N 1, 21.08.1997


(Based on the materials of Ravil Amirkhanov. Tatarstan, N9, 1996)

Volga Tatars had been requesting permission to publish a newspaper since the year 1808, but they were not successful until almost a century later.

The rulers of the Russian Empire, following revolutionary events in 1905, were somewhat shaken by those occurances and permitted the Akhun (a Moslem scholar and cleric) of St.Petersburg Ataulla Bayazitov to finally publish a Tatar-Russian newspaper called “Nur” (“The Beam of Light”).

Bayazitov had initially applied in 1891 for permission to publish a newspaper called “Hafta” (“The Week”). Two years later he again applied to publish a newspaper called “Chishme” (“The Spring”). Although he was a recipient of many Russian high awards and honors he was still turned down.

Russia was not lacking in publications in other languages at that time. Since 1830 “The Farsi News” had been published in Persian. This was supplanted in 1832 by “The News From This Side Of The Caucasus” in Azerbaijani. The year 1870 saw the publication of “The Newspaper Of The Turkestan Area” in Russian and Uzbek. Several other newspapers written in Azerbaijani also appeared later in the Transcaucasus. In 1883 Ismail Gasprinski, a Crimean Tatar, started publishing the newspaper “Terjuman” in the common Turkic language.

Up to 1905, other than the above mentioned and a few more publications in Russia, there were periodicals written in Armenian, Georgian, Moldavian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Polish, Estonian and Finnish. These were in the languages of Christian peoples. We should also add that there were Jewish periodicals too.

Yet, despite all these other publications, why did not the highest educated nationality in Russia receive authorization to publish their own periodicals?

The problem turned out to be that the Tsarist autocracy indeed saw that a major force able to spiritually resist russification and conversion to the Orthodox faith were the Tatars. Their high level of education was pointed out by many sources. For example: “It is difficult to name a nationality in Russia amongst whom there are so many educated people as among the Kazan Tatars” (Ya. Koblov. The Confessional School of Kazan Tatars. 1916, pp 3-4.)

To justify the initial refusals of the Tatar applicants they give such reasons as: “The developement of literature and periodicals to be written in Tatar for the non-Russian people inhabiting Russia would hardly serve the aims of approachment and merging of these tribes with the Russian people; Tatars love their religion and their language more than the other people inhabiting Russia; Tatars resist merging with the Russian people the most. The developement of literature in their language might only wake up national self-consciousness among the non-Russian peoples, and moreover, wake up Tatar political dreams” (State Archive of Russian Federation, fund 16, inventory 12, case 14, page 10).

A similar reason was used for a refusal as late as 1903: “A newspaper in Tatar, satisfying the natural curiousity of Tatars and giving them all the necessary information about the life of the... society, will eliminate the necessity of learning the state language (Russian) by Tatars and it will promote national separatism rather than the cultural merging of Tatars with the Russian inhabitants” (Central State Archive of Republic of Tatarstan, fund 1, inventory 4, case 1103, page 5).

Although almost every Tatar now speaks Russian, the russifiers did not accomplish all their cherished goal of “merging”. Still, their achievement was that one and a half million Tatars do not now speak Tatar at all. Their ultimate achievement would have been to deprive another 5-6 million more Tatars of their native language.

To tell the truth, a century or two ago their “dreams” had a ruder and more sinister character. For example, in 1735 a tsarit official, I.K.Kirillov, in his memorandum on fighting Islam cynically offered to send the Bashkirs and the Mishars to military service at the border wars in Orenburg: “...Although they will be sent there not for a long time, what time they will stay there for this time their wives will be without children, and who gets killed, won't come back at all. This policy was used towards Tatars as their service in the times of the wars with Sweden, Poland and Turkey, when they were always sent before the troops to get lost” (The materials on the history of Bashkir ASSR. - M.-L., 1949, v.III, pp. 493-494).

In 1737 the Russian Senate made an edict about a poll-tax, it prescribed “take twice as much bread from Tatars and other aliens as compared to what is taken from Russians, because, as it is known, they live in rather good and fertile grain growing places, and so they can easily bear this tax.” (The Complete Set of Laws, v.IX, N72 44).

Apparently the process of eliminating 'aliens' was neither easy nor economically efficient since they payed much more taxes than the Russians themselves. Therefor the policy of russification and conversion to the Orthodox faith was considered more “reasonable”.

The government, having seen how successful were the Tatar schools organized in village mosques, decided that Russian-Tatar colleges should also be opened . The Minister of National Education, Prince Tolstoy outlined that: “The aim of educating all the aliens living in our country should be that of their russification and their merging with the Russian people” (The Agricultural Question and the Peasant Movement in Tataria in the XIX century - M.-L., 1936, pp 281-285).

E-mail: irek@moris.ru