The historiography of the Kazan khanate is afflicted by an unusually limited body of source material. Russian-language sources addressing Muscovy’s political relations with Kazan are relatively abundant, if problematic, containing the bulk of the information about this Golden Horde successor state. Beyond epigraphy, there are only a handful of generally laconic Islamic sources. M. Khudiakov, who published his Ocherki po istorii Kazanskogo khanstva in 1923, had access to the main Russian sources, and in most respects his work remains the fundamental monograph on this topic. Rather than seeking to supplant Khudiakov’s monograph, in their volume Iskhakov and Izmailov seek to mainly focus on certain relevant historiographical issues that have emerged since the publication of Khudiakov’s work. They include seven essays in this slim volume addressing the establishment of an independent Kazan Khanate, the khanate’s territory and population, its social structure, the religious and culture in the Kazan Khanate, the khanate’s political development, and the Russian conquest of Kazan and its aftermath.
For the most part Iskhakov and Izmailov synthesise much of the existing scholarship on the Kazan khanate, and to the degree the sources permit, fill out their essays competently. However, the lack of sources results in extrapolating conclusions from skimpy sources, or even from simply their own (or others’) assumptions. A case in point is the issue of jïyïns. These were groups of Tatar villages belonging to a single jïyïn community. They and existed mainly north of the Kama River and on the west bank of the Volga, precisely the central territory occupied by the Kazan khanate. Member-villages of each jïyïn would assemble annually for a festival. Jïyïns are doubtlessly ancient social institutions, but were only documented in any detail in the nineteenth century. Izmailov, conceding the absence of evidence for the pre-Russian era, argues that jïyïns are in fact the vestiges of administrative units established during the era of the Kazan khanate. Certainly, given the lack of evidence, such a proposition is impossible to prove or disprove. Nevertheless, as it evolved into the nineteenth century, the jïyïn was above all a religious phenomenon. Similar associations of villages also existed among the Tatars’ non-Muslim neighbours, especially the Maris and Chuvash. These non-Muslims’ associations of villages gathered for local or larger scale sacrifices and pilgrimage. Indeed, the Orenburg Muslim Spiritual Assembly and local ‘ulama saw the activities of these jïyïns precisely as religious events, and their denunciations of jïyïns as “harmful innovations” are well documented. Thus, it is equally arguable that jïyïns are vestiges of religious organisations that even pre-date the Kazan Khanate. But such an objection is a minor one, and Iskhakov and Izmailov deserve credit for their willing to go out on a limb and extrapolate from the sources. Such an approach is nothing if not thought-provoking, and particularly needed for such a topic with its limited source base.