Tatar Journalism in Tatar

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"Tatar Journalists More Likely to Cover Controversial Topics When They Write or Speak in Tatar, One of Their Number Says"

Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia — New Series

Monday, August 28, 2023

           Staunton, Aug. 28 – Tatar journalists are more likely to cover controversial topics when they write or speak in Tatar than they are when they use Russian, according to Alfiya Minnullina, one of the founders of the online newspaper Intertat, calling attention to a pattern likely true of most non-Russian areas of the Russian Federation.

            Minnullina, 60, was one of the first journalists in Tatarstan to see the advantages that the Internet could give to Tatar-language materials and their distribution beyond the borders of the republic (

            She created the first Tatar-language online newspaper for that audience and then was involved 20 years ago in the creation of Intertat, a portal which still exists and communicates not only to Tatars within Tatarstan but to Tatars living elsewhere in the former Soviet space and more broadly.

            The Tatars of Tatarstan, Minnullina says, “are quite intimidated and accustomed to surviving in difficult conditions … Of course, they have been forced to be afraid. Otherwise, they would have been crushed … There is no point in risking your career or your life; and there is no need to demand such sacrifices from a journalist.”,

            But “at the same time,” she says, “I believe that our journalists don’t hush up sensitive issues,” adding that “in the Tatar-language segment of the media, the truth appears even more often” than in the Russian, something that gives up for the future but presents a challenge to those who try to follow Tatar developments only via the Russian.

Guess Tatar Is a Bit Like Navajo During WWII … (the enemy doesn't understand it) — or is that story purely apocryphal?


Selected readings

[Thanks to Don Keyser]



  1. Peter Taylor said,

    September 4, 2023 @ 8:01 am

    The FSB will certainly have Tatar-speakers. A more likely hypothesis seems to me to be that they consider material in Tatar to be less of a threat because it has less reach.

  2. Carl said,

    September 4, 2023 @ 8:57 am

    Code Talkers are real, not apocryphal.

  3. Peter B. Golden said,

    September 4, 2023 @ 10:10 am

    After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Volga-Siberian Tatars (I am not including the Crimean Tatars who constitute a linguistically and politically different group), Tatar intellectuals and political figures reached a kind of entente with Moscow. The Tatars could write their own history, cf. the multi-authored (including considerable contributions by Russian and other non-Tatar historians) to the 7 volume История татар с древнейших времен (Казань: 2002-2013), the publication of the Золотордынское обзрение (an excellent journal) and numerous works in Tatar and Russian (Russian will reach a wider audience) by the Marjani Historical Center in Kazan.They could not, however, call for separatism. Although there are pan-Turkic undertones in some writings and a fair amount of "nationalism" in some authors, Tatars carefully tread around the line of independence vs. remaining within the Russian orbit. Interestingly enough, some prominent Tatar emigre scholars (they were largely living in Turkey, I studied with some of them in the 1960s) have now been translated into Russian (cf. Akdes Nimet Kurat) and their works are fully available. There is a fine line and Tatars have been walking it for centuries A few go up to the edge, but do not cross. There are no code-talkers. Kazan has a large Russian population (around 47%, Tatars are almost 49%) and a goodly number who speak Tatar. It is hardly a secret tongue. Tatar has been interacting with Russian (which has numerous Turkic loanwords, many from Tatar) since the Russian conquest of Kazan in 1552 – a good many Russian noble families are of Tatar origin, descendants of Tatars who took service with Moscow and eventually adopted Christianity (cf. Prince Feliks F. Yusupov, who claimed to have delivered the mortal shot that killed Rasputin).
    As Russia began to penetrate into the Turkic steppe lands, Catherine the Great decided that the nominally Muslim Turkic nomads were still basically shamanists and that they had to be taught "proper" Islam so that they could then be converted to Orthodox Christianity. The Tatars who had a long history of mercantile contact with these peoples and whose languages they easily acquired were now asked to send out faqihs to teach the nomads Islam. They did – with the result that these Turkic nomads became largely Islamized (and remain so – the law of unintended consequences). Kazan became a center for proselytizing but ended up more a center for Turkic Studies.

  4. ohwilleke said,

    September 5, 2023 @ 11:22 am

    While obscuring messages from official interest and reducing its impact may be one factor, another, more prosaic factor may apply as well.

    Covering controversial issues with original journalism isn't easy and is much easier to do in one's native language than in another language. So, a Tartar speaker would have an easier time doing original journalism on controversial issues in Tartar.

    In contrast, lots of news in the media, especially less in depth coverage of less controversial issues, produces stories by simply recycling press releases and newswire reports. If you are doing journalism in a second language for you, this is much easier to do in the second language than original journalism.

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