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    Tatar Republic: Pioneering True Multiculturalism and Diversity

    © Sputnik / Nik Pavlov
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    by Nik Pavlov
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    Russia’s Tatar Republic is a unique place where people are proud of their own culture, but cherish the ideas of multiculturalism with Orthodox churches and Islamic mosques standing beside each other.

    Nikolai with his dog Pastushok leaving Moscow
    © Photo : Nikolai Pavlov
    Although during the Middle Ages Russians and Tatars were sworn enemies, a lot has changed since then. Nowadays, Tatars are a part of the greater Russian nation with their unique republic, Tatarstan, located in the western part of Russia, along the Volga River.

    Kazan, the capital of the Tatar Republic, is considered the third capital of Russia [after Moscow and St. Petersburg] and is the economic and cultural center of the entire Volga Region.

    Kazan is over 1,000-years old, which makes it one of Russia’s oldest cities. The city was named after the Bulgar word kazan, which means a large cooking pot. According to a legend, one of the ancient Bulgar kings was running to safety from a Mongol army and decided to stop at a bank of the Volga River. As his servant went to the river to get some water in a cooking pot, he dropped the kazan while trying to climb the bank, sending the pot back into the river.

    Inside the Kazan Kremlin
    © Sputnik / Nik Pavlov
    Inside the Kazan Kremlin

    The king thought it was a good omen from ancient Bulgar spirits who wanted him to stay in the area. Subsequently, the king founded a fortress near the place where the cooking pot fell down to the river and named it Kazan.

    Tatarstan is arguably one of the most culturally distinct and fascinating regions within the Russian Federation.

    Similar to the Chuvash Republic, all street signs, the names of administrative buildings, public facilities and even stores are in written in both Tatar and Russian, the two official languages in the republic.

    Tatar is widely spoken across Tatarstan, especially in rural areas, where it’s pretty much the lingua franca. People in big cities, however, such as Kazan and Naberezhnye Chelny, converse fluently in both languages.

    Orthodox church near the Kremlin (author Andrew Boogaards)
    © Sputnik / Nik Pavlov
    Orthodox church near the Kremlin (author Andrew Boogaards)

    Kazan is a place where Muslims and Christians, the two main religious groups, as well as over 100 ethnic groups live in harmony and peace with each other. The diversity of religion and multiculturalism of the city is one of the key features of Kazan.

    The grand Tatar mosque, Qol Sarif, located in the middle of the Kazan Kremlin, stands not far from an Orthodox Church and a Jewish synagogue in a nearby district.

    “It’s fascinating. Where else in the world could you see mosques and churches standing beside each other and people living in peace?” – local resident Guzel Khabibrakhmanova told me over a cup of tea.

    Indeed, I could definitely feel the air of respect and acceptance in the city. Different ethno-cultural groups live beside each other and get to know each other’s culture and customs.

    The Tatars are very proud of their own culture and language; at the same time, however, I felt that they’re very accepting of others and their culture – a healthy balance between loving oneself and embracing others.

    “I’m a Tatar, and I’m very proud about it. At the same time, I have a Russian soul and I speak Russian. I live in Kazan, but I also consider Russia as my homeland,” Guzel said, when explaining her dual identity.

    Talking to her, I thought that her identity was similar to that of a person from the Canadian province of Quebec or the Flemish part of Belgium. Proud of her regional identity on the national level, but a proud citizen of her country internationally.

    Our conversation turned into a long discussion of how a simple and seemingly a natural thing like the dual / multiple identity is exploited by certain individuals who turned it into a stumbling block that destroyed entire societies, from Yugoslavia to Ukraine and Syria. 

    Nik Pavlov with Andrew in downtown Kazan
    © Sputnik / Nik Pavlov
    Nik Pavlov with Andrew in downtown Kazan

    Kazan and the Tatar Republic in general are be a perfect example for the development of multiculturalism and federalism. With over a hundred different ethnic groups living in peace and two major religions coexisting in harmony, others could definitely learn a thing or two from Tatarstan. 

    The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.

    Pastushok on the background Kazan Kremlin
    © Sputnik / Nik Pavlov
    Pastushok on the background Kazan Kremlin

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