Friday, August 15, 2008

American Turko-Tatar Association Of Burlingame - Salih Apakay

this history and snapshot is primarily from 1973

Shortly after the Russian Revolution of 1917, emigrants from Ufa, Kazan, Troisky and the neighboring province of Penza settled in the Far East. In the cities of Hailar, Harbin, Mukden, Tientsin Shanghai, Kobe, Tokyo, and Keijo, these emigrants of Tatar descent established communities, built mosques and schools so that their descendants would not suffer from illiteracy in their mother tongue.

Under the leadership of Muhammed Abdulhai Kurbanali, leader and Imam of the Tokyo Community, and the Central Committee of Religion and Culture of Mukden many books both religious and cultural were written and printed in order to teach us our language and religion and keep intact the ethnic tradition, our forefathers strove to preserve.

Until the post-World War 2 era, these communities led their lives much the same as their fathers. After 1950, unfavorable political changes in the Orient encouraged the Tatar people there to seek secure homes in other parts of the globe. These people emigrated to Turkey and Southern and Northern America. The present Turko-Tatar residents of New York and San Francisco are the descendants of these Tatar emigrants from Russia.
1973 marked the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the first emigrants of Tatar descent to California, San Francisco and the neighboring cities. Among the first to settle were the Hasen Salih and Mutigullah Garifullin families, and Abdullah Zainasheff, a bachelor. In 1927 Abdullah Bay sailed to Shanghai and brought back as his bride Zaituna Akbirdin. These three families visited each other frequently in order to keep up the traditional religious and cultural customs. In 1932 Ismail Akbirdin, who had helped found the Turko-Tatar Association in Shanghai, joined them. He organized the first Aid'l Fitr prayers in his house and also invited the local Turkish and Pakistani Muslims to the prayers. Soon others followed the flow of immigration - Among them Faizurahman Bigeeff and his wife Rabiga.
In 1936 Ismail Akbirdin passed away. He was the first Tatar to be buried in California; his funeral was conducted by Abbas Ramazan, a local priest.

By 1960 the number of the Tatars living in California increased to 20, a further increase being anticipated through intermarriage.

The Tatars were a very small minority among the many nationalities in California. In order to preserve the traditions of their forefathers, a few individuals decided to organize the Tatar community. In April of 1960, Zahidulla Agish was elected chairman of the Nominating Committee and chaired the first meeting, which declared that the most important goals were the preservation of the cultural, ethnic and religious interests of the Tatar Community. Further, the meeting found a suitable name for the Community, elected officers, settled membership matters, and established bylaws.

On May 15th 1960, at the Odd Fellows Hall, Burlingame, the Community held its first plenary meeting. In all, the following Thirty members were present:
Zahidullah Agisheff
Ben Rogard
Rafiga Kody
Issac Akberdin
Faizurahman Bigeeff
Zaitune Zainasheff
Ilias MuhamadjanoffMurtaza Serefiddin
Talip Otus
Kelimullah Otus
Safa Akchurin
Hanife Otus
Ali Ibrahim
Mahmut Deus
Vakkas Arslan
Abdullah Azinasheff
Ayse TahirAsraf Agisheff
Fatima Serduke
Rabia Agergy
Razia Leonhardt
Ivet Bacon
Munire DiCaprio
Hanife Dashky
Rauza Rogard
Gulchera DashkyRabiga Begeeff
Shamil Akchurin
Sait Kilki
Rashid Akchurin

The Nomination Committee consisted of the following:

Zahidullah Agish
Said Kilki
Rashid Akchurin
Rabiga BigeeffRauza Rogard

It was moved and seconded:

a.) That the American Turko-Tatar Association, Incorporated be the name of the organization.
b.) That the purpose of the organization be to preserve the religion and culture of the Tatars.
c.) Those members shall be of Turko-Tatar descent. In the event of an intermarriage with another nationality, one of the members shall be of Tatar origin.
d.) That the initiation fee shall be $10.00.e.) That membership fees per year shall be as follows:

1. Head of household $12.00
2. Single Members $6.00
3. Students $3.00

The motion passed.

Elections were held at the Knights of Clumbus Hall, 217 Baldwin Avenue, San Mateo. Elected for the Board were:

President: Zahidullah AgishVice-President: Said Kilki
Secretary: Rashid Akchurin
Treasurer: Rabiga Bigeeff
Board of Directors:
Safa Akchurin
Abdullah Zainasheff
Fatih Gazizoff
Ivet Bacon
Rabiga Agergy
Rauza Rogard
The bylaws of the organization were drafted by Ben and Rauza Rogard and Said Kilki. After a prayer recited by Safa Akchurin, the members left for their homes with high hopes for the coming years.

In order to elect a slate of officers for the year, on May 17, 1960, a meeting was held in Mr. Faizurahman Bigeeff's home. the following slate was adopted:

President Zahidullah Agish
Vice-President Said Kilki
Secretary Rashid Akchurin
Treasurer: Rabiga Bigeeff
Board of Directors: Rauza Rogard
Mahmut Deus
Fatih Gazizoff
J. DiCaprio

The first meeting for the election of officers was to be held June 5, 1960. However, this day happened to fall on a religious holiday - Aid'l Kurban. After Aid prayers, the Community, 56 members in all, voted for the above slate of officers. They were sworn in; $265 was collected from new memberships for the treasury.
The first meeting of the Board took place in Said Kilki's home on June 10, 1960. For lack of a hall, later meetings were held in various members' homes. Similarly, the Tarawih prayers were held in residences. As each year passed, the need for a community center for these gatherings became greater, but lack of funds prevented the center from coming into being.

On July 10, 1960 the following committees were formed:

Membership Committee: A. Zainasheff
Finance Committee: S. Kilki
Cultural Committee: (Mrs.) R. Agergy
Entertainment Committee: (Mrs.) I. Bacon
Refreshment Committee: (Mrs.) R. RogardReligious Committee: S. Akchurin

After a long illness, our first president of the Community, Zahidullah Agish, passed away. (May God have mercy on his soul.) Upon his death, Said Kilki took over the responsibilities of the presidency. Mr. Hafiz Salich, an accountant, established a system and brought to order the bookkeeping matters of the Board. At about his time, the State Of California recognized our Community as a multi-ethnic, cultural and religious group, and as such, exempt from taxation.

The next meeting was held March 23rd, 1962 in Mr. Rashid Akchurin's home. The treasurer, Mrs. Rabiga Bigeeff, announced that a checking account had been opened in the American Turko Tatar Association's name in the amount of $930.25.

Before the establishment of the Tatar Community, the deceased were buried in any available plot of land in any cemetery. the necessity of a separate, ethnic cemetery plot for the Community launched a campaign of circulars, pamphlets and notices about the availability of a piece of land in the Cypress Lawn Cemetery in Colma. Mrs. Bigeeff and Mr. Safa Akchurin canvassed the entire Community from house to house and collected 52 pledges toward the purchase of the cemetery plots. Vakkas Arslan and Salih Yaus handled the distribution of the plots. The readying of the deceased for burial, such as Kafen and Jinaza prayers was mandated. The community signed a contract with Cypress Lawn for the purchase of 100 plots.
In order to accommodate the growing membership, the Community reevaluated its need for a center. Not only was a building necessary for meetings but also for cultural enrichment, religious lessons for the youngsters, Friday's obligatory prayers, Tarawih prayers during the month of Ramazan, and the observance of festivals. At a landmark meeting on January 27, 1966, the Board unanimously approved the purchase of a building at 1258 El Camino Real, Burlingame, at a cost not to exceed #35,000.

At an extraordinary meeting on January 30, 1966, at the home of Mushfika Utush, the following Board members were present:
Shamil Ibrahim
Ali Ibrahim
Fuad Sadri
Mushfika Utush
Asad Sezgen
Devletsha Sezgen
Talip Otus
Vakkas Arslan
The guests were Faizurahman Bigeeff, Ed Bacon, and Said Kilki.

It was decided to buy the building on El Camino Real for $30,250. The building was not suitable to the needs of the Community, so a task force on renovation was organized under the leadership of Ed Bacon. His assistants in this venture were:

Vakkas Arslan
Ali Ibrahim
Said Kilki
Shamil AkchurinMahmut Deus

To obtain a building permit and various licenses for the remodeling job, the following members volunteered:

Frank Bigeeff
Shamil IbrahimTalib Otus
Jack Leonhardt

An item was brought up from the floor:
Is it necessary to have a general vote of the Community in order to incorporate the ideas presented at the meeting of the Board?
An affirmative vote was cast in favor of not consulting the general Community on matters decided on by the Board.

On February 20, 1966 the following article appeared in the Burlingame Advance Star:

"Mosque on El Camino?

A Moslem religious and ethnic organization will present plans for an El Camino Real mosque to Burlingame planning commissioners tomorrow evening.
American Turko-Tatar Association Inc., seeks a special permit to use a home at 1258 El Camino Real for religious and educational purposes.
Shamil H. Ibrahim, President of the association, said the building would be used for weekly religious services on Fridays, and for daily evening services to be held each year during Ramadan, the Moslem month of fasting.The building would also be used for occasional religious lectures and for the Moslem equivalent of Sunday School. The Association holds an option under which it may purchase the property for $30,250.
Ibrahim said most of the 40 families who are active in the association live in or near the Burlingame area."

The majority of the Community was in favor of buying, renovating, and remodeling the building on El Camino Real. Therefore on behalf of the Community, Shamil Ibrahim submitted a petition for a remodeling permit to the California authorities. Under the supervision of the task force, those who were able, old and young, renovated the building. The women brought hot dishes for the workers from their kitchens, which made the day worthwhile. When it was evident that (but for an isolated case of help from Mr. Akchurin's friend in Japan) no outside help was forthcoming, the Community depended solely upon its own strength. A long letter explaining the need for material help from our brothers in Finland yielded no answer. The shortage of funds resulted in loss of time, yet within a year and a half from the start of the project, the building, capable of accommodating approximately 100 people, had a kitchen with dishes and utensils for the preparation of food. It also had a hall with tables and chairs, restrooms for gentlemen and ladies, and an office. The hall was decorated on either side with American and Turkish flags.

Abbas Ramazan led the prayers for many years until old age and ill health forced him to retire from his post as Imam for the Community. Upon his retirement Devletsha Sezgen took over the responsibilities of the Imam. On October 30, 1970, Mr. Devletsha passed away from a sudden illness. Upon his demise Hasan Kilki filled this important position. God grant him long life. (eventually was Abdurahim Kurmanay, then presently Abduldayyan Safa)
Religious Lessons

To bring an awareness of our dependence on God and our belief in Him and His commands is our foremost responsibility toward our children. In order to instill this reverence of God in our children, during the month of October 1964, with the help of the Parents' Committee, the foundation of a religious class was laid. Shemsiye Apakay was requested to take on the task of instructing the children in the principles of Islam. Successfully, she conducted classes until 1968 for children 6 to 12 years old. The classes were held in 22 homes, in turn, until the purchase of the building. At the present time, during religious holidays and Tarawih prayers, the children start the Salawat chant taught by Mrs. Apakay.

After a few dormant years, In March of 1973, the Islamic Center of San Francisco was requested to have their teacher instruct the Peninsula children in the Islamic Principles in the English language. A religious/cultural committee was formed of Fazil Sadri, Serpil Otus, Tahir Devletsah, and Sevket Torpis.

Until the close of the year, these lessons ran smoothly under the tutelage of Sohrab Ali Khan and Babur. The children were grouped into the primary and more advanced classes. the Committee was always ready with refreshments during a class break and saw to it that the students observed discipline. The 24th of June, 1973 saw the first graduation ceremony of the Islamic classes. The teachers' families, the Committee members and the general public were invited. Imam Hasan Kilki opened the ceremony with a short prayer. This was an unforgettable moment in the history of the Community. A speech of appreciation was read to Sohrab Ali Khan and his son Babur for giving their time to the children without compensation. The students presented the teachers with a gift and then the refreshments were served. The meeting adjourned, everyone returning to his home with hopes that the foundation laid for cultural enrichment by Shemsiye Apakay and Sohrab Ali Khan would continue and become an inherent part of Community activities.
Women's Auxiliary

The Women's Auxiliary was an important addition to the delegation of responsibilities by the Board. The proceeds from the yearly events such as Sharik Kichesi, which was held in a rented club, and rummage sales helped the Board meet its expenses. The work involved many hours of preparation for the women of the Auxiliary, such as preparation of ethnic foods for refreshments for the congregation after prayers. The first Gala Dinner Dance was held on June 22, 1062. It was well attended and a tremendous success. Subsequent yearly dinner-dances were held in rented halls. We might mention here that the first Sabantoyu (sic) was first organized on August 23, 1962and the first rummage sale on October 29, 1962.
Each year a new slate of officers was presented to the Community for its vote and elections were held in the homes of members and later, when the Community had purchased its building, in the building. The following is a chronological list of the Women's auxiliary officers.

President Rauza Rogard
Secretary Aisha Stickel
Treasurer Ivet Bacon
President Hanife Sezgen
Secretary Rahile Sadri
Treasurer Alime Deus

President Almira Priedeberg
Vice P. Ivet Bacon
Secretary Rahile Sadri
Treasurer Razia Leonhardt
President Rauza Rogard
Secretary Rukiye Gardner
Treasurer Emine Denney

President Ivet Bacon
President Reise Hakim
Secretary Almira Priedeberg
Treasurer Tassie Kilki

President Safiye Agi
Secretary Almira Stone
Treasurer Rukiye Gardner
President Anisa Zainasheff
Secretary Vesika Allen
Treasurer Raziy Muhamedcani

President Tassi Kilki
Secretary Almira StoneTreasurer Nerkis Geiling

Young People's Circle

On December 12, 1965, under the supervision of Esat Sezgen, the Yeshler Tugeregi organization was formed. The purpose of the Circle was to acquaint the youth with Turko-Tatar customs to enable them to assume the responsibility of pursuing the goals of the Community. The young people organized parties, helped the Board supervise the children's games during Sabantuy, and in many ways helped the Board with the organization of yearly events.

In 1968 the Turkish Delights' softball team was organized. The team did very well, playing against 14 San Mateo teams and taking first place in each instance. This year - 1973 - they won the second-place trophy.

The department of drama, composed entirely of amateur volunteers of the Community, presented their first play based on a novel by Kerim Nadir, called Namus Bekchisi. The two-act play was translated into the Tatar Language by Nerkis Gieling and Sufiye Sezgen. The actors who took part were Emir Otus, Tahir Devletsah, Sufiye Sezgen, and Nerkis Gieling. This play was publicized in the Turkish Cultural Journal by Talat Tekin in Turkey.

Esat Sezgen on the right
in The First Theater

In 1969 Asad Kenal's comedy The First Theater, was produced under the directorship of Rauza Rogard. It was a play depicting the life of a Tatar family of the 19th century, complete with the costumes and props of the times. It was a huge success. The actors were Esat Sezgen, Nuriye Serefiddin, Tahir Devletsah, Rustu Agi, Sufiye Sezgen, Nerkis Gieling, and Ravil Serefiddin.

These five images above from The Master and the Clerk.

In 1972, with the help of the Young People's Circle and the Women's Auxiliary, a 3-act comedy called The Master and the Clerk was presented. This was held in a rented building in the Burlingame area. On opening night the auditorium was filled to capacity, and when the last curtain fell, there was a standing ovation. For this play, ladies' costumes were sewn by the actors themselves, and the men rented the appropriate costumes, wigs and make-up to emulate the atmosphere of the 19th century. One of the lines of the play - Alimjan Bey's often repeated remark - "Yakshe soylimme, min?" (Do I speak well?) captured the audience and was echoed for many months afterwards.

The Master And The Clerk
Director - Rauza Rogard
Prompter - Reise Hakim

Alimjan (merchant) - Ibrahim Yaus
Bibisara (his wife) - Rauza Yangoras
Bibijenal (their daughter) - Nuriye Serefiddin
Sadik (bankrupt merchant) - Salih Apakay
Alim (apprentice to merchant) - Rustu Agi
Safiye (widow) - Sara Ibrahim
Fahrenisa (matchmaker) - Raziye Muhamedcani
Asma (maid) - Halide Deus

Other Cultural Events

In 1970, Shemsiye and Salih Apakay transferred the folklore and songs from available records obtained from New York and Russia onto tapes and treated the Community to an enjoyable afternoon of music at the Center. So that those present could "sing along" with the records, the words of the music were distributed. during five gatherings, approximately 150 songs were played. the elders of the Community did not miss a "concert," but the younger generation did not express an interest in this aspect of Tatar culture. The main purpose of the concerts was to give the young people a heritage of music to be remembered in years to come. In 1971, during March, April, and May a history of the Turks from the decline of the Kazan Khans was heard with the same lack of enthusiasm by the youth of the Community.

In April of 1973, the Cultural Committee planned a "Tukay" day to celebrate the 87th anniversary of the birth of the beloved poet Abdullah Tukay. Turan Kilki spoke briefly about the life of the poet; several children recited poems in Tatar, among them the following:

Ilhan Sadri "To The Birds"
Bulent Sadri "Happy Child"
Banu and Turan Otus "Child and the Butterfly"

It was decreed that henceforth "Tukay" day would be an annual event on the calendar of the Community.


The first Newsletter for the Community was published and distributed by Roger Gieling during the first part of 1973. This lively, entertaining, and interesting free communication helps keep the members abreast of local Community news and is the harbinger of events such as Bayram, parties, and meetings. It is eagerly read by all, family members translating into Tatar for those who don't read English.

The names and addresses of the members of the Community are listed in a directory that is updated each year and distributed as a service to the Community.

At a general meeting held the 15th of June 1973, a quorum having been established, the following officers were elected for the new board:

President Asad Sezgen
Vice President Rustu Agi
Secretary Roger Gieling
Treasurer Vildan Apakay
Board Members Ravil Agish
Ivet Bacon
John Leonhardt
Talip Otus

We wish the new Board success in the coming year, and to convey our appreciation to the former past presidents, officers, and the Board members for their untiring efforts in continuing the existence of our Community, and wish their families a prosperous and long life.

Author : Salih Apakay
Translated by: Anisa Zainasheff
Translation Date: January, 1976


Courses with Cyrillic Alphabet

Salih and Shemsiye Apakay have been receiving regularly two magazines from Kazan since 1966, one being entitled,"Emancipated Women" and the other "Idel". In 1988, a group visited Kazan and brought back many books written in Cyrillic and this is where the interest began to learn and read Cyrillic. "As learning and knowledge takes no holiday", this was the beginning of the Cyrillic courses conducted in the evenings by Salih Apakay to that we can appreciate and read the books in Cyrillic.

Sark Kicesi

Since 1963, Sark Kicesi has been an active social as well as fund-raising event in our community. Our 27th Annual Sark Kicesi was held in November 1991 at the State Room in South San Francisco with overwhelming success. Guests from Turkey, Canada, Finland, New York and Nevada were also present. An interesting point to consider in the history of immigrated Tatars is that Sark Kicesi was first held in 1921 in Harbin.

Religious Courses

From 1964 to 1968, the religious courses were conducted by Shemsiye Apakay and Tahir Devletsah. From 1979 to 1982, the religious courses were conducted by Tahir Devletsah. In 1986 Meryem Apakay and Mounir Kaddouri conducted the Koran alphabet and translation of the meaning of the suras. (sic)
We thank them all for their generous services and time.

Community Imam

With the passing of Imam Hasan Kilki in 1979
(May God have mercy on his soul.) , our present day Imam is Abdurrahim Kurmanay.
(and now Abduldayyan Safa)


The Directory has been active on an annual basis. According to our 1990 records, the paying membership accounted to 260 people. 1989 marks 1100 years of embracing of Islam by our ancestors, the Bulgar Turks. For this auspicious occasion, an invitation was received from the Mufti in Kazan by our community as well as the community in New York. The Burlingame A.T.T.A. elected Sait Kilki and Shemsiye Apakay as their representatives of the Burlingame A.T.T.A. to attend the function in Kazan.

Translated by Nermin Deus
March 1992

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