Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Chuvash Say They Want Return of Their Compatriots from Elsewhere in Russia and Abroad

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 7 – The Kremlin’s program of seeking the return of “Russian compatriots” from abroad has sparked interest among other nationalities in Russia. The most prominent of these has been the Circassians who would like to see the return of some of the five million Circassians abroad to their historic homeland in the North Caucasus.

            But now Chuvash activists have taken the next step, one that others may copy and that could fundamentally destabilize the Russian Federation. They are calling for the return of Chuvash compatriots not only from beyond the borders of Russia but also from Chuvash communities within those borders as well (

            Only about half of the 1.6 million Chuvash in the Russian Federation live in Chuvashia, the remainder are spread across many parts of the Middle Volga and further afield. In addition, there are small Chuvash communities in the former Soviet republics, numbering perhaps 50,000, and a roughly similar number beyond the borders of the former USSR.

            Were a sizeable number of Chuvash to return to Chuvashia, that would not only redress the demographic collapse of this Christian Turkic people but would also boost the share of Chuvash in the republic’s population – it is now roughly 67 percent – and create better conditions for the survival of the Chuvash language and culture.

            On Monday, the Ireklekh Society for the National-Cultural Rebirth of the Chuvash sent a letter to Mikhail Ignatyev, the head of the republic administration. Citing the existence of the Russian program for the return of compatriots, the Chuvash activists argued that the Chuvash Republic needs something analogous.

            Among the potential candidates for resettlement in Chuvashia, the Irekhlekh activists continued, are ethnic Chuvash, those who have at least one Chuvash parent, those of any nationality who speak Chuvash, and those of any nationality who were born on the territory of the republic.

            They suggested that priority be given to “those who live abroad and in regions of the Russian Federation which do not have places of compact settlement of Chuvash.” Where Chuvash do form a compact majority locally – in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and Ulyanovsk and Samara oblasts – they should be encouraged to return only after the others lest their departure put the Chuvash at risk in these places.

            The activists called for providing resettlers with land and other benefits and stress that the return of Chuvash compatriots will “promote the development of the economy and the creation of new jobs in the republic.” Such a program will not face the problem of adapting migrants because the returnees will already have a connection with the Chuvash nation.

            At the same time, the Irekhlekh organization said that a resettlement program will play a key role in “’the preservation and development of Chuvash national self-consciousness’ because beyond the borders of Chuvashia, assimilation as is well-known is proceeding at accelerated rates.”

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