Sunday, June 19, 2022

Chuvash Muslims Promoting Expanded Version of National Identity

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 1 – A group of Chuvash Muslims is promoting a new kind of identity among their nationality, broader than the traditional Moscow-promoted one of descent from parentage but narrower and more culturally defined than the identities many Muslim neophytes adopt.

            That has led it to be attacked both by Chuvash nationalists who view them as a threat to the continued existence of the Chuvash nation and by Chuvash Muslims who reject the idea that they should be ethnically defined at all, but this stance has opened the way to the inclusion of many who “associate” themselves with the Chuvash but would not be included by the others.

            On the one hand, the group, ARGADU, represents only an attempt by the Muslim minority within the largely Orthodox Christian group to find its place among the Chuvash and the broader Idel-Ural identity. But on the other, it is intriguing as an effort to promote a subjective rather than objective basis of national identity that allows for syncretism.

            The efforts of members of the group to promote Islam, the Arabic script, and a broader Turkic identity for the Chuvash are especially important politically because they counter the drive by Moscow to split the Turkic Chuvash from the Turkic core of the Idel-Ural movement and thus represent a new attempt to unite that movement from an unexpected direction.

             The group was founded in 2016 by a group of linguists and intellectual enthusiasts. Its name, translated from Chuvash means “disruption” or “breakdown;” and its members are committed to overcoming what they see as the colonial mentality po Chuvash which has kept them from defining themselves (

            Kirill Korolkov, editor of the ARGADU portal, says that his group is “for people who associate themselves with the Chuvash people in the broad sense of the word or who for one reason or another are not indifference to its fate. Note in particular: that they are ‘associated’ and not only have a relationship to it on the basis of their ethnic origin.”

            “We assume that every individual, regardless of the percentage of Chuvash blood, the level or entire lack of his knowledge of the Chuvash language or his religion has the right to Chuvash identity, a position that has regularly involved us in controversies with Chuvash nationalists” who have a narrower view.

            As such, ARGADU says that its understanding of Chuvashness has always been “more civic than ethnic,” although unlike some who promote civic identities in other groups they remain deeply interested in and committed to maintaining Chuvash national characteristics such as language.

            Other members of the group argue that their position allows for those who identify as Chuvash in this way to interact more easily and completely with other Idel-Ural national groups and thus give the Chuvash themselves a greater chance to survive as a member of a grouping opposed to Russian imperialism.

            Viewed from this perspective, ARGADU represents both a defense mechanism and the offensive one, designed to preserve Chuvashness but open it to links with the Turkic Muslim Tatars and Bashkirs who are the largest nations of the Idel-Ural community of the Middle Volga region. 

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