New details in the creative biography of Bekir Choban-zade


Painting by Rustem Emin

Philological genius Bekir Choban-zade had attracted the attention of scientists over many years. He graduated from the Budapest University in 1918 and 1919 became the first among Turkic-speaking people who received a doctorate and was elected a member of the prestigiouParis Linguistic Society in 1935. He was an author of hundreds of brilliant articles and many valuable monographs on Turkic philology. Bekir Choban-zade was the creator of the filigree verse and a consummate master of short stories. 

Being very young, he was executed in 1937 in the jails of NKVD.[1] Despite a wide range of documents and different materials about him that are held in the libraries and archives of different countries there is a multitude of different pre-war Crimea Arabic printed products that remain unexplored and scientifically unintroduced. There we can find very significant facts about Bekir Choban-zade and his creative biography.

Some pre-war materials concerning him that were published in Crimean Tatar language are not available for mass reader (sometimes even for specialists) and remain undisclosed. However, the materials contain very important information that could enrich the portrait of this writer and scientist. For example, his close friend and colleague Abibullah Odabashin 1920 writes about Bekir Choban-zade in his journal “Eshil Ada” (“Green Island”): “After graduating from Istanbul’s (college) “Sultaniye” and one-year studying on the faculty of sociology (“ichtimaiyet shubesi”) of Osmanli University and after that studying in the University of Budapest on the faculty of philosophy he received the title Doctor of Philology and came back to Crimea. Readers of a newspaper called “Millet” and a journal called “Eshil Ada” very familiar withpoetry and prose of Bekir Choban-zade…He was the first in Turkic-Tatar society received his Phd in Europe. He published a lot of articles in the Hungarian press about Crimean Tatars and their development. A large number of his works we are not familiar with were translated into Hungarian. About 10 students that Bekir Choban-zade helped them to go abroad and settle down in Hungary are learning the basics of European science. ” Eshil Ada” highly appreciating his work wishes mercy of Allah personally to Bekir-efendy, his shepherd father and mother who had been suffering from a long separation. Now Bekir-efendy is going to start working in the Crimea (Tavria) University as a professor and develop the national education and culture”[2].

After son’s returning home to Crimea, the family rent three rooms in Simferopol in the “Chastli Araligi” alley №35 and live there with mom, a young sister Zilkha and their domestic assistant Avadzhan. The windows of their house were high above the ground and overlooked Jami and the alley. An actress Selme Muratova who had been living with Bekir Coban-zade in the same yard recalled such facts: “We knew that he was a famous scientist and were greeting him respectfully… Bekir-efendi was a high man with pure face and big eyes. In life, he was a very smiling person. Greeting us he always used some respectful words. Usually, Choban-zade was not returning home along. Among his frequent guests was Halil Chapchakchi, a general practitioner, dweller of Alupka Asan Sabri Ayvazov, Yakub Musannif, and other famous persons. The family had been living there for five years” [3].

We have mentioned above that Bekir Choban-zade was a close friend to Abibullah Odabash. They were not only studying together in Istanbul but then they were in touch through letters. In one of them addressed to Amdi Atamansent from Budapest to Istanbul, Bekir Choban-zade expressed regret that after Timurdzhan ( Abibullah Odabash)left Istanbul he was getting much less information about life and events there [4, с. 203]. During his studies in Budapest, Bekir Choban-zade was not only writing (he published a lot of poems and stories at that time) but also he was busy with social-political activities. In 1918 in one of his articles, Bekir Choban-zade mentions rather interesting facts about his life in Budapest. Literally, he wrote the next: ” I have lived with Hungarians for two years. I’ve learned the Hungarian language in half a year after coming here because there are a lot of Turkic and Slavic words. Secondary, narrative forms and conjunctions in the Hungarian language are similar to ones in my native language. So, I’ve learned the Hungarian language as good as it is required if you want to pass exams, to speak up, or write articles…After the Revolution in Russia in 1917, I managed to publish a number of articles about the aspects of culture, and those where I describe the last events happened in Crimea in such Hungarian editions as “Turan”,” Madyar Fidzheylo”, and Budapeshti hirlap”. And what is interesting, the reaction to these articles was almost immediate. After the first publications, I’ve received a lot of compliments from teachers, journalists, officers, and even from very famous historian Pallots Ogar, who sent me his work about Baron de Tott..Such an organization as “Consol-Ulker Yildizi” was established in Hungary with an investment of 300-400 thousand kronas and sever hundreds of thousands of shares for the publishing of the everyday newspaper. Together with Ahmet Hikmet we are working under this edition that should highlight the public opinion of Turkic Tatars and Hungarians. Also, a lot of translations will be published there [5].


Since childhood, Bekir Choban-zade was dreaming about studying at the university and being a student. So he tried to keep up with his peers. Being ten years old he knew the poem “Edige” by heart [6]. Being fourteen years old, Bekir Choban-zade was staying at Ulu-Uzen and once he impressed some Russian tourists holding the book “The Mysterious Island” by Jules Verne the plot of which he easily retold to the guides – interpreters of those tourists. It was amazing and strange at the same time that people in such a “Crimean dead centre” knew European sci-fi novels…In his autobiographical story “On dört caşımda” (“When I was 14”) Bekir Choban-zade talking to his first love Anyuta shares experiences and dreams about  graduation from the gymnasium where he is a not only in studies but also in the national martial art such as “Kuresh” and even in the equestrian events [4, с. 169].

Indeed, perseverance and courage were very useful immediately after graduation from school – rushdiye in Karasubazar. Bekir Choban-zade’s peer Ibraim Adzhiveliev (he was born in Kezlev) in 1985 talking to the author of these words disclosed rather interesting facts about their studies in Istanbul. Here are some dairy entries which was partly published in those years [7]. Ibraim Adzhiveliev said: ” Bekir Choban-zade and I are peers. Ib 1910-1911 we were studying in Istanbul. Bekir at the “Sultaniye” and I at the “Medrese of Daud Pasha”. Bekir was sent to study there by the Islamic Charitable Association of Karasubazar. But he wasn’t accepted to the “Sultaniye’ at once. We came to Istanbul in autumn, after the harvest ( it was the only opportunity for young people to earn some money), so studies had already started and there were no free places in “Sultaniye”. Bekir Choban-zade was with nothing to do for a while. But he couldn’t last for a long because the amount of money given by theCharitable Association was limited. He began to look for a possibility to see the minister of education. In the end, he met with the minister, and while the conversation he tried to explain that came to Istanbul for money from the charity organization. So it would be a sin to go back home without any results concerning the studies. Choban-zade promised to get all A’s if the minister would help him to enter the college “Sultaniye”. After all, he was accepted and started to study with great diligence. to be honest, Bekir Choban-zade was more active and agile, warier than we were. When Crimean Tatar youth was gathering together in one place he was given the floor, speaking as an orator and talking logically about very interesting things. After graduation from the college in Istanbul, Bekir Choban-zade studied in Odessa. In 1916-1920 in Budapest. While we were studying in Istanbul, the Turkish Government was led by “Ittihad ve terakki” party (“Union and Progress”). Shevki Bektore also was studying with us during this period”…

There are some disagreements concerning the time the scientist came to Istambul. Choban-zade himself wrote that he appeared in Istambul in 1909. Two of his mates came with him from Karasubazar – they were Kerim Dzhemaleddinov and Asan Khayri Seyfullaev [8].

What is astonishing about the first publication is that it appeared in 1906, his speech was published when he was just 13 years old. In future turkologist he made a speech on Tuesday 6th of June, 1906 after passing public exams at school-rushdiye in Karasubazar. As a “Vetan Hadimi” ( “Serving to Homeland”) newspaper reported, public exams at the school-rushdiye started on the 5th of June 1906.Early in the morning, the inhabitants of Karasubazar and guests began to gather in the courtyard of the school. Pride and inspiration could be seen on the faces of people. Everybody was waiting for the beginning of the exam. Finally, the doors of the school were opened and everyone could get inside. Prominent scientists, theologians, sheiks, representatives of the government were among them. What about exams, there was the reading of the Qur’an (“Tedzhvid”), religious sciences, Turk grammar, maths, geography, and other subjects. The public testing of students’ knowledge lasted halfway through the afternoon. The next day after the collective worship led by the brilliant speaker sheik Emir Huseyn Efendi an awards ceremony started. The principal of the school – Yusuf Ziya Efendi, “Vetan Hadimi” newspaper’s editor A.S. Ayvazov, chief of the library A.Hilmiy Efendi and on behalf of the school Choban-zade Bekir Sidki made own speech at that ceremony.

Choban-zade’s speech became a separate article. It is still unknown whether there was a written form of the speech or A.S. Ayvazov made notes according to the Choban-zade. But we can feel that Bekir Choban-zade was preparing for that speech on Crimean Tatar language. He had some own notes. After all, young Choban-zade’s speech needed to be published. It is now of particular importance for researchers because of its scientific and literary heritage. It becomes obvious that Bekir Choban-zade didn’t enter school when he was 13-14 years old as his relatives remembered [9], but was studying as all of his peers according to his age. Lets pay attention to his phrase: “My father…had sent me to school in winter and summer, every day except Friday” [10]. He said it in 1906 when he was barely 13 years old. So, how old should be Choban-zade in the first year if he had been goıng to school for fıve years? Also, it is important that his nickname as “Choban-zade” was used by him at such a young age. Young Bekir Choban-zade said: “Dear gentlemen and benefactors! Once again, following the decency of your humble personality, I ask you, please allow me to say a few words of thanks. All you know that I am the son of one of the poorest people of our loved and precious Motherland. My illiterate responsive father feeling responsible for his conscience and to God believed in the necessity of studying was sending me to school in Summer and Winter every day except Friday. When my father was young despite his hard work and effort, he was unable to get an education, unfortunately. It was too hard for the poor to do it in our schools. But today, praise be to Allah, with the help of our countless benefactors opened schools-rushdie and gave us a possibility to study, they opened the doors to the world of sciences and knowledge, to the world of the light and freedom. Indeed, it’s you who opened this university of the science for our children, our people (umma), poor and rich ones, for the commonpeople and the nobility. And your heirs getting an education would be able to use the light and goodness of this temple. 

Beyond that, you’ve provided poor children with books and uniforms that show the high sense of patriotism in your hearts. 

Dear our benefactors and saviors! Though I am small in age, I am not small enough to not understand the high impulse of the soul of yours. Because not to see and not to understand it is like not to see the sun in the cloudless sky. So I can assure you that all of us being the children of poor people day and night we shall pray for you, exalting your blessings. We need a pretty short period of time thanks to your mercy we were able (to finish school) and to be freed from the terrible scourge of illiteracy. Until the day of judgment, prayers will be held in honor of the merciful benefactors. As I finish my speech, I exclaim from the depths of my heart: “Hail the scientists and the enlightened of our people! Hail, those who lead us to the light!” [10].

 From the above examples, we can see that there are a lot of useful, important, and instructive episodes about Bekir Choban-zade recorded in an inaccessible Arabic periodical in the Crimean Tatar language of the pre-war period. A lot of information was noted in the written memories of relatives and contemporaries. That’s why the studying of the creative life of Bekir Choban-zade should be continued in this very way. And it is certain that in the coming years the publications will be enriched with many more interesting episodes and details that, in general, would help to deepen the knowledge not only of B. Chopan-zade, but also the restoration of the true history of the development of national philological thought in the Crimea at the end of 19th and at the first part of 20th century. 


Author: Редакция Avdet