Staunton, January 29 – “Approximately 30 percent of Tatars in Tatarstan,” some two million, are Orthodox Christians, Dinara Bukharova says; and that means that together with Orthodox Russians, there are more Orthodox Christians in Tatarstan than Muslims and so “the republic is not an Islamic region.”
Bukharova, head of the Union of Orthodox Tatars, made that comment at a Moscow conference two days ago devoted to the spread of Orthodoxy not only among traditionally Muslim indigenous groups but also among immigrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus (azatliq.org/a/30401727.html in Tatar; idelreal.org/a/30402591.html in Russian).
Her words are not unproblematic for both Russians and Tatars. For Russians, her numbers mean that in her view the Kryashens are not a separate nation as many like Academician Valery Tishkov have promoted them as a way of reducing the number of Tatars in the census but rather full-fledged members of the Tatar nation but of a different religion.
(For background on this issue, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/08/moscow-seeking-to-reduce-number-of.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/12/only-orthodox-church-can-save-kryashens.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/12/russian-orthodoxy-joins-kremlin-fight.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2013/12/window-on-eurasia-kryashens-again.html.)
And for Tatars, Bukharova’s figures represent a challenge because most of them see conversion from Islam to Orthodoxy not only as a betrayal of the traditional religious foundation of their nation but also as the injection not so much of Christianity but of Russianness into Tatar ranks and thus a threat to the nation’s survival.
In a response to Bukharova, Kharun Sidorov, a Russian Muslim publicist, has published an article entitled “An Autocephalous Tatar Church versus ‘the Russian World’” in which he discusses the ways in which he views her words and why he says they are profoundly troubling (idelreal.org/a/30403899.html reposted at credo.press/228855/).
Any criticism of Orthodox Tatars by Muslims is views as “a manifestation of double standards,” Sidorov continues, “since if we seek the right for the existence of ethnic Russian Muslims then by the very same logic we must recognize the right to existence of Orthodox Christian Tatars.”
But “our criticism regarding Orthodox Tatars consists not in the fact of their existence but in that under conditions of the factual hegemony of the Russian Orthodox Church as a result of which the authorities and the siloviki at one and the same time are giving a green light to Orthodox Tatars and turn on a red one or in the best sense a yellow one for Russian Muslims.”
“Therefore,” Sidorov says, “concretely our demands” are not about undermining the freedom of Orthodox Tatars but rather about giving the same freedom of action to ethnic Russian Muslims. And in both cases, this inevitably involves two different component parts, the religious and the ethno-national.
“From a religious point of view,” of course, the shift of a Muslim to Christianity or a Christian to Islam is “upsetting” to all those who are members of the communities suffering a loss. It could not be otherwise, “But from the ethno-national point of view, everything is much more complex.”
“Despite the negative attitude many Tatras have to the existence of the community of Kryashens or baptized Tatars … the realistic mainstream of Tatar nationalism today insists that it is better to recognize them as a specific form of Tatars than to push them beyond the limits of the ethnos.”
There is of course a difference between longtime Kryashens “and new Orthodox Tatars. And that difference consists in the orientation of the latter not only on religious but also on ethno-national proselytism.” That is because “Orthodox Tatars form among the Tatars not Tatar Orthodoxy but ‘the Russian world’” in which they promote “thoroughgoing Russification.”
“None of those who are true to the ROC is calling for creating an autocephalous Tatar Orthodox Church.” Given Moscow’s attitudes toward autocephaly in Ukraine, it is naturally laughable that anyone could imagine it would sit still for the formation of an autocephalous Orthodox church in Tatarstan, Sidorov says.
And as a result, Tatars who become Orthodox import into the Tatar nation not Orthodoxy as such but “in fact Russianness” with “the entire complex of imperial ideology which will lead to the loss of Tatar identity.”
“Crudely speaking,” the Tatar commentator says, “Russian Muslims initially proclaimed their ‘autocephaly’ even as the Kremlin tries to drive us under the ‘Tatar’ Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD). But Orthodox Tatars [don’t recognize] that Orthodoxy comes to the Tatars “not Orthodoxy as a world religion … but Orthodoxy as the religion of ‘the Russian world.’”
Thus, “if one speaks about symmetry,” Sidorov concludes, “for pragmatic Tatar nationalists to cease to view Orthodox Tatars as a Trojan horse of ‘the Russian world,’” the latter need to follow the examples of the Ukrainians and the Turks and pursue the establishment of “their own independent Tatar church.”