Friday, October 23, 2020

Moscow Increasingly Alarmed by ‘Siberian Tatar Nationalism’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 21 – The 2010 Russian census found slightly more than half a million people in Siberia who defined themselves ethnically as Tatars; but fewer than 7,000 of them identified specifically as “Siberian Tatars” and it remains uncertain how many of them view their community as a nation separate from the Tatars of Tatarstan.

            But despite their numbers, the Siberian Tatars have become increasingly active, taking the lead in challenging statues to Yermak, the conqueror of Siberia, remarkably inspired in this by the actions of Circassians who oppose analogous memorials in the North Caucasus ( and

            Now, their activism is beginning to alarm not only Russian nationalists but Russian officials, who see what the Siberian Tatars are doing as a harbinger of the rise of a Siberian independence movement and want their activities nipped in the bud before the situation gets out of hand.

            The latest indication of such official concern is a commentary posted on Facebook by historian Andrey Marchukov, the deputy head of the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs ( and

            Marchukov writes that these Tatar national activists consider that Russia (in the person of Yermak) conquered an independent Siberia (in the form of the Siberian khanate) and that this means [they have been colonized]. If someone thinks Yermak’s advance and the unification of Siberia to Russia was a seizure … this casts doubts on the integrity of the state and inter-ethnic peace.”

            Such people should be investigated by historians at the Academy of Sciences, the official says; but one commentary appended to his post suggests that their activities should instead be handed over to prosecutors for action.

            What is intriguing about this is that Moscow officials have only themselves to blame for the increasing activism by the Siberian Tatars. Until recently, the widely dispersed Tatar communities in Siberia have not had a common identity. They have identified with their locality and with the Tatars of the Middle Volga ethnically.

            But over the past decade, driven by a desire to reduce the numbers of Volga Tatars, the second largest nationality in the Russian Federation, Moscow itself has promoted Siberian Tatar identity in the hopes that Tatars in Siberia will identify as a separate nation ( and

            The central Russian government may be having some success in its pursuit of this short-term goal – but only at the cost of setting the stage for a larger failure by creating a new player in Siberian regionalism, one that is energized not just by the concerns of that enormous land but also by an intensified ethnic self-awareness.

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