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Russian Efforts To Force Muslim Minorities To Assimilate Leading Many To Become Radicals – OpEd


The pressures Moscow is now applying to Tatars and other Muslim minorities to learn Russian and assimilate is having an unintended and unwelcome consequence, Damir Iskhakov warns. By cutting these peoples loose from their traditional cultural moorings, Moscow is opening the way for many to become Islamist radicals.

Speaking at recent meeting of the Third Capital Club in the Tatarstan capital reported today on the Russkaya liniya portal, the Kazan historian said that “the assimilation of the Tatars not only linguistically but with the loss of ethnic self-consciousness frequently leads Tatars to become Wahhabis” (

As some do not appear to understand, “a health ethnic self-consciousness permits the Tatars to defend against the influence of Wahhabism;” and thus Moscow’s assimilationist policy is having exactly the opposite effect on national unity and stability than the one its authors routinely claim.

The Kazan historian said he grew up in a mixed Russian-Tatar village and thus understands how both Russians and Tatars feel about language and identity. And he argued that if one examines how Russians have organized their relations with the Volga Tatars, one can see how they want to do so with other ethnic communities.

“The Tatars,” Iskhakov said, “are in terms of religion part of Islamic civilization, but at the same time they are also part of Russian civilization, although not completely so.” And he stressed that “Muslims will not be able to cooperate with other peoples” if the latter view them as subordinate. Relations must be based on equality.

According to the Kazan historian, “Russians want to see Russia as an ethnic Russian nation state.” As a Tatar nationalist, he continued, he “sees the present policy in the country as an effort to form a civic Russian nation with one state language” as a move toward “the assimilation of the non-Russian peoples.”

In the course of his remarks, Iskhakov, who was a member of the nationalist Tatar Social Center from 1988 to 1882 before breaking with it and becoming a leader of the World Congress of Tatars, recalled that in the early 1990s, there were discussions in Kazan about “dividing Tatarstan into two parts, a Russian and a Tatar,” in order to preserve the Tatar language and avoid angering Russians.

Although something similar was tried in Bashkortostan, these discussions did not lead anywhere in Tatarstan, although Tatars occasionally recall them and view the idea as one like the arrangements in Belgium where the Flemmish and Walloons live in separate cultural and linguistic areas but within a single state.

As a result of the failure to move in that direction, Iskhakov said, “today as at the start of the 1990s, the cultural-linguistic space of Tatarstan remains Russian-speaking.” But that does not mean Tatar instruction should be cut back but rather the reverse, so that Russians will be more competitive and so Tatars won’t be radicalized.

At present, however, the trend is going in the other direction, something that means that while “the Tatars are well acquainted with the Russian world, the Russians know much worse the Tatar world” in which they find themselves.

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Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

2 thoughts on “Russian Efforts To Force Muslim Minorities To Assimilate Leading Many To Become Radicals – OpEd

  • January 25, 2017 at 1:12 am

    Here I sit in New Zealand and end up reading another one of Pauls BS articles about Russia,

  • December 24, 2018 at 12:25 pm

    Tatars are but a sliver in Russia. Paul, do not over emphasize their importance. Russia has over 100 different peoples in their country and all are doing well.


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