Staunton, August 21 – For the first time in 20 years, the Turkic-language peoples assembled last week to share their common cultures; but the event became an occasion for sharp exchanges between those from Moscow who want to elevate the Russian language and a common civic Russian identity above all others and those who want to defend their nations.
The meeting was organized by Moscow and Chuvash officials with the explicit purpose of promoting cultural links among the more than 12 million people in Russia who speak closely related Turkic languages, but it rapidly became something more, an indication that the Turks of Russia, long divided by Moscow, may be uniting to defend their common culture.
And while there is a long road between expressions of anger at Moscow and of friendship among the Turkic peoples to political unity, this meeting served notice that the Russian authorities cannot count on their past divide-and-rule policies to keep these peoples and their eleven republics apart and thus easier targets for the Kremlin.
Moscow’s policies and hopes were presented by Vladimir Zorin, a prominent Russian ethnographer, who began by admitting Moscow’s nationality policy is “often criticized” for being either about festivals or the suppression of conflicts and suggesting that it must focus on “everything in between as well” (idelreal.org/a/turki-rossii-chuvashia/28688104.html).
Asked whether meetings like last weekend’s might lead to greater divisions among the peoples of Russia and particularly between large linguistic communities like the Slavic, the Finno-Ugric and Turkic peoples, Zorin insisted that was not possible: “we already from the times of the formation of the state have lived together.”
“We all together are today solving a two-in-one task: the formation of an all-Russian civic unity and the ethno-cultural development of all peoples who populate our country.” According to Zorin, “the term ‘civic Russian nation’ ‘does not in any case contradict or reduce the meaning of the nation as an ethnos.”
He added that he “very much likes the expression that Russia is a nation of nations. It objectively reflects the current moment.” But if the Moscow ethnographer likes it, many of the participants suggested that the promotion of a civic Russian nation is “the beginning of the end” of the country.
Alfinur Dibayeva from Orenburg asked “How can we all be joined together if we are different nations? I am against this. Each nation has its own traditions, its own customs, its own language. The variant ‘nation of nations’ is absolutely inappropriate. In the Russian nation, all our nations will be dissolved.”
“I am not against Russia and am not opposed to be a civic Russian. But I am against one nation. I am a Tatar and will be a Tatar. I will always represent the Tatar nation,” she said. “But how will I teach Tatar if we will all have a Russian nation? What will be the national language” in that event?
According to her, “we have lived in a fraternal fashion and will do so in the future without a civic Russian nation,” however much some people want that. Indeed, she continued, “the civic Russian nation is the very same thing that the Soviet people was: we are turning back to the past and thus may repeat the fate of the Soviet Union.” [stress supplied]
Elvira Khasanova, a Nogay from Astrakhan, said that from what she can see, Moscow is “afraid that each nation will defend its rights and its sovereignty. But why shouldn’t this be the case? Now the self-consciousness of peoples has become higher and they want to acquire sovereignty.”
What then will remain of Russia? “Only ‘the Golden ring’?”
The Nogays, she pointed out, have not been allowed to organize “their own sovereign territory. We have a Nogay autonomous district in Daghestan but it isn’t allowed to unit with the Astrakhan Nogays.” Moscow today is continuing the oppression of the Nogay people that dates to Catherine’s times.
But today, she added, “the Nogays have the resources in order to form a Nogay Republic within the Russian Federation.”