Thursday, March 19, 2020

Name Change of Khakass Newspaper Reflects Bigger Political Struggle

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 14 – The most important indicators of where the Russian state is moving on nationality issues are often not grand pronouncements by Kremlin leaders but apparently small moves on what many will view issues of little importance. An example of this is the renaming of a newspaper in Khakassia, a small Turkic republic in the Russian Far East.

            Today, the oldest Khakass-language publication in the republic dropped the name it had been using since 2008 – “Khabar” – and went back to the designation, Khakas chiri (“Khakass Land”), that it had been using since 1991. (Earlier in Soviet times, it had used names like Khyzyl aal (“Red Village”) and Lenin choly (“Lenin’s Path”).

            In reporting this development, the Nazaccent portal says that “readers had not supported the last changes [in 2008] and for long years, together with the editors, had tried to return its former name, even suspending publication” on occasion (

            But then in a follow-on comment, the news agency quotes a revelatory press release by the Khakass government. That notes that “Khabar is a word borrowed from Arabic, and therefore the Khakass people did not accept it because the name of the national paper should reflect the language, culture and spirit of the indigenous people.”

            Now, the government says, the paper will continue its existence under “the beloved name of ‘The Khakass Land.”

            Two factors appear to be at work here. On the one hand, khabar is used by most Turkic languages for “news” and so eliminating this Arabo-Turkic word from common use in Khakassia would appear to reflect Moscow’s increasing desire to cut off its Turkic and Muslim populations from those broader identities.

            And on the other, there are signs that Moscow may be planning to amalgamate Khakassia with the predominantly Russian Krasnoyarsk Kray. Khakassia is more than 80 percent Russian and only 12 percent of its 500,000 people are Khakass. And this name change may be about that

If that is the case, going back to this name could represent a defense of the existing situation by republic leaders – or alternatively, it could be Moscow’s way of ensuring that other Turkic Muslim republics in the Russian Federation won’t respond to any move against Khakassia because they may now not view it as close to them as they did.

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