Part of illustration. Ragni Svensson


In the first post-revolutionary years the Bolshevik government saw Tatar and Bashkir women as important allies. Muslim women from the Volga-Ural region were to be educated and taught about their rights, and this educational campaign was seen as contributing to the development of the new socialist society. Women’s ignorance was seen by the Soviet authorities as an obstacle to progress which had to be overcome with the help of the new institutions like Commissions for the Improvement of the Work and Everyday Life of Women.

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds Baltic Worlds 3-4 2012, pp 60-64
Published on on January 8, 2013

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In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the ideas of progress and development were widely discussed in Russian society. Many Russian politicians and intellectuals saw their country as lagging behind advanced European countries in industrial, political, and social development. Indeed, starting with the agrarian reform of 1861, the Russian government made several attempts, not all of them successful, to reform one aspect or another of the political and social system. While the most important of these attempts was the creation of the Duma, the first Russian Parliament, there were other modernization projects resulting from the 1905 revolution, such as new policies on the colonization of Siberia1 and the reorganization of medical services.2 The attempts at modernization were made in an atmosphere of growing social discontent and under the direct, often openly violent pressure of the state’s political opponents. The declared aspirations of change of the political and social actors, despite many differences, usually coincided in the use of a rhetoric of “progress” and “culture”.3

The ideas for modernizing Russia were many; here I will look at just one theme: the discussions and activities conducted in connection with what was called the “women’s question”. At the beginning of the 20th century, a number of women’s organizations in Russia demanded rights for women, and many intellectuals and politicians discussed the need to improve women’s work, education, and health.4 Those who defended women’s political and social rights often pointed out that Russia’s industrial and cultural development could not be achieved without improving the situation of women. For example, many participants in the first All-Russia Women’s Congress (St. Petersburg, 1908) found that the state, if it was interested in progress, should pay attention to the issues of women’s rights.5 As for the Bolsheviks, the existing research shows that they also used terms of progress and its opposite, backwardness, in discussing the “women’s question”: the backwardness of Russian peasant society as well as that of women was hindering revolutionary activism, and later, the progress of socialism.6

Although discussions of the “women’s question” as such are rather well studied, the problems of emancipatory projects concerned with non-Russian women have only recently started to draw researchers’ attention.7 Looking at the connections and contradiction between ideas of “progress” and “development” in combination with different approaches to the emancipation of Muslim women of the Volga-Ural region will help to expand our knowledge of the multiethnic dimensions of the “women’s question” in the Russian context.

The geographic focus of this article is the Volga-Ural region before and after the Bolshevik Revolution. The region is a multiethnic one, historically inhabited mostly by people belonging to Turkic and Finno-Ugric language groups. It was conquered by the Grand Duchy of Muscovy in the 16th century. The region is known for several uprisings of the local population against Russian rule and for a very unique Muslim Enlightenment movement, Jadidism, which developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.8 The Muslim population of the region consisted mainly of Tatars and Bashkirs, and the educated part of it had rather good connections to Muslim communities in other parts of the empire and abroad.

How was the “women’s question” interpreted by the proponents of women’s emancipation with respect to the Muslim women and at the regional level? How did the situation change in the period between February and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917? What was the specific early Soviet interpretation of the “women’s question” in regard to the Muslim women of the region?

The sources are archive materials (in particular materials of the Soviet Commission for the Improvement of the Work and Everyday Life of Women,9 1926—1930, State Archive of the Russian Federation), published documents on women’s activism in Tatarstan on the eve of the revolution, periodicals, and Soviet pamphlets.10

“Muslim Woman” and “Progress”: Discussions and interpretations on the eve of 1917

The organization of the Russian Empire in the last period of its existence has been described by Jane Burbank as the “imperial rights regime”, characterized by practices of particularity and localized ways of applying rights.11 Still, we know that the attempts at Russification of the non-Russian part of the population were multiple, and consisted mainly in educational policy. The Orthodox civilizers hoped to Christianize the Muslim population of the empire, which was accused of bringing with it threats of pan-Islamism and pan-Turkism.12 As for the Muslim women, according to Azade-Ayse Rorlich, although the imperial government was “anti-feminist in its policies concerning Russian women on issues ranging from education to family law and citizen franchise and deaf to the demands of Russian women for emancipation” and “backed by the might of its bureaucratic structures and scholarly establishment”, it nonetheless “adopted a ‘feminist’ stand in its dedication to the emancipation of Muslim women”.13

In addition to propaganda for the education of Tatar and Bashkir girls in the Russian schools, the Russian government at the beginning of the 20th century was campaigning with the help of Orthodox missionaries to spread knowledge about hygiene and medicine among Muslim women of the Volga-Ural region. These policies were supposed to help the central authorities to maintain control over families and child-raising. One example of this logic is found in a delation by Andrei, Archbishop of Ufa and Menzelinsk, published in the newspaper Kaspii14 soon after the February revolution. In his article, the Archbishop expressed fears that Muslims “could be separated from Russian life” as a result of the reforms — particularly the introduction of a multiethnic local management structure (zemstvo). The Archbishop insisted on the non-Russian people’s need for spiritual guidance, and saw the pamphlets on hygiene and home medicine for the Muslim population as particularly helpful.15

At the same time, many Muslim intellectuals in different parts of empire began discussing the role of women in Muslim society.16 One of the first to do so was Ismail Bey Gaspirali, a Tatar from Crimea and the founder of Jadidism, a new method of teaching in Arabic. After his third attempt, Gaspirali received official permission in 1905 to publish a special magazine for women, Alemi Nisvan.17 At the beginning of the revolutionary year of 1917, Muslim women living in the Russian Empire could choose between several women’s publications that were produced in Kazan, Bahchisaray (Crimea) and Baku (Azerbaijan). The Jadidist plans for the cultural progress of the Muslim people of the empire also foresaw growing educational opportunities for women and girls — many Jadidists supported mixed education in primary schools — and several schools in different parts of the empire were preparing female teachers. Many Tatar women were very enthusiastic about becoming teachers. Nevertheless, the organization of Muslim girls’ schools that taught after the European system but in the Tatar language was seen with suspicion by Russian authorities, and some of the schools were closed.18 Remembering that time, the well-known Tatar intellectual Rizaeddin Fahreddin (who was head of the Central Spiritual Directorate of Muslims in Ufa in the Soviet period up to his death) included in his book on famous women several Muslim women from Russia who, at the beginning of the century, “devoted their entire lives to education and to teaching girls”.19

As in other Muslim societies (such as Turkey for example),20 the attempts to give girls a better education than in the past and to involve Muslim women in the social life of imperial Russia were presented by the Muslim reformers as contributing primarily to the well-being of family and children, and hence to the well-being of the whole Muslim society or the nation. In the context of increasing Russification, especially after the defeat of the revolution of 1905, as well as a general radicalization of the situation in Russia, direct connections between women’s education, women’s rights and the progress of the nation were made with increasing frequency.

Finally, it is necessary to note that the development of notions of progress that included women’s emancipation contributed to the specific role that representatives of the imperial science on the Orient played in discussions on the future of Muslim peoples and women in Russia. According to Vera Tolz, many Orientologists, while working for the progress of the empire, did not see support for local nationalisms and the rights of non-Russians as mutually contradictory.21 Although the “women’s question” was not at the center of Orientologist interest, it was important to a few women in that profession. Thus the Kazan-born Russian Olga Lebedeva, a translator of poetry from several Asian languages, presented herself at the Congress of Orientalists in Algeria in 1905 as “serving the idea of the emancipation of Muslim women within the limits that were indicated by the Prophet, the founder of a teaching that is fully compatible with all recent cultural advances, provided it is correctly interpreted”.22 Supporting those who were trying to change the situation of Muslim women without criticizing Islam, Lebedeva suggested that a view of the Muslim religion from this perspective could help Algerian Muslim women for example “to catch up to their European sisters”.

All actors advocating change — imperial officers, Muslim intellectuals and some Orientologists — were looking at the situation through the lens of a developmental paradigm (“to catch up”, “to enlighten”). At the same time, while imperial officers saw the solution in the assimilation and de-Islamization of the non-Russian population, Muslim intellectuals saw the improvement of women’s situation as a prerequisite for the “progress of the nation”.

The Women’s Question among Russian Muslims in 1917: Between democracy, anti-colonialism, and nationalism?

While women’s organizations, led by the Women’s Union for Equality, demonstrated in Saint Petersburg demanding equal political rights for women in connection with the end of the monarchy in March 1917,23 many other organizations and groups (including nationalist ones) expressed rather similar demands in many parts of the empire, but in different contexts. Material from the newspaper Kaspii,24 for example, leads us to suppose that, at least for some part of the Russian Muslim society, the idea of broadening rights for women appeared an obvious part of the social and political changes that would lead to “progress”. What arguments were used and what political measures were proposed?

Under the pressure of the central women’s organizations, the new legislation issued by the Provisional Government gave women the right to participate in the elections to the Constituent Assembly and local councils. The new legislation was seen positively by the Muslim politicians: the participation of women as voters and as candidates would increase the visibility of Muslims on the Russian political scene, and raise numbers of Muslims elected to office. Muslim women were therefore strongly advised to vote, first of all for the Muslim candidates.25 In order to eliminate doubts with respect to women’s political participation, the Central Spiritual Directorate for the Muslims of Inner Russia, located in Ufa, used the image of women as mothers and looked for arguments in Sharia: “Because the Muslim Sharia does not limit women’s political rights, including their active and passive electoral rights, there is no obstacle from the point of view of Sharia to Muslim women’s participation in the electoral campaign.”26

Probably the most radical event of the time was the First Muslim Women’s Congress, which took place in Kazan in April 1917. The congress was attended by women from different parts of the empire, from St. Petersburg and Crimea to Central Asia, and it voted to adopt a resolution on the rights of Muslim women. In May of the same year, this resolution was also supported by the All-Russian Muslim Congress in Moscow.27 The resolution of the Kazan congress made important statements on gender equality: it declared the political rights of women, their right to divorce and to marriage by consent, the prohibition of the bride price, and the right of women not to be secluded. The declarations were made with reference to Sharia law28 to indicate that aspirations to such rights did not endanger the Muslim identity of the beneficiaries and had nothing to do with attacks on Islam by the Russian state. This resolution was one of the first to stress that women had a duty to participate in elections to the Constituent Assembly.

Furthermore, the Bureau of Muslim Women elected by the Congress prepared a pamphlet calling on all Muslim women in Russia (“Muslim sisters”) not to be passive in such a “historic time”. According to the pamphlet, Muslim women had to become “full members of society” in order to serve the national interests and “not to burden men alone with the task of building the foundation of our national future”. If Muslim women would not take off the “chains of injustice and oppression”, then “our children, our young nation never would forgive this”,29 the pamphlet stated. The period between February and October 1917 was when several Muslim Women’s Committees appeared in Russia.30 The Committee from Crimea was presented by Kaspii as trying to “bring together all Tatar women in order to liberate them from centuries of slavery, and to awaken the spirit of citizenship in Crimean Tatar women, mothers of the free, democratic Russia”.31

Declaring women’s rights for the sake of the nation and with reference to Sharia laws was a rather widespread tactic that was followed in many documents issued around 1917, and even in some documents from the first years after the Bolshevik Revolution. Both of the Muslim Congresses that took place in the period between February and October of 1917 — one in May in Moscow and another in July in Kazan — took the women’s question seriously. Although the general atmosphere at the second Congress was much more conservative than at the first, its resolution still stated that “lack of clarity with respect to the solution of the women’s question in this historical moment could damage our national and cultural movement”. Indeed, the “women’s question” was seen by the Congress participants as a question that was important for the “whole nation” and not only for women.32

In addition to recognizing equal rights in the political sphere, documents from 1917—1920 insist on many other changes in the status of Muslim women that would contribute to the nation’s well-being. For example, the resolution of the Kazan Women’s Congress contained a statement about the need for a health certificate for bride and groom before the religious wedding ceremony (nikah) could be performed; this was explained as necessary “for the health of the nation”.33 Child marriages too were prohibited, not so much from the perspective of women’s rights, but in order to prevent “sick children” as the result of such marriages. The Kazan resolution insisted on 16 years as the earliest acceptable marriage age for brides (“in the North as well as in the South and East”) and demanded that the groom should guarantee that he would not take a second wife into his house (except on granting a divorce and maintenance to the first one). Finally, the right of women to divorce in case of “unhappy marriage” was also justified not only by the “woman’s suffering”, but by “bad conditions for children’s upbringing” in such a family.

The future of the Revolution and “Women of the Orient” in Bolshevik policy of bringing culture to the masses

While the political aims and rhetoric of Bolshevik women’s liberation are well studied,34 I would like to look here more closely at their application to the “women of the Orient” (vostochnitsa) — a broader concept that encompassed women from different ethnic and religious groups, and by which most of the non-Western, non-Slavic and non-Orthodox women living on the territory of the former Russian Empire were usually unified. This term, like natsionalka and natsmenka for women of national minorities, was usually used in the texts describing plans for the progressive development of society. Like activists of the nationalist movements in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, the Bolshevik leaders and rank-and-file agitators were living in a world where the ideas of progress, development and the common good were used by various actors to justify their policy plans. Thus women were also placed in the development/backwardness hierarchy created by the Bolshevik leaders. The conversion of the backward “woman of the Orient” into new, “cultured woman” of the socialist state implied scientific grounds for political actions. The “women of the Orient’s” cultural difference was to be reevaluated from the new, revolutionary perspective, and at the same time, the new day-to-day life of the “women of the Orient” had to be organized according to the latest achievements of science with regard to a healthy and prosperous lifestyle.

It is important to notice, however, that the question of Islam had a particular importance in the choice of paths to women’s emancipation. In the first post-revolutionary years, the Muslim population in Russia as well as abroad was seen by the Bolsheviks as an important ally on the way to World Revolution, and the Soviet government abstained from open attacks on Islam. As previous research shows, this helped to gain a certain support for Soviet reforms in the region. For example, the Muslim congress that took place in Ufa in 1923 expressed support for the Bolshevik project of cultural revolution, including support for the creation of mixed schools and secondary education for Muslim women,35 while some Muslim intellectuals from the Volga-Ural region got an opportunity to implement their plans with respect to education.36

While many earlier periodicals for Tatars and Bashkirs were closed down,37 Soviet publications for and about Muslim women in the 1920s did not have a stable and coherent vision of Muslim customs and traditions, nor a vision of emancipated women. For example, in his pamphlet on the veil, Nikolai Smirnov, the future head of Soviet Orientologists, wrote that the covering of women’s bodies was a subject of debate among Muslim theologians.38 He also made reference to Jadidist criticism of women’s seclusion (specifically, to Ismail Bey Gaspirali39). At the same time, Smirnov, like most authors of Soviet pamphlets, kept silent on the active involvement of women who did not refuse to follow their Muslim dresscode in work for the emancipation of women on the eve of the October Revolution.

Another pamphlet, published in Russian by the Women’s Council of Tatarstan in 1923 on occasion of International Women’s Day, also shows many contradictions in the evaluation of women’s situation and Muslim culture. The article “Tatar Women in the Years of Revolution” by Zora Baimbetova acknowledges the active participation of Muslim women in their own “emancipation” before the October Revolution (mainly in the period between February and October 1917): “There was no Muslim congress where questions about the rights of women in the context of Islam and Sharia would not be discussed.” However, pre-Soviet organizations of Muslim women were now called “bourgeois” and thus presented as negative rather than positive historic examples.40 Furthermore, the article presented the “woman of the Orient” as experiencing extreme exploitation due to religious and national traditions, a cliché that would be used daily during the entire Soviet period. Indeed, the Tatar woman is described in the article as “the most backward of the backward”, and subject to 1,000 times more discrimination than the Russian woman.41 This was explained by the specific local situation, which combined economic and religious oppression. Soviet policies are described as contributing to the disappearance of the “passive, unmovable and oppressed Tatar woman”, thus constructing lack of initiative and activism as important features of “backwardness”.

With time the suspicions and fears of the Bolshevik government with respect to the Muslim population grew, and influenced most of the projects aimed at solving the “women’s question” in the Volga-Ural region. Due to lack of trust in combination with ignorance of local languages and traditions, the Soviet authorities needed help from specialists in Oriental studies. The latter were invited to take part in designing policies and publications in the 1920s. For example, the series of pamphlets on work with mothers and children from different ethnic groups of the “Orient” were published under the leadership of the Department of Health Care for Mothers and Children in 1927—1928, but the chief editor of the series was V. A. Gurko-Kriazhina, head of the national minorities section of the Agitprop department of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik party and a member of the presidium of the Scientific Association of Oriental Studies. Each pamphlet started with an ethnographic description of the landscape and population, presented in a rather romantic style and clearly for an outside spectator.42 The book on Tatar women, for example, contains ethnographic descriptions of a Tatar village and a Tatar wedding ceremony.43 These exotic pictures were mixed up with the presentation of women’s lives as rather difficult and unjust: the Tatar woman was over-exploited, “man’s property”, a “commodity”, often having an “animal life”.44 These portrayals were followed by examples of the Soviet “emancipation of women”, which included women’s participation in new communist activities and education and data on new kindergartens and maternity hospitals.

In 1926 the Bolsheviks decided to create a special commission concerned with helping women from the national minorities (or “backward women”, as they were frequently called in the commission’s internal correspondence) to co-exist with other Soviet citizens on the way to the communist future. The document establishing the Commission for the Improvement of the Work and Everyday Life of Women stressed the need to “combat the economic inequality of women and the inequality of their rights”, “prepare expert evaluations of the situation of working women for the various activities of the central institutions of the republics with respect to everyday life, the economy and rights”, and “draft proposals for new laws that could contribute to the improvement of women’s everyday life and work”.45 Each of the autonomous republics of the Volga-Ural region had its own commission to work with local women. The archive documents show that the effectiveness of these commissions depended in large part on the energy and interest of their members, who were usually new Soviet civil servants busy with other responsibilities. For example, in the report of such a commission in Bashkortostan dated 1928, we read:

The regional institutions to date do not consider the work among natsionalki as a part of their work; activities are always organized under pressure. This refers in particular to the activities that should be under the supervision of the regional department of education. This department did not organize any activity pursuant to the plans we made together.46

The “women’s question” is addressed by the Commission as if women needed a kindergarten of sorts on the path to cultural development, and accordingly its documents attest to many problems and difficulties. For example, a 1928 letter to the central Commission presented the situation in Tatarstan as a “precarious network of institutions for the national minorities” in spite of “the special role of preschool education for the emancipation of women of the national minorities, the improvement of their children’s health and the introduction of the new organizational forms of everyday life for the population of the national minorities”.47

It is easy to suppose that a lot of the projects and activity plans designed for the progress and development of “women of the Orient”, in spite of their emancipatory rhetoric and scientific elaboration, did not produce enthusiasm among the broader masses of women in the Volga-Ural region. A certain similarity of the Soviet emancipatory rhetoric to the civilizing rhetoric of the imperial center may have played an important role: once again the “backward”, non-Russian woman was expected to fulfill plans for her culturalization that had been devised in Moscow. With the beginning of forced collectivization in the early 1930s, the Commission lost its special mandate for the improvement of the work and everyday lives of “women of the Orient”, and most of the active participants in the early phase of the Soviet solution of the “women’s question” in the Volga-Ural region suffered imprisonment or death during the period of Stalinist repression.48

In conclusion it could be said that in the Volga-Ural region as in other parts of Russia in the first third of the 20th century the “women’s question” played an important role in discussions and visions of modernization and development. However, interpretations and decisions on the solution of this “question” differed significantly.

The nationalist leaders of the region saw Muslim women as an important political force for national progress and development. Looking at the ideals of progress and culture, Muslim intellectuals were eager to find examples of them in Western Europe and Asia and, only secondarily, in Russia. During 1917 the role of Muslim women as independent political actors increased: women created new organizations and designed their own programs for the solution of the “women’s question” in the region and among followers of Islam. The women’s activism, inspired by the rhetoric and organizational forms common for the women’s movement in Europe and Russia, continued to present itself as an activism closely bound to the progress of the nation and as part of Muslim culture. The end of the Russian Empire in February of 1917 further strengthened the connections between the ideas of women’s emancipation and democracy among the people of the region.

After October 1917, the Bolsheviks preserved intact a substantial part of the emancipational rhetoric of earlier defenders of women’s rights for non-Russian (including Muslim) women, but introduced a class-based assessment of women’s activism. Still, the emancipation of all working women, regardless of their ethnicity, was declared to be an important goal of the new Soviet state. As part of the new goal, Muslim women from the Volga-Ural region were to be educated and taught about their rights, and this educational campaign was seen as contributing to the development of the new socialist society. In the first post-revolutionary years the Bolshevik government saw Tatar and Bashkir women as important allies and was careful in its criticism of the Muslim religion as such.

Women’s ignorance of their new rights and duties was seen by the Soviet authorities as an obstacle to progress which had to be overcome with the help of the new institutions like Commissions for the Improvement of the Work and Everyday Life of Women. The new institutions, however, like those of the imperial period, were designed centrally and lacked funding. Furthermore, the Bolshevik design of work for emancipation placed Russian and Slavic women in higher, more privileged positions on the scale of emancipation. The hierarchizing of women by their degree of “backwardness” was increasingly a reminder of old imperial hierarchies, at the same time that low-level activism aimed at national progress and development formulated locally (or the development of Tatar and Bashkir society and culture, in the case of the Volga-Ural region) became the object of punishment from the center. As a result, new interpretations of “progress” and “development” could not count on much support from the Muslim women of the Volga-Ural region, and with time, the Soviet central policy of solving the “women’s question” in the region had to depend more and more on coercive measures. ≈

/by Yulia Gradskova


  1. Alberto Masoero, “Ideologies of Space and Resettlement Policies in Late Imperial Russia”, paper presented at CBEES advanced seminar, October 2011.
  2. Laura Engelstein, The Keys to Happiness: Sex and the Search for Modernity in Fin-de-siècle Russia, Ithaca 1992.
  3. Catriona Kelly, Refining Russia: Advice Literature, Polite Culture and Gender from Catherine to Eltsin, Oxford 2001, pp. 230—311; Plaggenborg, Stefan, Revoliutsiia i kultura [Revolution and culture], St. Petersburg 2000.
  4. Richard Stites, The Women’s Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism and Bolshevism, 1860—1930, Princeton 1978; Barbara A. Engel, Women in Russia, 1700—2000, Cambridge 2004; Irina Iukina, Russkii feminism kak vyzov sovremennosti [Russian feminism as a challenge of modernity], St. Petersburg 2007.
  5. Anna Shabanova, “Rech na otkrytii s’ezda [Speech at the opening of the conference]”; Svetlana Aivazova, Russkie zhenshchiny v labirinte ravnopraviia [Russian women in the labyrinth of equality], Moscow 1998, pp. 171—176; Ariadna Tyrkova, “Rech na otkrytii s’ezda” [Speech at the opening of the conference], ibid., pp. 178—180; Sofia Tiurbert, “Zhenskii vopros i politicheskii stroi” [Women’s issues and the political regime], ibid., pp. 181—197; Maria Blandova, “O nadzore za prostitutsiei” [On control over prostitution], ibid., pp. 256—261.
  6. N. I. Dubinina, “Pobeda velikogo oktiabria i pervye meropriiatiia partii v reshenii zhenskogo voprosa” [The victory of the great October and first party’s decisions for solving the women’s question], in Opyt KPSS v reshenii zhenskogo voprosa [CPSU’s experience in solving the woman’s question], Moscow 1981, pp. 14—34; V. S. Shakulova, “Kulturnaia revoliutsiia i zhenskii vopros” [The cultural revolution and women’s question], ibid., pp. 77—102.
  7. See, for example, Azade-Ayse Rorlich, “The Challenge of Belonging: The Muslims of Late Imperial Russia and the Contested Terrain of Identity and Gender”, in Yaacov Ro’l (ed.), Democracy and Pluralism in Muslim Eurasia, pp. 39—52, London and New York 2004; Marianne Kamp, New Woman in Uzbekistan, Islam, Modernity and Unveiling under Communism, Seattle 2006; Douglas Northrop, Veiled Empire, Ithaca and London 2004; Alta Makhmutova, “Pora i nam zazhech zariu svobody”: Jadidism i zhenskoe dvizhenie [“It is a time to light the dawn of freedom”: Jadidism and women’s movement], Kazan 2006; Madina Tlostanova, Gender Epistemologies and Eurasian Borderlands, Basingstoke 2010.
  8. Marsil Fakhrshatov, Samoderzhavie i traditsionnye shkoly bashkir i tatar (1900—1917) [Autocracy and Bashkir and Tatar traditional schools (1900—1917)], Ufa 2000; Dmitrii Iskhakov, “Jadidism”, Islam i musulmanskaia kultura v Srednem Povolzhie: istoriia i sovremennost [Islam and the Muslim culture in the Middle Volga: History and the present day], Kazan 2002; Charles Kurzman, Modernist Islam, 1840—1940: A Source Book, Oxford 2002.
  9. In many working documents this commission was called also the “Soviet Commission for Work among Women of Culturally Backward People”.
  10. I would like to express my gratitude to Galip Bozkurt for helping me with translation from Turkish.
  11. Jane Burbank, “An Imperial Rights Regime: Law and Citizenship in the Russian Empire”, in Kritika 7 (Summer 2006), pp. 416—419. Imperial organization was based on the assumption that “each group had a singular way of life in which ethnicity, religion, and customs all cohered” (p. 422).
  12. Michael A. Reynolds, Shattering Empires: The Clash and Collapse of the Ottoman and Russian Empires, 1908—1918, Cambridge 2011, pp. 92—93.
  13. Rorlich, op. cit., p. 44.
  14. Kaspii was the Russian language newspaper published in Baku from the end of 19th century; in the beginning of 20th century Alimardan-Bek Topchibasi (Topchibashev), leader of the Azeri nationalist movement, became its editor-in-chief.
  15. Kaspii 1917-11-30.
  16. See, for example, Kurzman, op. cit.
  17. V. Iu. Gankevich and S. P. Shendrikova, Ismail Gasprinskii i vozniknoveniie liberalno-musulmanskogo politicheskogo dvizheniia [Ismail Gasprinsky and emergence of the Muslim liberal movement], Simferopol 2008, p. 11.
  18. See, for example, Makhmutova, op. cit., 2006.
  19. Fakhreddin bin Ruzaeddin, “Znamenitye zhenshchiny” [Famous women] in Belskie prostory [The vast Belaia], January 2008, p. 128.
  20. Similar attitudes to women can be found in Turkey. For example, Fatma Aliye (1862—1936) “placed primary importance on the family and regarded women as the driving force of ‘civilization’ via their roles as mothers” (Serpil Çakir, Fatma Aliye, Francisca de Haan, Krassimira Daskalova and Anna Loutfi, A Biographical Dictionary of women’s movements and feminisms: Central, Eastern and South Eastern Europe, 19th and 20th Centuries, Budapest 2006, p. 22). Ulviye Mevlan Civelek also demanded equality between men and women on the pages of the magazine she edited in Istanbul (ibid., p. 337).
  21. Vera Tolz, Russia’s Own Orient: The Politics of Identity and Oriental Studies in the Late Imperial and Early Soviet Periods, New York and Oxford 2011, pp. 168—170.
  22. Olga Lebedeva, “Rech proiznesennaia O. S. Lebedevoi, pochetnoi predsedatelnitsei i osnovatelnitsei obshchestva Vostokovedeniia na 16m mezhdunarodnom kongresse orientalistov v Algire, 6/19 aprelia 1905 goda” [The speech given by O. S. Lebedeva, honorary president and founder of the society for the study of the orient, on the occasion of the 16th international congress of orientalists in Algiers, 1/19 of April, 1905], in Les Nouveaux Droit de la Femme Musulmane, St. Petersburg 1905, pp. 14—16.
  23. Iukina, op. cit.
  24. I was using a collection of articles from this newspaper preserved in the NART, and the personal files of Shafika Gaspirali  — Kaspii, 1917 (collection of articles preserved in the National Archive of the Republic of Tatarstan, fond 186, op. 1, delo 77).
  25. When there were no Muslim candidates, Muslims were advised to vote for Ukrainian or Lithuanian ones (Kaspii 1917-09-11). It shows that Muslim politicians placed an emphasis on alliances inside Muslim communities and with representatives of other minority groups.
  26. Kaspii 1917-10-25.
  27. Sagit Faizov, Dvizhenie musulmanok Rossii za prava zhenshchin v 1917 godu: stranitsy istorii [Muslim women’s movement for women’s rights in Russia in 1917: pages of history], Nizhnii Novgorod 2005; Makhmutova, op. cit.
  28. As quoted in Materialy i dokumenty po istorii obshchestvenno-politicheskikh dvizhenii sredi Tatar, 1905—1917 [Materials and documents on history of the social and political movements among the Tatars, 1905—1917], Kazan 1998, pp. 68—70.
  29. “Obraschenie Tsentralnogo organizatsionnogo biuro musulmanok Rossii k musulmankam” [Address of the Central Organizational Office of Muslim Women of Russia to the Muslim Women], 1917-06-20. Quoted according to Sagit Faizov’s translation from Tatar into Russian, The translation of the document into Turkish is preserved in NART, fond 186, op. 1, delo 32, p. 8.
  30. The Statute of one of them, from Crimea, could be found in Sengul Hablemitoglu, Necip Hablemitoglu, Sefika Gaspirali ve Rusya’da Turk Kadin Hareketi (1893—1920), Ankara 1998, pp. 498—506.
  31. Kaspii 1917-08-15.
  32. As quoted in Materialy ..., pp. 88—89.
  33. As quoted in Materialy ..., pp. 68—70.
  34. Engel, op. cit.; Wendy Goldman, Women, the State and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 1917—1936, Cambridge 1993.
  35. Imanutddin Sulaev, “Musulmanskie s’ezdy Povolzhia i Kavkaza v 1920e gody” [Muslim congresses of the Volga region and the Caucasus in the 1920s], Voprosy istorii [Questions of history], 2007: 9, pp. 141—143.
  36. See Kurzman, op. cit., pp. 239—255. As early as the mid-1920s, the attempts of Muslim intellectuals to cooperate with Bolsheviks were met with many problems; most of those who had not emigrated by the 1930s were imprisoned and murdered during the years of Stalin’s terror. See Makhmutova, op. cit.
  37. Talgat Nasyrov, “Repressirovannaia tatarskaia pressa (1917—1918)” [The Repressed Tatar Press (1917—1918)], in Gasyrlar avazy/Ekho vekov [Echo of the centuries], 2006:1.
  38. Nikolai Smirnov, Chadra [The veil], Moscow 1929, p. 28. This is rather similar to ideas of Muslim feminism today (see Tlostanova, op. cit.).
  39. Smirnov, op. cit., p. 31.
  40. Zora Baimbetova, “Tatarka za gody revoliutsii” [The Tatar woman in the years of revolution], in Na novom puti- zhurnal zhenotdela OK Tatrespubliki posviashchennyi 8-mu marta [On the new road: the magazine of the Zhenotdel of the Tatar Republic dedicated to the celebration of the 8th of March], Kazan 1923, p. 22.
  41. Ibid., p. 21.
  42. A. I. Mikhailov, Chuvashka [The Chuvash woman], Moscow 1928.
  43. E. Shteinberg, Tatarka [The Tatar Woman], Moscow 1928, pp. 16—17.
  44. Shteinberg, op. cit., pp. 17—18.
  45. State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF) — Commission for improvement of work and everyday life of women — fond 6983, op. 1, delo 1, pp. 1—2.
  46. GARF, f. 6983, op. 1, delo 15 — Report of the Commission for the improvement of work and everyday life of women of the Orient organized by BaskTsik on the completion of one year of its work, October 1928, p. 8.
  47. GARF, f. 6983, op. 1, delo 15 — letter written 1928-05-11, pp. 113—114.
  48. See, for example, Alta Makhmutova, “Lish tebe, narod, sluzhenie!” Istoriia tatarskogo prosveshcheniia v sudbakh dinastii Nigmatullinykh-Bubi [“Serving only you, my People!” The history of the Tatar enlightenment in the history of the Nigmatullin-Bubi dynasty], Kazan 2003.
  • by Yulia Gradskova

    Associate professor at the Institute of Contemporary History, Södertörn University. Research interest: decolonial approach, gender studies, particularly “women of the East”, postsocialist culture studies.

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