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«THE TATAR GAZETTE»

N 3-4, 18.04.2000


HOW CAN A TATAR BECOME A TATAR?

From the editor.

The first conference on issues about various Tatar questions was held at our newspaper site starting on February 21st. 2000, bringing together Tatars from all over the world who were concerned about the problems of our people and our language. It was held in the Russian language.

It is a fact that for the most part Tatar intellectuals in Russia speak Russian much better than Tatar. Also the intellectual Tatars from foreign countries usually speak the languages from their locale (English, Turkish etc.) better than Tatar.

Using Russian while discussing Tatar questions is not a sin or blasphemy as many with Russophobia assume. You should fight for your Tatar language and not against the Russian one.

Here is an example of such an intolerance. A young man from Tashkent wrote in Russian to the Tatar Mail Group (TMG) (an Internet email forum site) asking for the addresses of Tatar Communities in the USA and Australia.

One of the TMG members (judging by the style and the transliteration of the Tatar words it was a young woman who had left Tatarstan not so long ago, and I can even guess who it might be) answered him this way:

“Dungiz!!! Bashta Tatarcha soylesherge oyren. Annari Australia turinda uylarsin. Monda sinnen bashka da mankortlar kup. Hormet belen, Koala efende Ayuyev.” (Pig!!! Learn to speak Tatar first. Then you may think about Australia. There are lots of Mankurts here besides you. Regards, Mr Koala Bear. “Mankurt” (in Tatar) is a man who doesn’t remember or doesn’t want to remember his own nationality.

This unsightly attitude towards the Russian language and hatred for Russian speakers runs through the messages of some participants of TMG.

For example, an Ihsan Yokush, congratulating everyone with the Ramadan holiday and also grieving for the misfortunes of the Chechen and Uyghur peoples adds:

“It’s our ancestors fault that they didn’t wipe out the Russians from the face of the Earth when they were able to do it in the glorious times of Batu-khan and Subitai-baatur”.

Nevertheless, many people, who can’t speak Tatar, consider themselves to be Tatars anyway.

An early discussion at our conference was dedicated to the problem of self-identification. One of the first to speak was Vadim Islamutdinov, a young scientist from Kurgan.

In 1996 Vadim graduated with honors from the Kurgan Agriculture Academy. Staying to work as a professor at the chair of Information Technology, he later moved on to the chair of Business Organization and Marketing. He was preparing a dissertation titled “Raising the maintenance efficiency of agricultural producers by machine and technology stations” (He succesfully defended this dissertation in May, 2000).

I asked Vadim to tell about himself and asked a few questions with the following results.

VADIM ISLAMUTDINOV’S INTERVIEW:

February 26, 2000.

VADIM ISLAMUTDINOVI was born in Yalanskoye Village of the Safakulevo District in the Kurgan Region. When I was three we moved to the central town of the district. We often visited our grandmother Galia-nenei in the village of Karasu (Karasevo in Russian). By we I mean myself, my mother Lilia Kamil-kozo, my father Faruar Muzhip-ulo and my brother Robert. Karasu is not very far from Safakulevo, only 16 kilometers, so we often went there for a sauna before we built one of our own.

My father’s mother, Atia-neney is very old and she can read Arab letters, and I used to study the Arab letters too.

It is difficult to say when I first felt myself to be a Tatar. That was a very long process. The first bright recollection, connected with my national identity appeared when I was six. At that time I was sent to Galia-nenei for the time of hay-mowing, for a whole month. The first thing that made me hesitate was the difficulty of communication ("nenei bar nersene tik tatarcha eyte" - my granny always spoke Tatar). Before that we would come to her only for a day or two, and communicating didn’t worry me. I could always ask my mom to translate what my grandmother said. And now, all of a sudden if you want something be so kind as to understand what they are saying to you and try to speak Tatar too, they will understand you much better. I got the basics of Tatar during that month. My mother was very surprised to find out that I could explain myself in Tatar when she came back for me.

My second recollection is about the Safakulevo School. Here about 60-70% of the pupils were Tatars and Bashkirs, but very few of them could speak their native language. Only the children of collective farmers from the farm that was not far away from Safarkulevo could speak Tatar. Most of them did poorly at school, because their knowledge of the Russian language was also poor. Some teachers would rail at them for speaking Tatar, they thought they were cursing. That’s why the school left only negative emotions about identifying myself as a Tatar.

But this still made me interested in our history – that of the notorious Horde. I want to thank my parents, we had all the necessary sources since they explained a lot to me. My father always reminded us to speak Tatar at home but he would always forget about it and switch to Russian.

My mother could speak without switching to Russian and she spoke Tatar in a very beautiful manner. But she didn’t try to teach us the language. My brother and I, who had no respect for folk music, could not understand what the Kazan performers were singing about, and the quality of their records left much to be desired.

There were not many major problems with my nationality at the Institute. However sometimes my nationality did adversely affect the marks on some subjects. There were some cavils from my course-mates. I spoke literary Russian and could not understand slang words, and for that reason I was known as a moron. But not for a long time, only until the second course. I had some problems with Chechens trying to involve me into their affairs. It’s a most difficult situation when you have no countrymen, no tribesmen around you, when you are alone. I tried to get close to Kazakhs, but later I understood that it is better to be all alone.

The Institute gave me an impetus to learn my native language. I learned it more easily thanks to ideas from the English classes. At the end of the second course I had felt that I was getting accustomed to the English language which I had thought to be impossible beforehand. That feeling brought to me the idea that if you sat and read a large book in a foreign language, you would then learn it better (like Paganel). During the summer holidays I tried this idea out with Tatar. I took “White Flowers” by Abdrahman Absalyamov (this writer was from Mordovia. – Editor.), asked my mother to stay with me to help and got to read and translate it fairly quickly. It was very difficult to read the first 100 pages but later it got much easier, I had the feeling that I was not reading, I was just watching a film. I even started thinking in Tatar sometimes, especially in my dreams.

That’s my personal experience of gaining (or regaining?) the native language.

The problem of self-identification of Tatars does exist. I agree with those who believe that the self-consciousness is formed at the time when a person is in his or her teens – by music, by films (when we watched fairy tales, we would always side with the Russian heroes). Only very few people can get rid of these features by themselves, others still have the feeling of being inferior, even if it is a subconscious feeling. And one does not get to learn his native language with that feeling, one can always find an excuse.

Keeping traditions alive in the countryside (in Tatar villages) is very important, because this is the only place where traditions are maintained, and villagers have larger families with more children.

Maybe there is a way to encourage people, but it will take a lot of funds and it is not certain who should be encouraged, the parents or the children.

About my attitude towards the Russian language. I sort of envy the Russians and their language for its receptivity – it takes in everything foreign yet does not lose itself. We shouldn’t be afraid of modern “Russian” words, we should interpret them and maybe we should reform our system to make the Russian words taken into the Tatar language to be written in the way that we pronounce them.

Internet can make a great contribution in promoting the Tatar language, especially if there should appear Tatar code-page, e-mail, and chatrooms. I’ve been hearing about the switch to the Latin alphabet. I don’t approve of it since not everyone can learn to use it. It would be better if both variants remain in equal usage. The one that will prove to be the better will survive.

I’d like to thank the Internet site of your newspaper. This is the only place where I met the understanding of our problems, the problems of Tatars living outside Tatarstan.


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E-mail: irek@moris.ru