Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Sunday Schools, Summer Camps Help Moscow’s Tajiks Integrate

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 11 – The Tajiks of Moscow have established special Sunday schools and summer camps to help younger members of that community learn more about their own nationality and adapt better to other ethnic communities and officials in the Russian capital.
T.S. Kalandarov, a doctoral student at the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, has been studying this effort, and in articles posted on the and Peoples of Russia websites, he provides a remarkable glimpse of what the Tajiks in Moscow are doing (
The number of Tajiks in Moscow is a matter of dispute. The 2002 Russian Federation census listed 35,385, but their actual number in the Russian capital, both legal and illegal, is perhaps several times that, especially if residents of Moscow oblast as well as Moscow city are included.
If the exact size of that community is uncertain, Kalandarov notes, its main organization is anything but. Known as the Tajik Diaspora Organization Nur, it was officially registered with the authorities in 1999 and has been “actively involved” in training “those arriving from Tajikistan and the children of [earlier] migrants” ever since.
Nur has set up Sunday school programs for children aged 8 to 16 and for young people aged 17 to 25. These groups regularly attract up to 100 young Tajiks each week, the Moscow ethnographer said, with those attending learning not only about their own culture but about the sometimes tense culture of inter-ethnic relations in Moscow.
The teachers are mostly Tajiks studying at Moscow’s higher educational institutions, and they give the lessons in Russian. That is because many young Tajiks in Moscow do not know any other language and because some Tajiks from the Pamir region do not speak standard Tajik.
One of the biggest challenges for young Tajiks in Moscow, Kalandarov reports, is their lack of ethnic Russian friends. Many of the Tajiks have been unable to find “a common language” with Russians even if they both speak the language of the dominant nationality.
The Sunday schools thus provide an important support mechanism for young Tajiks, giving them a chance to make friends and keep in touch with others from their homeland even as the instructors seek to promote their adaptation to the larger Russian society.
Because of the nature of these classes – similar to the weekend schools common in other immigrant societies -- the Tajik Sunday schools may ultimately play a very different linguistic, cultural and even political role for the Tajik community in the Russian capital than Kalandarov and Russian officials may assume or want.
In addition to these weekly classes, the Nur Organization has set up a two-week long camp every summer since 2004. At these sessions too, Kalandarov says, the stress is on “preserving one’s own national and cultural identity” as well as on “acclimatizing” to an ethnically and religiously different broader community.
Kalandarov is clearly quite taken with this effort, but he ends his article on a note of concern: such activities, he says, will not be able to “correct the situation with inter-ethnic relations in the Moscow megalopolis.” For that to happen, the Russian government will have to intervene, and at least some elements of Russian society will have to change.

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