Saturday, December 21, 2013

Window on Eurasia: A Monument for Batu Khan, First Eurasian and Aleksandr Nevsky’s Friend?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 21 – Russians have traditionally viewed Batu Khan as one of the most evil enemies of their country for his role in the Mongol conquest, but ever more Russians are calling for a revision of that image and arguing that he should be celebrated instead as the first Eurasian leader and as the ally of Russia’s sainted Aleksandr Nevsky.

            Such revisionist efforts have become increasingly prominent over the last two years. (For reviews of them, see , and But now they are acquiring greater public notice thanks to a proposal by a group of Cossacks in Ryazan to erect a monument to the Mongol leader (

                ARI’s Marina Andreyeva reports this story which she says reflects the growth in regional and local identities not only in the Ryazan area but across Russia.  She spoke with Petr Skoybeda, the ataman of the Meshchersky branch of Cossacks in Ryazan, and with Andrey Datsenko, the ataman of the Ryazan Section of the Central Cossack Voiska.

            Skoybeda told her that he and many Cossacks in his group support the idea of erecting a monument to Batu Khan.  Batu was “the best friend of Aleksandr Nevsky” and in that and other capacities was not the destroyer of Russian lands as many historians say but rather “the defender not only of Ryazan land but of all the Russian land” as well. Moreover, Batu was, according to Skoybeda, “the first Cossack warrior.”

            Given all that, the local Cossack leader said, it is only fitting that a statue of Batu Khan be erected and his historical role reassessed.  “If our Aleksandr Nevsky is ‘the name of Russia,’ then let’s remember his friend” because Nevsky “was friendly not only with Batu but also with his sons!”

            No one would ever suggest that Aleksandr Nevsky was “a traitor,” so how could he have chosen traitors as his friends? Skoybeda asked rhetorically.  He then suggested that perhaps the monument should show both men, Nevsky and Batu Khan, as “a symbol of the friendship of the Russian and Tatar peoples.”

            According to Skoybeda, “Tatar” is “not a term for a nationality but rather designates all the residents of Tataria which existed earlier and which became later Unified Rus.”  Moreover,  the Cossack activist continues, “the Tatars of Batu Khan were Christians” and not Muslims as they became only later.
Ataman Datsenko was less enthusiastic about the idea of erecting a statue to the Mongol leader.  He told Andreyeva that the idea reflected the views of “only a part” of Cossack society.  Most Cossacks, like most Russians, properly view Batu Khan not as a builder and friend but as a destroyer and conqueror.
Moreover, Datsenko pointed out, there is no reason to talk about friendship between Batu Khan and Aleksandr Nevsky.  That is “no more than a historical metaphor” because “in reality,” Nevsky was a vassal, that is, a servant of Batu Khan. Their relations were thus those of a chief and a subordinate and there was no equality between them.”
For those reasons, the more senior ataman said, “there is no basis” for Batu Khan memorial.

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