Staunton, Jan. 25 – For many people, the current protests in Bashkortostan came out of nowhere, and so they were inclined to see them as an anomaly that would have no long-term effects. But Dmitry Levchik says that in fact, “the Bashkirs were the most rebellious people of the Russian Empire” even though in many respects, they were “almost Cossacks.”
The Moscow historian who specializes on the ways in which non-Russians were added to and treated by the Russian Empire says that the history of the interrelationship of the Bashkirs and the Russian state shows that some Bashkirs cooperated and others resisted and then revolted (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=65B4E4E186BC8).
After the collapse of the Golden Horde in the 15th century, Levchik writes, the tsarist regime treated the Bashkirs “almost as Cossacks” because it saw them as the key to guarding its fur trade with Siberia and later as ensuring that St. Petersburg would have a base to advance into Central Asia toward India.
To ensure Bashkir loyalty, the tsarist regime used both carrots and sticks; and in this situation, some Bashkirs were quite prepared to work with the tsarist authorities while others, whenever they sensed weakness were ready and willing to rise in revolt, something they did from the 17th through the 19th centuries.
The Russian state responded with both repression and concessions, sending punitive expeditions to put down the largest of these revolts, many of which it had provoked by its own aggressive and repressive politics, and then making concessions, including ending the forced Christianization of Bashkirs and the establishment of a recognized Muslim hierarchy.
That pattern, Levchik suggests, has continued to this day, and it explains both why the Bashkirs appear far more integrated in the Russian system than the Tatars but also why the Bashkirs have been ready to protest and even revolt against that system whenever it goes too far or appears to have weakened.