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KAZAN, Russia -- A small group of Tatar nationalist activists have staged a protest in Kazan against what they say are government attempts to subdivide them, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reports.

Members of the Tatar Public Center (TIU) organization met on Kazan's Freedom Square and accused the federal government and Tatarstan's leadership of "seeking to fragment the Tatar nation as the Russian census approaches."

They held signs saying: "We Are Tatars, There Are 10 Million of Us, We Are One Nation!" "The Ethnocide of the Tatar Nation in Bashkortostan Is A Shameful Act," and "Stop Dividing Tatars Into 100 Ethnic Groups!"

Rinat Yosyf, a TIU leader, told RFE/RL that the Moscow-based Russian historian and anthropologist Valery Tishkov subdivided Tatars into almost 100 separate ethnic groups in a recent article. Yosyf said at the same time Tishkov -- a former Russian minister for nationalities -- considers ethnic Russians a single nation.

Yosyf said similar views are being published with increasing frequency in the media in the run-up to the all-Russian census scheduled for mid-October.

Yosyf argued that there are Kuban Cossacks, Don Cossacks, Stavropol Cossacks, Pomors, Vyatich, and other subethnic groups that consider themselves to be Russian. He said Tishkov does not consider them separate ethnic groups, yet he is eager to apply that approach to Tatars. Yosyf said the TIU opposes such practices.

Tatar historian Damir Iskhakov told RFE/RL that in recent months more articles about Tatar culture and history use such terms as "Tatar-Bolgar," "Bolgar-Turk," "Kama Bolgars," and "Simbir Bolgars" in order to replace the ethnonym Tatar with "Bolgars," the ancient name of Tatars in the Volga region.

Iskhakov said the move to rename and subdivide Tatars is politically motivated. He said it appears to be an attempt to artificially reduce the number of people in Russia who consider themselves Tatars in the run-up to the census.

At the time of the last census in 2002, Tatars were the second-largest ethnic group in Russia after Russians. They numbered some 5.5 million and officially accounted for 3.8 percent of the total population of the Russian Federation.

The four major subgroups of the Tatar nation are the Crimean Tatars, Siberian Tatars, Volga Tatars, and Lipka Tatars. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Russian officials identified more ethnic subgroups as Tatars, including the Chulym Tatars, Baraba Tatars, and Kasim Tatars. Tatar nationalists consider all the subgroups as one nation.