Monday, October 13, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Tatars Recall Russian Occupation of Kazan in 1552 Despite Threats from Officials

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 13 – Approximately 150 Tatar intellectuals commemorated the 456th anniversary of the Russian occupation of Kazan with a meeting that called for the independence of Tatarstan and the Middle Volga -- even though Russian security agencies had warned people there not to take part in the meeting.
But in an example of having your cake and eating it to, Russian commentators then argued that the small size of the demonstration proved that the Tatars were increasingly rejecting nationalist ideas and supporting Moscow instead – even though militia warnings and even the weather (pictures showed that it rained in Kazan yesterday) played a bigger role.
Yesterday’s meeting was organized by the All-Tatar Social Center (TOTs) in the center of Kazan. It began with prayers led by Imam Ildus Faizov of the city’s Bulgar Mosque, and included speakers who called for Tatarstan to gain independence as “South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Kosovo” have (
Many taking part carried the flag of Tatarstan, the so-called “flag of the struggle for independence” (a green banner featuring a world and a crescent moon), and the national flag of Mari El, the last yet another indication that the Tatar movement increasingly is involving other peoples of the Middle Volga, or as it is called in Turkic languages, Idel-Ural.
But at least a few of the participants, including some Muslim leaders, urged the meeting “not to politicize the Day of Remebrance of the Defenders of Kazan” but rather make that an occasion for recalling the ancestors of today’s Tatars and the struggles they and Tatars subsequently have faced (
Every year since Gorbachev’s time, Tatar nationalists and TOTs in particular have organized public days of remembrance on the anniversary of Ivan Grozny’s defeat of the Kazan khanate on October 12, 1552, his destruction of its intellectual elite, and his incorporation of what is now Tatarstan into Moscow’s orbit.
These demonstrations have infuriated Russian officials, and this year, Tatar activists reported, Russian law enforcement agencies sought to prevent it by warning them not to take part lest they be immediately arrested. Moreover, students at Kazan universities yesterday received text messages via cell phones saying they would be expelled if they participated.
TOTs issued a press statement saying that the Kremlin fears that the peoples of the Volga region, the Caucasus and Siberia will organize and advance demands for “recognition of the independence of their national republics based on the example of Abkhazia and South Ossetia” ( antarskii-prazdnik/#more-2281).
But Russian nationalists in Moscow were having none of this. Not only did they dismiss as absurd all the assertions in the recent declarations of Tatars about their sad fate under Russian rule (, but they pointed to the low turnout at this year’s Day of Memory in Kazan as proof positive of something more.
According to the commentators of Russkaya liniya, an Internet portal with close ties to the Russian Orthodox Church and some say the Russian security agencies, the failure of the nationalists to attract more than 150 people shows that “ever fewer Tatars believe in the false stories about Russia” the nationalist like to tell (
The small size of yesterday’s action, Russkaya liniya’s editors said, proves that “the overwhelming majority” of Tatars “do not want to be pawns “in the dirty games of Western political technologists and their home-grown toadies” – exactly the same language Soviet ideologists used 20 years ago against movements in republics that are now independent states.

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