Staunton, September 4 – Iskander Gilyazov, the editor of the Kazan Institute of the Tatar Encyclopedia, says that Tatarstan is now under intense attack, that Tatars have not found within themselves the resources to resist, and that as a result, the probability that their republic will disappear in the coming decades is “extremely high.”
The Tatar historian gives this and other pessimistic assessments of the current state of the Tatars and Tatarstan in an interview in Tatar to the Tatar-Bashkir Service of Radio Svoboda, an interview which has been translated into Russian for the service’s IdelReal portal (azatliq.org/a/29455645.html and ).
“We are an excessively modest and subservient people,” Gilyazov says. “We live according to the principle ‘today things are like this but tomorrow we will see.’ We aren’t capable to defending out interests. All [out] qualities possibly are suitable for a major country but not for a nation.”
These ethnic shortcomings, he suggest, go far back in time to the Russian sacking of Kazan in 1552 when the Tatar nation lost its urban component and became a rural people, a change that “exerted a negative influence” on the course of development of the Tatars as a national community.
The situation began to change at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century when Tatars from the villages came into the cities and integrated themselves into broader social movements. But the numbers of such pioneers were very small and they did not achieve their goals.
“Later when a new society already was being built, when religious persecution began, a very large number of Tatars were liquidated. A major part of those who survived left the country,” where the first generation was active despite everything especially in the Far East but also in Europe. Then everything died down.
According to Gilyazov, “today there is nothing” abroad. “Why? Because Tatars who at one time consciously emigrated from their country have disappeared. There is no generation capable of continuing their work. Their children are either indifferent to the activity of their parents or have integrated into a foreign milieu.”
Meanwhile, inside Russia, Tatars and Tatarstan have been under attack and have not defended themselves as well as they might. In a decade or two, he continues, “there will be an attack on the statehood of Tatarstan. The prospect of the destruction of the republic is even possible … That depends on the Russian president.”
“I can say,” the historian continues, “that the probability of its disappearance is great.”
The number of Tatars has already fallen remarkably far and fast, farther and faster than even Gayaz Iskhaki predicted a century ago. He said Tatars would disappear in 200 years, but the Tatars themselves being clever have reduced that figure to perhaps 90. “The Tatars themselves have pursued their own disappearance.”
If things are going to change, Gilyazov says, the Tatars must place all their hopes on urban children. They must bring them up as Tatar speakers proud of their nation and prepared to defend it by all the means at their disposal, and they must avoid the mistakes of the last 25 years when Kazan failed to take such actions that were possible in cooperation with some Russians.
After 1991, he continues, “the majority of Russians were not against studying Tatar. On the contrary, very many of them wanted to study it. We ourselves are guilty for what happened. It was necessary to teach Russian children differently” rather than assume that course that work for rural Tatars would work for urban Russians.
“One must not forget,” he says, “that we live not only in Tatarstan but also in Russia. We constantly forget about this. We needed to consult with Russia. Whether you want it or not, Russia is a big state. An imperial tradition lives in the consciousness of the people and nagturally a big state strives to unity.”
We missed a chance to change that two decades ago. Now, Gilyazov argues, we must deal with the results: “Tatarstan is part of Russia; it is not an independent state.” Tatars managed to survive in Russia for 450 years; they ought to be able to work out means for surviving at least for another century.
Russia is making a fatal error in pursuing uniformity, the historian says; but that is what it is going to do. And “perhaps,” he says, “the current complicated position of the Tatars will work to their benefit,” leading to a recognition that no one is going to solve their problems for them and that they must take responsibility for themselves.
“We haven’t done this,” Gilyazov says. “A child can master three or four languages with ease by means of games. If our scholars aren’t capable of coming up with a successful method, we need to turn abroad for help.”
Tatars have “very many positive qualities,” the historian says. But they have three very negative ones – a proclivity to be envious, a tendency to be subservient, and an unwillingness to listen to the opinions of others. Unless those are tackled and overcome, he concludes, the future for the nation and the republic is bleak indeed.