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CRIMEA KHANATE. Comprising most of the Crimean peninsula and some of the Desht-i Kipchak (the steppeland north of the peninsula and theBlack Sea), the Khanate of Crimea was established in the middle of the fifteenth century by Muslim Tatars and Turks. Muslims had been present in the region from the early thirteenth century, and Muslim institutions including mosques and schools had been built by 1315. Anatolian Turks settled in the peninsula under Seljuk encouragement, and Tatars from the Golden Horde occupied a number of areas that subsequently would become part of the khanate.

The Crimean region played an important role as intermediary between the Tatars of the Golden Horde, the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt, the Seljuk state in Anatolia, and the Christian kingdoms of the north (Lithuania, Poland, and Moscow) during the two centuries predating the establishment of the khanate. Religious architecture serves as a good indicator of external Islamic interest inCrimea: the Egyptian Mamluk Sultan Baybars funded the building of a mosque in the region’s first Tatar governmental center, Solhat (Eski Krim), in 1287; a second mosque was built there by the Golden Horde ruler Ozbek Khan in 1314, and the latter building survives today.

The khanate was largely the product of the Giray Tatar clan, especially its fifteenth- and sixteenth-century khans Hadji, Mengli, Sahib, and Selim; it would remain under Giray domination until its collapse in 1774. Although never completely sovereign and independent of the Ottoman sultans, the khanate’s political and social institutions developed in their own ways, blending Tatar and steppe traditions with Ottoman bureaucratic and dynastic practices. The former were characterized by decentralized authority, while the Ottoman system was highly centralized.

Tatar institutions included the kurultay (the gathering of all clan leaders), whose responsibility included the selection of the khan from among Giray candidates; and the kalgay and nurredin sultans (first and second “heirs apparent,” also expected to be members of the Giray clan). In addition, each of the major clans maintained administrative responsibilities for lands “belonging” to them (beylik); each had a “capital” town where the clan leader (bey) resided and in which the bey’s own officials administered financial and political affairs. These begs, particularly the bey of the Shirin clan, retained much local authority, and their support was essential to the success of Giray policies.

The central government of the khanate consisted of a set of bureaucratic and fiscal offices staffed by servitors (kapikulu) of the Girays, a governing council (divan), and judicial offices headed by a chief judge (kadiasker) and regional judges (kadis; Ar., qadi). Law in the khanate combined elements of Tatar customary law (deriving from the Great Yasa of Chinggis Khan) and Ottoman kanun law-the former defining social relationships, and the latter establishing fiscal responsibilities.

A third administrative system, outside both central and clan institutions and led by the mufti and various Islamic officials, was responsible for the large number of waq f lands in the khanate. Finally, dating from 1475 the southern coast of the peninsula was under direct Ottoman control, with local officials appointed fromIstanbul. Many of the large towns of theCrimeawere situated in this area, which was called the Eyalet-i Kefe.

Crimean economics were based largely on trade: in slaves “harvested” by Tatar forces from the Slavic settlements north of the peninsula, in foodstuffs produced in the fertile lands along the coast and in inland valleys, in fine finished goods produced by Tatar artisans (jewelry, metal, and leatherwork primarily), and in subsidies received from the Ottomans in Istanbul in return for participation in military campaigns. Crimean society was generally prosperous and as a result fairly well developed. Particularly in the Ottoman sector, but also in the peninsular heartland, Jewish and Christian communities played important economic roles (ironically, it was after the Russian conquest that these minorities were removed and replaced by Russian and Ukrainian peasants).

The three major urban areas under the control of the khanate’s administration were Gozleve (later Evpatoria), Akmechet (Simferopol), and Bahchesaray. In the last city the Girays maintained their palace, and it was there that most government offices were located. These towns supported an active cultural life reflected in a sophisticated historiographic tradition; the most important chronicles include the Tevarih desht-i kipchak and the Asseb’ os-seiiar, the latter composed by Seiid Muhammed Riza in the mid-eighteenth century. From the early sixteenth century onward an important medresse (madrasah), the Zinjirli in Solhat, offered education and training in scholarship that would produce generations of scholars who played important roles in Islamic culture in the khanate and outside. This medresse would provide the leadership toRussia’s Muslims in the late nineteenth century in their efforts at modernization.

As the result of Russian expansion and development in the eighteenth century and of Crimean and Ottoman decline, the khanate was invaded twice and ultimately collapsed before Russian armies between 1768 and 1774. After a short “experiment” managed by Tsarina Catherine II, the entire peninsula with all its Tatar inhabitants was annexed to the Russian Empire and became the Tavricheskii Oblast’. Refugees from the khanate’s ruling classes settled inIstanbuland other Ottoman towns inBulgariaandRomania; most were ultimately assimilated into the Turkish population.


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Muzaffer Urekli. Kirim hanliginin kurulusu ve Osmanli himdyesinde yukselisi, 1441-1569.Ankara, 1989.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/crimea-khanate/

  • writerPosted On: November 6, 2012
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