Gaspirali, Ismail Bey

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(18511914), Crimean Tatar intellectual, social reformer, publisher, and key figure in the emergence of the modernist, or jadid, movement among Russian Turkic peoples.

Ismail Bey Gaspirali was born March 8, 1851, in the Crimean village of Avci, but he spent most of his first decade in Bakhchisarai, the nearby town to which his family had moved during the Crimean War (18531856). Reared in the Islamic faith, his education began with tutoring in Arabic recitation by a local Muslim teacher (hoca ), but then continued in the Russian-administered Simferopol gymnasium and Russian military academies in Voronezh and Moscow. In 1872 he embarked on a foreign tour that took him through Austria and Germany to France, where he remained for two years. A year followed in Istanbul, capital of the Ottoman Empire, before Gaspirali returned home during the winter of 1875. His observations abroad became the basis for one of his earliest and most important essays, A Critical Look at European Civilization (Avrupa Medeniyetine bir Nazar-i Muvazene, 1885), and inspired the urban improvement projects during the four years (18781882) that he served as mayor of Bakhchisarai.

By then, the importance of education and the modern press had become for Gaspirali the keys to improving the quality of life for Crimean Tatars and other Turkic peoples, who were mostly adherents of Islam. Nineteenth-century European military might, economic development, scientific advances, increased social mobility, political experimentation, and global expansion impressed upon him the need for reconsideration of Turkic cultural norms, perspectives, and aspirations. The narrow focus of education, inspired by centuries of Islamic pedagogy whose purpose was the provision of sufficient literacy in Arabic for reading and reciting the Qur'an, struck Gaspirali as unsuited for the challenges of modern life as defined by European experience. A new teaching method (usul-i jadid ), emphasizing literacy in the child's native language, and a reformed curriculum that included study of mathematics, natural sciences, geography, history, and the Russian language, should be instituted in new-style primary schools where children would be educated in preparation for enrolling in more advanced, modern, and Russian-supported institutions. The survival of non-European societies such as his own, many already the victims of European hegemony and their own adherence to time-honored practices, depended upon a willingness to accept change and new information, open up public opportunities for women, mobilize resources and talents, and become involved with worldly affairs.

The medium by which Gaspirali propagandized his new method, both as pedagogue and social transformer, was the modern press. Beginning in April 1883, he published a dual-language newspaper in both Turkic and Russian entitled The Interpreter (Tercüman in Turkic, Perevodchik in Russian). It appeared without interruption until early 1918, becoming the longest surviving and most influential Turkic periodical within the Russian Empire. In later years, Gaspirali published other newspapers The World of Women (Alem-i Nisvan ), The World of Children (Alem-i Sibyan ), and Ha, Ha, Ha! (Kha, Kha, Kha! ), a satirical reviewand numerous essays and didactic manuals on subjects ranging from Turkic relations with Russia to pedagogy, geography, hygiene, history, and literature.

Gaspirali's espousal of substantive social change raised opposition from both Russian and Turkic sources, but his moderate and reasoned tone won him important allies within local and national official circles, allowing him to continue his work with little interference. The intensification of ethnic controversy by the early twentieth century, however, increasingly marginalized him in relation to advocates of more strident nationalist sentiments and the politicization of Russian-Turkic relations. He died September 11, 1914 after a long illness.

See also: crimean tatars; islam; jadidism


Fisher, Alan W. (1988). "Ismail Gaspirali, Model Leader for Asia." In Tatars of the Crimea: Their Struggle for Survival, ed. Edward Allworth. Durham: Duke University Press.

Kuttner, Thomas. (1975). "Russian Jadidism and the Islamic World: Ismail Gasprinskii in Cairo1908. A Call to the Arabs for the Rejuvenation of the Islamic World." Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique 16:383424.

Lazzerini, Edward J. (1988). "Ismail Bey Gasprinskii, the Discourse of Modernism, and the Russians." In Tatars of the Crimea: Their Struggle for Survival, ed. by Edward Allworth. Durham: Duke University Press.

Lazzerini, Edward J. (1992). "Ismail Bey Gasprinskii's Perevodchik/Tercüman: A Clarion of Modernism." In Central Asian Monuments, ed. by H.B. Paksoy. Istanbul: Isis Press.

Edward J. Lazzerini