Armies of the Middle Ages by Ian Heath

By Ian Heath

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Markov also describes the fatalistic “Muslim eyes” that fail to shine with the brave spirit of enterprise. Rather, these eyes give the impression they “would not shirk before a sword, or produce a tear at the sight of blood” (1995: 37). Although essentialist, Markov’s portrait of the Crimean Tatars is lauded as a basically positive one. So too is his portrayal of Crimea itself. The beautiful lands also became a magnet of fantasy in the Russian literary imagination. Chekov set some of his short stories, such as “Lady with a Dog” on the banks of the Black Sea here, and Pushkin devoted several poems to Crimean themes including “The Fountain of Bahçesaray,” which depicts unrequited love between a maiden and a khan.

Today, most agree that more pressing problems warrant deferring the question to a later date. Crimean Tatar historiography has aimed to reposition the Crimean past from the mental margins of history to its place among civilizations. Viewed as “blood-thirsty” and “wild” in the Soviet imagination, the Crimean Tatars are seen as exotica in the West. Only when we learn that Crimea was home to flourishing Greek city-states, Genoese and Venetian trading colonies, and the location of a proposed German Riviera are we sparked to bring what was previously blurred in peripheral vision to the center of attention.

The work on place enables us to see the Crimean Tatars’ attachment to homeland not as a dysfunctional manifestation of ethnonationalism, but a fully modern response to changing relations to place. 18 Competing interpretations of the past crop up in debates about who lived where when; in the legislative manipulation of who is a citizen and who is not; in struggles over who has the right to property and who does not; and in discussions about removing the historical monuments left over from the Soviet period.

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