Return to the Solving Problems Through Force Main Page
Suleiman "Matcey" Sulkevich
Suleiman Matcey Sulkevich was born in 1865 in a village outside of Minsk.  His family was descended from the Lithuanian Tatars.  He joined the Russian army and became a Lieutenant General,  leading the 33. Infantry division under the Tsar.  In 1917, he was allowed to raise a Moslem Corps for the provisional government, with the blessing of General Kornilov.  Once the December 1917 armistice ended his military role, Sulkevich grew interested in the fate of fellow Tatars in the Crimea, where a national Tatar government had been formed under the leadership of Numan Chelebidzhikhan. 

The Kurultai, a national congress of representatives of Crimean Tatars, convened on 10 December 1917, and proclaimed the Crimean Republic.  Armed Tatars were the only force in Crimea resisting the influx of Bolsheviks.  In the course of a decisive 36 hour stuggle near the town of Bakhchysarai on 12 and 13 January 1918, the Bolsheviks defeated the Tatars and overthrew their government. Chelebidzhikhan was arrested and executed in a prison in Sebastopol on 23 February 1918.  The Tatars responded with an insurrection and finally captured and executed the entire Soviet government of the Taurida Soviet, including chairman Anton Slutsky, in the city of Alushta on 23 February 1918.  Anarchy swelled to outrageous proportions after this, and the Germans under General Kosch invaded the Crimea on 19 April 1918, following the advance of the Ukrainian brigade of General Natiev.

Kosch attended the reopening of the Kurultai on 8 May 1918, before Sulkevich arrived, and as Turkish designs on the Crimea manifested themselves.  Jafar Seidhamet, a Tatar leader in the the first Kurultai, returned from Turkey on 11 May, but was detained by the Germans on the suspicion that he was trying to form a Turkish protectorate over the Crimea.

Sulkevich arrived in the Crimea the next day, ostensibly at the invitation of the German occupying authority under the leadership of General von Eichhorn.  His Moslem Corps followed a few days later and were too late to help liberate the Crimea from the remnants of bolshevism.  By the end of the month, the Moslem Corps was demobilised, while Natiev’s brigade was compelled to evacuate the Crimea only a short while afer receiving orders from the Ukraine’s hetman, Pavel Skoropadsky, to invade the Kuban region of South Russia and conquer it.  All of these actions left the Germans as the only military force within the Crimea.

Sulekvich led an authority called the Crimean Territorial Government, even claiming the title of "khan" for himself.  Sulkevich attempted to have formal relations with the Ottoman Empire, and Grand Vizier Talaat Pasha demanded the independence of the Crimea (or its annexation by the Porte) at the Brest-Litovsk peace conference in March 1918.  The Germans were actively considering directly annexing the Crimea to Germany and ignored the opinons of both Talaat and Sulkevich. 

The biggest issue for the Ukrainians (and hence the Germans) was the Crimean Territorial Government itself:  it was essentially Russian in character, excepting Sulkevich and Jafar Seidhamet (foreign minister), who were the only Tatars in the whole cabinet.  Things grew so badly between hetman Skoropadsky and Sulkevich, that Kiev placed an embargo on the Crimea beginning in June, and it lasted throughout the summer, slowly strangling the Crimean economy. 

Sulkevich tried to fix the situation by sending Seidhamet and the Russian Tatishchev to Berlin in late July to negotiate a national trade agreement with Germany, as the Germans were the only ones buying and selling in the Crimea thanks to Kiev’s embargo.  However, nothing significant could be won by the duo in Berlin, for the hetman sent his own delegation to Berlin to head them off, and the Russian Soviet goverment had also lodged complaints about the Crimean delegation in Berlin, for Petrograd had not surrendered their interest in the mostly Russian peninsula.

Throughout this, Sulkevich realised his impossible position but played the part of the puppet hoping better circumstances for the Crimea would develop.  Unfortunately, German occupation hindered Sulkevich at every turn and he could not build the necessary institutions for an independent state.  Furthermore, Sulkevich was gaining a bad reputation among his own Tatar countrymen for his slavish devotion to his German masters, particularly in his fulfillment of their food requisitions, even at the height of the Ukrainian embargo.  The small German minourity clamoured for annexation to the German Empire and the Russian majourity was outraged at the pretentions of both Tatar and German minourities within the country. 

In August, hetman Skoropadsky himself went to Berlin to urge for the union of the Crimea to the Ukraine, and he was opposed by the Turkish diplomatic corps, acting on behalf of Seidhamet’s office.  By this action, the Germans were worried that the Crimea would soon become a Turkish province, and hastened their support for Crimean union with the Ukraine.  Though the hetman was informed that his police force would be insufficient to replace Sulkevich and keep order, General Kosch nevertheless told Sulkeivch on 6 September 1918 that the German government did not recognise Crimean independence and in fact was working to bring the peninsula into a union with the Ukraine.  Sulkevich accepted this revelation and reorganised the Crimean Territorial Government during the week of 14 September 1918.  The new government was henceforth referred to as the Crimean Autonomous Administration, part of the Ukrainian state, and the local government was to be a coalition of all ethnic members of the peninsula, not just the Russians who collaborated with Sulkevich.

Seidhamet resigned as foreign minister, since there was no longer need for this post, and it was abolished.  He officially resigned from the cabinet on 11 October, but he and Tatishchev hung around for a month.  Tatishchev for one was supposed to be the Crimean minister of finance, but was out of the country in mid-September and A. Nikoforov was soon in Kiev with the same title.  Tatishchev returned at the end of the month, and was widely believed to be prepped by the Germans to overthrow Sulkevich and seize power, but in fact he was still a member of the cabinet until its collapse.  The hetman then called on a Crimean delegation to come to Kiev and accept his leadership.  Sulkevich complied and sent a batch of Russians and Tatars who arrived there on 5 October 1918, but they refused to swear allegiance to the hetman and reiterated their demands for Crimean independence.  The hetman was outraged and so were the Germans. 

Prinz zu Reuss, Germany’s “special representative” to the Crimea, suggested a putsch to overthrow Sulkevich’s government, and Kosch’s occupying Corps in teh Crimea was informed in the third week of October that Sulkevich and his government no longer had authority, but now Suleiman Krym or V. Nalbandov, either one, was the leader of the Crimea.  This was pure anarchy, as neither of these men had any authority at all (especially since nobody knew who was really in charge).  On 12 November, the Germans were informed of the armistice terms and ordered to evacuate the Crimea.  Prinz zu Reuss informed Sulkevich that he could no longer count on German support.  But what support had he been given during their whole period of occupation? 

When the Germans finally abandoned the Crimea in mid-November, Sulkevich saw no hope for his government and he fled to Baku in Azerbaidjan.  His only gratification was that Skoropadsky had to flee the Ukraine even before he had to flee the Crimea.  The Bolsheviks entered the Crimea and were soon thrown out by the whites led by Denikin. 

Sulkevich meanwhile joined the Musavat Party in Baku and attempted to rally public support for the independence of Azerbaidjan, but Lenin decreed in 1920 that the Transcaucasus be restored to Russia and the Red Army invaded through the Derbent Pass, breaking a recent friendship treaty signed by Baku and Moscow.  After the Red Army defeated the National Army, Sulkevich was arrested and executed as an enemy of the state. 

Crimea's final chapter as an "independent" entity was closed in late 1920, when General Wrangel and his army of 250,000 Russian whites evacuated the peninsula, and the Red Army surged in.  Leading the charge against "enemies" was
Bela Kun, former dictator of Soviet Hungary.  After tens of thousands were murdered throughout the Crimea for being “enemies," Kun was extracted from the country by Lenin's express order in spring 1921, and it was formed into the Crimean Autonomous Region of the Russian Soviet Republic. 

GWS, 8/03 [rev. 10/03]