This monograph is the first book offering a complete perspective on ‘Tatar’ émigré communities in the Far East ― a metonymy for the designation of Russia’s Muslim émigrés, who were predominantly originating from the Volga-Urals region ―, with particular focus on Japan and Manchuria. The author, a former Tatar journalist, has presented her Ph.D. thesis at the University of Shimane (Japan) in 2006, before disseminating her work in varied journals including Ekho vekov. The book consists of four uneven chapters: The first two introduce the method as well as the ideological profiles of the three major leaders of the community (‘Abd al-Rashid Ibrahimoff, Muhammad ‘Abd al-Hayy Qurban-‘Ali, ‘Ayyaz Ishaqi); the third deals with the structure of the diaspora under Ishaqi’s leadership; the fourth depicts with detail the life of the ‘Tatar’ communities in the region. The body of the monograph is followed by an almost complete inventory of the articles published in the journal Milli Bayraq of Mukden, and by a useful index of personal and geographic names to be found in them. The volume also contains a synoptic table of the diaspora communities examined in chapter 4. The attached DVD contains a collection of 237 good quality photographs.
A pioneering work, the book should be warmly welcomed in spite of many shortfalls and controversial assertions. Although neglected in the West, the issue of relations between Japan and the Turkic world is indeed not a new one (cf. the collection of essays recently edited by Selçuk Esenbel, and the monographic studies by Japanese historians ― like Matsunaga Akira ― and by Tatar ― sometimes non-academic ― researchers. The approach adopted by L. Usmanova is original, her ambitious goal being “to show the historical transformation of the transnational consciousness of the Türk-Tatars in Northeast Asia” (p. xiv) in the first half of the twentieth century. It relies on the Tatar émigré press (Milli Bayraq and, to a minor extent, Yanga Milli Yul), untapped archival documents and historical literature. In this sense, this work offers a lot of factual information, in particular on the life of local communities. Besides working in varied public archive collections, the author has interviewed witnesses and obtained access to private papers. Moreover, she has managed to synthesise her purpose, offering the reader a global insight on historical dynamics. Some well-written prosopographic excursus on less well-known characters (‘Abd al-Haqq Nu‘man, Shamguni Imam . . .) help us to understand the roots of some controversies in the émigré community ― dating back to the civil war or to the Tsarist period.
However, Usmanova’s monograph fails to reach the goal assigned to herself by the author in the introduction. Many approximations might have been avoided through a thorough editorial review of the original thesis. Others are due to the way the author handles evidence, and to her very conception of history writing. References to sociological categories are to be found only in the introduction and conclusion. A discussion of the notion of collective identity also misses. The author conceiving herself as an annalist more than an analyst, her book does not really endeavour to explore the transformation in the diaspora’s identities. The fourth chapter, for instance, lists every detail that may be found in Milli Bayraq, including deaths, marriages, minor music and theatre performances, banquets, and so on. Name lists might indeed have been useful for tracking the mobility of individuals. However, they would have better found their place in footnotes or appendixes, and an index would have proved useful. Despite its narrative approach, the monograph’s structure is not strictly chronological, which leads to repetitions and inaccuracies in cross-references. Such is the case, for instance, as to the “February 11  Incident,” which led to Ishaqi’s leadership of the Tatar community, with the support of Japanese authorities. Although the book is intended for a Japanese audience, biographical details would have been welcome on Japanese protagonists of the 1920s-30s, like Baron Hiranuma Kiichiro, Shioten Nobutaka, or General Matsui Iwane, or important organisations like the Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai (国際文化振興会, 57), Dai Ashia (大アシア, 97), or still the “congresses of the press” (70).
The lack of a clear-cut difference between L. Usmanova’s own assertions and the respective discourse of her varied sources casts light on her lack of method. Symptomatically, the documental corpus is not introduced, whence the historical literature listed in the bibliography shows outdated, since limited to the classics of the ‘Sovietological’ school (Bennigsen, Landau, Wimbush, Zenkovsky, Rohrlich). Documents are extensively quoted as mere illustrations of facts, seldom as a support for an examination of the protagonists’ respective views, or as instruments for in the latter’s struggle for influence. Many words and notions evoked in quotations would have deserved comment, in particular tropes like “Turkism,” “pan-Turkism,” “Turan”. Completely different literary genres ― Ishaqi’s dramas, articles from the Milli Bayraq, depositions collected by the Soviet Army at the end of WWII—are used as if they were on the same level. (A reference to Enver Paşa in OGPU documents (112) would have needed further examination before being used as evidence.) Admitting the incomplete or extremely specious character of Soviet official information, the author has often chosen to rely on the émigré press, which often gives way to oddness: Nazism is evoked German nationalism, as it was naively regarded by the Promethean Movement; Qurban-‘Ali is depicted as an avatar of evil, reflecting the Milli Bayraq’s positions, which leads to an overall underestimation of his role.
Second, L. Usmanova states that she wants to ascertain an evolution in identity but, besides neglecting to analyse in detail the actors’ discourse about themselves, she also renounces exploring the practical circumstances and administrative that could impact on these communities’ self-definitions. As historiography about censuses and nationality policies (F. Hirsch, J. Cadiot, etc.) has clearly demonstrated, self-definition strikingly depends on the classifications and labels adopted by administrative institutions. Unfortunately, the book does not discuss the respective positions of this specific diaspora in Japanese, Chinese or Manchu-quo juridical systems. Usmanova’s thesis is that Tatar communities were not assimilated by local culture, though this statement is contradicted by evidence given by the author herself (73). In many instances, she does not show interested either in connections between overall history and the vicissitudes of local communities. No reference is to be found, for example, to the failed coup d’état of February 1936, although as a result of it some of the Tatar community’s major supporters (Qurban-‘Ali’s sympathisers, in particular) were wiped out of the political scene. Particularly striking is the minor role devoted to WWII in the life of the Tatar communities and their leaders: The conflict is mentioned in passing (18, 62); its incidence on the propaganda machines is underestimated. Some assertions are not adequately supported, especially on German “pan-Turkic” policies (17) or on Qurban-‘Ali’s behaviour (101).
On the key issue of the influence of Japanese officials on the discourse and activity of Russia’s Muslim émigré community, the author’s statements are openly contradictory (ex: “The newspaper [Milli Bayraq] could not enjoy the privileges of free expression; it was not merely a mouthpiece for the Japanese (70).” Instead of underlying the common enthusiasm after the first Japanese victories in the Pacific, more attention should perhaps have been showed to relations between Russia’s Muslims of Manchuria and Japanese or Manchukuo regional authorities, in matters of building permits or schooling (51), or to the procedure that finally led to the closure of the Milli Bayraq (55). The same can be stated about the supposed “feeling of common identity,” taken for granted, between the Tatars and their Japanese hosts ― a central question to L. Usmanova’s eyes (18). Different identity tokens were mobilised by different categories of protagonists, and there were many versions of the general concept of an “Asian identity”: see for instance Genghis Khan’s heritage and its complicated conciliation with Bulghar identity (p. 155 on the Millennium Mosque in Harbin); the racial-biologist approach; the influence of linguistic theories; religious sympathy and anti-materialistic rhetoric, etc. More interest could have been showed too to references specific to the ‘Tatar’ discourse: Riza al-Din Fakhr al-Din, ‘Abd-Allah Tuqay, Yusuf Aqchura, Isma‘il Ghasprali, and the fall of the Kazan Khanate, are repeatedly evoked in articles, conferences, celebrations, but their significance in the national discourse of Russia’s Muslim diaspora communities of the Far East remains unknown.
Last, substantial shortfalls predictably derive from the strictly Tatar-centred approach adopted by L. Usmanova, notably on the highly problematic territorial concept of Idel-Ural. The usage made of this term by ‘Ayyaz Ishaqi from 1917 onwards is not really discussed. Examples quoted throughout the book demonstrate that, once conveyed through Russia’s Muslim Far-Eastern diaspora, the borders of the to-be Idel-Ural motherland became more flexible. This approach notably leads to the under-evaluation of relations with other anti-Bolshevik forces in the Far East, mainly White émigrés and Siberian regionalists like Semenov (25). Even more debatable is the author’s silence on relations between Tatar émigré leaders and their colleagues from Turkistan (45). As stated above, the term “Pan-Turkism” itself is sometimes misunderstood (40), and unsufficiently defined either as an operational tool or as a multi-layered historical concept (29). The conclusive chapter is particularly deceiving, with its hasty tackling of the issue of “Turkic” identity. In spite of these reserves, L. Usmanova’s work deserves attention for the pieces of information that it offers on Russia’s Muslim Far Eastern diaspora communities. It notably constitutes a reference book for the prosopographic details it contains abundantly.