Islam, Christianity and the Kryashens in the “Strategy for the Development of the Tatar People”

  • Tatarstan
  • 03.Sep ‘20
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On August 29, Kazan hosted the “Milli Djiens” (“National Assembly”) of the World Congress of Tatars with the participation of the President of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov, at which the main program document is the “Strategy for the Development of the Tatar People“, which has been spoken of since 2018 as a kind of manifesto that consolidates the second largest ethnic group in Russia.

“Strategy” notes that “Islam, voluntarily adopted by the ancestors of the Tatars as the state religion in 922, played an enormous role in the unification of the nation, in the preservation and development of the language, culture and traditions.” Moreover, the developers of the “Strategy” emphasize that this is not just Islam, but the Islam of the Hanafi madhhab: “Following the moral principles and spiritual values ​​of the Hanafi madhhab contributed, among other things, to building good-neighborly relations with different peoples and religions, the successful integration of Tatars into multinational communities.

Noting the important role of Islam in “rallying the nation, in the preservation and development of language, culture and traditions,” the authors of the “Strategy” make a very provocative statement: “Historically, a part of the Tatars professes Orthodoxy.” For the first time in the main program document of the Tatar nation (as presented by its developers), the role of Orthodoxy in the life of the Tatars is noted. Moreover, this is interpreted not as something negative, but as a fait accompli with a neutral emotional connotation: “The Tatars have always treated with deep respect for a believer, and therefore a reliable person.”

However, behind the seeming neutrality and historical objectivity, there is a rather controversial issue of confessional and ethnic identity in Tatarstan.

The authors of the “Strategy”, referring to Orthodoxy, clearly mean the Kryashen – an original Turkic ethnos living in the Volga region and the Urals, the number of which is 300 thousand people (most of them live on the territory of Tatarstan). In the Tatar national discourse, the Kryashens are considered to be a sub-confessional group of Tatars as “baptized Tatars”. However, such an approach, when this ethnos in the Tatar environment is habitually called “Tatars-Kryashens”, meets a sharp rebuff among the Kryashens themselves, who are categorically against being considered part of the Tatar people, which can be seen from the population censuses of 1926, 2002 and 2010 where they were recorded by the Kryashens. The Kryashens’ striving for independence is enshrined in the “Declaration on the Self-Determination of the Kryashens as an Ethnos” adopted in 2001. The growth of national self-awareness among the Kryashens is very great, so during the 2021 census, the number of self-determined ones as Kryashens will be many times greater, which means that the number of Tatars will also decrease. That is why in Tatarstan the national elite strives to suppress as much as possible these tendencies towards isolation among the Kryashens in order to preserve the quantitative majority of the titular ethnic group.

But if the Kryashens are indifferent to the fact that Orthodoxy is mentioned in this program document, then who can rejoice at this is the Tatar Orthodox community in Moscow, functioning at the Church of St. Thomas, near st. m. Kantemirovskaya, which was founded by priest Daniil Sysoev, who was killed in 2009 (we have already written about this community in detail here). For many years, the current leader of the Orthodox Tatars, Dinara Bukharova, has been striving for recognition that the Tatars are a two-confessional ethnic group, like the Ossetians. Here she is in solidarity with those Tatars who defend the position that the Kryashens are part of the Tatar ethnos, that they are Orthodox Tatars, although the Kryashens themselves do not share this position, and they ignore Bukharova, believing that she acts just like other “Tatars”, but only from the Orthodox side.

In our opinion, the controversy surrounding the “Strategy for the Development of the Tatar People”, which took place throughout the three years before its adoption, will continue for a long time and even more forcefully. At least until the issue of ethnic and religious identification of the Kryashens is resolved.

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