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Bakhchisaray Khan’s Palace: restoration or reconstruction?

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The editorial office of the Crimean Svitlytsia newspaper continues to publish a series of articles on the current state of cultural monuments in Crimea and the need for urgent decisions by state politicians of our country to protect and preserve Ukraine’s cultural heritage in the occupied territories.


Cultural heritage in the modern world is the most important factor in the formation of a unified national identity and the establishment of unifying values ​​in society.

The Great Khan's Mosque
The Great Khan’s Mosque

Monuments, houses, memorial complexes, museum expositions, individual burials, etc., which are a visual component of cultural heritage, reflect not only the historical past, but also actively shape the public views of citizens. Therefore, today the protection of cultural heritage, preservation of world cultural heritage are one of the most important cultural problems in the world.

The occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea by the Russian Federation in 2014 and the beginning of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, in addition to political and legal, raised a number of sectoral issues. The lack of military doctrines in Ukraine in the 20th century and militarized thinking at the state level has led to the unpreparedness of Ukrainian society for armed action in the 21st century, in particular in terms of its own cultural heritage. Given the scale of the devastation caused by the armed actions in the Donbas and the occupation of Crimea – persecution, torture, enforced disappearances, sexual and gender-based violence, 1.5 million internally displaced persons – and the expert and logistical unpreparedness of most government agencies to respond. violations of this level of complexity, it is expectedthat work on cultural heritage issues has unfortunately not become a top priority so far.

Experts record a number of violations of international humanitarian law by the occupation authorities in the field of cultural heritage, which was on the territory of the ARC, including:
– destruction or destruction;
– loss of individual elements, which violates the authenticity (authenticity) of the object or object (including – reconstruction, superstructure, etc.).
– illegal movement from the territory of the ARC or the city of Sevastopol to the Russian Federation or other countries;
– change of ownership.

The most glaring example of the violation of international humanitarian law in the field of cultural heritage protection is the situation in the Bakhchisaray Khan’s Palace.

* * * The
Bakhchisaray Khan’s Palace is the main residence of the rulers of the Crimean Khanate (from the first half of the 16th to the end of the 18th century), the only preserved object of Crimean Tatar palace architecture in the world and the palace complex of the Genghisid dynasty. The founder of the residence is considered to be Khan Sahib-Girey, the beginning of construction – 1532-1533. The oldest objects are the Portal of Alevizo de Montagnano (1503), baths “Sari-Guzel” (1533) and the Great Khan’s Mosque (1532). .).

It was from this oldest object of the ensemble “Bakhchisaray Khan’s Palace” – from the Great Khan’s Mosque “new government of Crimea” and began work that not only outraged Crimean activists, but also became the subject of relevant reports of the United Nations Educational, science and culture.

The objects of the ensemble, of course, needed restoration, which was to be based on the principle of scientificity, which requires maximum preservation of the authenticity of the monument, restoration of lost elements on the basis of scientific justifications and justifications of any restoration intervention. In addition, guided by the requirements of international charters for the protection of historical and cultural values, design decisions must be made methods that preserve as much as possible individual elements of the building and the historical and artistic appearance of the ensemble as a whole. in which the object was built.

According to the opinion of the Institute “UkrNDIproektrestavratsiya”, who in 2014 prepared the project of restoration of the mosque:
– the 22 floor beams L = 9,5 m provided for the replacement of 3 and 1 restoration beams, and additional strengthening metal corner top 4 -x beams; replacement of 1 transverse beam L = 9.5 m;
– from 82 beams of overlapping L = 6,5 m replacement of 3 and restoration of 4 beams, and also strengthening by a metal corner of 6 beams was provided.

When studying the condition of the floor in 2015 and the installation of a temporary supporting structure above the entrance to the mosque from the Churuk-Su River, the results of the above conclusion were confirmed.

However, the occupying power, namely: the general contractor (ATTA-Group), the subcontractor (Kiramet LLC) and the customer (the so-called Republican Committee for Cultural Heritage), decided to completely dismantle the roof.

Dismantling was carried out with the help of heavy construction equipment with the use of bumpers, which led to vibration and loss of part of the wall decoration. The authentic beam floor system, ceilings and tent roof have been completely lost.

Authentic oak floor beams were dismantled and sawn, they were replaced by modern building materials – glued beams by OSB technology; used a concrete armopoyas.

According to the so-called project, the old spoon tile (“Tatar”) of artisanal production was 100% replaced by Spanish factory-made tiles, stylized in the old style. At the same time, the ancient technology of laying tiles on clay was completely destroyed and replaced with modern fasteners.

According to the conclusion of the experts of the International Center for the Study of Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Values ​​ICCROM Ukraine, the work carried out at this site is typical for new construction; mass replacement of wooden structural elements with modern materials that are not inherent in the culture of Crimean Tatar construction, distorts the historical authenticity of the whole ensemble and causes irreparable damage to the history and culture of the Crimean Tatars as a nation.

Additional loads on the walls and foundation of buildings have already led to deformation, resulting in cracked stained glass and cracked walls. There is also a crack on the Eastern minaret, which had a slope before the works.

The system of protection of the object during the works did not meet even the basic requirements: a temporary wooden cover was mounted over the building, covered with polyethylene film, which not only did not guarantee protection from precipitation, but also created a “greenhouse effect” under certain weather conditions. As a result of the influence of the wind on the polyethylene coating, holes were formed, through which precipitation during the fall, winter of 2017, spring of 2018 fell inside the building, so the mosque building was soaked through.

Paintings on the southern and western facades of the building were damaged.

As a result of construction work and insecurity from mechanical impact, cracks appeared on some tombstones of the Khan’s cemetery.

Thanks to the active actions of concerned Crimean activists, who constantly provided information on the progress of barbaric “restoration work”, and the professional actions of Ukrainian diplomats, this issue was put on the agenda of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In 2018, it published a report on the deteriorating situation with the protection of cultural heritage in the Russian-annexed Crimea. Unfortunately, work on the Great Khan’s Mosque has not been stopped today, but a contractor has been replaced at other facilities in the complex.

Meander Company (St. Petersburg) is carrying out restoration work on the main building of the Khan’s Palace. But that’s another story.

* * *
Regarding the situation around the Great Khan’s Mosque: what is it – a story about corruption, negligence and unprofessional actions or something else? Monuments have always been destroyed and destroyed for ideological reasons, in order to destroy the symbols of the hated past.

After the deportation in 1944, the culture of the Crimean Tatars was destroyed: “toponymic repressions” were carried out on the peninsula, the Soviet authorities destroyed Crimean Tatar monuments, burned manuscripts and books, and opened cinemas and shops in mosques.

After such an almost total destruction, the miraculously preserved Bakhchisaray Khan’s Palace became for the Crimean Tatars, during their return to their homeland, not only a symbol of the origin, development of statehood in this area, but also a symbol of revival in their homeland.

Therefore, devaluing (even by restructuring) the historical significance of the object, which is the main symbol for the whole nation, the occupying power implements a long-term program aimed at destroying historical memory, changing worldview and assimilation of the Crimean Tatar people.

That is why and right now the issue of protection of cultural heritage left in the occupied territory of Crimea needs more attention; it is necessary to strengthen international legal and institutional control over the preservation of cultural heritage sites and use all possible institutional and treaty mechanisms for its protection. In response to these challenges, Ukraine must implement its long-term programs to preserve, restore and develop Crimean Tatar history and culture.

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The project was implemented with the support of the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation

Elmira Ablyalimova

project coordinator of the Crimean Institute for Strategic Studies

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