A Book on the History of the Temnikov Tatars Was Presented in Kazan

25 March 2022


What does the history of the Temnikov Tatars entail? Have they succeeded in preserving Islam far from their compatriots? What is the history of the Temnikov fortress? These are the questions that essentially formed the basis of a new book ‘Temnikov: Fortress of Empires’, which was presented at the National Library of the Republic of Tatarstan. The event was held within the framework of the 1100th anniversary of the adoption of Islam by Volga Bulgaria.

The book is a continuation of a series of ethnographic works dedicated to the history of Tatars. The authors of the book are Renat Abyanov, a historian, Head of the Department of Culture of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Russian Federation, and Marat Safarov, a historian and journalist, supported by Rushan Abbyasov, Deputy Chairman of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Russian Federation and the Council of Muftis of Russia, editor-in-chief of the ‘Chitay’ publishing house.

The expeditions sought to analyze ritual practices, the sacred landscape, perception of neighbors, and book culture – the worldview of the Temnikov Tatars, descendants of the servant estate, based on numerous testimonies of local residents.

The book is structured around the key concepts of local history – lineage origin, migrations, faith, epic and collective memory. The voices of the book’s characters are revealed through interview fragments, examples of local vocabulary introduced into the text and photographic images showing contemporary life in Western Mordovia and the border regions.

‘The book is a photo album supported by text. It is divided into chapters and is dedicated to the past and present of the Temnikov Tatars who live in the territory of several districts of Western Mordovia. We speak about the history, about the traditions that have survived, about the way of life that people have in a given period of time,’ Renat Abyanov, a co-author of the book, said.

There are 300 pages in the book and a total print run is 1000 copies. A number of illustrations were made by Penza artist Ildar Akzhigitov.

‘It is not just a book, but also social media, meetings, articles, films that have been produced. This is the friendship that brings people together, the love for their home and people. It is also a film about people preserving culture and traditions of their ancestors, who wrote beits and passed them down from generation to generation. What is this film so remarkable for? For the fact that the villages it tells about are ancestral villages of Tatar mirzas. The main characters in the film are the descendants of those people who for many centuries have been living outside Tatarstan, in Mordovia, preserving their language, words that are now not always used in everyday life, in the literary language. They do not have any schools or kindergartens, but people preserve the Tatar language, pass on their cultural heritage and preserve their faith in Allah,’ Abyanov said.

In his turn, Marat Safarov explained that the exploratory region became Western Mordovia, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, and eastern Ryazan Oblast.

‘Our book is less about history and more about modern life. It is a conversation about people who actually live in Western Mordovia in Tatar villages. About people who remember the fortress, about their kala and who know its original location,’ Safarov explained.

Temnikov, as the authors of the work tell us, was once one of the westernmost points of the Golden Horde then became an eastern fortress of the new, fledgling empire. Mirzas used to live there. Tatars have been living here for many centuries. And for these centuries they have been guarding their religious identity, language environment, communicating, getting married and interacting with representatives of other villages, even remote one. Some families have even kept their clan tamga for generations.

‘One of the chapters in the book is called ‘Din’ and it is dedicated to the local surviving mosques. It is noteworthy that this is one of the main topics raised in our work. There was a period in the history of the Temnikov Tatars when they faced an important personal choice – between staying or leaving, accepting or remaining within their beliefs. It is gratifying that the Temnikov Tatars, despite difficulties and peripetia, have remained in the fold of Islam. In almost every village we found a mosque or house of worship. Mosques are small, cozy, restored or rebuilt with historical accuracy. The pictures show a minaret, unique for this region, which is high and reaches up into the sky. Besides, almost in every house there are ancient religious books and shamails, which are handed down from generation to generation,’ Renat Abyanov told. Interestingly, they were women of the Temnikov Tatars who often acted as guarantors of the preservation of their ancestors’ religion.



A little of the history of Temnikov

A special difference between Temnikov and other towns of the Moscow state was that it was predominantly inhabited by Tatar servant population. Aktshurin and Isheyev also say about it in their research.

‘Tatars lived in the Shirleyskaya and Akhmylovskaya Slobodas; there were mosques in the town’s suburb. We only know for certain about the former town that it was ‘small’ and ‘not strong’. The former town area was called Old Gorodishche, and the village which arose there was called Old Town (Old Gorodishche),’ the researchers note.

There are several versions of the emergence of the town of Temnikov. One of them says that the town appeared during the existence of the Golden Horder, as the second ulus centre in the Mordovian lands after Moksha (Narovchat).



Ilmira Gafiyatullina