My post over the weekend focused on the Volga Tatars. Here is a primer on the Crimean Tatars, a distinct but historically related group that is much more directly impacted by the crisis in Ukraine.
Tatars and Tartary
The Kazan Kremlin, a UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage site (photo via the Kazan Kremlin State Historical and Architectural Museum)
While I was providing a quick overview of the global distribution of major religions, a student in my world geography class asked about a small patch of Islam shown on a map in the middle of a sprawling region of Russian Orthodox Christianity. My short, semi-informed answer was that the patch was centered on the Volga River metropolis of Kazan, long home to the Tatars. This post is a longer, somewhat-less-ignorant response to the obvious follow-up question: Who are the Tatars?
The Thirteenth-Century Eurasian empire of Genghis Khan was divided into four regions upon the Mongol leader’s death. The western-most of these imperial realms became, in effect, Tartary, the lands of the emperor Batu’s “Golden Horde”. (Like Kublai Khan of China’s Yuan dynasty, and Chagtai of the eponymous Central Asian empire in present-day Uzbekistan, Batu was one of several of Genghis Khan’s grandsons who ruled over parts of the old Mongol Empire in the late 1200s.) The geographic heart of Tartary was, and remains, the central Volga River valley,where a mix of medieval Turkic peoples, Mongol rulers, and the local Bulgars eventually became the Volga Tatars of today.
Rather than a singular political or cultural identity, “Tatar” has served as a label more generally applied to Central Asia’s Turkic and/or Muslim peoples whose principle source of common identity was their opposition to Slavic, Christian neighbors of the Russian and Ukrainian plains to the north and west. Even more broadly, the label “Tartar” (with an extra “r”) was used in the age of Marco Polo to describe all of the Altaic peoples, Mongol as well as Turkic, stretching across the full length of the great Silk Roads to and from China. Thus, whether one highlights the Tatars’ sackings of Kiev and Moscow in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries, or Ivan IV’s landmark victory for Tsarist Russia at Kazan in the Sixteenth Century, the Tatars long have been identified as something of a bête noire, or at least a counterpoint, to Russian/Christian civilization, much like the Mongols have been for China.
Like their Slavic counterparts, the Tatars are a diverse group. For example, the Volga Tatars were one of many Central Asian groups conquered by Timur (aka Tamerlane) in the late 1300s and early 1400s, a conquest that help lift the “Tatar Yoke” off of old Muscovy and facilitated the subsequent rise of imperial Russia. Timur himself can be described as a Tatar, at least in the broad medieval sense, given his Turko-Mongol origins from Samarkand. Nonetheless, the southern/eastern orientation of his Timurid empire opened the door to Russia’s expansion and development from the 1400s onward. Another example of Tartary’s diversity are the Crimean Tatars, whose history and presence at the heart of the northern Black Sea coast places them also at the heart of the very tense Ukrainian-Russian frontier today.
Following Ivan IV’s defeat of the Khanate of Kazan in 1552, power in the Volga region generally rested with the Slavic, Christian Russians. The Volga Tatars didn’t disappear, however, and in the century prior to the Russian Revolution they strengthened their economic and political standing within the Tsars’ realm. By the early Twentieth Century, there emerged a strong nationalist movement centered at Kazan, built around the Tatar language and Muslim faith. As the revolution unfolded, the Tatars did eventually receive their own Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, but its autonomy was severely limited by Stalin, who sought to Russify this critical economic region as part of his grand campaign against the Soviet Union’s various ethno-national groups. In addition to Stalin’s repression of Tataric culture, the population suffered periodic decimating losses during the Soviet era, including famine in the early 1920s, and the devastation of World War II in the 1940s.
Russia today remains home to the great majority of the world’s estimated five to seven million ethnic Tatars (i.e., the Volga Tatars). The collapse of the Soviet Union saw a move toward Tatar independence in the early 1990s, but by 1994, Tatarstan’s enduring place within the Russian Federation had been cemented via a power-sharing agreement between Kazan and Moscow, which was championed by Tatarstan’s own strong-armed President, Mintimer Shaimiev. Tatarstan has remained an example of political stability within the often tumultuous world of the multinational Russian federation, even in the four years since President Shaimiev retired. But historic notions of a “horde” of Turkic, Muslim Tatars perceived to be threatening the core of Russian/Christian civilization will always make Kazan a potential flash point for future conflict. Especially as the current crisis in Crimea and the rest of Ukraine unfolds, Tatarstan—and greater Tartary—is a region to be watched.
Human Geography 101: public space matters.
The name for the movement itself, Euromaidan, is a neologism fusing the prefix euro, a nod to the opposition’s desire to move closer to the EU and away from Russia, with the Ukrainian (and originally Persian and Arabic) word maidan, or public square. And the term is about more than situating the demonstrations in Kiev’s Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti). Ukraine may be located in Europe geographically, but many of the protesters also see Europe as an idea, one that ”implies genuine democracy, trustworthy police and sincere respect for human rights.”
The name speaks to an increasingly universal phenomenon as well: the public square as an epicenter of democratic expression and protest, and the lack of one—or the deliberate manipulation of such a space—as a way for autocrats to squash dissent through urban design.
Not all revolutions have been centered in public squares, but many recent ones have, including several in former Soviet states.
Read more. [Image: Olga Yakimovich/Reuters]
Maps can be a very powerful tool for re-presenting history. Or erasing it. Other than the slightly ghosted street grid surrounding the prospective baseball diamond and its circular moat of parking, there is not even a hint here of how the bounded “CITY-OWNED AREA” came to be city owned.
The story of Chavez Ravine’s controversial urban renewal is not unique to Los Angeles, nor is it entirely unique within Los Angeles. And like most examples of displacing urban redevelopment, it’s not a simple story either, with its mix of public and private winners and losers. Not only did the Dodgers eventually get a new West Coast home—and for cheap—but Los Angeles got one of its great architectural icons, beloved by generations of Angelenos, and local taxpayers seem to have gotten a decent deal, too, especially when compared to more recent efforts of cities luring professional sports franchises with shiny new stadiums. But if we want to acknowledge the full story, including the viewpoints of the dispossessed, we need to see through the present-day landscape. We need to remember that drawing the maps of the future entails erasing, at least in part, the maps of the past.
A map of Dodger Stadium soon after it was first proposed for Chavez Ravine in 1957. Part of the Los Angeles Examiner Collection in the USC Digital Library.
Linguists know, based on reams of research, that a form of [Proto Indo-European], the language, did arrive in India from elsewhere, becoming Sanskrit over time. That fact doesn’t have to diminish the ‘Indianness’ of the language. Sanskrit’s deep and longstanding cultural importance in the subcontinent is a strong enough connection. Its shared ancestry with farflung languages is just one of the many connections that have been made and remade over and over again in India’s history.
Can you spot the globalization in this photo?
Let me first set the stage. This is a picture of professional soccer player Lucas Barrios holding the trophy awarded to the champions of Germany’s Bundesliga. And in both 2010-11 and 2011-12, the victorious Deutschmeister was Borussia Dortmund. For a U.S. audience, Borussia Dortmund, or “BVB”, might best be described as the Pittsburgh Steelers of German soccer. The club’s colors are a bold yellow and black; the club’s fan base is very large and very passionate; the club has a long and distinguished history as one of Germany’s most successful, including nine Bundesliga titles and a pair of European trophies; and while beginning to emerge as one of Europe’s “super clubs” in world soccer, its identity remains intensely rooted in the modest-sized, industrial city that it calls home. What Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania are to the United States, Dortmund and its Ruhr Valley are to Germany, and BVB is not nearly the global brand that its southern, Munich-based rival, FC Bayern (aka “FC Hollywood”) represents.
Against this intensely local backdrop, note two rather conspicuous global elements in the photo. First, there is the Döner Kebap Haus in the background, reminding us that Germany’s postwar industrial recovery relied heavily on a workforce supplemented by millions of gastarbeiter, especially from Turkey. Today, Turks represent the largest non-Germanic ethnic minority group in an increasingly multicultural country, accounting for about five percent of the total population. Through areas such as sport, music, film, and, of course, food, Turkish Germans are helping redefine what it means to be German in the 21st Century. (Sticking with film, the nearly two decades of work by Hamburg native Fatih Akin are a great place to start discovering the rich Turkish-German experience; also well worth watching is the multi-generational, guest-worker immigration story told by Yasemin Samdereli’s 2011 film, Almanya: Willkommen in Deutschland.)
The second, no less obvious global connection in the photo, is Barrios himself, who is a native of Buenos Aires and, in soccer terms at least, a national of Paraguay thanks to family connections on his mother’s side. But there is even more to his global story. This photograph is linked from a recent article on Chinese professional soccer. Like many other big names from the ranks of world soccer, including both players and coaches, Barrios has been lured by a big pay raise to ply his trade in the fledgling Chinese league. It’s been a mixed story, both for players such as Barrios and for the league, but it reveals the large and lucrative market that exists in China, and eastern Asia more broadly, for the world’s game. It’s also a fascinating microcosm of the new dynamics of wealth that has accumulated in post-Mao China, with many of the country’s richest individuals generating and displaying their wealth through a combination of property development and soccer. As the article points out, real-estate companies own 13 of China’s 16 first-division teams, including Barrios’s FC Evergrande, owned by the billionaire founder of Evergrande real estate, Xu Jiayin.
A little more than three miles from the Stade du 26 Mars, the 55-thousand-seat home of Mali’s national soccer team, lies just one of several dirt pitches that occupy much of the open space in Bamako (population ca. 2 million). While the green grass field of the Stade represents one side of Malian soccer—a very distinguished side, to be sure, as Mali’s “Eagles” have been surprise semi-finalists in the Africa Cup of Nations two times running—the other side of Malian soccer represented by the city’s less formal dirt pitches arguably better embodies the heart and soul of the beautiful game. This is the game that Americans Gwendolyn Oxenham and Luke Boughen recently traveled the world to find, and play, as chronicled in both their film, Pelada, and Gwendolyn’s book, Finding the Game. It is also the game played a few years back by a group of U.S. Airmen from Florida’s Hulburt Field, against a local Bamako side, which was watched by as many as 2000 spectators. First Lieutenant Lauren Johnson captured the sheer joy of the action that day with some wonderful photographs. One of these photos is shown above; it and a couple of others can be viewed in full size here, here, and here. (The rest of images posted above are screen captures from some virtual exploration of Bamako using Google Maps.)
Geography and Topological Space
I’m not a mathematician. As much as I’d love to be able to understand and communicate the language and logic of concepts like “graph theory”, it usually doesn’t take more than a page or two of such abstract thinking—as elegant as it may be—before my aching brain yearns for the historical geographer’s chaotic world of empirical facts and subjective stories.
I nonetheless get excited by examples of abstract mathematical order made visible in my seemingly messy “real world”. Such is the case with a recent blog post by The Atlantic Cities' Emily Badger, in which Badger summarizes the theoretical epidemiological geography of Northwestern University’s Dirk Brockmann. Applying graph-theory principles, Brockmann argues that a hypothetical global pandemic jumping around the planet in seemingly random, chaotic fashion via globe-trotting air travelers is, in fact, following a very conventional contagious pattern, like the radiating ripples on a pond made by the splash of single stone. We just need to look at this pattern of diffusion from the right perspective.
That perspective is topological space, which is about as abstract a concept as I introduce to my students in introductory human geography. The idea of topology typically is traced back to a classic 18th-century math problem involving the Seven Bridges of Königsberg. Part of this story’s appeal to me is that it sounds like a problem a bunch of old Prussians would have debated over tankards of Baltic Porter some evening: Was it possible to cross all seven bridges in the city without passing over any of the bridges a second time? The answer is no, but it took the mathematician Leonhard Euler to prove it. Euler’s key observation (illustrated below) is that the problem could be reduced to what we now call topology; the length and location of the bridges, in a conventional geographic sense, were irrelevant, and all that mattered for solving the problem was how each of the bridges connected two of this spatial network’s four nodes (i.e., the left and right banks of the Pregel River, plus the two islands on which Königsberg sat.)
When I introduce topological space to my students, and its application to more than just drunken debates at the bar, I discuss the cartography of mass-transit systems. Probably the most famous example is the map of the London Underground, which set the standard for efficiently displaying metropolitan rail lines topologically, distorting conventional geographical space in the process. Applying the concept to my own college in Santa Monica, and its location relative to downtown Los Angeles, one might observe that the college is a bit more than 13 miles away from City Hall, as the crow flies, from a west-southwest direction. That’s geographical space. But in terms of topological space, particularly that defined by the networks of mass-transit systems on which many of my students commute, SMC is functionally further from downtown than its crow-flying distance would suggest. It would take at least two bus rides, and/or a fair bit of walking, to make such a journey. And if one wanted to ride the train; forget about it. Despite the recent opening of the Expo Line to Culver City, Santa Monica remains miles (and years) away from being rail-connected to downtown. Indeed, one could reasonably argue that, topologically speaking, Long Beach is actually closer than SMC to the historic core of L.A., since the 20-mile distance between the two cities’ downtowns can be covered by a simple, single ride along the Metro Blue Line.
Any sort of spatial interaction that is mediated by networks is perhaps better understood in terms of topological space than conventional geographic space. This is exactly the idea exploited by Professor Brockmann modeling the theoretical spread of pandemic disease. If one were to map, as Brockmann does, the global diffusion (via air travel) of a theoretical disease starting on Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean, the resulting animated map appears chaotic; the disease literally pops up all over the place, with no apparent geographic pattern.
But if one alternatively envisions the world connected to Cyprus topologically, then the disease’s theoretical spread follows a very tidy contagious pattern.
Sometimes math can be quite beautiful. (Although in this case, it does require momentarily forgetting that all those animated red dots represent lots of people getting sick with the flu.)