This study is a collection of essays devoted to the ethnic and political history of the Siberian Tatars, primarily in the period before the Russian conquest. Most of the volume consists of reprints of articles and conference papers published between 1999 and 2004 in Kazan and Tiumen, as well as a selection of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Russian archival documents. The reprinted articles are divided into two main sections. The first section addresses the ethnic and ethno-political history of the Siberian Tatars. In this section (pp. 10-76), we find five essays discussing methodological issues surrounding the establishment of the Siberian Tatar “ethnic commonality (etnicheskaia obshchnost’),” of the ethnic commonality of the Volga-Ural and Siberian Tatars during the Bulghar and Golden Horde eras, an introduction to the ethno-political history of the Siberian Tatars, and two essays on the ethnic history of the region, focusing on ethnic connections between Siberian Tatars and related groups on the eastern Ural Mountains. The last essay in this section looks at Turkic-Samoyed connections in the eastern Kama region.
The second section (pp. 78-124) contains six essays addressing specific historical issues. These include essays on the process of Islamicisation in Siberia, the ethno-political history of the Siberian Tatars in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the clan affiliation of the Taybughid dynasty, ethnic ties between the Turkic peoples of the Volga-Ural region and Siberia in the fifteenth century, the relationship of the sixteenth-century Taybughid Yurt to Siberian Shibanid rulers, and Turkic sources of Russian-language Siberian chronicles.
The last section (pp. 126-174) is an original essay containing Iskhakov’s own narrative history of the Siberian khanate. Here he defines the Siberian khanate as an early Tatar ethnic state ruled by Shibanid dynasts, and argues that it possessed the same ethnic and political features as both the Golden Horde and its success states, which he has examined in detail and collectively in numerous other works. Iskhakov’s goal in this essay is to establish ethnic and political commonality between the Siberian khanate and the other successor states of the Golden Horde, particularly the Kazan khanate. He does this, despite the fact as he himself acknowledges that historically there were three separate Islamic polities in Siberia from the early fifteenth to the late sixteenth centuries. These included the Shibanid “Tiumen Khanate” founded by Hajji Muhammad Khan in the 1420s, and centred in the town of Chimgi Tura, on the site of modern-day Tiumen; the “Taybughid Yurt,” a non-Chingisid state established in the early sixteenth century in the town of Isker or Sibir, south of modern-day Tobolsk, after the overthrow of the Tiumen Shaybanids; and finally the Khanate of Sibir, established by the Shibanid Kuchum Khan in 1563 in Isker/Sibir.
In this regard the author views political strife between these three polities as dynastic struggles that took place over a relatively stable ethnic and institutional structure that, he argues, were the defining features of the “Tatar” states in western Inner Asia. Iskhakov deserves recognition for his careful analysis of a very broad range of historical sources in this work and others, and for using these sources in very novel and stimulating way.
This is particularly true in his interest in Islamic dimensions of the Golden Horde and its successor states. He has focused especially on the role of the sayyids in these states, and their function in each state’s constitution. In this work, he examines the role of the sayyids in Siberia. Iskhakov proposed fresh approaches to examining Islamicisation in Siberia, questioning the dubious identifications of so-called “pre-Islamic” traditions among Siberian Tatars, and arguing instead that Siberian Tatars certainly considered themselves part of the Islamic world. However, he sometimes uses the Islamic sources from Siberia rather uncritically, particularly sacred narratives of Islamicisation. It has been common practice to view these sorts of Siberian genealogical charters as narrative sources, and to treat them accordingly. These charters include the various versions of the Shajara risalasi genre that still circulate among sayyid caretakers of shrines in Siberia, or the sacred narrative of the Islamicisation of Siberia by Naqshbandi shaykhs purportedly in 1300 CE, and published by N. Katanov in 1903. Similar sorts of sacred histories, from elsewhere in Inner Asia, have been analysed quite fruitfully. Ashirbek Muminov, Devin DeWeese, and others have examined the sacred characteristics and ramifications of very similar conversion narratives and charters in the Syr-Darya Valley in Kazakhstan. Similar literature, generally termed shrine catalogues, is also well known in the Volga-Ural region, in Eastern Turkistan, and elsewhere in Muslim Inner Asia. Indeed, if Iskhakov examined these sources as sacred narratives they might buttress some of his arguments regarding Islam in the Golden Horde successor states. Nevertheless, Iskhakov’s generally well-documented and carefully-argued collection of essays can only be welcomed, and should be considered an important contribution to the study of this enigmatic topic.