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THE CRIMEAN JEWS
Habitat and history. For hundreds of years the Krymchaks have lived in the Crimea, mainly in Karasu Bazar (Belogorsk) and Simferopol, but also in Sevastopol, Kerch, Theodosia and in the Caucasus (Novorossiisk, Sukhumi). According to a in 1897 census there were 5,700 Krymchaks in Karasu Bazar. After this date they began to disperse. The Civil War in 1920--1921 and the ensuing famine forced some Krymchaks to emigrate to Turkey and the U.S.A. The census of 1926 shows that the majority still lived in the Crimea but only 16.3 % in Karasu Bazar. By this time Simferopol had become the most important Krymchak centre with 23.5 % of the ethnic group residing there. Two collective farms, founded in the vicinity of Tabulda, were populated by Krymchaks from Karasu Bazar and Simferopol. These two farms were designated the Krymchak Village community and during the mid-1930s they contained about 600 persons. The 1930s witnessed a Krymchak exodus to Kerch, the biggest industrial centre of the Crimea. By the end of the decade the number of Krymchak residents in Karasu Bazar, their historic centre, was negligible.
During the German occupation the Nazis annihilated the Krymchaks of Crimea. All told, more than 5,500 people i.e. about 70 % of the ethnic group, were exterminated.
After the war Krymchaks from other places started to settle in the Crimea: in Simferopol, Theodosia, Kerch and elsewhere. In the mid-1950s there were about 1,500 Krymchaks in the Crimea.
Presently the majority of Krymchaks live in the Crimea, with more than 500 in Sevastopol, Kerch and Theodosia.
Following censuses have not considered the Krymchaks separately. A scholarly estimate puts the present number of Krymchaks at about 1,800, of whom nearly 1,200 live in the Crimea. Roughly 500 Krymchaks live outside the Soviet Union, mainly in Palestine and the U.S.A.
Origin. The formation of the Krymchaks as an ethnic group began in the 13th--14th centuries on the Crimean Peninsula and the process was completed by the end of the 19th century. Their ethnic community assimilated followers of orthodox Judaism from Mediterranean countries and eastern Europe, and from some Turkish and possibly Italian (Genoese) ethnic elements. The unifying force was their religion. There is much controversy concerning the ethnic origin of the Crimean Jews. The semantics and etymology of the Krymchak have been studied repeatedly and scholars believe that they contain information valuable to ethnic history (S. Vaisenberg, I. Kotler). Krymchak surnames clearly indicate that: 1. the ethnic group has been formed of Jews from the Ashkenazim and Sefardim groups and especially from the Crimean Jews; 2. the Krymchaks have become deeply integrated into the Crimean Tatar linguistic environment. The Sefardim-Jews had been exiled from Spain and Portugal and many of them found refuge in Turkey before moving on to the Crimea. The Jews of the Ashkenazim group came to the Crimea from various locations in eastern Europe, including the Ukraine, Belorussia and Lithuania. They accounted for one third of the community. The Jews had become completely integrated into the Crimean Tatar linguistic environment by the 17th--18th centuries at the latest. Until the end of the 15th century the Crimean Jews followed the religious traditions of the Ashkenazim Jews. A purely Crimean Jewish way of worship had been created by the turn of the 15th century based on the book of prayers of the Kafa ritual. The consolidation of a heterogenous Jewish community into a new ethnoconfessional group (known as the Krymchakhs since the 19th century) had begun. By the 17th century. this group already distinguished themselves from other Jewish immigrants making a strict distinction, for instance, between themselves and Polish Jews.
There is a tradition which considers the Krymchaks as the descendants of the Khasars.
Language. Not long ago the Krymchaks used to speak a variant of Crimean Tatar which had some of the distinctive features of the Steppe dialect and has sometimes been referred to as its Krymchak ethnolect. The Crimean Tatar language was the universal means of communication in the Crimea from the 15th to the 19th centuries. The Krymchaks were orthodox Judaists and Talmudists. The language of ritual, literature and social life was Old Hebrew. Today the majority of Krymchaks speak Russian. Crimean Tatar is used only by those over 70. In most instances the younger generation lacks even a passive knowledge of Crimean Tatar. Intermarriages are the norm. The mass transition of the young to the Russian language occurred at the beginning of the 20th century. At that time the older Krymchak women were monolingual (I. Kaya).
Culture. Krymchak life and customs resembled those of the Crimean Tatars. However, they did not shave their heads like the Tatars but had their hair cut short. Like other Jews in Russia the Krymchaks were deprived of civil rights. They worked mainly as artisans, with a smaller number who were gardeners, had vineyards or were merchants. Today the Krymchaks differ in no way from the larger community, neither by language nor customs nor fields of activity.
Writing. Krymchak writing has always differed from that of the Crimean Tatars. Until the 1920s they wrote Crimean Tatar using Old Hebrew script, while the Crimean Tatars used the Arabic alphabet. Later on they were forced to adopt Cyrillic.
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