ASTANA – Rinat Abdulkhalikov, executive director of the Association of Tatars and Bashkirsof Kazakhstan, spoke with The Astana Times in early February about the Tatar and Bashkir communities in Kazakhstan.
Can you tell us how Tatars came to live in Kazakhstan?
Tatars have been on the territory of modern Kazakhstan since time immemorial, which gives us the right to belong to the category of indigenous ethnic groups. Tatars were among the merchant class, joining countries and civilisations through trade routes. They brought with them Islam, education, literature and production technology. Some of my ancestors – for example, the Tushakovs – were known merchants and industrialists who lived in Siberia and Tobolsk before the [October 1917] revolution. According to official data on the history of Tatars in Siberia, our family name was mentioned in written chronicles as early as 1590. But, according to local lore, Tushakovs are not native Tatars in Siberia. They came from Bukhara … .
My ancestors, the Abdulkhalikovs, came from the territory of modern Tatarstan. In the middle of the century they left for Siberia, where they formed the Serebryakov village in the Altai region. But a large fire burned down the village and all the people took off and came to a beautiful location in the foothills of the Tien Shan Mountains, where together with the Cossacks they took part in the construction of the city of Lepsinsk, which is not far from Lake Alakol … Now it’s in Almaty region.
History is something amazing, unexpected and exciting. But, unfortunately, in our time, the strong of this world often distort it to their benefit. It is therefore necessary that every nation know the true history of their roots, correcting it with the help of historians and ethnographers.
Today, Tatars are one of the largest ethnic groups in Kazakhstan by population. According to the latest official figures, in 2013, Kazakhstan was home to 203,111 Tatars.
Are there any problems for Tatars that have some kind of national basis?
This is the uniqueness of the whole multi-ethnic society in Kazakhstan: there is no problem on a national basis. Sometimes there are omissions in narration or certain tensions. But they are always categorised as legal offences and are looked at from a different angle.
What is your relationship with the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan (APK)?
Due to the fact that many of our Tatar and Bashkir ethno-cultural associations were created back in the mid-80s and early 90s of the last century, naturally, when the APK was created in 1995, they entered into it unanimously. There were common goals, and some of the associations had already gained experience that was very important for the common cause. Structurally, the Association of Tatars and Bashkirs of Kazakhstan is the association of legal entities, and includes local centres from all regions. They, in turn, are included in the regional APK at the regional akimat. We work with all relevant government authorities, so they know us. We have a reputation and credibility before them, which, of course, makes our work more productive.
What does the World Congress of Tatars (WCT) do?
The global objective of the World Congress of Tatars is the preservation and development of Tatar culture, language and Tatar identity in traditional and compact Tatar settlements worldwide. Our organisation is a member of the WCT as a co-founding entity, which gives us a great opportunity for dynamic work. Unfortunately, during the period of the Soviet Union, a lot was done a lot in terms of erasing legacies and dismantling the ethnic cultures of various peoples to form a single Soviet ideology.
By the way, the vast territory of the Russian Empire included territories such as Finland, Ukraine and Poland and the republics of Central Asia, and, of course, Kazakhstan. For effectiveness, the Office of the Imperial Majesty’s official correspondence was conducted in three languages: Russian, German and Tatar. Russian, of course, was the state language. And the other two languages were peripheral and were understandable to the people living in the west and east of the vast country. During the Soviet period there were many people who lost their culture and history. Therefore, quite naturally, today these peoples have begun to address this by making the revival of their culture a priority. This concerns not only Tatars: almost all nations and nationalities are currently engaged in this.
The 2015 World Congress of Tatars has a plan consisting of 203 major events to be held around the world. This plan includes 32 events held in conjunction with our association in Kazakhstan. Of course, the traditional theme for us is the preservation of the native language, so we hold language competitions, improve education at Sunday schools and conduct scientific conferences on history. Traditional national holidays are also bright ornaments for our people. Our friends and neighbours gladly attend our Sabantui holidays, which makes the holiday international and very friendly.
Please tell us about Sabantui. Is it celebrated in each region separately, or is there is one big celebration?
Sabantui came to us from time immemorial. It can be considered a pagan holiday. Traditionally, it was always performed after the sowing season, when there was time for a break, and it was necessary to appease the heavens so they would give the right amount of rain and sun for a rich harvest. Therefore, it is carried out in May and June. Over time, it became just an ethnic holiday that people are happy to prepare for ahead of time.
Ten years ago, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Tatarstan [in Russia] developed a systematic programme for the Sabantui festival. Tatarstan began methodically implementing this programme in all the places where Tatars live, inviting directors and organisers to Kazan for training. Now, wherever Tatars live, Sabantuis are almost all the same, but of course with local characteristics.
What would be your message to our readers?
We, the multi-ethnic people of Kazakhstan, are very blessed in that we have so many different cultures. By reviving our ethnic principles, we will move towards the development of our spiritual sides and the creation of a single state. The main thing is that no one bothers us in the attainment of this overall global mission.
Unfortunately, the modern world shows that we have something to lose. Therefore, we must be responsible for what we have. We must protect our cherished country and trust in each other. No one is allowed to sow discord between us. We are strong when we are united.