The history of renaming cities and villages in the Crimea


The Soviet government renamed Yalta to Krasnoarmeysk, and after the eviction of the Crimean Tatars, even mountains and rivers were given new names. Bakhchisaray now could be Pushkin or Sadovsky, Alushta – Kutuzovsky, Sudak – Sourozh, and Belogorsk – Chernorechensky.

Over the past 250 years, four (!) campaigns on renaming cities and villages have plowed the Crimea. This has not happened in any region of the world. History marched down the map of the peninsula with an eraser and ink, erasing old names and writing in new ones. Sometimes they were successful, but more often they were artificial, invented in haste and without a soul. The details of this turbulent and chaotic process were told by co-author of the collection “Toponymy of the Crimea 2011” Vladimir Sanzharovets and historian Gulnara Bekirova.

The first wave: 18th century

The first purposeful renaming of settlements and other geographical objects of the Crimea happened at the end of the 18th century – after the peninsula joined the Russian Empire. The first were the settlements, which were assigned a special role: the village of Ak-Yar became Sevastopol, the city of Ak-Medzhit – Simferopol. The largest port and trading cities were renamed: Gezlev was named Evpatoria, Cafe – Feodosia.

Newspapers of that time wrote:

To consolidate Russian rule in the newly annexed region, it was necessary to settle it with purely Russian people.

It was believed that the Russification of the territory of the Crimean Khanate would require at least a million migrants of the Slavs. “Together with the Russians, other peoples also migrate to the Crimea: Germans, Bulgarians … And, accordingly, instead of Tatar names new names “came” for villages. Dzhailav turned into Zurichtal (now Zolotoye Pole), Daut-Eli into Marfovka, and the village of Kachan became Novonikolayevka, but often Tatar names were transferred to the nearby non-Tatar settlements, ” explains Vladimir Sanzharovets, one of the best specialists in toponymy in the Crimea.

Revolutionary change

The next revolution on the map of the Crimea happened immediately after the Civil War. The young Soviet government immortalized in geographical names the names of party leaders, ideologists of communism, including foreign ones (settlements appeared named after Marx, Engels, Rosa Luxemburg) and recorded revolutionary events in their names for descendants. In revolutionary fervor, Yalta almost suffered. In December 1921, the local revolutionary committee renamed the south coast city into Krasnoarmeysk. The new name was given “to mark the victory campaign of the Red Army, the final destination of which was Yalta.” However, there was another reason. Representatives of the Soviet government felt that the proletarians would evoke bad associations, because pre-revolutionary Yalta was “the center of debauchery and revelry of the incessant bourgeoisie,” the renaming order says. Fortunately, already in 1922 the city was returned to its former name.

The war with the “non-Russian” names

Hardly the last echelons with deported peoples who were evicted from the peninsula allegedly as German accomplices had time to leave the Crimea as the local authorities, with the filing of Moscow, began hastily clearing the map of the peninsula from everything “alien”: Turkic names, traces of Greek, Armenian, German, Bulgarian culture. The most large-scale renaming of Crimean settlements began, which was carried out in three stages: in 1944, 1945 and 1948.

“Actually it was  a secret operation – many documents went under the heading“ secret ”and“ top secret, ” says Sanzharovets.

Orders were placed on the tables of the chairmen of the district party committees and regional executive committees: to submit to the Crimean regional executive committee lists of villages with Crimean Tatar, German, Greek names to be renamed in a short time. Officials were also required to prepare new versions of the names and their justification. The lists were being prepared by urgently formed special commissions. They invented new names in a hurry, there was no time for a flight of fantasy. It often got ridiculous: one of the members of the commission said: “There are sazan fish (carp) in our pond – let’s call the village“ Sazanovka ”. Or “Hares” – they are often seen here ”, – and the commission votes “for”. The Kara-su River (Black Water) became Karasevka (a place full of crucian carps), although crucian carp was never found in it.

Documents with original renaming options are still stored in archives. “These names are sometimes absolutely relative, taken out of thin air, inspired by God knows what memories, associations,” says Vladimir Sanzharovets. – Take, for example, Gornostaevka. There were never ermines in theCrimea. Perhaps the person responsible for this name remembered that Gornostaevka existed in Ukraine and therefore gave this name to the Crimean village. ”

There was no one to be indignant: those for whom the former names were native were evicted from the peninsula. “And for the Russian ear, Sazanovka and Gornostaevka sounded normal. On the contrary, the old names were aliens,” says Sanzharovets. Then the decisions of the district authorities were approved at the regional level, and finally the renaming was finally fixed by the decrees of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the RSFSR.

Dzhankoy – Uzlovoye, Saki – Ozernoye

In 1944-1945, 11 out of 26 regional centers were renamed in the Crimea (the Ak-Mechetsky district became the Black Sea, Larindorfsky – Pervomaisky) and 327 more villages were renamed too. Next in line were the cities. In the archival documents, the alleged variants of names are recorded: Dzhankoy could become Severny, Otradny, Uzlovoy or Stepnoy, Saki might become Ozerny, it was planned that Bakhchisarai should be renamed into the city of Pushkin (however, the poet visited it and even wrote the poem “The Fountain of Bakhchisarai”). Karasubazar had two variants of new names – Chernorechensk and Belogorsk. As a result, the latter was chosen.

Only a few Crimean cities were not included in the list of potential applicants for renaming. “They didn’t dare to rename Sevastopol and Simferopol – as the cities bearing the names of the Russian time, born in the era of Catherine. They thought of renaming Evpatoria: the name of the city was associated with the name of Mithridates of Eupator, who fought with the Scythians, and as it was then believed, the Scythians were the ancestors of the Slavs,” said Vladimir Sanzharovets. Neither Kerch was included in the list for renaming. “Although it is obvious that the name is Turkic, it was believed by them that it originated from the word Korchev – the old Russian name for Kerch,” the scientist says.

A new – and the last wave of renaming surged through the Crimea three years after the Second World War.

“In September 1948, Stalin visited the Crimea,” says historian Gulnara Bekirova. – Here he met with the local elite – he received the secretary of the Yalta City Party Committee Bulaev at his dacha in Yalta, and the next day a meeting of the Crimean Regional Committee was held, after which a decree on the “finishing clean-up” of the Crimea appeared, on the basis of which the last representatives of the “unreliable” ethnic groups who had  remained in the Crimea by miracle were finally evicted as well.” Another result of the meeting was the resolution of the Crimean Regional Committee “On the renaming of settlements, streets, certain types of work and other Tatar designations.”

The district committees had to prepare proposals for renaming the settlements that had retained their former names within a month – until November 1, 1948. In addition, local authorities received the task to come up with new names for all geographical objects: mountains, rivers, capes, bays, lakes, valleys.

“The poetic, centuries-old and rooted in the memory of Crimeans names were replaced with ugly, meaning nothing names,” – says Bekirova bitterly.

The commissions dealing with renaming usually lacked imagination. But sometimes it was even a bit too much – and some villages received fanciful names: New World, Petrel, Subbotnik and even Pearl.

Admiral saved from geographic embarrassment

By the summer of 1953, part of the grandiose plan for changing the names of geographical objects in the Crimea was completed. Mount Roman-Kosh was supposed to be ‘High’, waterfall Dzhur-Dzhur – ‘Shumny’, Salgir river – ‘Krymka’, and options for Ai-Petri and Demerdzhi were ready for a long time: Petra Rocks and Obvalnaya. In parallel with this, lists were being prepared for renaming lakes, capes, bays and straits. In total, 89 names were supposed to be changed. The scale of what was happening confused the sailors. Admiral Sergey Gorshkov, who commanded the Black Sea Fleet at that time, appealed to the Crimean regional executive committee with a request to moderate the ardor: after all, coastal objects were included in the mission, recorded on maps, including foreign ones. This threatened an international scandal.

Of course, Gorshkov’s opinion was heeded, but the request of the naval commander was partially satisfied: renaming did follow, although their number was reduced. As a result, for example, Cape Toprak-Kaya became a Chameleon. Fortunately for the Crimeans, this was the end.

Sources of inspiration

The last renaming became the most widespread: 1062 villages and more than a thousand natural objects received new names. Names came up in different ways.

“The village of Biyuk-Yashlav, the former estate of Crimean Tatar nobles, was named Repino, because there was supposedly an artist Repin there,” said Gulnara Bekirova. “But such thoughtfulness is rare, usually the process was chaotic.”

New toponyms usually reflected features in the appearance of a geographical object (Mount Izmail-Kaya began to be called Pika, Mount Otlu-Kaya – Dyryavaya), the names of the villages were dictated by the area – Fertile, Mezhgorye, Mezhdurechye. Villages and country settlements were also named after historic events or local heroes who did not return from the front (56 Crimean villages bear the names of the heroes of the Great Patriotic War, including Sergeevka, formerly Tatar Aitugan, renamed after partisan Sergei Udodenko).

In the new names of the villages, the names of the heads of collective farms and production leaders were also immortalized. Often there wasn’t enough imagination, so 358 towns and villages have namesakes.

“The same name was allowed if the villages belonged to different areas,” explains Vladimir Sanzharovets. – Let’s say the name of Voikovo was carried by several villages at the same time. They saw nothing unusual in this and did not consider it a mistake.”

However, the old names were tenacious. Local residents called the same village of Voikovo, near Kerch, in the old fashioned way – Katyrlez.

Four types of names: from names to the army

There are 998 villages and towns in the Crimea. Almost a quarter of them are named after people. We counted 249 such settlements. Crimean areas abound in Novokonstantinovkas, Novonikolaevkas and Novoaleksandrovkas. A variety of Crimean nature and terrain features gave the Crimeans 148 geographical toponyms – from Kholmovka to Beregovoy. 89 Crimean villages and settlements owe their names to agriculture. In fourth place is the army theme. On the peninsula, there are 46 villages with “military” names – Tankovoye, Dozornoye, Generalskoye, Batalnoye, Reservnoye.

Maria Makeeva

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Author: Редакция Avdet