Saturday, October 11, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Including the Crimean Tatars in Russia ‘Changes Russia’s Linguistic Map’ More than Moscow Plans, Daghestani Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, October 11 – Vladimir Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea has had many unintended consequences but one that may ultimately prove to be especially important is the way in which the illegal inclusion of the Crimean Tatars inside the Russian Federation has affected that country’s “linguistic map,” something likely to have political consequences as well.


            In a commentary on LiveJournal, Daghestani writer Ruslan Salahbekov points out that the language which the Crimean Tatars speak is not their alone: it is spoken by other groups as well, and collectively, they number 1.2 million people and make up the sixth largest language community in that country (


            The peoples who are part of this community do not have a common ethnicity, he points out, but their common language not only will promote the sharing of ideas among them but also mean that Moscow will have to take into greater account a language that will join Russian, Tatar, Bashkir, Chuvash, Chechen and Armenian as a “millionaire” language.


            (There are several million Ukrainian speakers in the Russian Federation, Salahbekov points out, but most of them speak Russian as well and have been counted as Russians in the census. Consequently, they do not figure in this ranking, although he suggests they should by rights be in it.)


            The language group of which the 250,000 Crimean Tatars are a member, Salahbekov continues, includes “more than 500,000 Kumyks, almost 220,000 Karachays, about 115,000 Balkars and more than 100,000 Nogays,” for a total of “approximately 1.2 million” speakers in all from Crimea in the West to Daghestan in the east.


            “This language does not have a single name,” he acknowledges; instead, it has four, depending on who is using it. “But it is one language,” and those who speak one are often closer in their linguistic practice to members of the other three than they are to subgroups within their own, and collectively, they are far more similar than to other Turkic tongues.


            “The lack of a single name for a language does not mean that there is not a single language,” as numerous examples from the Caucasus and beyond show, Salahbekov continues.  In the Caucasus, there are the various Circassian peoples who speak a common language even though they have been subdivided into individual groups.


            And in the Balkans, there is the noted case of the Serbs, Croatians and Bosnians, who though different ethnically and politically nonetheless speak a common language.  There, it is a case of “three ethnoses and one language.” With the Crimean Tatar group, it is one of “five ethnoses and one language.”


            As appreciation of this reality spreads to the five, he suggests, they will find themselves ever more closely linked, something that will promote the spread of ideas among them and quite possibly destabilize further the already complicated ethnic scene in the North Caucasus, hardly Moscow’s intention when it occupied Crimea.


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