‘Turks across Em­pires: Mar­ket­ing Mus­lim Iden­tity in the Rus­sianOt­toman Border­lands, 1856-1914,’ By James H. Meyer

Turkish Review - - CONTENTS - ASST. PROF. ŞENER AK­TÜRK

James Meyer’s “Turks across Em­pires” is a very valu­able and in­trigu­ing re­assess­ment of the ori­gins of pan-Turk­ism through an in-depth ex­am­i­na­tion of some of its lead­ing fig­ures, most im­por­tantly Yusuf Akçura, Ah­met Ağaoğlu and Ismail Gasprinskii. Since this re­viewer works on Soviet, Rus­sian and Turk­ish pol­i­tics with a fo­cus on the pol­i­tics of eth­nic­ity and na­tion­al­ism, it was a great plea­sure to read this book, which sparked many com­ments and sug­ges­tions for fur­ther re­search. Meyer’s book is “re­vi­sion­ist” in the sense that it suc­cess­fully chal­lenges many as­sump­tions and ar­gu­ments in the study of Rus­sia’s Mus­lims and panTurk­ism. What clearly emerges is that key fig­ures such as Akçura and Gasprinskii did not as­pire to an in­de­pen­dent Tur­kic state but rather for most of their lives strived for cul­tural au­ton­omy and equal cit­i­zen­ship for Rus­sian Mus­lims within a plu­ral­is­tic, con­sti­tu­tional or­der in Rus­sia.

What en­abled the ex­is­tence of the “trans-im­pe­rial peo­ple,” as Meyer de­scribes the fu­ture panTurk­ist ac­tivists in the ti­tle of the first chap­ter, was the wide­spread ex­is­tence of “dou­ble sub­ject­hood” un­der con­di­tions of por­ous bor­ders, whereby thou­sands of Rus­sian Mus­lims could and did spend many years in the Ot­toman Em­pire while re­tain­ing their Rus­sian pass­ports, si­mul­ta­ne­ously be­com­ing Ot­toman sub­jects and re­turn­ing to Rus­sia when­ever it served their in­ter­ests (p. 30-31). Thus, Akçura ar­rived in İs­tan­bul as a seven-year-old with his wid­owed mother and yet 20 years later, he was able to go back and set­tle in Rus­sia, since he never lost his sta­tus as a Rus­sian sub­ject (p. 42-3). The most ex­ten­sively dis­cussed fig­ure in the book, Akçura has a bi­og­ra­phy that is some­what typ­i­cal of most other “trans- im­pe­rial” Mus­lims who be­came fu­ture pan-Turk­ists. Born to a no­table pro­vin­cial fam­ily in Ulyanovsk -- which was then known as Sim­birsk -- and ma­ter­nally re­lated to the prom­i­nent Yunusov fam­ily of Kazan, Akçura grew up in İs­tan­bul and was ed­u­cated to be­come an of­fi­cer in the Ot­toman army, but was ex­iled to Libya for sedi­tion. He fled to Paris via Mar­seille, where he stud­ied law and pol­i­tics at the Sor­bonne for four years, whereon he re­turned to his home­land, Rus­sia. Once back in Rus­sia, he had an ex­tra­or­di­nary cul­tural cap­i­tal that was highly un­usual for a Rus­sian Mus­lim, be­ing lit­er­ate in mul­ti­ple lan­guages in­clud­ing French in ad­di­tion to pos­sess­ing a world-class ed­u­ca­tion and ex­pe­ri­ence in many for­eign coun­tries (p. 84). At that time, most Rus­sian Mus­lims were not even lit­er­ate in their na­tive lan­guage and few of them knew Rus­sian, the of­fi­cial lan­guage of the coun­try they were liv­ing in. Gasprinskii and Ağaoğlu also have sim­i­lar life sto­ries that drove them far away from their pro­vin­cial birth­places in Crimea and the Cau­ca­sus to po­lit­i­cal and in­tel­lec­tual cen­ters such as St. Peters­burg, İs­tan­bul, Cairo and Paris.

Fol­low­ing such a “tran­sim­pe­rial” grand open­ing, be­gin­ning in Chap­ter 2 (“In­sider Mus­lims”), the book nar­rows its fo­cus to what Meyer la­bels “cen­tral Rus­sia,” cor­re­spond­ing to a se­ries of towns with sig­nif­i­cant Mus­lim -- and in par­tic­u­lar Volga Tatar --

FIG­URES SUCH AS AKÇURA AND GASPRINSKII DID NOT AS­PIRE TO AN IN­DE­PEN­DENT TUR­KIC STATE BUT RATHER FOR CUL­TURAL AU­TON­OMY FOR RUS­SIAN MUS­LIMS

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