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|Karaite men in traditional garb, Crimea, 19th century.|
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The Crimean Karaites or Karaims (Crimean Karaim: sg. къарай - qaray, pl. къарайлар - qaraylar; Trakai Karaim: sg. karaj, pl. karajlar, Hebrew קָרָאִים - qara'im, 'readers', tr. Karaylar), also known as Karaim and Qarays, are ethnic group derived from Turkic-speaking adherents of Karaism in Eastern Europe (especially former Russian Empire). "Qaray" is a Romanized spelling of the original name "къарай", while "Karaim" is a Russian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, and Polish name for the community. Defined themselves as originally centered in Crimea, Karaim were established in Trakai (Troki), Lithuania and Eastern Galicia from late medieval times.
Geographic distribution 
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (October 2012)|
The name "Crimean Karaites" has often been considered as something of a misnomer, as many branches of this community found their way to locations throughout Europe and the Middle East. Historians distinguish between Karaite Jews and Jews who simply left the Levant before the canonization of the Talmud and therefore had no way of being Rabbinic Jews. Whether descended from the non-Rabbinic sects of the Second Temple Period, or from Rabbinate families rebelling against Talmudic rules, these communities started in present day Iran.
As time went on, some of these communities spread throughout the region, one of which was Crimea. According to the Karaites' ancient tradition, all the Eastern European Karaite communities were derived from those in the Crimea. Some modern historians doubt the Crimean origin of Lithuanian Karaites. Nevertheless this name, "Crimean Karaites" is used for the Turkic-speaking Karaites community supposed to be originated in Crimea to distinguish it from historically Aramaic, Hebrew, and Arabic-speaking Karaites of the Levant, Anatolia, and the Middle East (to show the difference between the ethnic group and the religious denomination). For the purposes of this article, the terms "Crimean Karaites", "Karaim", and "Qarays" are used interchangeably, while "Karaites" alone refers to the general Karaite branch of Judaism.
According to Karaims tradition in 1392 Grand Duke Vytautas of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania relocated one branch of the Crimean Karaites to Lithuania where they continued to speak their own language. In fact the Lithuanian dialect of Karaim language differs significantly from Crimean one. The Lithuanian Karaites settled primarily in Vilnius (Vilna) and Trakai (Troki), as well as in Biržai, Pasvalys, Naujamiestis and Upytė - smaller settlements throughout Lithuania proper - and lands of modern Belarus and Ukraine, that were part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Jews (Rabbinites and Karaites) in Lithuanian territory were granted a measure of autonomy under Michel Ezofovich Senior management, except Troki Karaims that refused to comply, citing differences in faith. Later all Jews including Karaites were submitted to Rabbinite "Council of Four Lands" and "Council of the Land of Lithuania" taxation (1580-1646), while Turkic speaking Karaites, considered by Yiddish speaking Rabbinites as apostates, were in a subordinate and depressed position, that was one of the reasons for their dislike towards Rabbinites. In 1646 Troki Rabbinites were expelled from the town by Karaites request. In spite of that in 1680 Rabbinite community leaders were to defend the Karaites of Shaty (near Troki) against blood accusation. In agreement, signed by representatives Rabbanites and Karaites in 1714, the parties pledged to respect the mutual privileges and resolve disputes without the involvement of the non-Jewish administration.
Some famous Karaim scholars in Lithuania included Isaac b. Abraham of Troki (1543–1598), Joseph ben Mordecai Malinovski, Zera ben Nathan of Trakai, Salomon ben Aharon of Trakai, Ezra ben Nissan (died in 1666) and Josiah ben Judah (died after 1658). Some of the Karaim became quite wealthy.
During the times of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Karaims suffered severely during the Chmielnicki Uprising of 1648 and the wars between Russia and Poland in the years 1654-1667, when many towns were plundered and burnt, including Trakai, where in 1680 only 30 families were left. Catholic missionaries made serious attempts to convert the local Karaims to Christianity, but ultimately were largely unsuccessful. The local Karaim communities still exist in Lithuania (where they live mostly in Panevėžys and Trakai regions) and Poland. The 1979 census in the USSR showed 3,300 Karaims. Lithuanian Karaim Culture Community was founded in 1988.
According to the Lithuanian Karaims website the Statistics Department of Lithuania carried out an ethno-statistic research "Karaim in Lithuania" in 1997. It was decided to question all adult Karaims and mixed families, where one of the members is a Karaim. During the survey, for the beginning of 1997, there were 257 Karaim nationality people, 32 of which were children under 16.
Russian Empire 
19th-century leaders of the Karaims, such as Sima Babovich and Avraham Firkovich, were driving forces behind a concerted effort to alter the status of the Karaite community in eyes of the Russian legal system. Firkovich in particular was adamant in his attempts to connect the Karaims with the Khazars, and has been accused of forging documents and inscriptions to back up his claims.
Ultimately, the Tsarist government officially recognized the Karaims as being of Turkic, not Jewish, origin. Because the Karaims were judged to be innocent of the death of Jesus, they were exempt from many of the harsh restrictions placed on other Jews. They were, in essence, placed on equal legal footing with Crimean Tatars. The related Krymchak community, which was of similar ethnolinguistic background but which practiced rabbinical Judaism, continued to suffer under Tsarist anti-Jewish laws.
Solomon Krym (b.1864, d. 1936), a Crimean Karaite agronomist, was elected in 1906 to the First Duma (1906–1907) as a Kadet (National Democratic Party). On November 16, 1918 he became the Prime Minister of a short-lived Crimean Russian liberal, anti-separatist and anti-Soviet government also supported by the German army.
Until the 20th century, Karaism was the only religion of the Karaims, During Russian Civil War significant number of Karaims have emigrated to Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary and then France and Germany. Most of them have converted to Christianity. Karaims modern national movement philanthropist M.S. Sarach was one of them.
Under this doctrine, he has changed the traditional title of "Hacham" to "Gahan", rising in his opinion to the Khazarian word ""Khagan". In the mid 1930s, he began to create a theory of the Altai-Turkic origin of the Karaims and the pagan roots of the Karaite religious teaching (worship of sacred oaks, polytheism, led by the god Tengri, the Sacrifice). Shapshal's doctrine is still a topic of critical research and public debate.
He made a number of reforms aimed at Karaims Turkification and destruction Karaite Jewish elements of culture and language. He issued an order canceling the teaching of Hebrew in Karaite schools, replaced the name of the Jewish holidays and the months of the Turkic-speaking, the position of "Hacham" renamed "Gahan" in consonance with the word "khan", invented in this special custom taking office, allegedly accepted the Khazars. According Shapshal, the doctrine of Anan ben David was close to early Christianity, and Jesus and Mohammed Karaites believed for centuries prophets. Crimean Karaites adopted the law of Moses, but continued to adhere to the ancient Turkic pagan beliefs. In Post-Soviet period the Shapshal's theory was further developed in modern Karaylar publications and officially adopted by «Кърымкъарайлар»(«KrymKaraylar») Crimean Karaim Association at 2000 as the only correct view of the Karaylar past and the present.
Turkic-speaking Karaites (in the Crimean Tatar language, Qaraylar) have lived in Crimea for centuries. Their origin is a matter of great controversy. Some regard them as descendants of Karaite Jews who settled in Crimea and adopted a form of the Kypchak tongue (see Karaim language). Others view them as descendants of Khazar or Kipchak converts to Karaite Judaism. Today many Karaims deny Israelite origins and consider themselves to be descendants of the Khazars. Specialists in Khazar history put the Khazar theory questioned, highlighting the following facts:
- Karaim language belongs to the Kipchak linguistic group, and the Khazar - the Bulgar, therefore, between the two Turkic languages is no close relationship;
- According Khazar Correspondence Khazar Judaism was, most likely, Talmudic, and in the tradition of Karaism the only holy book is the Bible, the Talmud is not recognized;
- Khazars disappeared in the 11th century, and the first written mention of the Crimean Karaites was in the 14th century.
Some modern Karaims seek to distance themselves from being identified as Jews, emphasizing what they view as their Turkic heritage and claiming that they are Turkic practitioners of a "Mosaic religion" separate and distinct from Judaism. On the other hand, many scholars state that the phenomenon of claiming a distinct identity apart from the Jewish people appears to be no older than the 19th century, when it appeared under the influence of such leaders as Avraham Firkovich and Sima Babovich as a means of escaping anti-Semitism. In addition, Karaim works written before that time strongly suggest that Crimean Karaites previously considered themselves Jews (See Yitzhak of Troki's "Hizzuk Emunah" or a Crimean Karaite poem from 1936).
Whatever their origin, from the time of the Golden Horde onward, they were present in many towns and villages throughout Crimea and around the Black Sea. During the period of the Crimean Khanate some of the major communities could be found in the towns of Çufut Qale, Sudak, Kefe, and Bakhchisaray.
According to the Crimean Karaites' tradition, originated in the 20th century inter-warPoland their forefathers were mainly farmers and members of the community served in the military forces of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, as well as the Crimean Khanate. On the other hand, according the historical documents of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Crimean Karaites main occupation was usury and they were granted special privileges including exemption from the military service while in Crimean Khanate the Karaites were repressed like other Jews, which included prohibition of horse riding.
Karaites in the Khazar Khaganate 
The upper stratum of the Khazar society converted to Judaism in the 8th-9th centuries CE. A group of the Khazars who took part in a failed rebellion - joined the Magyars in the invasion of Hungary, and settled there in the end of the 9th century CE. An interesting relic of this Khazar settlement was discovered in (Transylvania, today Romania) in the 20th century CE. It is called Alsószentmihály Rovas inscription. It was transcribed by the archaeologist-historian Gábor Vékony. According to the transcription, the meaing of the two-row isncription is the following: (first row) "His mansion is famous." and (second row) "Jüedi Kür Karaite." or "Jüedi Kür the Karaite."
During the Holocaust 
Their status under Russian imperial rule bore beneficial fruits for the Karaims decades later. In 1934, the heads of the Karaims community in Berlin asked the Nazi authorities to exempt them from the regulations; on the basis of their legal status in Russia. The Reich Agency for the Investigation of Families determined that from the standpoint of German law, the Karaites were not to be considered Jews. The letter from the Reichsstelle fur Sippenforschung gave the official ruling in a letter which stated:
The Karaite sect should not be considered a Jewish religious community within the meaning of paragraph 2, point 2 of the First Regulation to the Reich Citizenship Law. However, it cannot be established that Karaites in their entirety are of blood-related stock, for the racial categorization of an individual cannot be determined without ... his personal ancestry and racial biological characteristics
This ruling set the tone for how the Nazis dealt with the Karaite community in Eastern Europe.
Their Mosaic religion is unwelcome. However, on grounds of race, language and religious dogma... Discrimination against the Karaites is unacceptable, in consideration of their racial kinsmen [Berger was here referring to the Crimean Tatars]. However, so as not to infringe the unified anti-Jewish orientation of the nations led by Germany, it is suggested that this small group be given the opportunity of a separate existence (for example, as a closed construction or labor battalion)...
Despite their exempt status, confusion led to initial massacres. German soldiers who came across Karaims in Russia during the initial phase of Operation Barbarossa, not aware of their legal status under German law, attacked them; 200 were killed at Babi Yar alone. German allies such as the Vichy Republic began to require the Karaites to register as Jews, but eventually granted them non-Jewish status upon being instructed by Berlin.
On interrogation, Ashkenazi rabbis in Crimea told the Germans that the Karaims were not Jews, in an effort to spare the Karaite community the fate of their Rabbanite neighbors. Many Karaims risked their lives to hide Jews, and in some cases claimed that Jews were members of their community. Many of the Karaims were recruited for labor battalions.
After the Soviet recapture of Crimea from Nazi forces in 1944, the Soviet authorities counted 6,357 remaining Karaims. Karaims were not subject to mass deportation, unlike the Crimean Tatars, Greeks, Armenians and others the Soviet authorities alleged had collaborated during the Nazi German occupation. Some individual Karaims were deported.
Assimilation and emigration greatly reduced the ranks of the Karaim community. A few thousand Karaims remain in Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Poland. Other communities exist in Israel, Turkey, the United States, and Great Britain.
Karaim is a Kypchak Turkic language being closely related to Crimean Tatar, Armeno-Kipchak etc. Among the many different influences exerted on Karaim, those of Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian were the first to change the outlook of the Karaim lexicon. Later, due to considerable Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian influence, many Slavic words entered the language of Polish, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, and Russian Karaims. Hebrew remained in use for liturgical purposes. Following the Ottoman occupation of Crimea, Turkish was used for business and government purposes among Karaims living on the Crimean peninsula. Three different dialects developed: the Troki dialect, used in Trakai and Vilnius (Lithuania), the Lutsk or Halych dialect spoken in Lutsk (until World War II), and Halych, and the Crimean dialect. The last forms the Eastern group, while Troki and Halych Karaim belong to the Western group. Currently only small minority of Karaim can speak Karaim Language( 70 Crimean dialect speakers, 118 Trakai dialect speakers, and about 20 Halych dialect speakers)
The most famous Crimean Karaite culinary dish -Kybyn (Russian:Кибина pl. Кибины, Karaim: kybyn pl. kybynlar, Lithuanian: Kibinai). It is half moon shaped pies of yeast dough with a stuffing of cut into pieces beef or mutton meat baked in Dutch or baking sheet. Other meals common for Crimean Karaites and Tatars are Chiburekki, Pelmeni, Shishlik (are more often from mutton).
Ceremony dishes, cooked for religious holidays and weddings are:
- Tymbyl is Pesach round cakes flat of unleavened dough, knead with cream and butter or butter and eggs, reflected in modern name of this festival (Tymbyl Chydžy),
- Qatlama is Shavuot (Aftalar Chydžy) cottage cheese pie, which seven layers symbolizing seven weeks, past after Pesach, four layers of yeast dough, three - of pot cheese,
- Wedding pies are Kiyovliuk (on the part of the groom) and Kelin'lik (on the part of the bride).
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