Friday, June 29, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Merging Military Commissariats Threatens Nizhniy Tatars

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 29 – President Vladimir Putin’s drive to fold small non-Russian regions into larger and predominantly Russian oblasts and krays not surprisingly has generated fears and opposition among many non-Russians who fear that without their own political structures, they will not be able to defend their national existences.
But the combination of even smaller units such as the districts of military commissariat that oversee the draft can pose a threat to those non-Russian groups who form a local majority or significant minority in the current structures but will lose even that status if these draft districts are combined.
And in at least one case, leaders of the Tatar community in the Bol’sheboldinskiy and Gaginskiy districts have decided to protest the combination of two military commissariats into one, according to the website of the Nizhniy Novgorod Muslim community (
Earlier this year, the Russian defense ministry announced that it was uniting approximately 600 military commissariats around the country to save money. Fifty-eight of those were in Nizhniy Novgorod. And in one case, the two to be combined affected the Tatar community.
Krasnoobtyabrskiy district is the only subdivision of the oblast where the majority of the residents are Tatars. As long as it had its own military commissariat, the Tatars there felt that its officials were especially concerned about them. But now that it will be combined, they worry about whether officials will worry about them in the same way.
Gayaz Zakirov, the head of the National Cultural Autonomy of Tatars of Nizhniy Novgorod oblast, said he was “very concerned about this situation,” and he said that his organization had already sent a letter of protest to Sergei Ivanov, the first deputy chairman of the Russian government and to Nizhniy’s own governor.
Meanwhile, Damir Mukhetdinov, the administrator of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Nizhniy, said that he too is worried about this latest action. “In recent years,” he said, the oblast’s Tatars and Muslims have tried without success to get officials to pay attention to what he called “the tragic situation in places of the compact settlement of Tatars.”
In his words, “the number of villages, schools and residents is continuing to fall. The Tatars lack representation in the oblast legislature, the city Duma and other organs of power. There is not a single district which can serve as the center of the Tatars as there was in the 1920s.”
And now, the Muslim leader who comments frequently on social and political questions, said, the elimination of their own local military commissariat represents the latest threat in this long string “of measures for the liquidation of the Tatar region in Nizhniy Novgorod oblast.”
He urged the Tatars living there to make use of an upcoming July 15 regional conference on Muslim education in the Middle Volga region not only to protest what the defense ministry has done but also to demand that this decision be reversed in the name of saving this group of Tatars outside of Tatarstan.

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