This long article is devoted to an exploration of the entangled history of the Bashkir and Tatar nation-building projects in the larger context of the historically evolving political space of the Russian Empire, Soviet Union and contemporary Russian Federation. The central question of the article is how to interpret the contemporary situation in the titular republic of Bashkortostan. Linked to this question is the problem of whether it is possible to make sense of the present reality without strong references to the past of the region and comparison with the historical genealogy of present-day Tatarstan. The situation in Bashkortostan is characterised by the nationalising intentions of the political elite of the republic, the dissimilating and protectionist project of the Tatar minority, and the current revision of the Soviet legacy of ethno-territorial constitution by the federal government. The article employs a long-term historical perspective, from the seventh century to the present, for contextualising current dilemmas of nation-building, ethnic conflict, and federalism as they unravel in Bashkortostan. The author combines the historical and ethnographic exploration of the Bashkir identity with a critical analysis of the twentieth century invention of the Bashkir tradition in the context of Soviet ethnic essentialism and national policy. He demonstrates how the production of knowledge on territory, culture, and history was part of politics of institutionalisation and legitimisation of the Bashkir national autonomy. This analysis extends to the history of intellectual competition, telling the story of how nationalising interpretation of the past from Kazan were perceived and sometimes countered with a different nationalising interpretation coming out from Ufa. Focusing on the history of the twentieth century, the author observes that the policy of ethno-territorial federalism did not put an end to the historic conflicts nor to the diversity of social and political loyalties. It is this conflict-ridden and diverse nature of political process in Bashkortostan that provides the opportunity for the success of the overall building of civic nationalism in contemporary Russia.