Thursday, December 12, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Kazan Treats Christian Tatars Far Better than Moscow Treats Ethnic Russian Muslims, Comparison Shows

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 12 – In the wake of two fires at Orthodox Christian churches in Tatarstan, hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate and Russian nationalist media outlets have again taken up the cause of the Kryashene, or “baptized” Tatars, as part of Moscow’s more general claim that Tatarstan is discriminating against ethnic Russians and Orthodox Christians.

            All too often, these Moscow statements are reported straight without any checking on what are the facts on the ground or without comparing how Kazan is treating its Christian subgroup to how Moscow is treating ethnic Russian Muslims. But now a Russian blogger has offered precisely that kind of information and comparison.

            In a blog post yesterday, Harun Sidorov, himself an ethnic Russian Muslim, examines the situation of the ethnic Russians and Kryashens in Tatarstan and concludes that, Moscow’s claims notwithstanding, Kazan is treating its Christian Tatars far better than Moscow is treating those ethnic Russians who have converted to Islam (

Some Russians have complained about discrimination in Tatarstan, he says, but these are “’the professional Russians,’ a narrow handful of activists” rather than the broader community who “live peacefully in one of the most developed regions of the Russian Federation, where there are only slightly more mosques than churches, where Russian are only slightly less numerous than Tatars, and where Russian dominates everyday activity.”

Most of the Russian complaints, Sidorov points out, center on the existence of the Republic of Tatarstan itself, constitutionally mandated as a form of self-determination for the Tatar nation and controlled by “a Tatar establishment” which Russian nationalists designate with the word “’ethnocracy.’”

For the Tatars, and here Sidorov quotes one of his own earlier articles, the republic is “an historic compensation, a minimum minimorum which the Tatars have been able to keep for themselves” following the Russian conquest of their state. Moreover, its borders are distorted because they were drawn by the Soviets to reduce the share of the Tatar population within the republic and divide it from Tatars outside those lines (

Given that, the Russian Muslim says, it is hardly surprising and even “completely natural” that the Tatars want to control the republic in order to prevent “their complete assimilation.”  And that should not trouble anyone as long as the rights of everyone living there are respected.

In many parts of Russia where the ethnic Russians are predominant, Sidorov observes, “skinheads kill aliens on a daily basis, police organs regularly disrespect the human worth of migrants, people block the construction of mosques or attack them with firebomb, and the media does not stop promoting inter-ethnic hostility.”

But “there is nothing similar in Tatarstan, he points out. Any tensions in the ethnic and religious sphere which do arise are “the direct result of the interference of Moscow raiders and chauvinists who have been seeking to destroy and privatize the republic.”

Now, some Russians and especially Orthodox leaders are suggesting that the 35,000 Kryashens, “a special ethno-confessional community” which combines commitments to the Tatar language and culture and to Orthodoxy, are somehow victims of some Tatar national oppression.

            It is true, Sidorov says, that the Tatars and the Kryashens define that community differently.  The Tatars view the Kryashens as a part of the Tatar ethnos which arose as a result of the forced Russification the Tatars suffered after 1552 and especially after the reforms of Catherine the Great.

The Kryashens, in contrast, “consider themselves to be descendants of the ancient Turk-Christians who existed even before the Tatars established themselves as an ethnos on the basis of Islam.”  Some view themselves to be a full-blown nation, but all of them acknowledge their close ties with the Tatars.

But these debates about ethnogenesis are not central, what matters and what Sidorov focuses on is how Tatarstan today “officially relates to the Kryashens” as compared to how Russia “relates to ethnic Russian Muslims.”

In Tatarstan, the public organization of the Kryashens is “officially registered, recognized, funded from the republic budget, and included in the Association of Peoples of Tatarstan.  And the Kryashen organization is headed by Ivan Yegorov, a businessman who is a member of the Tatarstan State Council.

There are Kryashen national-cultural centers, Kryashen parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church, and since 2002 a Kryashen newspaper, “Tuganaylar.”  Kryashens occupy senior positions in the republic elite and even in the central Russian government. And there are Kryashen national-cultural autonomies elsewhere in Russia.

But the situation of ethnic Russian Muslims is entirely different. The government refues to recognize them, they are not allowed to establish cultural centers or parishes, they are not found in senior corporate or government positions. And they are no allowed to form national-cultural autonomies.

According to Sidorov “Russian Muslims in Russia do not have anything of this.” What do they face? “Genocide of ethnic Russian Muslims or at a minimum ethnocide, the policy of intentionally eliminating ethnic Russian Muslims as an ethno-confessional community” which today has more members than do the Kryashens of Tatarstan.

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