Posted by: sargodale | July 12, 2009

Kazan: A Brief (really brief) History

            Since I have decided to focus on Kazan as one area of my research, a little background history of the area is necessary. Kazan is the current capital of the Tatarstan Republic in the Russian Federation. Prior to this, Kazan was part of the Bulgar state, a powerful principality that in 922 converted to Islam. For the next several centuries, the Mongols overran Kazan, during their campaigns across Eastern and Central Europe. When the Mongols were driven out of the territory, the Muscovy princes slowly began to absorb Kazan into their territory, culminating with Ivan the Terrible’s complete capture of the city in the sixteenth century.

            Since that time Kazan and the ethnic Tatars of the region, have undergone a serious of repressive and progressive colonial policies. Many Tsars tried at first to forcefully convert the Islamic Tatars to Russian Orthodoxy. At times brutal measures were used to carry this out. It was not until Catherine the Great came to power that more progressive religious policies were enacted. In the Soviet period, however, any former religious freedom was replaced by official state atheism. These changing religious policies have created an interesting cultural identity in modern Kazan. While a large portion of the Tatar population still purports to be Muslim, many are nonpracticing.

            Even though the Kazan Tatars were one of the earliest ethnic groups to become part of the Russian Empire, they have managed to impressively preserve their cultural identity. Today, many Tatars still practice traditional customs, and the Tatar language is in wide use. The two official languages of the Tatarstan Republic are Tatar and Russian, and most signs in Kazan are in both languages. Of the Tatars whom I have met in Kazan, many are extremely proud of their cultural history, and will talk at great lengths about the accomplishments of the Kazan Tatars. I am hopeful that my research will provide an insight in to how such a strong national identity was able to exist after hundreds of years of Russian colonial rule.

 

            I still have not decided what other areas I would like to examine in my research, although I am leaning more towards Siberia and possibly the Caucasus. Both of these areas, as well as Kazan, are still parts of the Russian State, and it would be interesting to see the differences in colonization towards each area.

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