Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Tengrism Experiencing a Radical Revival among Kazakhs Disappointed in Islam, Fatyanova Says

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 5 –Tengrianism is experiencing a radical revival among Russian-speaking urban elites in Kazakhstan and may now have as many as a million followers with some of them even suggesting that that ancient faith of the nomads become a state religion there, Ulyana Fatyanova says.

            Tengrism, the animist faith of nomadic peoples within the Turkic world, has long attracted attention in part because its god does not set rules but rather talks about what will happen to an individual or his descendants if he violates the universal order. (For background on this faith in Kazakhstan, see Marlene Laruelle, “Religious Revival, Nationalism and ‘the Invention of Tradition,” Central Asian Survey 26:2 (2007: 203-216.)

            But with the coming of Islam, the passing of nomadic society,  and the urbanization of the population, Tengrism appeared to many to be primarily of historical interest. But Ulyana Fatyanova, a Kazakh journalist, argues that instead of fading away, Tengrism is experiencing a revival, albeit among unexpected groups (cabar.asia/ru/kak-v-kazahstane-zhivut-tengriantsy).

            Many urban Kazakhs, she says, turn to Tengrism because it is a national religion but not Islam, a faith that has been discredited in the eyes of many in that Central Asian country because of the behavior of radicals and fundamentalists. By accepting Tengrism, they can assert their Kazakh identity without being Muslim.

            Most of those who are coming to Tengrism are urban, Russian-speaking elites, a sharp contrast with the rural, Kazakh-speaking, rural residents who had represented the only surviving Tengrism until very recently. It is thus, Fatyanova says, “the religion of the intelligentsia” rather than the faith of the people.

            The exact number of Tengrians in Kazakhstan today is unknown because the government does not keep reliable statistics and because many Tengrians are reluctant to proclaim their faith lest Muslims target them for reeducation. But scholarly estimates range from 400,000 to more than a million.

War in Ukraine Hitting Russia’s Numerically Smallest Nations Especially Hard, Berezhkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 4 – Putin’s war in Ukraine is harming the numerically smallest nations of the Russian Federation especially hard in five serious ways, according to Dmitry Berezhkov, the editor of the Russia of the Indigenous Peoples portal. And those hits have been compounded by the falsification of census data about their numbers and languages.

            First of all, he says, mobilization has fallen disproportionately on them, not because they have been targeted but because they have less information and fewer resources to resist; and deaths in combat even if small in absolute numbers are often enormous for the peoples involved (storage.googleapis.com/istories/stories/2023/01/30/narodi-na-grani-ischeznoveniya/index.html).

            If a nation of a million loses 100 men in combat, that is one thing, Berzhkov points out; but if a nation numbering a hundred or less loses even two, that can cast an enormous shadow on the demographic survival of that community, something that is happening all too often among the 47 nations of the Russian Federation who have fewer than 50,000 people each.

            Moreover, the deaths are of men who in traditional societies like those of the numerically small peoples of the North and Far East are the portions of the community that do the most to keep traditional forms of economic activity alive, forms that are the basis for the limited subsidies these nations receive.

            Second, the war has had a serious negative economic impact on peoples who live far from major cities. As the economy has worsened, businesses have cut back deliveries to smaller markets and that means that the numerically small peoples now have fewer supplies than they did only a year ago.

            Third, the exit of foreign firms has hit these peoples hard as well. When Western firms depart, standards at the remaining Russian ones invariably fall; and the employees at these firms suffer as well. Foruth, the Russian government has cut government subsidies to these peoples and thus isn’t able to compensate for the economic decline in their areas.

And fifth, Berezhkov says, the war has cut Russia’s northern peoples off from the chance to tell their stories in international forums and sometimes get help. Earlier, representatives of these peoples could tell their stories in Geneva or New York, but now they can’t; and as a result, Moscow “no longer devotes attention to international demands, letters and appeals.”

            Compounding all these problems, he continues, was the falsification of the latest Russian census. Everyone knows that its figures for national identity aren’t reliable given how many people were listed as not having a nationality. But in the case of the numerically small peoples, this falsification  has taken two forms.

            In some cases, officials boosted the number of people in some nationalities far beyond the level of plausibility lest anyone say these nations are on the edge of dying out. But in others, they reduced the number to below 50,000 so Moscow could say the 47 numerically smaller nations were doing well rather than admitting many in that category should be moved out of it.

Online Referendum Seeks to Measure Support for Possible Independence of Five Regions in Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 4 – Sometimes the fact that a question is asked is more important than any answers that are forthcoming, with the query itself sparking greater interest in the question and even possible action in support of realizing the answers to a question some may not earlier have asked themselves.

            That seems to be the case with a new online referendum concerning the possible independence of five regions within the current borders of the Russian Federation – Ingriya (the area around St. Petersburg), Koenigsberg (Kaliningrad), Kuban, Siberia and the Urals (referendum2023.site/).

            The organizers of this effort do not provide much information about themselves although they do root their effort in the UN declaration on the rights of peoples to self-determination and do promise to keep the names and IP locations of those who take part confidential lest those involved be subject to reprisals.

            Despite these assurances, it is likely that even many of those who support such regionalist efforts will not take part; but again, the response that matters most is not how many do but how many more conclude that regionalist challenges to the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation are not only possible but growing. 

Tatars and Bashkirs Must Recover Orenburg Corridor and Make Independence of Middle Volga a Reality, Gabbasov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 4 – Many in the Middle Volga believe they can never be independent because their republics are entirely surrounded by Russian territory, but “they forget” that there is only a narrow space between them as a whole and Kazakhstan, Bashkir émigré leader Ruslan Gabbasov says.

            Stalin created the Orenburg Oblast in the 1930s precisely to prevent the peoples of Idel-Ural – the Tatars, Bashkirs, Chuvash, Mordvins, Maris, and Udmurts – from becoming union republics and thus being in a position to recover their independence when the USSR fell apart, he continues (censoru.net/2023/02/05/bashkorty-i-tatary-sila-v-obedinenii.html).

            What Stalin intended as a wall can in fact be viewed as a corridor, known familiarly as the Orenburg corridor or the Kuvandyk corridor in Turkic languages; and it can be recovered for all the Idel-Ural peoples if Bashkirs and Tatars work together, the émigré Bashkir leader continues.

            According to Gabbasov, “this term was introduced” by the author of these lines in 2013, when I argued that “the appearance of a common Bashkir-Kazakh border would divide Moscow from Siberia and create the preconditions for the possible recognition of Bashkortostan and subsequently other republics of Idel-Ural” (jamestown.org/program/the-orenburg-corridor-and-the-future-of-the-middle-volga/)

            In fact, the Bashkir writer does me too much honor:. The term has been circulating for some time, although some Russian writers have picked up the arguments I made at that time and ascribed them to me (dzen.ru/media/filosof/kak-sozdannyi-stalinym-kuvandykskii-koridor-v-90e-gody-spas-rossiiu-ot-raspada-61dfec1e03267516a2997782).

            But at the same time and helping to explain Gabbasov’s appeal, there have been five developments during the intervening years that have raised the profile of the Orenburg corridor not only among the Idel-Ural peoples but also internationally both as a problem for Moscow and as a means for Kazakhstan and Ukraine to put pressure on the Russian Federation.

            First of all, the hitherto predominantly ethnic Russian Orenburg Oblast is depopulating, making its population less Russian and the potential transfer of the corridor to Bashkortostan or Kazakhstan less problematic than it would have been earlier (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2022/06/russian-census-results-reopening.html).

            Second, new research has shown that Orenburg has a much longer Turkic past than Russian scholars have wanted to admit and that it is linked to Tatarstan far more closely than even most Tatar historians have suggested (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2022/10/new-research-highlights-past-tatar.html).

            Third,  Kazakh nationalists have shown interest in recovering the Orenburg corridor for themselves in order to project Turkic influence into the middle of Russia, an interest that the government of Kazakhstan has been sufficiently concerned about to deny (fondsk.ru/news/2018/03/10/kazahskie-nacionalisty-vspomnili-ob-orenburgskom-koridore-45740.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/10/kazakhstan-has-no-official-claims.html).

            Fourth, the Ukrainian government has included the Orenburg corridor in its list of non-Russian areas within the Russian Federation that it hopes to draw in as allies against Moscow and its invasion of Ukraine (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2022/01/ukrainian-interest-in-orenburg-corridor.html).

            And fifth, Moscow’s talk about amalgamating regions has led some in the Middle Volga to argue that one of the best places for that process to begin would be the Orenburg corridor, yet another case where Russian policies have unintended consequences when they are exploited by others (idelreal.org/a/31227964.html).

            How far this will go, of course, remains to be seen; and what Moscow will do in Orenburg to try to prevent it also is unclear. But one thing is certain: the Orenburg or Kuvandyk corridor is a real danger to the survival of the Russian Federation in its current borders (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/11/orenburg-corridor-threatens-russia-more.html and  windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/04/the-kudymkar-corridor-another-problem.html).

            That some in Moscow think so is highlighted by the fact that the Russian version of Wikipedia now has a page devoted to it (cyclowiki.org/wiki/Кувандыкский_коридор; cf. ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Кувандыкский_коридор).  

Monday, February 6, 2023

Moscow Military Court Sends Muslim Publisher to Prison for 17 Years on Charges of Financing Terrorism

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 3 – A Moscow military court has sentenced Aslambek Ezhayev, who has headed the Umma publishing house for more than 20 years, to 17 years in prison after finding him guilty of sending 35 million rubles (500,000 US dollars) to groups the Russian government says are extremists and terrorists.

            Ezhayev, who has been behind bars since April 2021, denies the charges, saying that all the money transfers the authorities point to were part of his publishing work that has involved reprinting many classic Islamic titles which have been used not only by Muslim faithful but by students of Islam (zona.media/article/2023/02/03/ezhaev and kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/385536/).

            Born 60 years ago in what was then the Chechen-Ingush ASSR, Ezhayev denied the charges in his final address to the court. He also pointed out that his grandfather had been arrested and shot as an enemy of the people in 1942, that his sons had sought his rehabilitation later, and that now his own five sons will face the same task at some point in the future.

Stavropol Appeals Court Continues to Violate Rights of Ingush Seven

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 3 – A Russian appeals court in Stavropol continues to violate the rights of the Ingush Seven, the group of activists who tried to calm protests in March 2019 but were given lengthy sentences for extremism in December 2021, leaving little doubt that they will remain behind bars even if the appeals court does reduce their sentences as their supporters hope.

            Most seriously, lawyers for the Seven say, the court has blocked media representatives from attending its hearings, has given the defense access to only 14 of the more than 80 volumes of evidence from the original trial, and has only promised to allow the defendants to attend the next session on February 17 after denying them that opportunity during the first two hearings (fortanga.org/2023/02/otvod-sude-i-siloviki-na-uliczah-kak-proshla-apellyacziya-po-ingushskomu-delu/ and kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/385568/).

            Moscow clearly hopes that by dragging out this case, its illegalities will be ignored, thus reducing the possibility that the Ingush Seven case which initially attracted international attention will fade as a subject of attention and not lead to a new round of protests in Ingushetia (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2022/02/memorial-report-on-north-caucasus-leads.html).

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Half of All Putin’s Decrees Since Start of War in Ukraine have been Secret, Researchers Say

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 4 – One of the anomalies of Kremlin administrative practice is that all of Vladimir Putin’s degrees are numbered, but many of these are never released, allowing researchers to count just how many of his orders are in fact secret. Since the start of his war in Ukraine, the share of secret orders has risen to 50 percent, the Holod news portal says.

            Putin has always issued many secret decrees (zona.media/article/2022/05/05/topsecret),  but since the start of the war in Ukraine, their number has risen to 50 percent. Some of the increase reflects decree about casualty reports that are now kept secret or orders involving the military (holod.media/2023/02/04/ukazy-putina/).

            Be But it is likely, even certain, that many of the now secret decrees Putin has been issuing involve other issues, Holod says. They may be about awards to his friends or the shifting of ownership of property from one group to another, neither subject of which he or those involved want to become public knowledge.

If that is in fact the case, then the war in Ukraine is providing the opportunity to move in an ever more totalitarian direction and thus casting an ever darker shadow on Russian governance than many had thought, with the Kremlin giving orders on all kinds of things that have little or nothing to do with Ukraine.

            And such secrecy is unlikely to disappear after the conflict in Ukraine ends unless Putin departs the scene and is succeeded by someone more committed to open governance than he has been, something that unfortunately history suggests is less likely than would be good for Russian society as a whole.