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Tatar-Bashkir Report: March 19, 2002

19 March 2002
World Tatar Congress Urges Duma To Avoid 'Cyrillization' Issue
The chief executive of the World Tatar Congress (WTC), Indus Tahirov, addressed a letter to Russian State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev and the leaders of Fatherland-All Russia and Russian Regions factions, Vyacheslav Volodin and Oleg Morozov, to protest efforts to make Cyrillic mandatory throughout the federation for second state languages (such as Tatar or Bashkir, for instance). The amendment in question, to the Russia's People's Languages Act, is backed by Tatarstan Deputies Salimkhan Akhmetkhanov, Sergei Shashurin, and Aleksandr Salii, among others. It is on the Russian Duma's docket for debate on 22 March.

But Tahirov argues that the amendment would violate Article 68 in the federal constitution, which guarantees republics the right to choose their own state languages. Even if approved by state deputies, Tahirov adds, the effective ban on a Latin Tatar script will not prevent Tatars outside of Tatarstan from using the script that they deem most convenient.

The WTC leader says the organization has received numerous letters from voters upset by the actions in the Duma of Tatarstan's deputies and by a growing "suspicion toward the presidential Unity faction, although the republic's residents and many Tatars living in Russia supported Vladimir Putin and its team in the last elections." Urging lawmakers to drop the "Cyrillization" issue from Duma's agenda, the WTC says the legislature "very rarely thinks of the needs of dozens of disappearing nations, which contribute all their strength to Russia's economic and social development."

Moscow Tatars Urge Kazan To Defend Ethnic Interests
Professor Agdas Burganov and other members of Moscow ethnic-cultural autonomy's council, leaders of the Tugan Tel organization, the Muslim People's Development Fund, and the Watan Party issued an open letter to Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev on 18 March demanding urgent measures to resolve the "catastrophic" situation concerning Tatar assimilation in Tatarstan, the Russian Federation, and abroad. The letter asserts that the Kazan-based World Tatar Congress and the federal Tatar ethnic-cultural autonomy (both led by Indus Tahirov), Tatarstan's legislature, and its executive have failed to establish an effective mechanism for protecting the Tatar language, Tatars, and even the Latin Tatar script. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow correspondent on 18 March, Burganov said the Tatar nation "faces the risk of extinction because only representatives of the senior generation of Tatars know their native tongue, while the majority of young Tatars, especially in urban areas, don't know Tatar." That makes them unlikely to consider themselves part of this nationality, he said.

Baptized Tatars Issue Heats Up Board Meeting On Census Preparations
A 15 March meeting at the Russian Ethnology and Anthropology Institute reportedly highlighted objections by the country's territorial entities regarding the nationalities list proposed by the Institute for the upcoming national census. Ethnology Professor Damir Iskhakov told RFE/RL's Kazan Bureau on 18 March that the issue of "Baptized Tatars" and "Kryashens" was the most disputed item on an agenda that included issues regarding the Tatarstan, Daghestan and Komi republics. Iskhakov asserted that the Institute's Valerii Tishkov agreed with Tatarstan's arguments over including such ethnic subgroups as Mishers, Tiptyers, and Siberian Tatars in the Tatar ethnic family -- thus responding to protests made by Tatar leaders across the Russian Federation. Radical Kryashen leaders who joined the meeting, supported by the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian presidential envoy to the Volga federal district, Sergei Kirienko, managed to include the nationality in the census questionnaires despite protests from the Tatar side. Professor Iskhakov said in his interview that if this logic is continued, the Tatar nation could be splintered up according to religion.

The meeting also heard a report by a scientific research group citing Baptized Tatars in the Zey region of Tatarstan as not supportive of being categorized as other than "Tatars." More ambitious Kryashen leaders maintained the line that this ethnic group existed long before the conquest of Kazan by Russian tsar Ivan the Terrible.

As a result, the census questionnaires are expected to offer both "Kryashen" and "Baptized Tatar" (the latter within the Tatar family) options for residents. Professor Iskhakov predicted that the latter ethnic identity will attract many more applicants than the former.

Tatar Officials Join CIS Economic Cooperation Talks
President Mintimer Shaimiev and the general director of Tatneft oil company, Shafagat Takhautdinov, attended economic cooperation talks between the Russian, Ukrainian, and Moldovan presidents in Odesa, Ukraine, on 17 March. Although the closed-doors meeting included talks on natural-gas supplies, oil processing, and energy production, the Tatar presidential press service refused to provide details on Tatarstan's possible involvement in projects, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the next day.

TPC Asks Russian President To Monitor Rastegayev Investigation
The Tatar Public Center (TPC) branch in Chally on 18 March urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to personally monitor the investigation of a Chally recruit charged with killing four fellow servicemen. The group asked Putin to ensure all the necessary conditions for a fair and unbiased trial for Andrei Rastegayev. Rastegayev allegedly killed the men at a military base in Chukotka on 31 January. The TPC said "the soldier was forced to commit the violent act because his life was threatened," adding that Rastegayev had studied at a militia training school and "dreamed about joining the army."

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Bashkir Official On WBC's Role
Emir Yuldashbaev, head of the social political development department within Bashkortostan's presidential staff, told RFE/RL on 18 March that the "top goal of the World Bashkir Congress [WBC] to be held in June 2002 is to consolidate the peoples of Bashkortostan by means of solving their problems and defending their interests, because there are not only Bashkirs residing in Bashkortostan." He added that it is "a great responsibility for Bashkir people to hold this congress."

World Bashkir Congress Leader On History Of Bashkirs In Kurgan
RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent quoted the "Yashlek" Bashkir youth weekly on 18 March as reporting that during a recent World Bashkir Congress branch meeting in Kurgan Oblast, Safakul regional administration head Niyaz Yusupov claimed that Tatars were the first to settle in that area. His statement was reportedly interrupted by World Bashkir Congress head Niyaz Majitov, who referred to unnamed "historical documents proving that Russians were the first settlers there and in the ninth century, the forefathers of modern Bashkirs also began inhabiting Kurgan."

Summing up the current preparations for the congress and the October national census, "Yashlek" stated, "It's quite possible that those who now consider themselves Tatars are, in fact, Mishers." Meanwhile, Mishers so far have been considered a group within the Tatar nation.

Women's Rights Activist Points To Discrimination
Reshide Sultanova, chairwoman of the Bashkortostan Women's Union, told RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent on 18 March that the current state of women's involvement in state politics can be called "discrimination," because there are only one female minister in the republican government, two department chiefs within the Cabinet of Ministers staff, and not a single female administration head in the republic's cities or regions. Statistics also show that only 25 percent of Bashkortostan's deputy mayors and 4 percent of State Assembly deputies are women.

Tatar Organizations In Bashkortostan Still Hopeful Of Holding Congress
According to RFE/RL in Ufa on 18 March, Bashkortostan Minister for Ethnic Policies and Culture Khalyaf Ishmuratov recently discussed the possibility of holding a Tatars Congress in Bashkortostan, seeking to bring that nationality together in the wake of the upcoming national census. Although there have been no reports on President Murtaza Rakhimov's response to the initiative, Tatar rights movements organizing the event expect it to be held in late June or early July, after the World Bashkir Congress. Eduard Khamitov -- the head of the five-year-old Tatar Congress in Bashkortostan and a man often criticized by the Tatar rights movement for being loyal to Bashkortostan's government -- has claimed that it would be impossible to hold two congresses in a row and threatened to cancel such plans.

Although it has so far been denied registration by local authorities, a new Tatar Congress is being created to oppose the Khamitov-run body.

Bashkir Congress To Promote Healthy Lifestyle Among Youths
The Bashkir Congress branch in Sterlitamaq on 16 March elected delegates to the upcoming World Congress and declared the further development of Bashkir language and culture, promotion of a healthy lifestyle, a battle against drug addiction, smoking, and alcoholism among young people to be major goals for its work.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi