Accessibility links

Garip Sultan (1923-2011)

Garip Sultan (1923-2011)
Garip Sultan (1923-2011)
Garip Sultan, a wonderful person who dedicated his whole life to the Tatar people, passed away on 14th November, 2011, at the age of 88, at his home in Munich, Germany. He was one of the founders and directors of Radio "Azatlyk" (Radio Liberty's Tatar-Bashkir Service).

To the listeners of Radio Liberty in the countries that once comprised the Soviet Union, Mr. Sultan is known primarily under the pseudonym Fanis Ishimbay. His voice is still familiar to thousands of people who regularly tuned in to Tatar-language programs of Radio Liberty. As a former employee of Radio Liberty, I had a privilege and honor of working with Mr. Sultan. I grew to respect and admire him greatly for his selfless dedication to the cause of liberation of the Tatar people from Soviet/Russian colonial oppression.

Garip Sultan was born in Sterlitamak-Zirgan, in the Bashkir "Republic" of the Soviet Union as the oldest son of a career entrepreneur. During the purges of the Stalinist era his father was expropriated as a Kulak. From then on the family lived under wretched conditions. His mother died when he was twelve. After finishing high school Garip Sultan studied at the Teacher's College. There, among other subjects, he studied German. In 1941, he had to join the Red Army and in June 1942 he became a prisoner of war. After spending part of World War II as a German prisoner of war, he remained in West Germany, studying law at the universities of Hamburg and Munich with the help of a British scholarship, receiving a doctorate of law from the latter institution in 1953. Mr. Sultan joined the staff of Radio Liberty in 1953, eventually becoming chief editor of the Tatar-Bashkir Service. In 1956 he traveled to Mecca to perform hajj. The next year he moved to the USA w here he worked as a New York correspondent of Radio Liberty. While in New York, Mr. Sultan became one of the founders and the first head of the Tatar-American Association. After ten years in New York he moved back to Germany to lead the larger department of the Tatar-Bashkir Service in Munich. Under his leadership, the Tatar-Bashkir Service became one of the most successful and respected services at the Radio. During his exemplary 36-year long career at the Radio he prepared and broadcast thousands of unique programs, providing Tatars and Bashkirs in the USSR the opportunity to learn the truth about the world and about their own country. The Tatar-Bashkir Service received many letters praising the work of its employees and especially the work of Mr. Sultan. For thousands of listeners in the former USSR the Tatar language radio programs were the only source of information untainted by Communist propaganda.

I witnessed many times how seriously Mr. Sultan took his work and how deeply he cared for the content of his programs. The depth of his devotion to the Tatar people manifested itself in the following episode, which I witnessed during one of the recording sessions at Radio Liberty: While reading a poem about the plight of the Tatar people, Mr. Sultan became so overwhelmed by emotion that he suddenly stopped reading, choked by tears. The recording session had to be interrupted for a few minutes. For Mr. Sultan, each word in his radio scripts was an expression of his true feelings, not just a part of a routine writing process.

Working under Mr. Sultan''s supervision was not easy, because he was a perfectionist and a workaholic. He would personally edit everyone's scripts and make numerous corrections, even if a script was near-perfect.

Mr. Sultan was highly respected by the management of the Radio and his colleagues. I was told by some of them that Mr. Sultan was responsible for raising the professional standards of all the Turkic language services at the Radio. In the 1950's, a typical radio program of a Central Asian service consisted of nothing but plain reading. An announcer, without even introducing himself, would start reading a text, which basically would fill up the whole program. There were no musical interludes, no schedule announcements, no station identification, let alone any separation between fact, Radio Liberty editorial position, and a journalist's or interviewee's personal point of view. All of these professional innovations were initially introduced by Mr. Sultan to the Tatar-language programming. Later, the other Turkic services, which routinely looked up to and copied the Tatar-Bashkir Service, also introduced these novelties. It was not uncommon for members of other Turkic servic es to take copies of Mr. Sultan's scripts and just translate them into their own languages. Thus, Mr. Sultan's professionalism raised the quality of broadcasting of the whole Radio, not just of the members of the Tatar-Bashkir Service.

Unfortunately, Mr. Sultan's outstanding contribution to the enlightenment of the Tatar people is still under-appreciated by the leaders of the Tatar organizations in Russia and by the current leadership of Tatarstan. Many Tatar leaders simply don't understand the importance of Mr. Sultan's work for the Tatar people.

Mr. Garip Sultan is a towering figure within the Tatar emigre community. His dedicated service to the Tatar people may be compared only to that of another prominent Tatar emigre the great Tatar writer and public figure Gayaz Iskhaki.

He will be remembered as a brilliant man with a gentle spirit who touched the lives of many people inspiring them to work for the causes of democracy, freedom and liberation of Tatarstan from Soviet/Russian colonial oppression.

Sabirjan Badretdin