Larisa Usmanova, The Türk-Tatar Diaspora in Northeast Asia. Transformation of Consciousness: A Historical and Sociological Account Between 1898 and the 1950s
The study focuses on Turkic speaking Muslims who migrated from their homeland, the Volga-Ural region of the Russian empire, to Japan, China, Korea and Manchuria in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and tells the story of the formation of the diaspora in the Far East. The author starts out from the constructivist approach of diaspora studies in international relations, which emphasizes "norms and identities in the construction of social relations" and approaches diaspora as a ‘unique common life-style’ rather than as an ethnic or demographic phenomenon. Although she promises a study of the diaspora experience, the author is clearly keeping within the constraints of her own disciplinary background (sociology and political science); her research is also defined by the nature of the basic source material used which was the weekly newspaper called Milli Bairaq (National Flag) published in Manchuria between 1935 and 1945. Additionally, other Tatar émigré periodicals, Russian newspapers and diverse archival sources held in Tatarstan and Japan as well as private documents and photographs of the immigrants have also been consulted.
In Chapter 1 the author carefully addresses the problems of self-designation and self-identification as well as the characteristics shared by members of the group, such as the Turkic language spoken in the Volga region, Islam and a shared sense of history and territorial belonging. In addition to the theoretical perspective, this same chapter also considers the most important stages of the emergence of the diaspora, which included the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway in 1898 and the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. The latter was followed by the intensive migration of Tatar peasants to Manchuria, later joined by intellectuals, merchants and their families and the former military personnel who had previously fought on the side of the white Russians. This narrative of the diaspora history is often interrupted by digressions on the characterization of the changing collective identity of the diaspora communities, which renders the reading somewhat awkward. Changing ideological influences are also addressed here, but they are elaborated in greater detail in Chapter 2, which focuses on the diaspora leaders and their shifting ideological agendas; these included belonging to the Altaic brotherhood, membership in the Prometheus League, or following Pan-Turkism, Turanism or Asianism. Chapter 3 presents the organizational structures of the diaspora, its major periodicals as well as the relations of the diaspora communities with their respective host countries. The first two congresses of the Türk-Tatar diaspora are treated here in greater detail. These congresses seem to have set a double agenda since they were concerned both with their own affairs as diaspora and with their relationship to their host countries, as well as with the fate of those they had left behind in the Soviet Union, which included no less than about 60 million brethren. Educational and religious problems faced in the diaspora situation as well as in the homeland were central to such discussions, which were invariably accompanied by lamentations of the gradual loss of national traditions. This is not so surprising since both the homeland communities as well as the diaspora were facing a situation whereby they lived in societies dominated by ethnically and linguistically very different, non–Muslim majorities. The trick was to develop ideologies which could reject Russian dominance but could simultaneously include the dominant majorities of the host countries. Nationalist ideology served as a useful point of departure: it spoke of a retreating, dying national spirit which needed revitalization and it was often likened to the ‘Asian spirit’. The great nations of Asia, or the ‘East’, were urged to unite against intensifying Europeanization. The diaspora organizations also took a very resolute anti-communist and anti-atheist stance, which further distanced these Türk-Tatars from the Russians. The author points out that, while these ideologies were mobilized in very specific historical circumstances and constituted strategies developed in response to the shifts and turns in international politics, simultaneously, the political agenda could also be coloured by sentiments which could not be explained simply by rational political calculations: while alliance or at least political cooperation was advocated with Georgians, Ukranians and Finno-Ugric peoples, such rapprochement with white Russians was considered to be out of question for religious and racial reasons.
Chapter 4 constitutes the most substantial part of the study. It considers aspects of social life and relations of what can be reconstructed of the individual Türk-Tatar diaspora communities. The descriptions of individual communities vary in length and detail, which reflect the size and importance of the individual communities. They include details about those aspects of communal life which were deemed significant enough to be included in the diaspora newspapers. Details include commemorations of important events in diaspora history, the celebration of religious rituals, financial affairs, the opening of a new mosque, references to marriages and deaths, education, charitable activities and interethnic relations. They also contain information concerning the occupational profile of community members and organizational activities initiated within the diaspora. The Conclusion summarizes the main chapters,emphasizes the role of religion in their identity formation and their later fate. The author concludes that the diaspora in northeast Asia did not follow the pattern of developing from labour migrants into immigrant communities,neither did they integrate into Asian societies; in spite of seeking political alliance with Asian countries and embracing ideologies that emphasized their closeness to Asian societies and cultures, they “were culturally attracted to Western models of civilization more so than by Eastern ones......though they chose an Islamic type of civilization in the “civilization conflict” and the East as a partner in the anti-colonial struggle with the Christian West”. (p. 205). The author, who hails from Kazan herself, maintains that even today Tatars in both the homeland and in the diaspora face an identity conflict, feeling torn between East and West. Here a few critical remarks are in order. Situating Tatars in a framework which inevitably evokes Huntington’s theory does not seem to do justice to the evidence emerging from the rich materials presented by the chapters and to the complexities of contemporary Tatar identity. Throughout the book the author is at pains to provide as many details as possible which, together with the sometimes confusing structure of the individual chapter (especially Chapter I), result in a style which is not always reader–friendly. Furthermore, the English language editing could have been done more thoroughly. In spite of this, the study is a pioneering, interdisciplinary work which sheds new light on the history of the Türk-Tatar diaspora in the Far East prior to World War II and is of interest to diaspora specialists and students of Tatar history.