Staunton, September 28 – Yesterday, a group of Volga Tatar nationalists demonstrated in Kazan against Russian persecution of Crimean Tatars, an action that not only reinforces the ties between the two Turkic peoples but also highlights the way in which what Moscow is doing in Crimea is increasingly resonating among non-Russians inside the Russian Federation.
The Kazan protesters, RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service says, carried signs declaring: “Crimean Tatars, we express our solidarity with you!” “Crimea 1944-2014. Genocide Must Not Be Repeated!” “The persecution of the Tatars is Russia’s shame” and “UN, EU! Defend the Crimean Tatars” (qha.com.ua/kazanskie-tatari-proveli-piket-v-podderjku-krimskih-140166.html).
Those taking part in the small and entirely peaceful protest action criticized both Moscow for its persecution of the Crimean Tatars and the government of the Republic of Tatarstan for supporting the Russian Anschluss of Crimea and failing to speak out about the crimes being committed against another part of the Tatar nation.
Volga Tatars have spoken out on behalf of the Crimean Tatars repeatedly this year, most recently at a meeting in memory of the great Crimean Tatar enlightenment figure, Ismail Gasprinski. But yesterday’s meeting, even though it has received relatively little coverage so far, is particularly important for three reasons.
First, it shows that the Volga Tatars continue to view the Crimean Tatars as ethnically close to them and are following events there with an eye to what might happen to themselves. While the two peoples have a common origin, they have become distinct nations, but that origin is increasingly important for many in both.
Second, because Tatarstan has played a leading role among non-Russian groups within the Russian Federation – Kazan has often been the bellwether for developments elsewhere – what took place in the Tatarstan capital yesterday is likely to be repeated in other non-Russian capitals in the future as people there focus on Crimea thanks to Kazan.
And third, and perhaps most intriguingly, the Kazan protesters are transforming what is an international issue into a domestic political one by staking out a position opposed to their own republic leadership because of its failure to defend another Tatar nation – and thus by implication all Tatars.