Staunton, Jan. 14 – Many Tatars have suggested that the 2021 census results showing a decline in the number of Tatars over the last 11 years is the result of falsification, but increasingly they are focusing on one aspect of this situation: the number of Tatars within the borders of Tatarstan actually increased by more than 78,000 and that all the losses occurred among Tatars living elsewhere.
That in turn has led some Tatar analysts and activists to focus once again on the importance of the republic for the survival of the Tatar nation and also on the ways in which the republic could do far more to help preserve the ethnic identity of Tatars living outside its borders, not just in Bashkortostan but in Russian regions and Moscow.
Ayrat Fayzrakhmanov, a historian who served as vice president of the World Forum of Tatar Youth between 2014 and 2020, says that the decline recorded by the 2021 Russian census is “of course a tragedy but it is not yet a catastrophe.” Rather it should be a wake up call for all concerned about what Kazan needs to do now (business-gazeta.ru/article/579851).
He argues that Tatars must recognize that there were four main reasons for their intercensal decline: low birthrates, the declining number of women in prime child-bearing cohorts, the assimilation of Tatars in Russian regions, and the fact that in mixed marriages outside Tatarstan, parents seldom promote Tatar identity.
Some argue that these factors point to the eventual “complete disappearance” of Tatars, Fayzrakhmanov says; but in fact, the Tatars are now threatened by that. Instead, they “will crystallize in Tatarstan,” where they will remain a nation as long as they have some control over the republic.
But Tatarstan has always depended on the large number of Tatars living outside the republic to ensure its influence in Moscow. If those Tatars disappear, then Kazan will be less able to maintain itself or even maintain the republic. And at that point, the Tatar nation would really be in trouble.
What is necessary to prevent that, the Tatar historian says, is for Kazan to assume a greater role in promoting education in Tatar and other activities which support a Tatar identity beyond the borders of the republic, not just in Bashkortostan where Kazan has been worried but in other centers of the Tatar diaspora.
If Kazan does so, the trend toward the disappearance of Tatars outside of Tatarstan will decline in size, giving Tatarstan and the Tatars a chance for a better future. He does not address how Moscow would respond to such efforts, but that is likely to be at the center of Moscow-Kazan relations in the coming years.