Staunton, October 14 – The Volga Tatars have never forgotten Ivan the Terrible’s sacking of their city in 1552 and since 1991 have marked the October anniversary of that event with meetings and marches. These events have always drawn support from and given support to the peoples of the Middle Volga region.
But this year, they have drawn support from and given support to Ukrainians and Poles who now face Russian imperial aggression. And consequently, Russian commentators are presenting these demonstrations as a concerted anti-Russian and anti-Putin action, condemning Kazan and Warsaw for allowing them and seeing them as a threat to Russia’s territorial integrity.
The Saturday meeting in Kazan featured not only the Republic of Tatarstan flag but the banners of Ukraine and the Crimean Tatars as well. As in earlier years, it included representatives of the other peoples of Idel-Ural. But the focus was clearly on the way in which Ukraine and the Crimean Tatars are suffering in much the same way the Kazan Tatars did.
Fauziya Bayramova, affectionately known as “the grandmother of Tatar nationalism” who was recently convicted on charges of inciting inter-ethnic hostility, said that the Volga Tatars because of their own history stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine and Crimea against Russian aggression (svobodu-narodam.livejournal.com/802631.html).
Participants in the commemorative meeting carried signs declaring among other things “Crimeans: the Tatars are with you,” “Free Muslims who never burned churches from jail!” “Tatars Against an Atomic Power Station,” and “By defending the position of president, we are defending our state” (regnum.ru/news/polit/1856048.html).
The other major meeting on this anniversary was in Warsaw. Organized by Nafis Kashapov who is a Volga Tatar political exile there, the event brought together Poles, Ukrainians and Tatars who celebrated resistance to Russian imperialism past and present and explicitly linked the tsarist past with the Putin present (turkist.org/2014/10/kazan-1552.html).
Kashapov for his part told the group that Moscow seeks to present “Russia as a savior and unifier of nations and peoples,” but “in fact, Russia arose as a result of horrific wars, thefts, bloody terror, forcible conversion of peoples of other confessions to Christianity, and other evil actions which have lasted more than 400 years.”
Natalya Panchenko, a Ukrainian activist, told those assembled that “today, Ukrainians are in solidarity with the Kazan Tatars because Russians did to their people what they are doing to the Ukrainians now. Therefore, we perfectly understand and support them in their struggle for freedom.”
And she added, “the Tatars are a distinct, large, eight million strong people with their own language and centuries-old culture, but because of Russia’s imperial policy, for more than 400 years, they do not have their own state.” She expressed the hope that “the empire would collapse” and the Tatars would gain their freedom.
Among the slogans on the placards at the Warsaw demonstration were “1552 – Russia’s enslavement of the Tatar people,” “The occupiers in Kazan have a monument, but when will the defenders of Kazan have theirs?” “Tatars in Russia – Eight Million who Have Not Had Their Own State for 462 years,” and “Ukrainians and Tatars are United in the Struggle for Freedom.”
Russian news agencies sought to play down the significance of all this by pointing out that neither demonstration had attracted a large number of participants. But they expressed concern that the authorities in the two cases had allowed such meetings and with regard to Kazan, said there were concerns that “the illness” of nationalism “was taking on new forms” (regnum.ru/news/polit/1856048.html).
Another Russian commentary was more alarmist. It suggested that what was happening was the start of “an orange (white) revolution in Russia,” in which Tatarstan would seek to use such meetings to power a new wave of sovereignty declarations and undermine both Russia and Vladimir Putin (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2014/10/13/udar_v_spinu_putinu/).