Similarly to the names, the layers of history are also spread over each other in the city. The street signs display all the name versions, so everyone might find the one he likes, and it is not even clear which is the old and which is the new one. The column erected in honor of General Dolgoruky, the conqueror of Simferopol in 1771, stands next to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, after whose Neoclassical forms you would not tell that it was just recently rebuilt: the original was blown up in 1930, and until 2003 the Tank of Victory stood in its place. In the central Lenin Square the statue of the name-giver is still standing, but the Stalinist-style administrative and cultural building are decaying empty around it, and immediately behind his back begins the former industrial neighborhood, now a slum.
By going north along the Karaim Street, I test the names’ power of preserving memories. Right on the first corner I see some archaic arches, incongruous with the industrial quarter, the arches of the characteristic portico of a traditional Karaim synagogue, a kenasa (on the Karaim and their kenasas soon we will write more). The portico may have been walled up when, in 1891-96, the new, larger kenasa was built next to it, which, breaking with the traditions, was erected in an “European”, oriental synagogue style.
“Good day”, I tell to the doorman. “I take photos of old synagogues, would you please allow me to go in and take some pictures of this, too?” “But this is no synagogue!” he says astonished, and as an evidence, he points to the facade, where the star in fact has one branch less than necessary.
The kenasa was shut down on March 5, 1930, and in 1936 it was allotted to the Radio (later Radio and Television) Crimea for studio. It has been their seat until today, with a short interruption, when, between 1941 and 1944, the German army used it for stables. The Karaim community now demands it to be returned to them, and they have already achieved that last year, on October 7, the Feast of Tabernacles they could worship again, after 82 years, on the top floor of the building.
I make a little test. I go round the building block, looking for what is the best shooting angle, and in the courtyards I ask the people, one after the other, whether they know where an old synagogue was here. Nobody knows it.
Around the corner, the name of the street changes for Caucasus. At first glance only the tower of the Tatar mosque appears behind the empty plot, but looking around better on the plot, we find another destroyed monument, waiting for rebuilding, to which the street name refers. A khachkar, an Armenian cross sent from Yerevan, and an inscription indicates this intention in the place of the former Armenian church. And this also means that there are enough Armenians in the city to think this intention seriously.
“On this historical place will revive the Church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God of the Armenian Apostolic Church.”
A little further down a not very successfully designed modern belfry draws our attention. According to its inscription, it was erected in memory of Saint Luke, Confessor, and Archbishop of Crimea (1877-1961). The Archbishop was a successful clinician from a noble family, who in 1923 was ordained a priest in secret, and later a bishop, and consequently all his life he suffered a lot of persecution by the authorities. The belfry was built in 2001 in the place of the Annunciation chapel, where Archbishop Luke prayed until his death, and which was demolished in the 1960s.
The street on the right side after the belfry was originally named Tatar Street. Only in the 1930s it received the name of the Russian revolutionary V. Volodarsky, whose original name was by the way also different: Moisei Markovich Goldstein. Here in 1508 Mengli Giray Khan, who consolidated the Crimean Khanate, built the White Mosque, which gave Simferopol its first known name. In 1907 the mosque was rebuilt in a clear Turkish style, thus following the taste of the determinant foreign religious and cultural centers in the same way as it happened in the case of the synagogue. We also have two postcards from these years, showing how it was and how it became.
“In the city there are 1800 houses, including many with two and three stories, a good number of shops, four caravanserais, five mosques…” (Evliya Çelebi, 1666)
The metamorphosis of the mosque also continued thereafter. In the 1930s it was shut down, and after the 1944 deportation of the Crimean Tatars it started to decay. It was almost completely ruined by 1991, when the Tatar returnees took care of it. Today it again stands in its former glory – also if it could not get back its former ornamental garden, built in during the socialist era –, and as the seat of the Crimean Mufti, it is considered the religious center of the Crimean Tatars.
The memory of the former places are preserved by names, as well as by the collective memory of the communities, which after the destruction make great effort to re-create these places. Thereby offering a gleam of hope that Simferopol may again become the city of common good.