Cultural Capital of the Turkic World

Last month I wrote about Kazan’s reputation as the Sports Capital of Russia. Interestingly enough, Kazan holds the title of capital of more than just sports here in the Russian Federation and Central Asia as well.

Coming from a background in Turkish studies and increasingly interested in Turkic relations, I was intrigued to find out that Kazan would be named the Capital of Culture of the Turkic World for the year 2014, just months before I would arrive to continue my studies of the Tatar language in June. Türksoy, an international organization committed to the promotion of Turkic culture and traditions and headquartered in Turkey, conferred the title to Kazan on April 26th, 2014.

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A banner announcing Kazan’s status as Cultural Capital of the Turkic World outside the National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan in Kazan.

In addition to Türksoy’s naming of Kazan as a cultural capital, this year was also declared a year of culture for the city by the Russian Federation and the Republic of Tatarstan.

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Another banner hanging alongside the National Library of the Republic of Tatarstan in Kazan, this time advertising the “Year of Culture.”

Both titles mean a year full of various cultural events ranging from literary conferences and cultural seminars to music festivals and exhibits. One exhibit sponsored by Türksoy that I stumbled upon in the National Museum featured some of the maps and drawings of Admiral Piri Reis, a famous cartographer of the Ottoman Empire.

However, even without Kazan’s recently acquired titles, it’s clear that Tatar culture, language, and traditions are deeply cherished and valued in Kazan. It’s not uncommon to see men walking down the street sporting traditional Tatar hats or Tubeteikas, and Tatar cuisine is readily available most anywhere you go. Read a street sign or use public transportation and you’re sure to encounter Tatar, as the language holds official status throughout the Republic of Tatarstan and can be frequently heard spoken on the streets.

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The Tubeteika, a common sight in Kazan.

More so than anything else, I’ve found the extensive representation of characters from Tatar poet Gabdulla Tukay’s fairytale-like poems in the form of statues and murals spread throughout the city the most surprising and charming. Having been exposed to a number of Tukay’s poems in the form of children’s cartoons over the course of my Tatar language lessons, it wasn’t difficult to recognize Shurale, the Goat and the Sheep, and the Mermaid featured along the walls of the metro and as the centerpieces of fountains along Bauman Street.

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Mermaid with her golden comb at the beginning of Bauman Street.

And despite the extreme brevity of the time I’ve spent in Kazan so far (it’s hard to believe it’s only been six weeks!), I have nevertheless been able to experience so much. Between Sabantuy celebrations, discovering Tatar cuisine and how to drink tea Tatar-style (with milk!), and singing Tatar folk songs with new friends, I’ve had an incredible time here in Kazan. I know these last two weeks will fly by, but I am already looking forward to the day I return to Tatarstan.

By: Keely Bakken

Program: Eurasian Regional Language Program (ERLP)

Term: Summer 2014

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