Musa Mamut

* 20 February 1931, Uzundza, USSR (Ukraine)

† 28 June 1978, Besh-Terek, Donske, USSR (Ukraine)

What I did will not be left without a response.

Musa Mamut, 23 June 1978

On 23 June 1978, Musa Mamut poured petrol on himself and set fire to himself to protest against the deportation of Crimean Tatars.

Musa Mamut was born to a shepherd family in Crimea. In 1944, the large family (Musa had five brothers and two sisters) was deported to Uzbekistan where they worked on a collective farm. In exile, the family lived in poverty, and four of Musa’s siblings died of malnutrition. Musa worked in a cotton warehouse. In 1957, he completed his apprenticeship as a machinist at the agriculture vocational school and became a tractor driver on a collective farm.

It was only in September 1967 that the accusation of Crimean Tatars having collaborated with Nazis was finally dropped and that the Crimean Tatars could go back to their country. However, they faced many problems with the authorities. Musa Mamut came back to Crimea in April 1975 and bought a house in the village of Besh-Terek (Donske) near Simferopol. He did not obtain the notarial certificate of the house purchase, and therefore, he did not have a residence permit. Hence, on 23 April 1976, he was arrested, and on 13 May 1976, the local district court sentenced him to two years’ imprisonment without probation for not complying with the obligation to declare. His wife was sentenced to two years’ probation. Mamut was imprisoned in Kremenchuk in Poltava. He was released on probation after several months, and the rest of his sentence was changed to penal labour in a local refinery. He was released nine months before the end of the sentence on the basis of the court decision from 18 July 1977, and he returned to his family.   

Once again, he was not granted residency, and he was asked to leave Crimea. Musa Mamut turned repeatedly to the government authorities and to the Communist party leadership, but without success. He often talked about the tragic situation of his nation with his friends. On 20 June >1978, a new action relating to the case of not complying with the obligation to declare was launched against the couple. When the police came to his house on 23 June 1978, Musa Mamut poured petrol on himself, took matches in his hand, and went out of the house. His children and friends tried in vain to prevent him from setting himself on fire. According to Greta Uehling, an ethnologist who interviewed some of his relatives twenty years after the incident, Mamut had been preparing for this act for many months. She also thinks it might have been a suicidal attack on the policeman who came to arrest the couple. This interpretation is not, however, confirmed by the witnesses. Most probably, Musa Mamut was inspired by the act of Jan Palach known in Crimea thanks to international broadcasting. The statements he made in hospital only support this hypothesis.      

Musa Mamut suffered burns on 90 per cent of his body. He was taken to a hospital in Simferopol where he died five days later. He was conscious all along, and he repeatedly stated that he set himself on fire to protest against the deportation of Crimean Tatars from their country. He was buried in the village of Besh-Terek (Donske). The authorities tried to conceal the reasons for his act, and his protest provoked a huge response among the Crimean Tatars. The representatives of the Crimean Tatars national movement and dissidents Mustafa Dzhemilev and Reshat Dzhemilev interpreted Mamut’s death as a sacrifice to the nation. On 5 July 1978, they turned to Saudi Arabian king Khalid and on 15 August 1978 to the world with a plea for supporting Crimean Tatars. On 4 July 1978, Russian dissident Andrej Sakharov sent a letter to Leonid Brezhnev and asked him to assure the return of justice to Crimean Tatars.

In 1986, a book of documents about this case was published in New York. The book was written by Reshat Dzhemilev.

Bibliography: >>>

DZHEMILEV, Rešat (ed.): Musa Mamut. Human Torch. Collection of Documents. Crimean Foundation, New York 1986.

KAMIŃSKI, Łuskaz: První živá pochodeň ve východním bloku. Ryszard Siwiec (1909–1968), In: BLAŽEK, Petr – EICHLER, Patrik – JAREŠ, Jakub a kol: Jan Palach ´69. FF UK – ÚSTR – Togga, Praha 2009, s. 115–127.

kol. autorů: Słownik dysydentów. Czołowe postacie ruchów opozycyjnych w krajach komunisticznych w latach 1956–1989. Tom II. Karta, Warszawa 2007, s. 742–743.

UEHLING, Greta: Squatting, Self-Immolation, and the Repatriation of Crimean Tatars, In: Nationalities Papers, roč. 28, č. 2 (2000), s. 317–341.