Publication: Prism Volume: 5 Issue: 20

By Mansur Khasanov

We have had the honor of participating in a notable historic event–the determination of the date of the founding of Kazan, the capital of the Tatar Republic and one of Russia’s and the world’s largest and oldest cities. This problem, which has exercised the minds of countless academics and members of the public, and which has been a constant topic of debate in historical circles for almost 200 years, has finally been resolved. The solution of this truly fundamental scientific problem was made possible by involving a wide range of academic disciplines, and it is based on entirely new scientific methods and facts.

Kazan has gained its rightful age of 1000 years, as confirmed by two academies of science–those of Russia and of Tatarstan. And it has gained it in the face of the doubts of skeptics preoccupied by the political rather than the academic aspect of the issue, who see the Tatar capital’s 1000 years as a challenge to Moscow, and are prepared to sacrifice scientific arguments at the altar of political expediency.

The republic’s academics and scientists studied the earliest archaeological strata on the territory of the Kazan Kremlin, and amassed some unique finds which leave no doubt about the venerable age of the city. Their findings, which have been recognized by the Russian Academy of Science, not only represent a major scientific breakthrough in determining the date of the founding of Kazan, but also signify Tatarstan’s arrival in the international community, opening up the genuine prospect of recognition of Kazan by UNESCO as one of the world’s oldest cities.

These impressive scientific results were made possible by the national sovereignty of Tatarstan, the establishment of an independent Academy of Science in the republic, and the creation of a dedicated Historical Institute at the Tatarstan Academy of Science, which undertakes full-scale, comprehensive studies of the history of the Tatar people and of Tatarstan.

It should be mentioned that cooperation between the republic’s academics and their Russian colleagues was made possible thanks to the efficient partnership established between the Tatarstan and Russian Academies of Science. The scientific conclusions were based on intensive archaeological research carried out methodically over the last seven years on the territory of the Kazan Kremlin. At the same time, research was carried out by scholars in Tatarstan, Russia and almost twenty European, Asian and African countries to identify and study a wide sample of written sources concerning not just the history of old Kazan, but the history of the middle ages in the Volga region as a whole. This made it possible to gain an objective picture of the emergence and early history of Kazan, and to view it in a wider historical context. The materials obtained were studied by academics and specialists of the Russian Academy of Science, including the Moscow Institutes of Russian History, Oriental Studies and Archaeology, the St. Petersburg Institute of the History of Material Culture, the Novosibirsk Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography and others. Leading specialists in the fields of archaeology, the history of the middle ages, source studies, oriental studies and numismatics were unanimous on one point. A major scientific discovery of international importance has been made in Tatarstan: The city is no less than 1000 years old.

At a meeting of the history department of the Russian Academy of Science devoted to determining the age of Kazan, a number of prominent scholars stressed the exceptional importance of the work done by Tatar academics and scientists, who have laid the foundations for a fundamentally new methodological approach to establishing the age of ancient towns and cities. As a rule, foundation dates for cities are nominal, and until recently have been determined by the first reference to them in written sources. But it must be borne in mind that the older a city is, the less likely it is that its early history will be mentioned in written sources. Because of this, it is necessary to change the very methodology of determining the age of ancient towns and cities. This is possible by integrating a whole range of other procedures, using the results and methods not just of humanitarian disciplines, but of the natural sciences too. This is the method that was used to establish the period of the foundation of Kazan. The main achievement of the faithful application of this approach was not just the major scientific breakthrough in determining the age of Kazan, but also the confirmation of the universality of this method and its significance for determining the foundation dates of old towns and cities in general. As was rightly stated at the meeting of the history department of the Russian Academy of Science, this method should be applied to date the foundation of Moscow, Novgorod and other Russian towns and cities.

The republic’s academics and scientists were provided with all the material and technical support required to carry out their research successfully, and also for their work to be appraised at three international symposia. The scientists’ painstaking work, and the groundbreaking result they achieved, won round not just their well-wishers, but also their carping critics. Russian president Boris Yeltsin and Tatarstan president Mintimer Shaimiev have issued decrees on holding celebrations to mark the 1000th anniversary of Kazan in 2005–a move which not only signifies recognition of these outstanding scientific achievements, but also puts them on an international footing. According to the Tatar president’s decree, the republic’s parliamentarians must draw up and adopt a special law on the status of the capital of Tatarstan. The republic will also approach UNESCO with a proposal to include the 1000th anniversary of the foundation of Kazan in UNESCO’s calendar of commemorative days.

We are on the threshold of a new age in the history of the city, when the historical and cultural traditions of many centuries will not only be carefully preserved, but will be augmented and become part of world civilization. They are the real fruits of our sovereignty. In this regard, we would do well to remember that during the seventy years of Soviet power the interests of the republic’s capital were sacrificed to other more “important” state priorities; vital humanitarian interests and the city’s national and cultural requirements, which the republic’s leaders presented to the national government, were ignored. While the Politburo and the Soviet government passed special resolutions on the development of towns such as Gorky, Kuibyshev and Novosibirsk, and considerable funds were allocated towards their improvement and reconstruction, Kazan missed out on such attention.

Things began to change fundamentally in 1990. In the last nine years Kazan’s huge economic, scientific and cultural potential has become quite apparent. On the initiative of the president of Tatarstan, the city’s administration is carrying out a major reconstruction of the city, and there is a special program, which is being studied by several Russian towns, to remove dilapidated housing. The Tatar capital is visibly improving, while the traditional picturesque face of old Kazan, which bears the features of various cultures, is being carefully preserved. The Tatarstan Academy of Science is working on a broad scientific program to prepare for the forthcoming jubilee. The republic’s academics face some important tasks in this respect. During the next few years they must become actively involved in resolving neglected problems relating to Kazan in the middle ages; they must undertake a thorough study of the city’s immediate surroundings, the historical relationship between Kazan and Old Kazan, and various periods in the city’s history, particularly the 20th century.

Taking the new methodology as their starting point, their efforts should be directed towards producing academic works on the ethnic origins of the indigenous peoples of Russia and Tatarstan, the role of the Great Volga Route in cultural relations between East and West, and so on. The need has arisen for a new, full, academic history of the city. We must begin writing an encyclopedia of Kazan, and prepare for publication a wide range of popular scientific books, albums and textbooks providing a full and colorful reflection of Kazan’s 1000-year history, its economic, scientific and technical potential, and its cultural and historical traditions. The problems of reconstructing the historic center of the city should also number among the tasks ahead. The Old Tatar quarter–the jewel of the old town–requires close attention from historians and architects; the fabled Lake Kaban, which according to legend conceals in its depths the untold treasures of the Golden Horde, is long overdue for cleaning and restoration. Kazan’s early history should be reflected in the design of new buildings, and in the names of squares and streets. There should be a veritable gallery of monuments to leading thinkers, cultural figures and scientists in the Tatar capital. It is anticipated that a large-scale national conference devoted to the historical heritage of the 20th century, to be hosted by Kazan in 2002, will play a part in all of this.

The recent election of the mayor of Kazan, Kamil Iskhakov, to the post of vice-president of the European Association of Historical Towns and Regions serves as recognition of Kazan’s contribution to the treasure-house of world civilization, and its significance as one of Russia’s largest political and cultural centers. This nongovernment organization, based in Norwich, England, was founded in Strasbourg at the beginning of October, and aims to protect the interests of the historical towns and regions of Europe, to strengthen cooperation and partnership among them, and to assist in preserving European cultural heritage.

For several hundred years Kazan was the largest political, economic, commercial and cultural center of the Volga region. Since ancient times it has represented for the Tatar people a symbol of statehood and national identity; the hope of a nation for its rebirth. The history of the Tatar people, and of the other peoples living here, is indivisible from the history of Kazan. I am convinced that many more discoveries await students of this ancient and unique city, that Kazan will reveal its many secrets, and that its rich cultural and historical heritage will take its place in the history of world civilization.

Mansur Khasanov is president of the Academy of Science of the Republic of Tatarstan. He served for a long period as vice-premier of the republic.