Friday, August 9, 2019

Moscow Seeking to Reduce Number of Tatars while Boosting Number of Crimean Tatar in 2020 Census

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 6 – Moscow has adopted a variety of stratagems to reduce the number of Kazan Tatars, the second largest nation within the current borders of the Russian Federation. It has promoted Kryashen identity even though most Tatars and many “Kryashens” view the latter as Orthodox Christian Tatars.

            More recently, Academician Valery Tishkov has called for allowing people to declare dual nationality, a pattern that would allow census enumerators to reduce the number of Tatars if members of the latter nation declared they were of mixed Tatar-Bashkir or Tatar-Russian by simply deciding to count the one but not the other.

            At the same time, Moscow has been concerned about the rapid decline in the number of Crimean Tatars in Russian-occupied Crimea, the result of the flight of many of them from the Ukrainian peninsula as a result of Russian repression and an embarrassment the Russian authorities would like to hide.

            Now, Russian officials have come up with a tactic that addresses both of these concerns at one go, further reducing the number of Kazan Tatars while boosting the number of Crimean Tatars. Ruslan Balbek, who represents Crimea in the Duma, says too many Crimean Tatars are identifying only as Tatars and that this must change (

            Balbek says that after Crimea was annexed to the Russian Federation in 2014, the data on the ethnic composition of Crimea was “incorrect” because “many Crimean Tatars called their nationality in a shortened version ‘Tatars.’ In fact,” he continues, “the single word ‘Tatars’ refers to an independent Turkic ethnos.”

            “If an individual considers himself to be a Crimean Tatar,” the deputy says, “then his response must be only one, ‘I am a Crimean Tatar.’”  According to him, this matters because “census workers do not have the right to ask clarifying questions or explanations so as not to influence the results.” 

            According to official data, there were 11,000 Tatars in Crimea in 2001, a number which rose to 42,000 in 2014, while there were 243,000 Crimean Tatars in the first year and 229,000 in the second. Balbek says that he knows the number of Crimean Tatars in fact increased but was undercounted because some Crimean Tatars declared themselves to be Tatars.

            The deputy’s push in this regard violates the Russian Constitution which specifies that citizens of that country can declare any nationality they want or none at all, and it has very little to do with solicitude to the Crimean Tatars who continue to be repressed by the occupation authorities.

            Instead, it is transparently an effort to reduce the size of the second largest nation in the Russian Federation and to make it appear that fewer Crimean Tatars are fleeing Russian occupation than in fact is the case. 

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