Staunton, December 20 – A group calling itself the Moscow Tatar Orthodox-Christian Community, has joined the Kremlin’s fight to undermine Tatarstan by suggesting that “real” Tatars, that is those who practice Islam, no longer form a majority of the population there and thus should not dominate the republic.
On the one hand, this is little more than a revival of the methods some in Moscow like Valery Tishkov of the Institute of Ethnography and Anthropology earlier used to count the Kryashene, a subgroup of Tatars who have practiced Orthodoxy for several hundred years, as a separate nation in the census to reduce the number of Tatars.
But on the other, it is more dangerous not only because of existing tensions between Moscow and Kazan but because, by promoting proselytism by one “traditional” Russian religion among another “traditional” one, it threatens to destabilize not just Tatarstan but relations between Orthodoxy and Islam more generally.
Radio Liberty journalist Ramazan Alpaut points out that the Russian law enforcement agencies which normally strictly limit such activities have not taken note of this organization, a likely indication that it enjoys not just the support of the Kremlin or at least some elements of the Russian government (idelreal.org/a/pravoslavnie-tatari-neofiti-moskva/28926872.html).
The group, which appears to consist of Tatars living in Moscow, has its own website, but despite its claims to the contrary, appears to operate primary in Russian rather than Tatar (http://tatar.orthodoxy.ru/ and tatar.orthodoxy.ru/files/2017/02/Молебен-на-татарском-языке-с-подстрочным-переводом.pdf).
One of its leaders, Dinara Bukharova, says that Orthodox Tatars joined the Tatar National Autonomy in Moscow only recently because some Tatars don’t view them as Tatars. But that may have less to do with their religion than their obvious political program which is closely aligned with Moscow’s.
Andrey Kaplin, another member of the group, has expressed regret that the number of Orthodox Tatars in Russia and in Tatarstan has been seriously underestimated because Orthodox Tatars list themselves and are counted by others as Russians rather than genuine Tatars. Were it otherwise, the total number of Tatars would be far higher.
According to Kaplin, “even among the 5.5 million officially recognized Tatars, about 30 percent profess Orthodoxy;” and he insists that Tatars in Tatarstan form a majority only thanks to “the Orthodox-Tatar factor.” In fact, he says, Orthodox Christians “form a majority” in the republic, albeit an unrecognized one.
But that suggestion may be less problematic than the organization’s commitment to supporting the Kremlin’s position on Crimea, one that many Tatars do not accept, and its efforts to convert more Tatars to Orthodoxy, something “traditional” Russian religions have generally refrained from doing among one another in the past.
Worse, Lyudmila Belousov, a Kryashen leader says, the group “comes to Tatarstan and distributes literature which does not correspond to the traditions of the Kryashene or Orthodoxy in general.”