Staunton, Feb. 8 – Under the Soviets, the peoples of Central Asia drew on an ancient tradition of dastans, oral epic poems about heroes who fought invaders and occupiers, to promote and solidify their national identities. (On this phenomenon, see H.P. Paksoy’s “Dastan Genre in Central Asia” (vlib.iue.it/carrie/texts/carrie_books/paksoy-6/cae05.html.)
Now, the Tatars of the Middle Volga are doing the same thing, with the World Congress of Tatars having declared 2023 the year of the dastan for that nation and recruiting some of the most prominent Tatar intellectuals to push the idea (tatar-inform.ru/news/vsemirnyi-kongress-tatar-obyavil-god-dastanov-5892497).
The idea is important in its own right because of the ways such stories can solidify national identity, but it is also part of a more general trend among the Tatars which recognizes that the defense of folklore is every bit as important as the defense of language if the nation is to survive under conditions of repression.
Gennady Makarov, an instructor at the Kazan State Conservatory, makes that point by insisting that folklore of all kinds is “the key to the national code of any people” and that activists must promote such things because of what he describes as a breakdown in the traditional ways folklore is handed down (tatar-inform.ru/news/etnomuzykoved-niti-mezdu-pokoleniyami-nacionalnogo-iskusstva-obryvayutsya-i-lomayutsya-5894901
He focuses on music and especially traditional Tatar musical instruments to make his point, saying that many Tatars are interested in such things but now face a serious problem: they can’t get such instruments at all or can purchase them only at specialty shops not in the republic but in Moscow.
That must change along with the revival of the dastans unique to Tatarstan if its culture and titular nation are to flourish, Makarov concludes.