On November 6, Tatarstan Constitution Day, a petition asking Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky to recognize Tatarstan’s independence was published on the global online platform Change.org.
The author of the petition was Rafis Kashapov, deputy prime minister of Tatarstan in exile, a former political prisoner who was one of the first in Russia to speak out against the occupation of Crimea and Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The news agency QIRIM.News contacted Kashapov, who now lives in Great Britain, having been granted political asylum there, and asked him to talk about the situation in Tatarstan.
Tatarstan’s aspiration for independence
On March 21, 1992, a referendum concerning the status of the republic was held in Tatarstan. 81,5% percent of Tatarstan’s citizens took part in the vote.
The referendum question was: “Would you like the Republic of Tatarstan to be a subject of international law, a sovereign state with the right to establish relations with the Russian Federation and other republics and states based on equal treaties?”
61.4% of the voters answered “Yes,” agreeing to the creation of an independent Tatar state. However, both the Russian authorities and the local pro-Russian political elite blatantly ignored the wish of the Tatar people to get rid of Moscow’s domination.
Rafis Kashapov believes that the 1992 referendum gives Tatarstan the right to appeal to any state in the world to recognize Tatarstan’s independence.
“Legally we can apply to any democratic state in the world. We held a referendum in Tatarstan and during the referendum, 64% of the population of Tatarstan voted for sovereignty, for the independence of the Republic of Tatarstan. That’s why we addressed the President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky,” he said.
The majority of Tatars support the independence – Kashapov
The deputy head of government of Tatarstan in exile is also convinced that even now Tatarstanis would vote for the creation of their independent state.
“I think that the majority of Tatars would vote for the independence of the Republic of Tatarstan. There are two reasons for that: first, every year 870 billion rubles go from Tatarstan to Moscow. That never happened before. It’s a real rip-off that all the people of Tatarstan know about.
The second reason is that for the war in Ukraine everyone from Tatarstan is sent to the front indiscriminately: Tatars, Bashkirs, Chuvash, Udmurts, Russian speakers, non-Russian speakers, Muslims, and Orthodox Christians. When the war began there was no such discontent among the people. These two factors are the key factors that incline people to the idea of Tatarstan’s independence,” Kashapov explained.
According to Kashapov, the appeal to Zelensky was also discussed on the margins of the Free Russia Forum, which was attended by activists of many indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation, as well as such politicians as Ichkerian leader Akhmed Zakayev, head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people Refat Chubarov, Rafis’ twin brother, activist Nafis Kashapov.
The decision about the appeal to the Ukrainian leader was made after the meetings with the Tatar activists in Europe and other countries. Rafis Kashapov notes that for the Kazan Tatars, the peoples of the Idel Urals, Siberia, and the Caucasus – the chance to achieve independence has come, “when Russia has already kneeled.”
“We are very grateful to the Ukrainians, to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. They have stopped Russia’s imperial attack in Ukraine and are fighting back hard against the invaders,” he said.
Tatars’ actions against Russian mobilization
Rafis Kashapov notes that in large cities of Tatarstan: Kazan, Naberezhnye Chelny, and Nizhnekamsk initially tried to hold protests against Putin’s partial mobilization.
However, some people were detained, and some were beaten up and fined. Guerrillas were also active in Tatarstan, conducting sabotage operations and setting cars with ‘rashist’ Z and V symbols on fire.
“We had two groups, one was detained and jailed, and the second group had to leave Tatarstan. They are in other countries. I’m sure this protest movement will continue in the future,” he said.
Tatar activists also work with mobilized soldiers, convincing them to return home and leave their military units.
“Recently in Kazan, the mobilized masses held a protest action in the military unit itself. They shouted the slogan “Shake the regime.” This is the impetus for a general revolt,” Kashapov said.
Consequences of russification for the Tatars
For Tatars in Tatarstan, one might say the Tatar language has been destroyed, Kashapov noted.
For example, in education, there is almost no more studying of the Tatar language, and in those few Tatar grammar schools and schools, children speak Russian.
“These are all consequences of the Russification policy. If we have such a deplorable situation in Tatarstan, it is a tragedy for the Tatars who live in the subjects of the Russian Federation. It’s a pity that Putin’s fascist regime is destroying our Tatar language. Only through decolonization, the creation of our national Tatar state, we will be able to study our native Tatar language anew,” said Rafis Kashapov, Deputy Prime Minister of Tatarstan in Exile.