A Tatar seller of haricot beans on the market of Bakhchisaray, 1920s. Photo by Useyn (Hussein) Bodaninsky. From the archive photos of the Tatar museum of Bakhchisaray, sold on postcards.
The awakening of Tatar culture started in the 1880s, primarily due to İsmail Bey Gaspırali (in Russian Gasprinsky, 1851-1914) from Bakhchisaray, who devoted all his life to the modernization of Tatar education and culture and to the solidarity among the Turkic peoples in Russia. The very influential journal Tercüman (Interpreter, 1883-1918), founded by him, reached all the Turkic peoples in the empire, becoming everywhere a driving force of local culture. As the obituary of Gaspırali, published in the 202 (1915) issue of the journal, wrote it:
“Yes, Tercüman is our national literature, our national education, the treasury of our modern national history. Do we have a national public library? Do we have a national public museum? Do we have a national public academy? What we have is twenty-three volumes of Tercüman. This is our great national treasury.”
Right: İsmail Bey Gaspırali. Left: Cartoon from the Molla Nasreddin satirical journal: Gaspırali (with the Tercüman and the modern Tatar primer in his hand) facing the enemies of progress.
The creation of the institutions listed in the obituary became the task of the generation after Gaspırali. Among them, the establishment of a Tatar museum was undertaken by Useyn (Hussein) Bodaninsky (1877-1938). Born the son of a Tatar teacher, he also graduated in the Tatar teacher-training college in Simferopol, that is, Akmescit. From 1895 to 1905 he learned in Moscow at the famous University of Art and Industry founded in 1825 by Baron Stroganov, then he spent a few years in Paris, becoming between 1911 and 1916 a renowned and sought-after interior designer and decorator in St. Petersburg. In 1916 he returned to the Crimea, where he was appointed director of the Khan’s Palace in Bakhchisaray. Here he founded the Tatar museum, still today working in the Khan’s Palace.
In the early 1920s Bodaninsky and his colleagues were the first to collect Crimean Tatar ethnographic and historical material. They went on with such an effort, as if they knew they had not much time left. They carried out a long series of archaeological excavations in the cave cities inhabited by the Tatars in the 16th century and in the former cemeteries, and they systematically photographed the traditional Tatar villages, crafts, feasts and festive costumes. In their pictures we still recognize the main traits of modern Bakhchisaray, but without these photos we could no longer conceive the former life of this city, the cultural center of the Crimean Tatars.
In 1934 Bodaninsky was discharged from the museum. In the following years he lived on decorative works in Moscow and Tbilisi. There he was arrested, and on 17 April 1938 executed in Simferopol on trumped-up charges. The location of his grave is unknown, and he has never been rehabilitated. On 18 May 1944 the entire Crimean Tatar population was deported to Uzbekistan, where in the first two years nearly half of them died. Their houses were occupied by Russian and Ukrainian newcomers. From their material culture there is left only as much as Bodaninsky and his colleagues managed to collect in two decades, and as we see in these pictures.