Saturday, January 11, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Tatars Not Promoting Russian Flight from Middle Volga but Defenders of Russians Certainly Are

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 11 – Those who present themselves as the defenders of the Russian nation – including certain analysts, community activists, and the Russian Orthodox Church -- are doing more to promote Russian flight from Tatarstan and the Middle Volga than are the Kazan Tatars or any of the other non-Russian peoples in that strategically important region.

            In recent months, these defenders of Russians have repeatedly sought to present the Tatars as doing everything they can to push Russians out by discriminating against the Russian language, undermining the position of the Kryashens, and increasingly turning to radical Islamist groups like the Wahhabis, as they have called on Moscow to intervene.

            But while there is less than overwhelming evidence that the Tatars, unhappy as they clearly are with Moscow’s attacks on the federalism enshrined in the Russian Constitution, are promoting Russian flight, the emotional charges against the Tatars and the Tatarstan authorities by those who view themselves as defenders of Russians are having exactly that effect.

            A clear example of the Russian attacks on Tatarstan as opposed to Tatar realities is provided by a just-published 4750-word summary of a December 23rd Moscow roundtable organized by the Human Rights Center of the World Russian Popular Assembly entitled “Where the Threat to Orthodoxy in Tatarstan is Coming From” (

            That center is now headed by Roman Silantyev, a much-published writer on Russia’s Islamic community who is close to Patriarch Kirill and who has infuriated an increasing number of Muslims in the Russian Federation for his harsh criticism of the leaders of that community and their supposed protection of extremist trends in Islam.

            Father Vsevolod Chaplin,, the head of the Synodical Department for Relations Between Church and Society of the Moscow Patriarchate, opened the roundtable by saying that “we often receive frightening news from [Tatarstan],” adding that “particularly disturbing were the mass burnings of churches and murders of representatives of traditional Islam.”

            Silantyev added that  “We see that even Artem Khokhorin, the minister of internal affairs of Tatarstan, directly says that the heads of districts [in that republic] are in a union with Wahhabis” and that “the republic procurcacy recognizes the fire-bombing of churches is terrorism andnot simply vandalism.”

            He said that the work of Rais Suleymanov of the Russian Institute for Strategic Research, an investigator who has led the charge in suggesting that Tatarstan is going the way of the North Caucasus is “carefully read in Moscow” and that “it wouldn’t hurt the authorities in Tatarsstan to listen to him and to his advice because he is one of the few Tatar Muslims who defends in public ethnic Russians and Orthodoxy in the region.”

            As Suleymanov has argued, Silantyev said, inter-religious stability in Tatartan is “in last place and can be copared only with the situation in Daghetan,” the result of Kazan’s decision to forma  single Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) in 1998 and put Gusman Iskhakov, “who as it turned out later was a Wahhabi.”

            Suleymanov was followed by Dmmitry Semushin and Aleksandr Kots, two journalists who work for Moscow’s “Komsomolskaya Pravda” and who have written articles in the past extremely critical of Kazan’s policies toward ethnic Russians, Orthodoxy and the Kryashens.

             According to them, Tatars “somehow” view Wahhabism as “a form of hooliganism,” and that approach, Kots said, is destabilizing in itself.  “People” – and he means ethnic Russians” are upset on the one hand that the Wahhabis threaten them and on thee other that [republic] bureaucrats accuse them of spreading Islamophobia” when they express such concerns.

            There are now “’shariat patrols’” in some Tatar villages, Kots continued, “and rural priestss say that the Wahhabis are able to conduct their agitation without any obstacles.”  The only thing that is “saving” Tatarstan at present is “the large number of inter-ethnic and inter-religious marriages.”

            Responding to these arguments was Aleksandr Terentyev, the head of the internal policy department of the Presidential Apparatus of the President of Tatarstan.  He said that the republic had an interest in maintaining “inter-confessional concord” because that is necessary “to attract investment” and therefore Kazan was doing what it can to do so.

             Consequently, Terentyev continues, ordinary Tatars as well as Tatar officials cannot be anything but upset by “the work of certain information resources” which have suggested that Tatarstan is undergoing “’creeping Islamization’” and that the authorities themselves are complicit in this.

            He said that all too often, journalists come to Tatarstan with preconceived notions and don’t want to listen to Tatar official or to examine realities on the ground.  If they would do their jobs properly, he suggested, they would see that their words and not the Tatars were frightening ethnic Russians about their future in Tatarstan.

             In fact, he pointed out, “the demographic dynamic of ethnic Russians in Tatarsstan between [the 2002 and 2010] censuses was positive.” Moreover, the authorities are “fighting Wahhabism” rather than facilitating it, although the numbers of Wahhabis are quite small in the republic.
            There are quite a few people among the Wahhabis who are confused and “need to return to the true path,” Terentyev added. But the idea that Tatars are focused on divisions within the faith is ludicrous: “74 percent of Tatars polled in general do not have any idea aobut the various trends of Islam and simply identify as Muslims ... Only 14 percent clearly designate themelves as followers of the Hanafi rite.”

            Turning to Silantyev, the Kazan official said that “in your assessments, you have politicized the vision of the situation” with “a very large number of boogeymen. One must not live on the basis of that. The happiness of many regions consists in that they do not know about their unhappiness” as the RISI researcher presents it.

             And Vadim Kozlov, an ethnographer at the Kazan Federal University who serves as the executive director o the Kazan Inter-Regional Center of Expertise, also accused “certain media outlets” of “forming hysteria and alarmism” about recent events in Tatarstan.  “There is no basis for such attitudes,” he said.

            But Olga Artemenko, head of the Centerfor Nationality Problems of Education at the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, said that she remained very concerned that Tatarstan was in any way comparable to Daghestan given that ethnic Russians in that Middle Volga republic today constitute a far larger share of the population than Russians do in Daghestan.

            Artemenko partially excused Terentyev for his remarks: “I understand perfectly well that no everything depends on you ... and that you are dictated to from above, but I can say one thing: until the federal organs get involved in Tatarstan, there will not be any significant changes for the better there.”

            In writing up this meeting, where many others took part as well, Sergey Nikolayev added that Tatarstan President Rustem Minnikhanov “often doesn’t know what his subordinates are doing” regarding the Orthodox population, a virtual invitation to Minnikhanov to begin a purge of his own bureaucracy or face the prospect that Moscow will do it for him.

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