By Paul Goble
The Nogais, who number just over 100,000 in the Russian Federation, are now at risk of disappearing as an ethno-cultural group there because of the absence of government support, a stark contrast with the situation in Turkey where this Turkic people is being actively supported by Ankara.
Because they do not have an ethnic territory of their own and because they live dispersed in a number of federal subjects in the North Caucasus and elsewhere in the Russian Federation, the Nogais only rarely attract even scholarly attention, let alone examination in the media. But that may be changing because of the deteriorating relationship between Russia and Turkey.
And it is not impossible that the increasing national self-confidence of Nogais in Turkey may lead some of their co-ethnics within the borders of the Russian Federation to demand that their linguistic and cultural rights be respected and even to repeat earlier calls for the formation of a Nogai Republic.
On the Kavkazoved portal today, political analyst Anton Chablin provides a useful survey of the history of the Nogais in Russia, their current situation and complaints about it, and references to some recent studies of the Nogais published in Russia, Turkey and the West (kavkazoved.info/news/2016/01/31/nogajcy-process-kulturno-ideologicheskoj-integracii-v-rossijskoe-obschestvo.html).
The Nogais, a Muslim Turkic people who historically developed along the western borderlands of the Golden Horde, Chablin points out, were incorporated into the Russian Empire during the reign of Catherine the Great. Before then and indeed until 1860, they governed themselves via adat and shariat law.
Their historic homeland was known as the Nogai Steppe, but since their incorporation first in the Russian Empire and then in the USSR, the Nogais were divided up among several administrative units rather than given one of their own. As a result, they have had few defenses against Russian or North Caucasian officials who have refused to support their language.
Their current problems began in 1944 when Moscow created the Grozny oblast in place of the suppressed Chechen-Ingush ASSR. Then in 1957, the Soviet government restored that autonomy but continued to include Nogai territories within it. Other Nogai areas were given to Stavropol kray and Daghestan.
The authorities in Stavropol kray and Checheno-Ingushetia “closed Nogai schools and stopped the publication of newspapers in the Nogay language.” In response, the Nogais repeatedly demanded the creation of their own autonomous oblast within the USSR and the RSFSR.
The Daghestani authorities adopted the same approach with the Nogais, but there the situation was made even worse by the fact that Makhachkala transferred members of other ethnic groups into the valleys where the Nogais had traditionally lived. Something similar occurred in Stavropol as well, Chablin says.
He continues: “In 1990, at the third kurultai, a Nogai Republic was formally proclaimed within the Russian Federation.” But not surprisingly, it proved stillborn because it was opposed by the leadership of Daghestan, Checheno-Ingushetia, and Stavropol kray. But if it failed, it clearly has not been forgotten.
Nogai activists have united in the Birlik inter-regional movement which has its primary goal the return to the Nogais of areas which were resettled by Avars and Dargins “within the borders of five subjects (Astrakhan oblast, Daghestan, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Stavropol kray, and Chechnya.)”
The success of the movement has been limited by the extreme dispersal of the Nogais and by the fact that economic problems in their traditional area of settlement as now so bad that increasingly young people are moving to the Urals or Siberia to find work. Only in Karachayevo-Cherkessia where another Turkic group dominates has the situation been slightly better.
Only recently did the Chechen republic reopen Nogai-language schools, something Stavropol kray officials have not done. And there is a serious shortage of textbooks and literary works in Nogai. Where the language is taught, the schools have to use very old textbooks published in Soviet times; and there are no Nogai dictionaries.
Many nations near extinction nonetheless have an active group of specialists investigating them, but the Nogai situation in Russia is different. Few academic specialists are tracking them, something that stands in sharp contrast to the situation in Turkey where at least this people’s language and history are being investigated and reported.
Indeed, what is happening with the Nogais in Turkey may play an important role in their future inside the Russian Federation. On the one hand, they are likely to look to Turkey as a model; but on the other, Moscow is likely to view such glances as a threat and do even less for them than it has in the past.