Decorative and applied art of the Crimean Tatars: past and present


Folk arts and crafts and folklore of the Crimean Tatars went through their historical path of development; the highest flourishing occurred in the Khan medieval period (from the second half of the XV century to the second half of the XVIII century). 

The development of Crimean Tatar art was affected by the living conditions of the people, the natural and climatic conditions of their habitation. The original material culture and several branches of art have been formed over three centuries. As a part of the Arab-Islamic world and the Turkic-Muslim community, The Crimean Khanate introduced Muslim culture into their own culture, in which plot and graphic elements such as portraits of people and images of animals disappear from handicrafts such as fabrics, carpets, painted ceramics, metal and stone products. From where the art of ornament becomes more and more domineering. In the Muslim world, as well as in Crimea, an ornament with its complex rhythm and symmetrical harmony rapidly spreads among arts and crafts.   

With all the complexity and diversity, decorative products should have been distinguishable by extraordinary subtlety and sophistication.

The unique folk music culture, unique architecture and arts and crafts that become traditional overtime receive great development in Crimea. During this period, numerous schools and workshops are created and developed. The total number of workshops in Crimea reached 50 because they were created not only by artisans but also by farmers, as well as persons of freelancers such as physicians, musicians, etc.  

The nature of the organisation of craft production of Crimean Tatars

The handicraft industry and the arts and crafts of the Crimean Tatars had rich traditions until the end of the 19th century. In Crimea, distinctive types of national crafts flourishedweaving, felt, leather-morocco, embroidery, copper craft, filigree. Products of Crimean artisans and craftsmen were in high demand, including outside the Crimea: in Turkey, Russia, Poland, in the Ukrainian, Balkan and North Caucasian lands.   

Embroidery and weaving among the Crimean Tatar population flourished not only because of the craft hobby of women from different social status levels but gradually turned into a craft that was as well practised by men. Over time, the development of various types of crafts necessitated the creation of a workshop organisation(guild). Among the Crimean Tatars, artisans initially focused on bazaars that roamed cities and villages. And only in the XVII century began to settle in cities. Based on the local craft tradition in Crimea, a workshop organisation was formed only in the XVIII century. This organisation was sticking to its traditions until the end of the 19th century. The Crimean Khanate (XV-XVIII centuries) was dependent and tightly connected with political, cultural and economic relations with Turkey. Thus the emerging craft organisations adopted the principle of organisation of workshops from Turkey, with which Crimea did not break ties until the end of the XIX century. Craft skills were also borrowed from Turkey. Among the guilds shops, bezaciler (weavers) and kezacey(embroiderers) were treated with respect.  These workshops were directly connected with galloon-lacing workshops. The workshops served the Khan’s palace, the nobility, the higher clergy, and part of the products was brought into the foreign markets – mainly to the countries of the Mediterranean Basin, Anatolia and Russia.      

The workshop was not so much a professional association as a “spiritual and moral wealth built on a hierarchy.” At first, only Muslims were accepted into workshops. Still, gradually among their members, the number of Christians,Armenians and Greeksincreased. Guild organisations were in every trade and craft centre of the cities of Kef (Feodosia), Kezlev (Yevpatoriya), Karasubazar (Belogorsk) and others. The largest of these centres, the one the most influenced by Turkey, was the capital of the Khanate – Bakhchisaray. All the craft and trade life of the city was usually concentrated on its main street. Artisans settled on the shop floor, i.e. each workshop occupied a certain sector, where the craftsmen lived, produced their products, and sold them there and then, in a shop or workshop. The specific craftsmanship and crafts passed down from generation to generation. The workshop lived a somewhat solitary life, had its resting places and coffee houses. The workshop consisted of a master (usta), apprentices (kalfa), and male students (shegirt). They were headed by the chief master (usta-bashi), who had two administrative assistants (yigit-bashi) and a man like an overseer (chavush). Usta-bashi and yigit-bashi supervised the admission of students and their initiation into masters, regulated the size of production and prices. Three years after becoming a master’s subordinate, the student was transferred to the category of apprentice, and only after passing a specific test, he could become a master. The initiations into masters and the election of the administration took place at special festivities in honour of the “Pirs” who arepatrons of crafts and bore a noticeable religious imprint. It was a general workshop meeting, to which all craft associated people of the city flocked under the banners of their workshops.      

After the annexation of Crimea by Russia, craft production gradually begins to fade, weaving and embroidery losing their industrial significance. Thus falling back to its origins, just a chore or hobby to busy yourself at home.

The extinction of folk art intensifies at the beginning of the 20th century, which is caused by changes in living conditions, famine and war. In the 1930s, the gradual establishment of the economy created an interest in organising artistic and cultural sections. Art workshops were created, and museums served them as a school for the study and development of various types of folk art in the cities where essential museum collections of objects of arts and crafts were collected such as Bakhchisarai, Kezlev, Karasubazar, Alushta, Yalta and others. Experienced craftswomen led the artisans. Unfortunately, it should be noted that the general artistic level of those works becomes much lower than old designs, and the machine-made fabric is used as the basis for embroidery. In contrast, earlier all embroideries were made on fabrics woven by a craftswoman on a weaving loom used in every house.

“Rebirth from the ashes”

The painful historical fate of the Crimean Tatars, the war and especially the deportation from Crimea in May 1944, put an end to the distinctive development of most types of national arts and crafts. A vast number of valuable items and products died during the war and deportation. Some of the things were saved in 1944 by museum workers. The cultural heritage of the people was destroyed along with its deportation and the elimination of national autonomy. Only a few pieces of art survived in the collections of museums in Moscow, Leningrad, Crimea and some families of Crimean Tatars and private collections.

But the people survived in the most challenging conditions of repression and exile. The nation survived to return to their homeland after decades of struggle, and revive their traditional culture. In the early years of the mass return of the Crimean Tatars to their home in the early 1990s, thanks to the efforts of enthusiasts, Seitmemet Memetov organised a small enterprise “Ornek” (“Ornament”). Based on the techniques of the Samarkand school of gold embroidery, girls from different regions of the Crimea were trained. They began to embroider according to the sketches of the great expert of the Crimean Tatar ornament and arts and crafts by the artist Mamut Churlu. The oldest embroiderer made a priceless contribution to the revival of traditional embroidery techniques. Formerly a teacher at one of Moscow universities, and ow deceased Zuleikha Bekirova, who managed to transfer her knowledge and skills of the main techniques of Crimean Tatar embroidery. Later, a scientific expedition from of the Crimean Tatar National Gallery was organised, to explore villages of Sudak District. As a result of which the Tezia loom was restored, and craftswomen who were able to train Crimean Tatars in traditional weaving were found.

In 1997, the efforts of Aisha Osmanova organised the creative association “Marama” in Bakhchisarai. With the financial support of the Association of the Polish Institute for Democracy in a free Europe and the Turkish Agency TIKA organised training courses for traditional embroidery and jewellery at the newly established ethnographic centre in Bakhchisaray. The talented student of Zuleihi BekirovaElvira Osmanova, taught many beginning embroiderers the traditional craft. And the hereditary kuyumji master jeweller Ayder Asanov made a massive contribution to the revival of the traditions of jewellery art in the technique of filigree, educating talented young people and his daughter Elmira Asanova. Also, through the family line, the well-known jeweller Izzet Ablaev passed on the secrets of his skill to his son Enver. Since the late 1990s, the artist-jeweller Mehti Islamov has developed his original technique. Since the mid-1990s, the grandson of the famous gunsmith Amet KalafatovAsan Galimov, has been engaged in jewellery art and the revival of the manufacture of traditional copper cezve dishes. In the village of Kentugai (Teplovka), Simferopol District, embroiderer Edie Shamenova opened the “Ornek” association, which teaches the traditional technique of gold embroidery and the manufacture of articles and items once popular among Crimean Tatars such aspouches, cases for the Koran, glasses, trying to satisfy the demand of tourists. A great contribution to the revival of ceramics was made by professional ceramic artists Abdyul Seit-Ametov, Rustem Skibin, Shamil Ilyasov, Fevzi Seitkhalilov, Rustem Yakubov. Each has its genre and direction, but their desire to rely on traditional folk motives in their work unites. Since the early 1990s, Mamut урurlu has been actively and fruitfully working on the revival of traditional crafts, developing a traditional ornament, issuing many manuals on the Crimean Tatar ornament, as well as creating sketches for embroiderers, ceramists and carpet weaving masters.      

A significant event, the result of many years of efforts by both Mamut Churlu and all of the masters and craftswomen mentioned before, was the “First Exhibition of Contemporary Decorative and Applied Crimean Tatar Folk Art” organised in Kyiv this year. In the expanded exposition of the exhibition in the hall of the National Union of Folk Art Masters of Ukraine, about 250 products and objects were presented by 30 masters. These are ceramics, coinage, embroidery, carpet weaving, jewellery and more. The exposition included exhibits from the pre-war period, which testified to the inextricable link in the traditional art of the Crimean Tatars.

Folk art and folklore has been and remains the foundation of our culture: without a deep understanding of the study of folk art, there can be no full-fledged modern art. Everything that has no roots does not bear fruit. We must always remember this.


Author: Редакция Avdet