Sunday, June 30, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Effort to Divide Kazan Tatars Suffers Another Defeat

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 30 – Over the last decade, Russian nationalist activists and officials have sought to boost the Kryashens, a small community consisting of Russian Orthodox Tatars, as a distinct nation in order to reduce the size and influence of the Kazan Tatars who view the Kryashens -- whose name means “the baptized ones” -- as a Christian subgroup of their nation.

            But there is growing evidence that this effort is petering out – the website has ceased to be updated and the Russian Orthodox site,, which chronicled Moscow’s efforts in this regard (See, inter alia,, has dramatically reduced the number of posts about them.

            One reason for this decline is that there won’t be another census in the Russian Federation until at least 2020, and in the enumeration in 2010 only 34,882 people declared themselves to be Kryashens, far fewer than many in Moscow had expected and a figure that is microscopically small compared to the 5.5 million who declared themselves to be Tatars.

            A second reason, however, involves the underlying weakness of the argument that the Kryashens are a self-standing ethnic community, a claim made by many Kryashens and their Muscovite supporters but one undercut by the reject decisions of people who had identified as Kryashens to convert to Islam and declare themselves to be Tatars.

            The most prominent of those is Ivan Yegorov, who had been head of the Kryashen organization in Tatarstan and leader of the Ak Bars holding company.  In October 2012, he was elected to the executive committee of the World Congress of Tatars, something that would have been impossible had he insisted on his Kryashenness.

            But a new case of conversion to Islam and to the Tatars is stirring up even more controversy among the Kryashens and those in the Moscow media world who present themselves as the defenders of that group.  It involves Aleksandr Dolgov, the former Kryashen activist and current Tatar analyst and blogger.

            According to the news agency on Friday, the Kryashens are outraged by the revelation that “Dolgov while serving as president of [the Forum of Kryashen Youth] secretly accepted Islam and began to consider himself a Tatar (

   says that such anger is justified because in its words “the Kryashens are a unique Turkic ethnos, the culture and traditions of which are indivisibly connected with Orthodox which helped it over the course of many centuries to preserve its national identity,” despite Tatar efforts to treat them only as Orthodox Tatars.

            “In the post-Soviet period,” the Russian news agency continues, “the ethnocratic regime” in Kazan has devoted particular efforts to making the Kryashens into something they are not, “’a constituent part of the Tatar people,’ which always have generated among Kryashen society protests.”

            In support of that contention, which many Tatars would reject not only because Moscow did not support the Kryashen identity until the last 15 years but also because most Tatars themselves have been comfortable with the idea that one could be both Tatar and Orthodox, offers statements from various Kryashen activists about Dolgov’s perfidy.

            But what really appears to be behind the attack is an article by Dolgov himself, entitled “The Mission of the Tatars in the Islamic World of Russia is Great,” that appeared earlier last week on the portal and that advanced arguments the Russian site found highly offensive (

            In it, Dolgov says that “the Tatars are the largest people of ‘ethnic Muslims’ in Russia” but that “in recent times, there has been a tendency to artificially divide the Tatars and the Muslim umma” of that country, despite the fact that until 1917 the terms “Tatar” and “Muslim” were synonyms in Russia.

            Dolgov, now the editor of and a regular commentator for, argues that it is time “to give a new contemporary meaning to the words ‘Tatar-Muslim’” and to stress that “the Tatar world consists of those places where Tatars live … not only in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and Russia” but across the entire world.

            “The Tatars,” he continues, “were always a state forming people,” but “by the will of Allah and for objective reasons they have remained without their own state.” Now, they have the most favorable time ever to promote their national interests, and consequently, the Tatars must make sure that they clearly define those.

            A major task, he says, is to block the spread of radical Islamist ideas, which penetrated Tatarstan because of the Bolsheviks’ destruction of the pre-1917 Tatar intelligentsia and the fact that “young people there over the course of 70 years were cut off from their historical roots and fromt this Tatar Islamic theological heritage.”

            To overcome that, Dolgov adds, Tatars must work to ensure that younger members of their community will “operate on their own national-historical basis and religion.” They must understand that only Tatars can do this because no one else will succeed. And they need to ensure that the jadidist tradition is again at the center of Muslim education in Tatarstan.

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