Dzhengiz Dagdzhi: life and work


Dzhengiz Dagdzhi  is a famous writer of the Crimean Tatar abroad. He was born on March 9, 1920, in Gurzuf. He graduated from high school in Simferopol, enrolled at the History Faculty of the Crimea Pedagogical Institute.

At the end of 1940, he was drafted into the army, then the war began, captivity, concentration camps,  life in foreign lands (since 1946 – in London). The creativity of the writer began before the war. His first poems, stories, essays and reports were published in newspapers and magazines of pre-war Crimea. However, as a novelist, author of epic works of different genres (novels, diaries, etc) he became famous only being abroad. The main topics of his creativity were: pre-war Crimea, war, captivity,  life in foreign lands. Dzhengiz Dagdzhi wrote more than twenty-six prose works, the majority of which were novels: “Korkunç Yillar (Terrible years), “Yurdunu Kaybeden Adam” (Person who has lost his Motherland), “Onlar da insandi” (They also were people), “Badem Dalma Asih Bebekler” (Dolls hanging in the almond branch), “Uşiyen Sokak” (The street being cold), “Anneme Mektuplar” (Letters to Mother), “Biz Beraber Geçtik Bu Yolu” (We passed this way together) and others. Only three novels were not connected with Crimea: “Gerup Temucin” (Young Temichin), ” Benim Kibi Biri” (One of those like me), “Oliim ve Korku Giinleri ” (Вays of death and fear). There are also three “English novels”: Bay Markus Burton’un Kopegi (The dog of Mr. Markus Burton), Вау John Marple’in Son Yolculugu (The last journey of Mr. John Marple), Оу, Markus, Oy (Оh, Markus, Oh). Dzhengiz Dagdzhi started writing his first novel (“Terrible years”) in Crimean Tatar language while the World War II. Later he translated it into Turkish and continued writing only in Turkish. Dzhengiz Dagdzhi knew that nobody would publish and read it in Crimean Tatar language because all the links with the readers were severed

Five books – diaries named “Yansilar” (Reflectıons) figure prominently in the writer’s creativity. He was writing them from March 1985 till December 1992, however, books span almost a century of events. This is a valuable artistic and historic document where the writer reflected his own biography, portraits of some historical figures, cultural phenomena, political events of those times (e.g. perestroika, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the plebiscite in Crimea held in 1992, etc). The writer’s interest in the culture of different countries and peoples is noticeable. It can be interesting for the Crimean Tatar literature historians to study Dzhengiz Dagdzhi’s testimonies on the literary process in pre-war Crimea, his opinion concerning the works of such writers as Dzhavtobeli, Eshref Shemi -zade, Shamil Aladin and others. On the pages of his works also can be found the names of Turkish writers (Indzhe Memet, Oktay Akbal, Yashar Nabi Nayir, etc) and some writers from European countries (Adam Mickiewicz, Henry Graham Greene, Henry Valentine Miller, Franz Kafka, George Orwell, Johan August Strindberg, Milan Kundera, and others). However, the most he was recalling the names of the Russian ones: A.S Pushkin, N.V. Gogol, F.M. Dostoevskiy, A.P. Chekhov, L.N. Tolstoy, A.A. Akhmatova, S.A. Esenin, A.A. Blok and others. Dzhengiz Dagdzhi speaks openly about his interest in the Russian people and its culture and about the influence of the Russian literature on his creativity. “Never I have shown some enemy towards Russian people. On the contrary, it was the feeling of proximity to them that opened my way to literature. I came from Russian culture. I was brought up by it, by the Russian literature, that (consciously or unconsciously) has had a significant impact on my work [«Memories», p. 29].

We can observe this impact of the Russian literature not only in his macropoetry (composition, speech, and author’s characterization of the characters and the environment, the role of the landscape, etc.) but also in the micropoetry of his works (expressiveness techniques specific to the Russian language). And what is striking is that Dagdzhi uses a lot of Russicisms and international words in his texts, also different calques (semantic, word-forming, phraseological, syntactical). The reason for their usage is that those words were familiar to the writer. Moreover, according to the writer, he wrote his first play “Big Lie” in 1946 in Russian and in 1956 he hastily translated it into Turkish (the play wasn’t published). Usually, the life experience of a writer becomes the source of his inspiration and reflects in the works. A lot of facts from the biography of Dzhengiz Dagdzhi in a different form of reliability could be found in his novels. His book “Dzhengiz Dagdzhi in memories (written by himself) – Hatiralarda Cengiz Dagci (Yazarm Kendi Kaleminden) was conceived and implemented in the autobiography genre. As the author said, it wasn’t fully an autobiographical work, because he not only described his life and creativity but also shared with his experience, feelings, and thoughts in particular about the destiny of Crimea and Crimean Tatars. The author describes the genre of the book in such a way: “Memories (“Dzhengiz Dagdzhi in memories”) isn’t a work of fiction but it’s an attempt to look once again at the path of life with an educational purpose. I will speak about my current situation very often, I will recall my past, say about my mental condition which prompts me to write. I will repeat the fragments of my previous works. Finally, I will try to introduce myself to a reader who is unfamiliar with me ( It concerns my private life and literal activity had lasted for fifty years) [«Memories», p. 9]. And what is more, “Memories” isn’t a novel. Some Turkish magazines have published distorted information about me, so I’ve decided to say about myself in a way it was possible” [From the letter written on 10 of May 2003 to A. Emirova]. There is a special benefit from this book for historians and teachers of the Crimean Tatar literature. There could be found a lot of reliable facts about the author’s life and the story of his works’ creation. The creativity of Dzhengiz Dagdzhi isn’t only the heritage of the Crimean Tatar literature but it’s a prominent component of the Common Turkic culture. It is illustrated by the diploma of ILESAM that Dzhengiz Dagdzhi was rewarded with in 1993 by the Turkish association of the scientists and writers for their outstanding achievements in the field of literature of Turkic people.

On 26 April 2000, the Turkish Cultural Foundation (Istanbul) rewarded Dzhengiz Dagdzhi with the honorary diploma in the Turkish language. In one of my letters, I have asked the writer whether he considered himself the Crimean Tatar or Turkish one. Dzhengiz Dagdzhi answered: «Ben eserlerimi Turkçe yazan Kirimli bir yaziciyim» (I’m the Crimean (Crimean Tatar) writer who creates in Turkish”). [From the letter written on 15 April 1999]. According to a famous Russian literary critic L. Anninskiy, it is very easy to decide whether the artist refers to one of the national cultures: it’s enough to understand whether this culture accepts the artist’s works and in what way [Literature newspaper, № 3, 19 – 25 January 2000, p. 10].

The creativity of Dzhengiz Dagdzhi is accepted by all Crimean Tatars living both in the Crimea and еру places of exile as a part of their culture. Turkey considers it a part of their literature. The reason for this ambiguity in the assessment of the author’s work can be explained by several factors, one of which was described before ( the need to find publisher and reader). We should take into consideration the fact that nowadays more than five million of Crimean Tatars’ descendants live in Turkey. So the position of the writer and the global appreciation of his creativity in the Turkic world becomes clear and justified.

Maybe it’s time to appreciate Dzhengiz Dagdzhi’s creativity in his Homeland – in Crimea. Famous specialist in the theory of translation prof. Novikova A.M writes about it in her review: ”  Russian-speaking reader of Crimea has recently been able to view selected fragments of the author’s works of the writer gracefully translated by the professor Emirova A.M. However, it’s high time to publish fully at least of Dzhengiz Dagdzhi’s works. I believe that nowadays the most actual writer’s work for multinational Crimea is his autobiography called “Dzhengiz Dagdzhi in memories ( By the hand of the writer)”. The novel permeated by the ideas of consolidation, calls for inter-ethnic tolerance and cooperation». A special value for the artistic certificate of Dzhengiz Dagdzhi is given by «looking from the side», looking from the distance. As is well known, such an approach lets the writer be aside from immediate passions and everyday specifics, which often can distort the objective picture of events, allows us to focus on the most fundamental problems of life: the relationship between nature and a person, person and society, wright and wrong, life and death. 

 The creativity of Dzhengiz Dagdzhi is a pure mirror that reflected the life of Crimea in the 20th century. From this point of view, his creativity must be evaluated as a phenomenon of the Crimean culture.

Adile EMIROVA, Doctor of Philology, Professor.

Author: Редакция Avdet