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Regional National and Cultural Autonomy of Tatars celebrates its 2nd anniversary

14.01.2009 15:46

Regional National and Cultural Autonomy of Tatars of the Nizhny Novgorod Region (RNKATNO) was founded 2 years ago. The Chairman of RNKATNO Gayaz-hazrat Zakirov speaks about the results of the work of the organization for the period being.

— Gayaz Salikhovitch, how would you evaluate the work of the organization you have been heading for the past two years?

— Ever since it was founded our organization has positioned itself as a strong team with professional staff. For the past two years we have proved to be quite an active organization. All the events initiated and held by RNKATNO have won appraisal with the public and we managed to do it in spite of the fact that all the Tatar organizations are split and separated and hardly ever try to work together.

— Could you please tell us about the most significant events RNKATNO initiated lately?

— In February we had a whole series of events to mark the centenary of one of the most outstanding Tatar poets Mussa Jalil including round-table discussions Nizhny Novgorod residents against xenophobia and intolerance and a similar discussion in the town of Dzerzhinsk followed by academic seminar Ruhi Miras — Spiritual Legacy.

Then there is a large academic conference Faizkhanov Readings devoted to our great compatriot and an outstanding scholar of the past Husein Faizkhanov. Within the event we annually issue his works and lectures and articles of previous Faizkhanov Readings. real earnest.

And of course annually we organize mass celebrations of the most ancient Tatar national fest Sabantuy — “the fest of plough” to preserve the national spirit.

— What are the most timely problems that you are facing now?

— Recently there have been much talks about the necessity to secure the unity of the Tatar nation so as to resist the growth of assimilation processes. Yet it is almost impossible especially in those areas where there Tatar school have long since dissapeared or still worse — never existed, like in my home town of Dzerzhinsk. The number residents of the Tatar villages is decreasing rapidly.

In Nizhny Novgorod region National and Cultural Autonomy are working in close cooperation with local Religious Board of Muslims. A similar situation we had back in 1917 when imam of Trade fair Mosque in Nizhny Novgorod Gabdullah Suleimani headed Milli Shuro — National Council. We don’t know much about the life of this outstanding figure who then became kazyi of the Central Religious Board of Muslims and was arrested in the years of great terror. His ideas originate in Kazan madrasah Muhammadia where he studied and was a murrid (apprentice) of sheikh Galimjan Barudi, first freely elected mufti of the Russian Muslims. In Nizhny Novgorod we are trying to adhere to traditions of our great ancestors and were therefore surprised to be criticized by the Kazanians for cooperation with DUMNO. The results of our team-work speak for themselves.

Meanwhile interconfessional and interethnic welfare in the Nizhny Novgorod region is at stake now. Mordovians and Tatars being the two native nations in the region are now vanishing so rapidly that in some 20 or 25 years ethnical Tatar village may become a history. Yet we can hardly make the ends meet and simply haven’t sufficient funds for issuing books and periodicals in national languages along with other activities to preserve them.

— Is it really that bad?

— Unfortunately it is. At the beginning of the 19th century we had over 50 Tatar villages in the region with the total population of about 100 thousand people. Presently there are only 33 villages left and 3 of them are close to extinction. The population of the villages reduced from 58 thousand people in 1986 to less than 50 thousand in 2005. Meanwhile the Muslim population of the region is growing rapidly and with 150–200 thousand Muslims today we are expected to have over 500 thousand by the year 2021.

People tend to criticize our Soviet past yet it had at least one significant benefit concerning ethnical and national policy. Back then every city district was sure to have a national kindergarten, a school, a library. In Nizhny Novgorod we even had a Tatar pedagogical college, and many of its graduates became outstanding national leaders and scholars. But today national Tatar schools are forced to refuse teaching in the Tatar language and in some cases even refuse teaching Tatar literature or to significantly reduce class hours since they have neither special teaching books nor staff. The only place to obtain qualification to teach in Tatar national school is Kazan, however people hardly ever come back after studying there — they naturally tend to remain in Kazan or to proceed to Moscow. So we hope to have our national schools, national language, culture, mosques and libraries back. It’s absurd that in the Volga Federal District with Tatars being the second largest nation there isn’t a single Tatar school or kindergarten.

— So is there a way out?

— No doubt. What we need is skilled workers and therefore we need to found a national institution of higher education to prepare teachers, journalists, librarians, kindergarten mentors and other specialists. DUMNO in assistance with RNKATNO has founded Husein Faizkhanov Islamic Institute in Nizhny Novgorod — a nonreligious institute to prepare specialists in secular theology rather than in practical devotion. We hope to find opportunity to open departments of the Tatar language and Literature, of the Oriental languages, of Pedagogic and other secular disciplines for ethnical Muslims. We used to have a Tatar Pedagogical College in Nizhny Novgorod in the 1920s. Its graduates worked not only here in Nizhny Novgorod but also in our neighbouring regions and republics of Chuvashia and Mordovia. Faizkhanov Islamic Institute might just as well provide specialists for the whole Volga Federal District.

— And what about qualified staff in kindergartens and other educational institutions?

— Books are needed there and educational seminars for teachers in regional national schools and kindergartens should be held in order to improve their qualification. I think that RNKATNO should have a sort of a national educational ministry. We do have skilled workers but we lack specialists to maintain the work.

— Does RNKATNO have its own building?

— Unfortunately not. We might try to gain back the very building of the Tatar Pedagogical College that I mentioned but to reconstruct it would cost us even more than building a new one. We are fortunate to be hosted by DUMNO presently and moreover to gain financial aid from it. And you should understand that this money was originally donated by the mosque-goers for religious needs in the first place — for mosques, madrasah, issuing of books, charity activities and so on.

— What is your personal opinion on the hot issue much discussed nowadays — the tuition of Orthodox culture in state schools?

— I think that this initiative was well-intentioned but I doubt that anything good might come out of it. I strongly believe that this course should cover all traditional religions, not only Russian Orthodoxy. But again it requires much money. Nizhny Novgorod State Pedagogical University was about to introduce a course to prepare specialists in world religions to teach in state schools. It would cost 8,600 roubles (about 250 Euros) to take it, multiplied by 33 national Tatar schools in the Nizhny Novgorod Region it makes almost 300,000 roubles (more than 8 thousand Euros). No country teacher has that much money to spend for acquiring this qualification.

— This September Nizhny Novgorod will host an international forum initiated by the Council of Europe. Do you think that the city is prepared for the event of such high level?

— I think that we should use the experience of Tatarstan in holding such events since it has already successfully hosted several. As a result they now have several churches and mosques reconstructed — the most magnificent ones are the Annunciation Cathedral and Kul-Sharif Mosque in Kazan, of course. And what will European guests find in Nizhny Novgorod? Only Orthodox churches all over the city. The number of synagogues and mosques in particular doesn’t satisfy the needs of Jewish and Muslim entities of Nizhny Novgorod. We stand up for justice for all confessions. Once the authorities assisted in building 10 Christian churches we expect one mosque be built. Once you built 30 churches — let there be 3 new mosques and a synagogue. Some people may object saying that the building of new churches is supported by private funds. But I truly doubt that people deprived of religion for several decades now all of a sudden could voluntarily become motivated to donate vast amounts of money. I believe that local authorities help the Russian Orthodox church give incentives to the right people.

Interviewer Alya Mukharirova March, 2006

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