A Place Called Home

Letter From the Russian Federation

Kazan was preparing for her 1,000-year anniversary last August when Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived to address the World Tatar Congress in what once had been the center of a Tatar khanate.  The goal of the congress was the “spiritual unification” of the Tatars, scattered across Russia and the world.  I do not know whether President Putin paused to reflect on the lengthy and bloody history that has bound the Tatars and the Russians to this same land, though his somewhat tense reception at the congress, and the questions it raised about Russian citizenship and the old problems of ruling a multinational state, probably reminded him that all the tactful utterances he could make would not change history or alter the fundamental loyalties of the Tatars.

The Tatars—a Turkic, Muslim people of the vast Russian steppe—succeeded the dreaded Mongols as the scourge of old Rus.  Their repeated invasions of Moscow’s realm inflicted heavy losses on what had become the center of medieval Russia.  By the middle of the 16th century, the various Tatar khans in Kazan, Astrakhan, and the Crimea began coordinating raids that won them booty and slaves, wreaking havoc and terror on the Slavs.  Thus, in 1551, Czar Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible), launched a sustained offensive against the Tatar khanates.  After attacking the Crimean Tatars and the forces of their ally, the Turkish sultan, Ivan...

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