Saturday, January 28, 2023

Two Small Turkic Nations Caught Between Official View of Who They are and What They Themselves Believe

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 27 – The Karagashi and the Yurtovtsy are two small Turkic-speaking communities in Astrakhan Oblast whose languages or dialects are of Nogay origin but who have been defined by officials since Soviet times as part of the Tatar nation and who are thus listed as part of the Tatars rather than the Nogays in Russian censuses.

            As a result, the number of Tatars in Astrakhan Oblast was boosted and that of the Nogays lowered, with the 2021 census showing that there were only 9,000 Nogays and as many as 48,000 Tatars. If the Karagashi and Yurtovtsy were separated out, that would mean that the relative position of the Tatars and Nogays would change, making this a political issue.

            That matters because Nogay activists who have formed the Nogay Republic Movement argue there are “no fewer than 100,000 Nogays,” a number they reach by counting among other  7,000 to 10,000 Karagashi and 20,000 to 30,000 Yurtovtsy, figures that are likely exaggerated but explain why the census reports so many Tatars (

            If these two groups were separated out, the number of Tatars would fall dramatically, and the Nogays would likely see many of the Karagashi and Yurtovtsy reidentify as Nogays given that most of them, linguists and demographers say, see themselves as part of the Nogay linguistic community.

            And consequently what might be dismissed as a marginal issue could become central because if there were as many Nogays as the activists think and as few Tatars, it would be far more difficult for Moscow to restrain Nogay activism and prevent Astrakhan, Russia’s primary port on the Caspian, from becoming an ethnic hotbed.

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