Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Tatar Nationalism in Kazan Increasingly Regional and Pan-Turkic, Bashkir Writer Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 30 – Both moderate Tatar nationalists in the World Congress of Tatars and the Kazan Institute of History and more radical ones found in the All-Tatar Social Center, the Azatlyk Youth Movement, and the Ittifaq Party are increasingly promoting pan-Turkic ideas like the formation of an Idel-Ural republic including the lands between the Volga and the Urals.

            In a long and heavily footnoted article on the Bashkir portal, Azat Badranov says that the Kazan Tatars are increasingly looking back to the ideas of Ismail Gasprinsky (Gasprali), Gayaz Iskhaki, and other early 20th century advocates of these geopolitical ideas (

            While at one level, this article looks like an attempt to curry favor with Moscow by pointing out that intellectuals and political activists in a republic are threatening the territorial integrity of the country, at another, it is very much a plea by a Bashkir writer for Moscow to support his nation and other smaller ethnic groups lest they be absorbed by larger ones.

            Tatarstan’s turn toward pan-Turkist ideas reflects not only an act of rediscovery, he says, but also Turkey’s geopolitical strategy and the increasing presence of Turkish organizations in that Middle Volga republic: There are now 278 joint Turkish-Tatar firms in Tatarstan, Turkish investment there totals two billion US dolars, and trade turnover is running at one billion US dollars a year.

In addition, Badranov continues, since January 2013, there has been a Turkish center in the Kazan Federal University, and TURKSOY, the international Turkish cultural organization, has declared Kazan to be”the capital of the Turkic world” for 2014.

But the best evidence of the convergence of Tatar nationalist goals and Turkish ideas was provided by the October 12 commemoration of the anniversary of Ivan the Terrible’s sacking of Kazan in 1552.  This year, that meeting attracted and drew support from representatives of nationalist groups from Chuvashia, Mari El, and Bashkortostan as well as the Kazan Tatars.

Participants carried signs reading in English “Freedom for Tatarstan!” and “Freedom for Ideal-Ural!” and others reading in Tatar in Latin script “Idel-Ural will be free!” Such slogans and the use of the Latin script directed as they are against the territorial integrity of the Russian state cannot fail to cause concern, Badranov says.

On the one hand, despite Tatar efforts to the contrary, the Russian government has a law that prohibits the use of Latin script by non-Russian nations within the Russian Federation.  And on the other, all talk about Idel-Ural, a state that never existed Badranov says, serves “anti-Russian theories of a pan-Turkist trend.”

Badranov also calls attention to a calendar produced by the Azatlyk youth movement.  For 2014, it identifies the anniversary of the sacking of Kazan as a day of mourning, ignores Russia’s Victory Day, but calls for celebrating the conquest of “this or that Russian city” by foreigners.

The Bashkir scholar argues that the Tatar nationalists have a  problem because their rewriting of history contains “mutually exclusive” claims, something he suggests Moscow must counter because the ongoing “ethnicization of history is fraught with its politicization” and could lead many to conclude that Russia and Idel-Ural are moving in two very different directions.

According to Badranov, “elements of Tatar separatism basedon extremely doubtful theoretical constructions” can increasingly be seen. “It is difficult to predict,” he continues, “the extent to which Tatar nationalists will shift from words to deeds and how much support they will receive from the mass population.”

“However,” the Bashkir writer insists, “it is obvious that the population of the republic and the Tatar populationof neighboring regions ever more actively is being drawn into the framework of this propaganda and a certain part is becoming a bearer of the idea about the unity of the Turkic space,” all the more so because of the work of Tatar media.

In the event of “a social-political crisis in the Russian Federation,” such ideas “potentially are capable of assembling around themselves definite strata of the Tatar population in Tatarstan and neighboring regions,” something that would threaten both the titular nationalities of these regions and the constitutional system of the Russian Federation.

Among these groups are the Mishars, Teptyars, the Nogays, and Bashkirs, and Tatars in Perm Kray and Astrakhan, Samara,Saratov, Chelyabinsk, Omsk,  Tomsk, and Ulyanovsk oblasts, and, Badranov adds, “what is particularly important for Bashkortostan,” the situation of the so-called “’western’” Bashkirs who are linguistically especially close to the Kazan Tatars.

Unless these groups are supported and unless the ideas of Idel-Ural and other pan-Turkic ideologies are countered, he concludes, all these groups are at risk of being absorbed into a common Idel-Ural identity and ultimately into a common Turkic one, developmentsthat would destabilize the Russian Federeation.


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