Saturday, August 29, 2015

Two Ethnic Groups Campaign to Be Listed as Numerically Small Peoples of the North

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 29 – Many of the two dozen peoples of the far north of the Russian Federation regularly complain that they are discriminated against and otherwise mistreated by Russian officials. But efforts by two ethnic groups to be officially listed in their category suggest that the situation of other small peoples outside of the north may be even worse.

            The two peoples in question, the Siberian Tatars and the Pomors, represent two very different situations. Both would appear to qualify as at least portions of them live in the far north and each numbers fewer than 50,000, but including them nonetheless presents problems to Moscow (

            But for either or both to be included in the list will require them to overcome skepticism and even opposition in Moscow and almost certainly prompt other numerically small groups south of the traditional homeland of numerically small indigenous peoples of the north to seek to be included as well.

            The Siberian Tatars, who in the 2010 census numbered 8,000, have perhaps the weaker claim given that only 600 of their total live in the far north and most of whom long ago gave up their traditional way of life. Protecting that is the ostensible basis for including any group into the “numerically small indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East.

            Despite that, they are working hard to be on the list. Mukhaammet Kalimullin, a Siberian Tatar from Tyumen, told a meeting there that his “people is in extremely critical situation” because it lacks such “official recognition.” And such recognition would allow the introduction of the Siberian dialect of Tatar in the schools of Tyumen.

            At present, he said, “what is taught there now is not our language,” Kalimullin said. Tyumen historian Aleksandr Yarkov said he supports the idea but questioned whether the Siberian Tatars really qualify as a people of the north because fewer than 10 percent of them live in that region.

            The Pomors certainly would appear to qualify: They number only 2,000; they maintain a traditional way of life; and their entire community is in the high north. Thus it is not surprising that they have been trying to be recognized as a numerically small people of the North for two decades.

            But their current effort, one centered on an Internet petition to the president and prime minister of the Russian Federation, highlights the problems they face: They have support in the Arkhangelsk administration but almost none in Moscow where, it appears, some are concerned that the Pomors are generally classed as a sub-ethnos of the Russian nation.

            To list them as a numerically small people of the north could lead more of them to demand census status as a separate nationality, a claim that if realized would not only cut into the total number of ethnic Russians in the country but also call into question the unity of ethnic Russians on which Vladimir Putin places so much emphasis..

            The Pomors counter that there is already a people considered to be a Russian sub-ethnos on the list: the Kamchadals, one of the more obscure ethnic communities in the Russian Federation but one that calls into question many of the ideological themes of contemporary Russian national discourse.

            On the one hand, the Kamchadal subethnos came into existence as a result of the intermarriage of ethnic Russians with local nationalities in the Far East. And on the other, despite assumptions about the inevitability of Russian assimilation in such circumstances, the Kamchadals have maintained their distinctive identity and way of life.

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