North Azovian Urums - Greeks Speaking Turkic Language

Dr. Alexander Garkavets, Almaty, Kazakhstan

The Urums are a national minority of Mediterranean and Crimean origin, residing in block in Ukraine, in 29 villages of Donetsk oblast which they have founded, in one village of Zaporizhzhia oblast, in Mariupolí city, and also in other settlements, including Donetsk. The official name of these people is Greeks. Urums number according to the January 12, 1989 USSR population census about 45 thousand. According to sociological estimates it is about 60 thousand. The reason for the discrepancy is that many Urums have lost their national identity and already consider themselves to be Russians or Ukrainians.

The language of Urums is close to Crimean-Tatarish, Karaimish, Armeno-Qypchaq, Gagauzish and Turkish.

On North Azovia territory Urums live since 1778. They were moved here from Crimea. Under the official version, tsarina Katherine II relocated them from Crimea on so-called free land, in order to rescue them from the Tatar yoke. In fact, since the Crimean Christians (these were Romaios and Urums, or Greeks, who spoke Greek and Turkic respectively, and also Georgians, Moldavians and Armenians) could establish a local economy, the empress sought to weaken the Crimean khanate, ruined by war, aiming to annex it to Russia. The empress' favorite count Grigory Potemkin handed to the Crimean khan tsarina's bribe, treating him like a vassal. Archbishop Ignaty Gozadinov also got his reward, being granted the metropolitan dignity one year after he rendered this service to the empire. The strategic operation worked well, and in 1783 Crimean khanate "voluntarily" yielded to the Russian empire. But for 15 thousand Christians, evicted from Crimea by deceit, the resettlement proved fatal. The majority of the people died in the wild steppe of starvation, cold and general illnesses. Those Romaios and Urums who survived eventually did reach the promised grounds and founded 22 settlements, including Mariupol city. The Armenians founded five villages, which today are part of the city Rostov-on-Don. The immigrants got 10 dessiatinas (approx. 27,5 acres) of ground for every male and were exempted from military duty. But the government was not going to take care of their spiritual needs as Christians. The Urums and Romaios were forever deprived of government support in the field of education and culture. During the Soviet Union era Azovian Greeks - Urums and Romaios were not regarded favorably and were enlisted in the category of foreign origin defective citizens. In the new independent Ukraine nothing is done for this national minority either. However they are not foreigners, they are age-old indigenous and native aboriginals of this country. It is necessary to mention that Azovian Urums and Romaios are straight descendants of those ancient Greeks, who founded thr city of Chersones on the present Sevastopol territory in 422 B.C., Theodosia and Kerch - even earlier, and then - Alupka, Alushta, Gurzuf, Evpatoria, Massandra, Foros, Sevastopol, Simferopol, Yalta and other cities of Crimea.

The Urum and Romaios self-names have a common origin - from the name of Byzantium as the new Rome and East-Roman empire capital Romi-Rome. This medieval name was preserved in the Turkish geographical name Rum Eli - the European part of Turkey, literally 'the Rum country', and in the widespread Turkic name for Greece - Urum. Originally, the Greek name Romaios meant 'inhabitant of Rome'.Tthe name Urum was used in Turkish word combinations Rum milleti, 'nation of Rome'- Greek nation, Rum halki, 'people of Rome' - Greek people, which identify not Byzantine Greeks only, but all Christian population of Turkey and Crimea including Slavs, Romanians (Moldavians), Armenians, Gagauzs, and Georgians. Today all of Azovian Romaios and Urums including turkicized Georgians and Moldavians name themselves Greeks exactly in the same way.

During their 222 years in a new area, the Urums did not receive any government support for developing their national language and culture. Between 1929-1933 the Crimean-Tatar language, instead of their native tongue, was taught in local schools. But shortly thereafter, local intellectuals were destroyed (executed). Since that time the process of Urums assimilation by Russian and Ukrainian populations was accelerated. In late 19th century Urums as a specific ethnos, their folklore and written monuments were studied by Otto Blau, Vasily Grigorovich, archimandrite Gavryil (Rosanov), Fedor Khartakhay, and in mid 20th century by S. Niazov. The studies were occasional, and they published several small folklore works and a few pages of medieval manuscripts only. Fundamental research of the Urum cultural heritage belongs to Dr. Alexander Garkavets, who has studied Urum problems systematically since 1973. As a result, a big Urum folklore collection came to light in 1999, published by Dr. Alexander Garkavets. The Book "Azovian Urums" includes a fundamental article about the Urums, their history, language, folklore and written monuments, about 900 songs, 400 fairy-tales and stories, 5 poems, 2 plays, 1200 proverbs and sayings in 12 dialects, as well as fragments from the four Gospels. The publication has opened to the world a people previously not known by anybody, a people residing at the very heart of Europe.

The Urum language, folklore and manuscripts has been studied out since 1973 as a result of Dr. Alexander Garkavets' initiative, at his own expense, and from September 2000, by means of a non-governmental, non-commercial, nonprofit organisation - the Center for Eurasian Studies "Desht-i Qypchaq" established by Dr. Alexander Garkavets.

His work aims to revive, preserve and develop the language and culture of a numerically small Turkic language speaking Christian minority (about 60 thousand), residing mainly in rural localities and not having education in vernacular. Distribution of published works in the area inhabited by Urums will be instrumental in stimulating their aspirations to develop a national culture and education, which is already noticeable in their reaction to the printed collection of the Urum folklore with a fundamental essay in Ukrainian (Alexander Garkavets. Azovian Urums.- Almaty: Ukrainian Culture Center, 1999.- 624 pp.).

On one hand, the works are intended for Urums - the indigenous national minority, which needs international support. On the other hand, the publication of Urum folklore, manuscripts and dictionary on Internet and on CD's will open great possibilities for scholars - turcologists and hellenists - to study the cultural heritage of this small European people previously not known to anybody.

The work done so far (records decoding, texts typing, book design making and printing of a small trial publication) did not require significant financial resources and powerful technical facilities. But today it is necessary to electronically process a significant number of songs and music tape-recordings and to arrange textual materials of the 12 Urum dialectes into an electronic dictionary. For this type of work we need the newest hardware and software. Besides, the financing of this research effort through national programmes is difficult, because this national minority resides outside of Kazakhstan - in Ukraine, and the specialists don't live in Ukraine, but in Kazakhstan; the Urums, calling themselves Greeks, don't speak Greek, they speak a Turkic language, and they are not Moslems, but Christians. Nevertheless, the work must be pursued on an accelerated basis, because the Urums, not receiving any support from the government or international organisations, are likely to lose their language, incurring russification and ukrainisation. The unique songs and music records, collected since 1973, are kept all the time on domestic magtapes and compact-cassettes. Urums themselves do not remember the majority of these songs and music works. Therefore, in view of the inevitable damage of ageing magtapes, the loss could turn out to be permanent.

Main scientific books of Dr. Alexander Garkavets on this matter:

1. Convergence of Armeno-Qypchaq language to Slavonic in 16-17 centuries. - Kyiv: Naukova Dumka, 1979. -100 pp. (in Russian).

2. Kamenets Chronicle. Translation from Armeno-Qypchaq to Russian, commentaries. (In: The Otoman empire in the first quarter of the 17th century.) - Moscow: Nauka,1984. - 52 pp. (in Russian).

3. The Development of the verb in Turkic languages in Ukraine. - Moscow: INION,1986. - 192 pp. (in Ukrainian).

4. Qypchaq languages: Comanian and Armeno-Qypchaq. - Alma-Ata: Science, 1987. - 223 pp. (in Russian).

5. Turkic languages in Ukraine. - Kyiv: Naukova Dumka, 1988. - 176 pp. (in Russian).

6. Armeno-Qypchaq manuscripts in Ukraine, Armenia, Russia: Catalogue. - Kyiv: Ukrainoznavstvo, 1993. - 328 pp. (in Ukrainian).

7. Azovian Urums: History, language, fairy-tales, songs, riddles, proverbs, written monuments. - Alma-Ata: Ukrainian Culture Centre, 1999. - 624 pp. (The scientific article in Ukrainian, the texts in Urum).

8. Urum dictionary. Alma-Ata: Baur, 2000. - 632 pp. (Urum-Ukrainian).