Staunton, December 29 – When communism fell and the USSR disintegrated, many in the region and the West hoped that Turkey would play a key role in the revival of Islam across the former Soviet space lest Iran and its more radical form of Islam raced ahead and filled that ideological vacuum.
Turkish Islam was generally viewed as closest to what Russian call “traditional Islam” and thus more acceptable, except for trends within it like Gulenism, whose educational institutions in many places were closed for supposedly exporting radicalism to the post-Soviet states.
Now, Russian experts are promoting the idea that Muslims in Russia and particularly academic specialists on them should again focus more attention on the Turkic elements of Islam in Russia, an intriguing argument that could help Ankara to expand its soft power in Russia given its growing influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia.
At a conference in Kazan December 22-26 on “Islam in a Multi-Cultural World,” Russian Muslim leaders and university specialists on Islam in Russia focused on the interrelationships of Islam in Russia and the Turkic Muslim world and called for an expansion in the study of Turkish in order to better understand their faith (kpfu.ru/imoiv/islam-v-multikulturnom-mire-400298.html).
Apollinariya Avrutina, head of the Center for the Study of Contemporary Turkey and Russian-Turkish Relations at St. Petersburg State University, said that Turkic elements are a key element of Islam in Russia and that Russian specialists on Islam should learn Turkic languages and not rely on Arabic alone.
Vitaly Naumkin of the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies agreed and said that the rising generation of specialists on Islam in Russia includes many who are devoting more attention to Turkic elements and especially to the history of Tatar Muslim modernism in the 19th century.
And Vasily Kuznetsov, also of the Moscow Institute, said that many of the current problems with Islam have arisen because of its Arabic focus and that the study of Turkish and Turkic languages and sources can help to correct that. Indeed, he added, there has been much progress in this direction over the last decade.
Among the issues which are being informed by this attention to Turkic elements in Islam, Kuzentsov continued, are “problems of civilizational identity, the place of religion in social and political life, the relationship of private and general interests, the problems of gender and gender relations, and the problems of rethinking the colonial experience.”