Sunday, July 25, 2021

Siberian, Astrakhan and Crimean Tatars Identify First as Tatars, Ashirov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 18 – Declaring that he is a Siberian Tatar by origin, Nafigulla Ashirov, the head of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of the Asiatic Part of Russia, says that he is a Tatar “in the first instance” and that in his experience that is true of Tatars from Astrakhan and Crimea as well.

            There are forces outside the broader Tatar community who play a divide-and-rule strategy, the Muslim leader says; but there are also those within this community who fail to see they are helping this by promoting divisions, weakening the Tatar nation and even promoting its demise (

            According to Ashirov, “we Tatars can be one in our diversity – and this is our wealth” as a people. And any sense of being separate peoples is relatively new. When he studied at the Bukhara medrassah in the 1980s, he says he “swears by Allah” that he “never heard that someone identified as other than a Tatar” regardless of from which branch of the nation he was.

            Now, there are many who do; and there are even efforts to further subdivide Tatar groups. Within the Siberian branch of the Tatar nation, there are those who promote even narrower divisions to boost the interests of outsiders and of small groups of intellectuals who see this as a path to power, of being a big fish in an ever smaller pond.

            But those who do that fail to see that if they continue their work, there is a great danger that the fish, in this case, their portion of the Tatar nation, will die and that the Tatar nation will be weakened as a result.

            Ashirov says that this trend includes many in Astrakhan who are now calling themselves Nogays rather than Tatars, Christian Tatars in Tatarstan who call themselves Kryashens rather than Tatars, and even Bashkirs who in the past identified as Tatars but now are pushed by politicians and activists to call themselves Bashkirs alone. This is all dangerous and unfortunate.

            Instead of going along with this trend, the mufti says, “we must look for our commonality and think about the future of our people.” Otherwise, we will disappear one by one.

            Ashirov’s words are part of a long-standing debate that has intensified in recent months because Moscow has been promoting these divisions in advance of the upcoming census. From the center’s perspective, every group of Tatars that identifies separately from the Tatars of Tatarstan reduces the number of the second largest nation in the Russian Federation.

            Not only does that weaken Kazan relative to Moscow but also means that the smaller “Tatar” communities will quickly lose the support they have had from Tatarstan and thus be more likely to assimilate, exactly what the Russian authorities want but exactly what all Tatars should not, Ashirov says.

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