Reviews

See also: Cwiklinsky Sebastian, “Tatarizm vs. Bulgarizm: ‘pervyi spor’ v tatarskoi istoriografii [Tatarism vs. Bulgharism: The ‘First Debate’ in Tatar Historiography],” Ab Imperio 2003/3: 361-92; van Meurs Wim, “Tatar Textbooks: The Next Matrioshka,” ibid.: 407-20; Giliiazov Iskander, “Iz opyta prepodavaniia natsional’noi istorii: istoriia tatarskogo naroda v Kazanskom universitete – vchera i segodnia [On the Experience of Teaching National History: Teaching the History of the Tatar People, Yesterday and Today],” Ab Imperio 2000/3-4: 359-66.

These four articles examine various aspects of the development of the historiography of the Tatar people.  The authors’ focus comprises generally academic historiography during the entire course of the twentieth century.  Similarly, they address primarily Tatar “national” historiography; that is, narratives examining the Tatars as an ethno-national phenomenon.  Indeed the topic of Tatar national identity and its documentation in narrative histories is a topic of seemingly inexhaustible interest both within Tatarstan outside of it, and a vast literature on this topic has emerged since Perestroika, and continues to be produced.  In this regard these four articles provide a good overview on these themes, and also constitute a good example of both the thematic breadth and analytic restrictiveness of the topic.

The Kazan historian Diliara Usmanova’s essay provides a critical evaluation of the evolution of Tatar ethno-national historiography beginning with the legacy of Shihab ad-Din Marjani, through the twentieth century to the present.  The article is well-written and incisive.  Usmanova quite convincingly argues that the roots of secular Tatar historiography as it emerged in the first decades of the twentieth century are to be found in the indigenous Islamic scholarly milieu, and not in Russian official, academic or ecclesiastical circles.  She explains this fact by the paucity of secular institutions among the Tatars, although we might point out that in fact a regional sacred Islamic historiography was already well developed among the Tatars by the end of the nineteenth century, and the emergence of this secular historiography was in part a rationalist response to this sacred historiography. Indeed, the “secular” historians were by no means unified in their critiques and defences of the older sacred traditions and the intensity of the debates are partially a result of the popularity and enduring quality within the Muslim community of these older forms of self-definition.  However Usmanova’s focus is above all the articulation of Tatar national identity through Tatar historiography.  She reminds us that during the first decades of the twentieth century debates concerning identity were rather politicised, and therefore historical debates were more represented in Tatar newspapers, periodicals, and pamphlets than in narrative histories.  For the period up to 1917 Usmanova examines the pamphlets Millat wa Milliyat (1914) by Zeki Validi Togan and Millatchilikning ba‘zi esasalari (1917) by Gaziz Gubaidullin.  The suppression of the Tatars’ “pre-national” identity and its replacement by a national one characterise the views in these pamphlets, and the works are naturally deeply politicised.  At the same time, she demonstrates that for all these historians’ certainty regarding national identity, in 1917 here was still no agreement in nationalist circles on an appropriate ethnic name for the “Tatars.”  In that year the National Council in July 1917 settled on the compromise term “Turko-Tatars.”

Usmanova only briefly discusses debates during the Soviet period, suggesting quite reasonably that any discussion on historiographical debates during that era is contingent first of all on a detailed evaluation of the Soviet ideological system that was the motive ideological force in scholarly life at that time.  The last part of her essay examines historiographic debates of the 1990s, particularly the Bulghar-Tatar debate and its political ramifications both in Tatarstan and in Russia.  However, Usmanova also defines a series of more difficult problems facing Tatar historiography, specifically the tension between a history of the Tatars that comprised the community as a whole, only one quarter of which inhabits the territory of Tatarstan.  The other problem is how to define the history of Tatarstan, or rather, how to include the history of the non-Tatars who make up half of the republic’s population.  The result is that academic institutions in Tatarstan are writing two types of histories: on the one hand ethno-national histories of the Tatar people, and histories of Tatar statehood, in which the modern republic of Tatarstan can be included.

Sebastian Cwiklinski’s article examines the “Bulghar-Tatar controversy” that emerged in Tatarstan around 1998, and is useful broad synthesis of the issue.  In fact, what Cwiklinski describes is the Neo-Bulghar-Tatar controversy, whose roots are to be found in the development of sacred Islamic historiography that emerged at the end of the eighteenth century.  The author’s heavily footnoted articled is in fact a synthesis of the extensive secondary and tertiary literature on the subject.  The author concludes his article with an examination of the controversy’s political dimensions, focusing particularly on the impact of the controversy on Tatarstan’s academic institutions.

Wim van Meurs’ article is devoted to an examination of four official Tatar school textbooks published in Kazan between 1999 and 2001.  He argues that as in much of the former Soviet Union, in Tatarstan the “new” historiography in the textbooks in fact display minor conceptual and theoretical differences compared with earlier, primarily Soviet, textbooks.  Van Meurs demonstrates quite effectively how the textbooks present varying views on the history of the Tatars before 1917, particularly diverging on issues of Tatar state-formation.  At the same time, the texts are surprisingly consistent in depicting the history of Tatarstan during the Soviet and post-Soviet eras.  The author describes what he sees as a degree of dissonance in the Tatar textbooks.  To varying degrees they depict the glorious past of “Tatar” states such as Volga Bulgharia, the Golden Horde and the Kazan Khanate.  At the same time they emphasize the contribution of Tatars to the Soviet Union and Russia, particularly the Russian Federation.  Van Meurs views this “dissonance” with a degree of surprise, but also characterises it as typical of post-Soviet historiography and in keeping with his matrioshka metaphor, according to which the “new” textbooks were in fact mainly a variation on an existing model.  Here it is perhaps worthwhile consider that for most Tatars, whether citizens of the Soviet Union or the Russian Federation, it was essential that citizenship comprised both an ethnic component and a civic identity.  During the Soviet period, despite historiographical debates in Kazan, this model was for the most part endorsed by the Soviet authorities, and worked well for most Tatars, three-fourths of whom resided outside of the Tatarstan.  It should come to no surprise therefore that Tatarstani textbooks should seek to define both their republic and Russia as a whole as a multi-ethnic state, emphasizing Tatar patriotism toward Russia and the Soviet Union.  This has perhaps become more relevant for Tatars since 1999, than, say, the historical legacy of the Golden Horde.  In fact, the tension between Russian citizenship and Tatar ethnic affiliation is certainly a feature that makes Tatar history particularly compelling, and in one sense the negotiation of that tension is a major leitmotif in Tatar history, and also demonstrates the Tatars attempts to define “the Russian people,” or “the people of Russia,”  multi-ethnic.  In this regard Tatar Islamic sources are particularly instructive, since already in the nineteenth century Muslim scholars such as ‘Ali Choqori succeeded in linking a regional “Bulghar” identity with local patriotism and loyalty to the Romanov dynasty.  Currently Tatar religious scholars, such as the mufti Ravil’ Ghainetdin, also emphasize the national patriotism of Russia’s Muslim community.

The last article consists of a somewhat polemical essay by the Kazan historian Iskander Giliazov in which he characterises the history of teaching Tatar history at Kazan University.  He outlines in general terms the well-known problems facing Tatar historiography during the Soviet era, including the fact that the Soviet academic framework somewhat restricted the study of Tatar history in Kazan to the borders of the Tatar ASSR.  Giliazov sees as a key even in the teaching of Tatar history the founding in 1989 of the Department of Tatar History at Kazan University, and allowed a broader approach to Tatar history, permitting the inclusion of all Tatar communities within the then-USSR.  He particularly praises the work of the historians Iskander Izmailov and Damir Iskhakov, and levies sharp criticism against Neo-Bulgharist historians.

Allen J. Frank, Takoma Park, MD
CER: I-1.2.C-95