''Many Mishars turned out in Baku because they ran away from dekulakisation''

Our people in the UN: interview with WCT delegate, Azerbaijani Tatar woman

''Many Mishars turned out in Baku because they ran away from dekulakisation'' Photo: Timur Rakhmatullin

The 6 th session of the World Congress of the Tatars started its work on 4 August. Dinara Khairullina – representative of Azerbaijan, expert in social issues of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – became one of the bright delegates of the meeting. The guest from Transcaucasia met with Realnoe Vremya's reporter and told about the Mishar spirit of the Baku Tatar Diaspora, problems of refugees in the world and several camps of Azerbaijan.

Baku's Mishar accent

Dinara, are there many Tatars living in Azerbaijan?

According to the census in 1989, there were about 33,000 people. Now there are much less. The census has not been taken in Azerbaijan for quite a long time: it is thought they don't need it. This is why there is not accurate information now. I think about 5,000 left.

Did they assimilate or go?

They went. We are not talking about assimilation. People from my circle went mainly to Russia – Moscow, Tatarstan, the Volga Region. Azerbaijan has specifics – there are many Mishar Tatars (Tatars who have a certain accent) who came from the Volga Region: Penza, Saratov, Astrakhan, Ulyanovsk, Orenburg Oblasts. There is a handful of them from very Tatarstan including my father and his ancestors.

Are they represented in governing bodies, business or other spheres of the republic's society?

Certainly, there are not Tatar deputies in the country's parliament. Neither can I remember high-profile functionaries. What do they do? There are no special spheres. For instance, I work in the UN. Safia Nizametdinova (the interlocutor showed a girl who was sitting next to her – a delegate from Azerbaijan) is in IT. My father is a journalist, my mother has worked in a factory during all her life. I think different spheres are covered. Considering that the Tatar and Azerbaijani languages are very close, we have one religion, cultures are similar somehow, Tatars are well integrated into the modern Azerbaijani society. Azerbaijani is more complicated for Russians than us. In general, there are more successful Tatars than representatives of other national minorities of Azerbaijan.

''Considering that the Tatar and Azerbaijani languages are very close, we have one religion, cultures are similar somehow, Tatar are well integrated into the modern Azerbaijani society.'' Photo: day.az

If we are not talking about assimilation, are there Tatar-Azerbaijani marriages?

There are mixed marriages. There are Tatar roots in such families, traditions and very often the language are conserved. There are such examples among my acquaintances: the newly born are given two names – one is Tatar, the other is Azerbaijani. Such a family often speaks the language because grandparents affect. If they are brought up by a grandmother, the language is conserved. Still, I am talking about my circle only.

You are talking about one religion. Nevertheless, the Azerbaijanis traditionally embrace Shiism, Tatars – Sunnism, the Hanafi. Do Tatars switch from Sunnism to Shiism?

There is no such a thing. In general, Azerbaijan is a very tolerant country and mainly really secular. To tell the truth, there is not a special religious commitment in the republic. The majority of the Azerbaijanis are committed to moderate Islam, this is why there are not religious problems. But there is some part of Sunni Azerbaijanis. They mainly live in northern regions on the border with Russia.

''One day it will have to choose one side''

Anyway, you are a citizen of Azerbaijan and at the same time you are above the politics of your country as Tatar and UN employee. In Russia, we don't understand whom friend Azerbaijan is: Russia, Iran or Turkey?

In this respect, Azerbaijan is a neutral country, it tries to conserve good relations with everyone. It has very good relations with Russia, even excellent at the level of Aliev and Putin. It has wide cultural links with Turkey, the slogan ''One Nation – Two Countries'' is very popular. At the same time, Azerbaijan also follows a pro-Western policy. It managed to have a foot in both camps before. The world is changing. One day it will have to choose one side. I hope it won't be soon.

How is the problem of Nagorny Karabakh is solved? Whom does it belong in the end?

Azerbaijan, of course. We support only Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. The UN and the whole world recognise it, including Russia. But we hope this problem will be solved peacefully, without a military conflict (Inshallah). Tatars living in Azerbaijan support that Karabakh is Azerbaijan's indispensable part.

''In this respect, Azerbaijan is a neutral country, it tries to conserve good relations with everyone. It has very good relations with Russia, even excellent at the level of Aliev and Putin.'' Photo: kremlin.ru

Will there be peace there one day and Azerbaijani return to Karabakh?

We hope so a lot.

Are its horizons seen?

I don't think so. We hope that the Azerbaijanis will be able to return to their native lands some fine day.

To Azerbaijan – for oil and from repressions

You started to tell about yourself. Dinara, is it true that you studied in the USA? Why did not you stay there?

I studied in the USA on the exchange. I finished the 11 th grade in Atlanta, Georgia. I could not stay on this programme. I was just 16 years then. Then I returned to Azerbaijan, studied at the Baku State University in the Faculty of International Law and International Relations. I have a degree in Law and International Relations. The UN is the place where I should work. I do what I studied, and it gladdens me a lot. Then I got Master's Degree in Great Britain. I graduated in International Law: it is right human rights and international humanitarian law. It is in Oxford, Oxford Brookes University. I studied there one year and had an internship then, I lived in London. I had an opportunity to stay. But due to life circumstances, I had to be back. Now I am in Baku. I don't know what will happen next.

As for your father. He is a journalist and artist, right?

He is a photo artist. My father Farit Khairullin is an honourable artist of Azerbaijan. By the way, he had a personal exhibition at Hazine of the Kazan Kremlin several years ago. He came to Tatarstan from Azerbaijan. He graduated from the Kazan State University from the Faculty of Journalism. He comes from Apastovo District. He is a real Tatar man. I am grateful to my father because he inculcated pride for my nation in me. He also a delegate of the 1 st Session of the World Congress of the Tatars in 1992. My father worked in the Apparatus of the President of Azerbaijan in the past, he is still listed there. Now he is more a free artist, works for himself: he has a studio, holds exhibitions.

''My father Farit Khairullin is an honourable artist of Azerbaijan. By the way, he had a personal exhibition at Hazine of the Kazan Kremlin several years ago. He came to Tatarstan from Azerbaijan.'' Photo: art16.ru

Why has not he come here?

He was a 1 st session delegate. He is very patriotic about Tatars. I will repeat he inculcated the Tatar spirit in me, the pride for my roots, history. He often comes here to Tatarstan. Younger delegates have been gathered here.

Where does your mother come from?

From Penza Oblast, Neverkinsky District. There is Kuznetsky settlement there, a Tatar village called Mazarly is next to it. Service class Tatars from the Admiralty in Petersburg lived there. They were allocated lands in Penza Oblast in the early 19 th century. It is a very big Tatar village, there are several mosques there, Mishars live.

How did your ancestors turn out in Baku?

Paternal grandparents moved there. My grandmother is from Buinsk District of Tatarstan, grandfather – from Apastovo. They met in Apastovo, my father and uncle were born there. Then they moved to Baku because my grandfather worked in the oil industry in Almetyevsk. He was transferred to the 6 th oil deposit in Grozny first, then – to Azerbaijan. It was after the war.

My mother's side was dekulakised. They first lived in Podolsk, Moscow Oblast, for a long time. Then one relative was appointed as party chairman to Baku, and they just moved. Almost two villages of Penza Oblast – Mazarly and Demino (semi-Tatar, semi-Russian) moved to Baku. There were many rich people in these settlements, they started to be dekulakised. One family moved to Baku first, then other relatives were invited there. Many Mishars turned out in Baku because they ran away from dekulakisation.

Do you perform national customs in the family and celebrate festivals?

We hold meetings. We organised Sabantuy in Azerbaijan with the help of the Permanent Representative Office of Tatarstan in Azerbaijan on 2 July. We celebrate Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr. We hold both merry and sad events like Tatars. For instance, we celebrated my uncle's death anniversary having invited a Tatar mullah. Hazrat Ruslan worked in Donetsk in the past, then he was back after the conflict started. We have our own imam-khatibs. We hold charity iftars: for the needy, old and young people. There are Muslim marriages, names are given.

''Somebody is a member of some organisations. But Safia and me – no. It is better to do something for your nation, diaspora than checking the box from some organisation.'' Photo: Timur Rakhmatullin

Have you ever been in the session?

I was a 4 th session delegate in 2007. I was just 19 then. Then I was a delegate of Azerbaijan at two youth forums in 2008 and 2012. I also have relatives living in Kazan. This is why I just often come here.

Who are you in the Tatar diaspora?

A simple non-indifferent Tatar person. I often go to different forums, talk a lot. And I see that division is the main problem. There is a famous phrase: ''There are three Tatar men and four organisations''. This is why I am not a member of any organisation. We just hold different events. For example, last year, we had a quest in places where Tatars in Azerbaijan lived. We all know Muslim Magomaev – a famous citizen of Baku. The Baku Philharmonic bears his grandfather Muslim Magomaev Senior's name. And his wife (the singer's grandmother is Kazan Tatar). Somebody is a member of some organisations. But Safia and me – no. It is better to do something for your nation, diaspora than checking the box from some organisation.

I knew that you are also a writer…

I would not say so. I just have one printed book called White Stairs. It is a piece of art in Russian but the topic is Tatar: it is briefly told about Syuyumbike… But it is not a historical piece. Five years have already passed since it was published. Now when I look at it with a fresh view, I want to rewrite it. It seems there was a more naïve view. My book was presented in 2012 during a youth forum, it was handed out to delegates. I thank Tabris Yarullin for it, good for him. I have ideas, try to write something. Now I have less time. Something will work out, Inshallah.

We hope to see your news books a lot.

Rehmet!

By Timur Rakhmatullin