Mamut Churlu: “People should organize themselves in positive activities in different ways”


Painter and artist Mamut Churlu came to Crimea in the late ’80s for the first time. But he faced with the xenophobia before boarding his plane. This case opened one more of his talents. About this and about the choice between music and art, about the possibility to save national art and skills in the places of deportation he told for the podcast on QHA media. 

Mamut Churlu was born in 1946 in Fergana (Uzbekistan), where his family was deported. Since childhood, little Mamut has been interested in art. He was curious and liked to read very much. He told such a story from his early years. Once, Mamut Churlu asked his mother to buy him some paints but got a rejection. He wasn’t disappointed, and secretly saying nothing to his parents he borrowed some money from the neighbors and bought himself the paints. When his mother knew about it she punished him. His family hardly could be considered an artistic one. 

Mamut Churlu:

“My father was born into a peasant family. He is from Ozenbash (a village in Bakhchisaray region in Crimea). My Mother was from Bakhchisaray. During Soviet rule he graduated from the Film College in Rostov-on -Don was working as a director in Yalta cinema theatre called “Spartak”, was a member of the party. According to the words of elder people, he was the first who showed a film in the village and was the first who flew on a plane. And mother was from a merchant family the same as a grandmother. In the 19th century, her father sold a house and moved to Turkey. My grandmother graduated from the Muslim School for girls there. So, they hadn’t any possibility to be fond of art”. 

Musician by need…

When Mamut Churlu was young he became seriously interested in music. When he was 19 he graduated from Fergana Musical College with the specialization “Theory of Music”. And Five years later became a senior at Novosibirsk Musical Conservatory by Glinka as a musicologist. In 1974 Mamut Churlu took part in the ceremony of opening the first art department organized in the musical school. He had been teaching there for four years. However, he talks about his musical experience without any enthusiasm. 

Mamut Churlu:

“We were living in the center of Fergana, where I was born. We had a music school there and the director of which was Ilyas Bahshish. I was taking the piano lessons and spent there for 7 years but mostly I was forced to attend it. Then I entered the music department at the college and had to teach because at those times it was a lack of teachers. I was the most capable of our group. A year later I went to Novosibirsk and graduated from Conservatory. After returning home I understood that want to be an artist rather than a musician. Since being a teacher I’ve started collecting different albums and became interested in art. In Novosibirsk, I had a lot of friends among artists and had been visiting various exhibitions. I was gathering my collection of books about art. All the newspapers released in the college were designed by me”.

Artist by choice

Years passed and Mamut Churlu decided to change his labor completely. He entered the department of “artistic design” in Fergana Arts College. And then he discovered a new passion for him – weaving. He became acquainted with samples of original middle Asian embroidery and studied a world practice of the kilim production. While working in the Artistic Fund of Fergana Mammut Churlu had collected photos representing the kilim production of Crimean Tatars that was still unknown for the mass of people. This kind of art has survived thanks to women from Crimean village near Sudak named as Taraqtash. 

Mamut Churlu:

“When I was 30 I entered the same college I’d been working before. Had been studying for four years. Teachers gave us almost nothing so I had to study on my own. Lucky I was to have a large library. When we were given some tasks on composition, students usually were taking examples from my works just to understand how to do that. Before graduation, I have already done my creative works – kilims. In spring we opened our youth exhibition in Fergana and then it had happened in Tashkent where the direction of exhibitions in the Ministry of Culture bought all my works. When I was finishing my studies the Whole Union Youth Exhibition was taking place in Tashkent. It was very hard to attend. Among all the artists only I was able to participate there with my works”. 

In ’80s Mamuy Churlu was teaching the composition in the department of artistic design of Fergana College and was actively involved in all-Union and republic exhibitions. 

“Quarantine for rabbits”: the way the Soviet Union was cutting off Crimean Tatars

In the late ’80s, Mamut Churlu returned to Crimea about which he had heard only from his father’s words. According to Mamut Churlu’s words, the first visit to Crimea unpleasantly impressed him and at one he faced xenophobia and he heard that propaganda legend about Crimean Tatars as terrorists. 

“For the first time, I had to visit Crimea while I had been working in Fergana. It was traveling to Gurzuf with the team of the all-Union art group. I was making kilims and went to Crimea as a representative of Uzbekistan. There in the Creative House gathered young artists of different nationalities who were working with textiles. At the airport, near the check-in desk, I saw an old man and the first thought appeared in my head was that it was a state security agent. I checked-in and was heading on the boarding and there I saw a flight-attendant and a cop. ” Where are you going?” – they asked. ” To Crimea” – I said and at once was caught and brought to that old man. They said to return the ticket and send me to the railway station. In the morning I was already in Tashkent. I could be in Crimea in an hour but they didn’t let me go because I was flying to Crimea and they had an instruction not to let anyone to Crimea. In those ’80s we could see armored personnel carriers even in the center of Fergana. Then the KGB called the director of the art workshop to recall me from that trip. “How can we recall him as he is sent as a representative of Uzbekistan Artists Union?” – said the director. Since 1987 I was a member of the Artists Union and this organization shouldn’t obey the government. 

So I came to Simferopol, my hometown. We entered the terminal and saw a line of generals. One part of them in black, others were in white. They were separated Crimean Tatars from the rest of the people and taking them to some kind of room. I showed a ticket and explained where I was going, that everything was legal. After that, I went to Gurzuf. On the way somewhere near to Dobrov valley, there was one more quarantine point. I asked people about it and they said that as a joke call those events like “rabbits’ disease”. In fact, the police were catching Crimean Tatars not to let them come to Crimea. And it was one more sign of racism. But not the last one. I met a lot of artists from Ukraine, Middle Asia, Baltics in our group. And there was one “entertainer” among us. Our group had to start the work on the 5-10 October 1989 and some Crimean Tatar meetings were scheduled for the 17th of October. And this “entertainer” said to us: ” Don’t go to the city tomorrow because of some Tatar cart found there”. Therefore we can see that propaganda about Tatars-terrorists has existed since those times, and it isn’t something new for us nowadays. It’s ridiculous to believe that Crimean Tatars were still using that old carts but already had a weapon. I was the only Crimean Tatar in the whole region and he dared to lie in such way. The next day Gurzuf was almost silent, even dogs didn’t bark. Nobody lets a child outside”.   

It was Gurzuf where Mamut Churlu has interested in painting. The kaleidoscope of not quite pleasant events gave him the impetus for new achievements. ” All arts and crafts are based on positive views, different colors, and positive nature images. Painting gave me a chance to show all my feelings about racism and taste the bitter fate of people of mine. I’ve experienced it personally and my paintings were very severe. And still, they are the same” – said Mamut Churlu. 

Answering the question about the national idea he said the next: “I can’t answer for all the national, the question isn’t correct as I suppose. What about my thoughts concerning the national idea – I can say. All of our people don’t have this concrete idea. They possibly even don’t know what exactly they want. There was a goal to return to Crimea. It came true. They built houses, started own business and it seems to me that people don’t know what to do now. Also, we don’t have a leader. We see some leaders but the goals are different and people are still outside. As for me, people have to scratch some kind of plan and self-organize themselves in a positive way of development. From the one hand – we have to give our children a good education and it’s very important. the scientific and industrial knowledge – that what we call the bases of every society and life at all. I’m talking about real knowledge and diploma, not artificial one bought for money. Since childhood, they have to attend good schools, search for clever tutors and teach them things that they are interested in. We have to help them to become better.  

In this case, we as the artists have proposed the notion of the Day of Crimean Tatar national revival. We celebrate it at the end of April-beginning of May. When the weather is warm we can choose one day and to do what? No, we don’t go for a barbecue and don’t run with the flags. It’s a time when we -artists -show our new works”. 

In the early ’90s Mamut Churlu participated in the first exhibitions of Crimean Tatar artists in Simferopol and was among the first who helped in the organization of Crimean Tatar National Gallery and Crimean Tatar artists association. Mamut Churlu brought into the life a plan of the revival of Crimean Tatar weaving teaching people how to use natural colors and create different ornaments. In 1999 the Association of National communities awarded him with the prize by Ismail Gasprinskiy for his contribution to the development of Crimean Tatar culture.  

One of the largest projects made by Mamut Churlu was the “Crimean Style”. He managed to unite Crimean masters of arts and crafts of different nationalities. Mamut Churlu has organized more than 20 exhibitions in many Ukrainian cities and abroad: In Warsaw, Moscow and Paris. His works are kilims, paintings, pottery. They are popular not only in Ukraine but also abroad. At the initiative of Churlu “Chatir- Dag” creative group was organized that united talented a lot of Crimean Tatar masters of art and crafts. Nowadays Mamut Churlu lives near Simferopol and gives his lessons teaching youth. 

Zair Akadirov, QHA Media

Author: Редакция Avdet