Reviews

Published in very few copies and distributed from hand to hand, the present book embodies a current phenomenon of Russia’s intellectual life: the multiplication of local histories written by amateur historians and local scholars (kraevedy). Fascinated by the destiny of his homeland, the author is a privileged witness of historical change: as a country doctor who then became an entrepreneur and a local wealthy, Anvar Iskandarov has contributed towards the revitalisation of local Muslim religious life. The initiator and sponsor of the construction of two new stone mosques in his place, he has written the present book after years of research work in Moscow, Ufa, and Orenburg archives, and after carrying out testimonies from elderly villagers (including his own father). Denying the eccentric hypothesis of a prehistoric foundation of Seitov Posad, he starts his chronological narrative with the arrival in 1744 of one hundred and forty three Tatar families led by a certain Seit. The village was named Seitovskaia sloboda in Russian, or Qarghaly in Turkic after the name of the local river. Moving forward in the steppes, Russia needed a link between the Muslims of the Volga Region and those of Central Asia. With full details, the author tells the micro-history of what he himself called a “doorway to the East” (p. 19). Mixed with biographical data on the most famous inhabitants of the suburb, the author comes back on the success story of a village that reinforced Russia’s positions in the Kazakh steppes, competed with Astrakhan as centre for Russian eastern trade from the mid-eighteenth century onwards, and became a major stopping place on the road to Central Asia. Taking into account the outcomes of the 1963 archaeological expedition, the author offers unpublished and sometimes illustrated information on caravan networks and family and trade links. One of the interesting parts of the book is made of considerations on Russia’s ambiguous policy towards Islam: The suburb developed in an era ― the Southern Urals ― of fierce conversion to Christianity but became one of the most influential centres of Islamic culture in Russia. Despite the presence of biographical information, one can deplore the relative weakness of the chapter on the Soviet period, which could have contributed towards explaining why Qarghaly again became a centre of Islamic training and learning in present-day Russia, and hope that a rapid re-edition of the book will permit the realisation of a more complete version.

Xavier Le Torrivellec, French-Russian Centre for Human and Social Sciences, Moscow
CER: II-3.2.A-152