Russian historians following the lead of the Russian state have sought to eliminate references to Tatars and Tatarstan while projecting the presence of Russia and Russians back into a past when much of their country was in fact part of Tatary, Rafael Khakimov says.
They have managed to convince many that the Volga is a Russian rather than a Tatar river and to have suppressed the fact that at one point in its history the Arctic Ocean on which the Kremlin now places so many hopes was called the Tatar Sea, according to the Kazan historian and former advisor to Mintimir Shaymiyev.
What is especially unfortunate, Khakimov argues, is that the Russians who have engaged in this misrepresentation of the past have succeeded in convincing many Tatars of the accuracy of their claims, something that leads Tatars to forget their glorious past and be more willing to be absorbed into the Russian world.
“From the school bench, we hear completely negative things about the Tatars while only elaborate praise is given to Russia,” he continues. Teachers always talk about how large Russia is and ignore the fact that it was once a marginal principality on the edge of a much larger Tatar world, something obscured by a systematic misrepresentation of maps and toponyms.
An element of the 17th century map of Asia titled “Map of Asia With The Islands Adjoining Described” published by John Speed in 1626 showing Tataria (Tatary) and the Tatarian Sea (the Arctic Ocean).
Khakimov recounts how shocked he himself was when he visited the Vatican and was shown older maps which showed just how large and important Tatarstan once was and was told by the curators of the map collections there, “this is your country,” something few Tatars have had the chance to hear.
“Having seen Great Tatary” on those maps, the historian says he was “shocked” because he too had become accustomed to thinking of Tatarstan as something small, a minuscule part of the USSR. They were once in a position of dominance in Eurasia, while Muscovy (what’s now the Russian state) was the small and minuscule part of that continent.
“Tatars arose as a nation long ago and with the very same name they have today,” Khakimov suggests. “The attempts of certain ideologues to present them as a young nation are directed at the ignorant.” Those who know more know that “the origins of the Tatars has been discussed not for years but for centuries” – evidence of just how long they’ve existed.
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