Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Window on Eurasia: New Film Documents that 10 Percent of Russian Troops in World War I were Tatars

Paul Goble


            Staunton, August 26 – A new documentary film, “Unnoticed Heroes of a Not Well-Known War,” released in Moscow as part of Days of Culture of the Republic of Tatarstan, calls attention to one aspect of that conflict few know about: ten percent of the Russian subjects mobilized to fight in World War I, some 1.5 million men, were Tatars.


Of those – and they include all branches of the Tatar ethnos including the Middle Volga, Siberian, Lithuanian and Crimean – more than 100,000 of these soldiers died for their country, a contribution to victory that Russian historians have seldom noted and almost never stressed (islam-portal.ru/novosti/104/5093/).


(In addition to the Tatars, there were many other Muslim soldiers from the Caucasus, who formed part of the famed Savage Division, even though the Russian imperial authorities did not draft Central Asians and did not even involve the latter in war work until 1916 when efforts to do so sparked a revolt.)


            Among those attending the premiere of the film were Farid Mukhametshin, the head of the Tatarstan State Council, Ravil Akhmetshin, the plenipotentiary representative of Tatarstan to the Russian Federaiton, Nikolay Svanidze, the television commentator, and Robert Nigmatullin, director of the Academy of Sciences Institute of Oceanology.”


            Svanidze praised the filmmakers for their prodigious work in gathering information about something few know much about.  World War I for most Russians is an unknown territory, and the role of non-Russians in that conflict is seldom even mentioned let alone discussed.  He said that “speaking honestly, [he] did not know” about the role of the Tatars.


            And he stressed that in his view, “the film must be shown not only in Tatarstan” but throughout the Russian Federation.


            This latest example of a recovery of a suppressed past was financed by the government of the Republic of Tatarstan and is a model of what can be done.  As such, it is likely to spark interest in similar projects by other non-Russian nations, leading to productions Moscow can hardly object to but may not be able to control.


            That is because such films not only underscore just how much Russian history has been forgotten or distorted as far as the non-Russians are concerned but also show that the state that demanded their loyalty and sacrifice was quick to ignore their rights as soon as that conflict was over.



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