaders of these clans were not willing to abandon their own power completely, whether the khan be a khan of the Golden Horde or a khan of the Crimean Khanate. Internecine struggle was to be the major characteristic of Crimean political life until its last days. According to Inalcik, in 1456 the Genoese in Kefe were able to persuade leaders of some of the new clans to turn against Haci Giray and depose him in favor of his son Haydar Khan. Although this interlude lasted only a few months and Haci regained his throne by the end of the year, this was an omen for the future.
The last recorded event in Haci Giray's life was his preparation in 1460 for a major struggle with Khan Küçük Mehmed of the Golden Horde. Haci was involved in these plans when he suddenly died, probably of poison administered by some of the clan leaders who resented his growing claims to internal power. Haci's death opened a period of intense internal fighting that was only resolved with the conquest of the shores of the Crimean peninsula by the Ottomans in 1475 and with the political supremacy over the khans achieved by the Ottomans a couple of years later.CHAPTER 2
Ottoman Hegemony in the Crimea
One of the major historiographical issues in Crimean history concerns the way in which and the extent to which the Crimea became dependent upon the Ottoman Empire. The most important questions about which historians disagree are: (1) When the Ottoman Turks captured Kefe and the southern shore of the Crimean peninsula in 1475, did they also conquer the fledgling Crimean Khanate, or did the Crimea merely enter under the protection of the Ottoman sultan? (2) Was the Crimean khan, after 1475, a sovereign and heir to the political traditions of the steppe, or was he a vassal of the Ottoman sultan? If the khan was a vassal of the sultan, how does one explain the facts that the khans often did not act in concert with the Ottomans, that they continued to maintain their own separate diplomatic relations with both Poland and Muscovy, and that they acted within the Crimea as officials with historic prerogatives of independence and sovereignty?
In order to make some sense of the issue of Crimean-Ottoman relations, events of the years 1466–1478 (the year of Haci Giray's death — the year in which Mengli Giray offered himself as an obedient servant of his sovereign, the padishah of the Ottoman Empire) must first be examined. Then the development of political and economic relations between the Ottomans and the Crimean Tatars must be analyzed.
The death of Haci Giray in 1466 produced a struggle for succession that raises serious questions about the existence of a dynasty at all. The political traditions of the Golden Horde made it clear that Haci's eldest son, Nurdevlet, should have inherited the throne, yet the succession was not so easily solved. The clan leaders who had migrated to the Crimea during Haci Giray's reign refused to accept a khan over whom they had no authority. For the next twelve years there ensued a struggle between proponents of three theories of politics that were embodied in three power centers: the horde itself; the clan leaders, led by the bey of the Sirin clan; and the Ottoman sultan. There were only two contenders for the throne: Nurdevlet and his brother Mengli Giray. The Genoese intervened first on behalf of one, then of the other. The problem was only solved in 1478 with the installation of Mengli Giray as khan and as a vassal of the Ottoman sultan. One may conclude that the khanate as a stable political entity dates from this period rather than from the "founding of the khanate" by Haci Giray thirty years earlier. Mengli Giray ruled in the Crimea from 1478 until his death in 1514.
Excerpted from The Crimean Tatars by Alan W. Fisher. Copyright © 1978 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Hoover Institution Press.
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