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      The following paper is published in 
VOL. XIX Nos. 3 and 4; Autumn/Winter 1986. Pp. 253-265.
[For space considerations, footnotes are shortened]

H. B. Paksoy

Introductory Note

     Chora Batir is the Tatar account of events and
associated social conditions within two Tatar (Kazan and
Crimean) khanates prior to the Russian conquest of Kazan.
This military venture represents the earliest Russian
eastward expansion and one of the first outside Slav domains.
Russian, Soviet and Western historians, in recording and
analyzing this event and the relationship between Kazan and
Muscovy that preceded it, have relied almost exclusively on
Russian sources, especially the highly politically motivated
chronicles. These were mostly exercises in wishful thinking
rather than recording history. [1] Rarely have scholars
attempted to beyond these sources or the views they contain.
One noteworthy exception is a group of articles published in
SLAVIC REVIEW in 1967 [2] by Edward L. Keenan, Jaroslaw
Pelenski, and Omeljan Pritsak (Introduction by Ihor Sevcenko)
which brought new information to light using heretofore
neglected sources and a broader viewpoint. These authors
noted the scarcity of the Tatar view of Kazan-Muscovite
relations and the conquest itself. CHORA BATIR partly answers
that need, so that the SLAVIC REVIEW articles and CHORA BATIR
at one level complement each other.
     However, CHORA BATIR is not primarily a report of the
conquest or of relations with Muscovy, neither is it a
chronicle. CHORA BATIR is a dastan, an ornate oral history
which embodies the essential issues of Central Asian
identity. It is part of the historical and literary
traditions of the Tatars, the beginnings of which predate
even the first mention of the 'Rus' in written records. It is
in these terms that CHORA BATIR, and all dastans, must be
viewed. Furthermore, CHORA BATIR presents a threat to the
Russians and for that reason they have attempted to destroy
it. It is threat not merely because this dastan names the
Russian as the enemy: CHORA BATIR constitutes a profound
challenge to Russian and Soviet attempts to portray history
as they see fit. As history, it belies Soviet
historiography's accounts of 'national origins,' 'historic
friendships,' and 'voluntary unions' with the Russian state.
Like all dastans, it thereby represents a roadblock to the
mythology underlying efforts to create the New Soviet Man. As
literature, it undermines the regime's attempt to establish
the alleged primacy of literary Russian. [3] Therefore, this
paper discusses CHORA BATIR as a repository. 

The Dastan Genre

CHORA BATIR is a dastan, an ornate oral history. This
literary genre is the repository of the Central Asian
identity, its customs, and the traditions of the Central
Asian Turkic tribal confederations. They are recited by ozans
(composer-reciters), who accompany themselves with a native
musical instrument (kopuz), at every feasible occasion. CHORA
BATIR belongs to the Tatars. In 1923, Gazi Alim wrote:

     ...if we do not know the dastans...we will not become
     familiar with the struggles of the Turkish tribes, the
     reasons underlying their politico-economic endeavors,
     their methods and rules of warfare, the characters and
     the social places of their heroes in their societies; in
     short, the details of their past...All Turkish tribes
     have their dastans: the kipchaks have their KOBLANDI
     BATIR; the Nogays, IDIGE BATIR; the Kungrats, ALPAMYSH
     BATIR; the NAYMANS, CHORA BATIR; the Kirghiz, MANAS
     BATIR [4]

     After centuries of purely oral existence, CHORA BATIR
was committed to paper, like most other dastans, at various
locations and times by different individuals in the 19th
century. [5] CHORA BATIR is the only classical Central Asian
dastan which names the Russians as the enemy. Thus it is no
surprise that the Soviet regime, which is very active in
propagating the alleged Russian epic, the LAY OF THE HOST OF
IGOR, has taken a very different attitude toward CHORA BATIR.
The Russians attempted to eradicate this dastan (along with
others) and failing that, tried to subvert it. The duality of
the Russians' behavior regarding the 'epics' is nowhere more
clear that in a comparison of the attacks on CHORA BATIR and
the glorification of the IGOR TALE. This unequal policy is
reflected in a resolution submitted to UNESCO calling for the
commemoration of the '800th anniversary' of the IGOR TALE.
The resolution refers to this tale--a work of controversial
origin and character--as one of the 'events which have left
an imprint on the development of humanity,' and as 'one of
the jewels of world literature.' It 'invites the scientific
and cultural community of the Member States of UNESCO to
undertake the extensive commemoration of this anniversary
which represents a landmark in the history of world culture."
[6] Neither the IGOR TALE nor the two centuries' long debate
over its authenticity concerns us here. However, it is ironic
that this tale which Russians regard as so fundamental to
their literature actually deals with early Turk-Slav
relations. [7]
Kazak writer Oljay Suleimanov's AZ I YA, [8] a recent
contribution to the discussion of the IGOR TALE's origins and
intent, reveals pervasive Turkic elements in the text. It
further suggests earlier historic relations between Turk and
Slav peoples and the great cultural impact of the Turks on
the relatively more primitive Slavs. [9] This may be yet
another factor which contributed to the official unpopularity
of CHORA BATIR. In any event, it is noteworthy that this much
touted heroic epic of the Russian people commemorates the
defeat of the Slavs by the Kumans (also known as Kipchak,
Polovtsy), a Turkic tribe. [10]
     As for CHORA BATIR itself, several written variations
exist. Most of these were recorded between the 1890s and the
1930s in the Russian empire and abroad. Those collected and
published within the Russian empire were subject to the
infamous censorship laws. Although Peter I made the first
attempt at controlling the printed word in 1722, the first
censorship statute was not promulgated until 1804 during the
reign of Alexander I. Between 1826 and 1828, under Nicholas
I, the most strict codes were developed. However, these
proved to be so unwieldy as to be unenforceable and were
superseded by a new code in 1828. The 1828 code laid the
basic foundation for many areas of censorship for the rest of
the imperial period. A major supplement to the 1828 code was
enacted in 1865 which shifted the emphasis from a preemptive
character (where the efforts of the censor are concentrated
on preventing the 'offensive' material from reaching the
press) to a punitive character (providing sanctions against
those defying the censor). [11]
     By the 1890s, the character of censorship had become
particularly troublesome with respect to non-Russians. From
the reign of Alexander III (1881-1894), Russification became
an official policy of the state. Censors were sensitive to
any elements of anti-monarchical and, increasingly, of anti-
Russian or anti-Orthodox thought. Policies in publication,
like those in education, were heavily influenced by the drive
to Russify and Christianize. Russians such as the missionary
and Orientalist Il'minskii came directly into conflict with
Turkic Muslims and especially with the Tatars. [12] It was in
this atmosphere that CHORA BATIR was first put on paper.
     To our knowledge, the first to collect and publish CHORA
BATIR was Abubekir Divaoglu, a Bashkurt, during 1895 in
Tashkent. [13] Divaoglu, as the editor, concludes his
narration of CHORA BATIR with a mysterious remark to which we
shall return.
     Radloff appears to be the second person who recorded the
dastan. [14] Characteristically for him, it is a fragment,
severely truncated and taken down without noting the source
or the time or place of recording. Perhaps this was simply
Radloff's usual overeagerness in rushing into print, or the
effects of censorship. He may have been compelled to leave
out those parts which were objectionable to the Russians.
However, Radloff presents a small variant pertaining to the
courage and valor of CHORA BATIR himself which is not found
in more complete versions.
     Tatars themselves, perhaps again due to the prevailing
censorship in the Russian domains, could not openly print
this dastan. On the other hand, two Tatars demonstrated their
remembrance of this heritage (perhaps in defiance of the
censor) by including passages from a verse-variant in their
HISTORY OF TATAR LITERATURE. [15] Another version, recorded
among the Dobruca Tatars in 1935 by Saadet Ishaki (Cagatay)
and issued in Krakow, unlike the remaining versions contains
a complete sequence. [16] Another variant appeared in
Istanbul during 1939. [17] This one was taken down from
emigre Tatars living in the Turkish Republic, with extensive
dialogues in verse. A Tashkent version [18] and two Bucharest
[19] variants, if merged, may constitute a somewhat complete
dastan, for the Tashkent version lacks the ending, and the
Bucharest fragments have rather scanty introductions. The
latest CHORA BATIR variant reaching the West is found in
Kazan during 1984. [19A] We can expect that further variants,
new and old, will emerge or be unearthed in the future.
     Below is a composite summary which I have compiled from
the aforementioned variants. The task of a full translation,
utilizing all available sources, with critical apparatus,
awaits a more suitable time.

Synopsis of CHORA BATIR

     A young man named Narik is a page in the service of a
Khan in Crimea. He is known to be a diligent worker,
trustworthy, honorable, and a brave soul. He is present at
the Khan's Court where he is highly visible. Merchants plying
the lands of the continent are very much impressed with the
exemplary character of Narik. So the merchants present him
with rare and expensive gifts. The Khan, not wishing to be
outdone in his own Court, orders his page Narik to journey in
the domains of his khanate for the purpose of finding a
suitable girl to marry. This gesture of the Khan further
evokes the jealousies of others who are in the court.
     Narik traverses the land of the Khan, between the Idil
(Volga) and Yayik (Ural) rivers, in the Turgay-Yayik basin
and while resting in a village, notices a woman who kindles
the fire and, keeping with the custom, refrains from stepping
on the ashes. Narik, noticing this attention to tradition,
asks if this woman has a daughter. Finding that she indeed
has, declares that he would like to marry her.
     The marriage takes place with due pomp and ceremony with
all the dignitaries and the masses in attendance. However,
the Khan's son is also taken with the beauty of Menli Aruk
Sulu, Narik's bride. Scheming to take her, the young Prince
orders Narik to carry a message to Moscow. Menli Aruk Sulu,
suspecting the Prince's motive, begs Narik not to go. Narik
seems indignant, and seems to refuse to heed his wife's word.
However, he decides to feign departure and to return
unobserved. The Prince visits Narik's home that night,
confident of finding Menli Aruk Sulu alone. Narik's wife
admits the Prince into the house and begins telling him a
     My father was a wealthy man who lived along the
     Idil river. He had herds of horses. In one of those
     herds there was a beautiful colt. One day this colt
     fell asleep and became separated from the herd. A
     hungry wolf, attacked, and bit the colt's hind leg.
     Just in time, a hunter tracking the wolf appeared
     on the scene. The wolf took refuge in the forest
     but the colt was left lame. Time passed, a lion
     hunted down the lame colt. But the lion noticed the
     teeth marks of the wolf on the colt's leg and said
     'I am a lion. I will not eat any animal that
     survived a wolf.'
     The prince, very upset, rising, states: 'May your tongue
be swollen Menli Aruk. You are a young woman, where did you
learn to speak in this manner?'
     As the Prince prepares to leave, Narik, who has been
secretly observing the proceedings, confronts and kills him.
When the prolonged absence of the Prince becomes apparent,
the Khan begins questioning the members of his Court. Narik
owns up to his deed. Given the evidence, the Khan tells him:
'I cannot punish you, for you were in your rights. However,
from now on, we cannot be in amity.' After amply paying Narik
for his past services, the Khan orders Narik to leave the
     Narik leaves with his wife. One day Menli Aruk has a
dream: 'A flame shot out from between my feet. A black cloud
appeared in the sky. Very heavy rains emanating from this
cloud extinguished the fire.' Menli Aruk continues: 'I will
interpret my dream. I will give birth to a boy who will
become a mighty batir.'
     Time passes. Narik and Menli Aruk's son Chora is herding
the village cows together with other youngsters. An old man
appears, a mendicant dervish passing through the village.
While the other boys are afraid of the visitor, Chora treats
him with respect and offers food. Before leaving, the old man
selects a young colt, ties a collar around its neck, naming
it Tasmali Ker. The dervish then tells Chora: 'By the time
you grow up to be a mighty Batir, this colt will become a
steed worthy of you.'
     Later on, the Khan's tax collector, Ali Bey, visits the
village for the annual payment. Narik treats the tax
collector to a feast. While he is eating, the tax collector 
notices that a young man is watching him intently. Although
every other individual in the village seems to be deeply
intimidated by his presence, Chora appears to be curious and
not at all afraid. Ali Bey leaves the village without
collecting any taxes, citing for his reason the fact that he
was treated in the most courteous manner. 
     However, the tax collector's master, the Khan of the
region, hears of the incident and summons Ali Bey: 'Why did
you not collect any taxes from the Kokuslu Kok Dam?' Ali Bey
answers: 'I granted it to a young man in that village.' 'Were
you afraid of him?' "No, not at all. However, he is a valiant
young man.' The Khan thus desires to meet Chora. The word is
sent, Chora appears before the Khan and the Court. After due
and proper salutation, the Khan expresses amazement. 'You are
but a youth. You are not a Batir. Look at Ali Bey. He can tie
his mustache behind his neck. When he walks, his steps sound
as if seventy thousand troops are afoot. He is the equal of
one-thousand Batirs. How many men are you equal?'  Chora
Batir answers: 'I am equal to one who is worthy of me.'
Immediately withdrawing from the Court, Chora mounts his
horse, and heads towards his village. 
     The Khan, observing this, orders forty men to intercept
Chora. The forty men crowd Chora's path. Chora dismounts.
Girding his loins, he then remounts and spurring his horse,
battles and overcomes the forty men. He ties their hands,
disrobes them all, and takes them back to the Khan: 'Make
sure these dogs are well tethered so that they may not attack
other travellers.'
     This event deeply embarrasses and angers the Khan. He
orders Ali Bey to gather plenty of troops and pillage Chora's
village and bring back his horse. Chora is not home. Ali Bey
insults Narik. Collecting Chora's horse, Ali Bey returns to
the Khan's Court. Narik seeks his son Chora and relates the
events in a long and touching manner, in verse. Chora,
girding up once more, again does battle with the Khan's men.
After defeating them all, he recovers his horse. He cannot
any longer stay in the same location. Therefore, he heads for
     On the way, he sights and shoots an akku, a very high
flying bird. The bird falls to the ground in Kazan. The
Batirs resident there discover the bird with an arrow through
its body. It is reported that ordinarily it is not possible
to shoot this bird in flight. The arrow cannot be identified
by any of the Batirs as belonging to anyone living in their
realm. In fact the arrow is too long to fit the bows of the
people who have found it. The Batirs of Kazan, the best in
the land, marvel at this incident and are clearly
     Upon further investigation, it is determined that the
arrow was discharged from Chora Batir's bow, who has just
arrived in Kazan. He is immediately invited to take part in a
shooting contest. Chora Batir borrows a bow and an arrow, but
the bow cannot withstand the power of Chora Batir. When
drawn, it breaks. He is at once given another, but the same
fate befall the new bow. His shooting skills are then
questioned. He asks that his own bow be brought, which he had
left with his horse. One Batir cannot carry Chora Batir's
bow. A second Batir is sent to help the first. Two Batirs
manage to carry it with difficulty.. With his bow in hand,
Chora Batir wins the contest.
     The other Batirs, who have been unseated from their
former glory by Chora Batir, conspire against him. However,
Chora Batir prevails over them. The Khan of Kazan's daughter,
Sari HAnim, distributes valuable gifts to thirty-two resident
Batirs. Some receive a horse, others embroidered robes or a
sword. To Chora Batir, she sends an empty money pouch.
Annoyed, Chora discards the bag on a dunghill.
     At this point, word of Russian forces attacking Kazan
reaches the Batirs. Thirty-two Batirs face the Muscovites,
and fight for seven days and nights to no avail. The Khan
asks: 'How is it that the Batirs cannot turn back the
Muscovites? Is Chora Batir among them?' The answer he
receives is 'No, Chora has not left his abode.' The elders of
Kazan visit Chora Batir, imploring him to take up arms
against the Russians. Chora does not answer. Next, the Khan
of Kazan comes calling with the same request. Chora does not
leave his room. Now, it is Sari Hanim's turn, who arrives
with her select handmaidens, and makes an impassioned and
tearful plea.  Finally, Chora responds with: 'You gave
valuable presents to each of the thirty-two Batirs. To me you
sent an empty money pouch. These thirty-two Batirs cannot
turn back the Muscovites. How can I leave this room?' Then
Sari Hanim asks: 'Where is that pouch now?' 'On the
     Sari Hanim and her beautiful hand-maidens rush out to
the dunghill and start sifting through it. They recover and
return the pouch to Sari Hanim who opens it and displays a
sword folded eight times. Chora Batir is overjoyed. Wielding
this 'Gokcubuk,' Chora joins the battle against the Russians
who came to conquer Kazan. Chora Batir turns back the
Russians. The Russian general, defeated by Chora Batir, takes
an oath never to return again or to gird a sword. Upon this
victory, Chora Batir becomes the 'Bas Batir' of Cifali Khan,
ruler of Kazan.
     After their defeat, the Russians consult astrologers to
seek a way to subdue Kazan and especially Chora Batir. The
astrologers determine that a Russian girl would conceive a
son by Chora Batir, and this boy would eventually kill his
father. The Russians send a pretty girl to Kazan with
specific instructions to find Chora Batir and return to
Russian territory upon becoming pregnant. Chora Batir lives
with the girl. After conceiving, the Russian girl returns to
her people.
     Time passes; Chora Batir's son by the Russian girl grows
up and leads the Russian troops advancing on Kazan. During
the final battle for Kazan, Chora Batir is killed by this


     Chora Batir contains references and allusions to various
known aspects of Tatar political life and Tatar-Muscovite
relations. It shows that the khanates of Crimean and Kazan
are now separate realms, and each in the possession of
different ruling khans. [20] The dastan reflects the frequent
diplomatic relations with Crimea maintained with Muscovy --
Chora is asked without much fanfare to undertake a mission to
Moscow. Muscovite attacks upon Kazan appear at regular
intervals and seem to be routine, even expected by the Kazan
     The dastan also shows some causes of internal friction
in both khanates: in Crimea, the tax collection by the
functionaries of the Khan is not on a smooth or methodical
basis; and in Kazan, there is obviously a division of opinion
as to who should take command against a Russian attack.
     There are 32 Batirs in Kazan, prior to Chora Batir's
arrival. They are the ones heading the Kazan forces in battle
against the Muscovites. To what extent this group is directly
related to the 'karachi families' is not immediately obvious.
[21] These 32 Batirs may or may not have constituted an
additional council to the Khan.
     The dastan further indicates Tatar awareness of
Muscovite use of 'astrologers.' Indeed, although astrology is
not acceptable within Christianity, visions and dreams
certainly figure, sometimes prominently, in Rus chronicles,
such as the KAZANSKAIA ISTORIIA. [23]
     CHORA BATIR does not, however, allude to the overt
competition which existed among Crimea and Muscovy for
control over the Turgay-Yayik basin. This is especially
important in the period immediately preceding the Russian
conquest because in the late 1520s and early 1540s, various
members of the Crimean ruling family assumed the throne in
Kazan. [24] The competitive Crimean-Kazan relationship is
hinted at in Chora's moving to Kazan khanate, when in
disfavor in the Crimean Khan's realm. 
     Turning to the structure of the dastan, a number of
features stand out. There seems to be almost inordinate
emphasis on Chora's parents, then on Chora's childhood and
early feats. Once he leaves Crimea, less attention is paid
such details. (However, focus on this type of detail is in
keeping with the tradition of the Central Asian dastans). 
The ending, on the conquest itself, is so rapidly disposed of
as to be almost anticlimactic. This is most unusual for a
classical dastan, which describes the outcome in vivid
     Composers of the dastan emphasize Chora's lineage --the
honor and bravery of his father and the virtuousness of his
mother-- and his early feats that set him apart from others.
They display the noble qualities of his parents and his
innocent youth. These suggest Chora's innate virtues and
strength, thereby stressing even further the height from
which he fell because of his own indiscretion or error of
judgement. By his ill-considered liaison with the Russian
girl, he ensured his own defeat as no other Batir, not even
whole armies, had been able to do.
     This treatment of Chora is also significant in that
responsibility for his own actions is placed on the Batir
himself rather than attributed to 'fate,' 'divine will' or
some other uncontrollable or unknown force. It reinforces the
concrete aspect of the dastan, which is discussed further
     The perils of 'intermarriage' are stunningly disposed of
in the terse and stern ending --the death of the Batir and
the fall of Kazan. This ending is most unusual for the dastan
genre. All classical dastans end with the liberation of the
people to which they belong, under the leadership of the alp
[25] who is the favorite son. The victory is invariably
celebrated by a TOY (lavish feast). However, in CHORA BATIR
the ending marks a defeat. This exception is made so as to
shake a finger at future generations. Because dastans are
also the 'last will and testament' of the creators and their
generation, this ending provides an almost eerie
foreshadowing of the debate on sliianie ('merging') in later
times. The perils of ignoring the admonition of CHORA BATIR
are vividly demonstrated in UNCENSORED RUSSIA (Peter
Reddaway, Trans., Ed.) which documents the plight of Crimean
Tatars in their current fight for their homeland (American
Heritage Press, 1972).
     CHORA BATIR is remarkably free of magical imagery, which
at times constitutes the ornamentation in such a work. Also
absent are supernatural motifs. Hence it drives home the
solid message that any well bred young man of Tatar origin
can duplicate the efforts and deeds of CHORA BATIR. In fact,
this is one of the main messages incorporated into the dastan
by its composers. It contains the admonition and, as already
noted, the 'last will and testament' of the Tatars of the
16th century; the Russians are the eternal enemies --no
'sliianie,' no 'sblizheniie,' not even 'druzhba.'
     In light of the clear message of the uncensored versions
of CHORA BATIR, divaoglu's ending is especially curious. He
abruptly truncates his narrative, leaving Chora alive after
the battle. In three brief, cryptically apologetic paragraphs
he concludes the narration:

          About the further activities of Chora Batir,
     nothing is known. By some accounts, he returned to
          And now, we will offer a prayer for the repose of
     the souls of these wondrous heroes, never having
     thundered throughout the universe! (Having been cut down
     at their prime).  Lighten, Oh God, the heavy embankment
     over their graves.
          And now we will close our mouth and forgive us,
     reader, if into the narration have crept a small
     mistake. Indeed we are people, and people sometimes err.

     This also attests to the nature of Russian censorship.
Furthermore, true to the dastan tradition, the Divaoglu 1895
variant contains a layer of local references suggesting the
travels of the dastan eastward. Dastans, as they migrate with
their owners, tend to acquire these additional layers and
details on one common base. Analysis of all layers, and their
contents, allows the historian a method for tracing their
movements. [27]
     The 1984 Kazan version, despite persisting censorship,
goes remarkably further. Tatars seem to have employed
suitable allusions to make the final point clear. The Kazan
1984 variant also specifically names the Russians as the
enemy. In the end, Chora Batir, while fighting against the
attacking Russian forces, encounters a young man among their
ranks. He cannot defeat this boy, and from the intensity of
the struggle from between them, Chora Batir's horse's hooves
become very hot. To cool them, Chora Batir rides into a
nearby body of water, where he is drowned.

The Russian Attacks on CHORA BATIR
     and Central Asian Native Literature

     During the cultural and 'national' purges of the 1930s,
CHORA BATIR had been especially singled out by the Soviet
regime for total extinction due to its powerful message. The
Soviets almost succeeded in eliminating all written copies of
this dastan. However, despite the state's monumental efforts
CHORA BATIR is still alive, befitting the best dastan
tradition of oral recitation. It surely is not a coincidence
that a number of principal characters in current Tatar and
other Central Asian literary works several resemble Chora
     The Russians have always been aware of the power of
native works in Central Asian literature, especially the
dastans. The tsarists, in preparation for colonization,
studied them in order to understand the mind of the Central
Asians. The St. Petersburg establishment also trained the
Orientalists who were assigned as advisers to the tsarist
expeditionary commanders in the field during the phase of the
conquest. Later, a number of these individuals were
designated as 'Inspectors of Schools,' virtually performing
the functions of civilian Governors-General (semi-independent
under the military governors) in the aftermath of the
military operations. [28]
     The Bolsheviks, following Lenin's dicta with regard to
the preservation of national customs, and attempting to
defuse reaction against their rule, [29] tolerated the
printing of the dastans in the 1920s. Later, the Soviets
highly praised the same body of literature as 'liberty songs
of the Central Asians.' [30] During the 1930s a number of
these works were reprinted in the original and translated
into Russian.
     Then came the 'crisis of the dastans' between 1950 and
1952, when the whole of these dastans were attacked fiercely
by the apparatchiks. [31] Apparently the dastans were finally 
read --in Russian translation-- by part planners and in
military circles. It was at once correctly assessed that
their stubborn contents would stiffen the Central Asian
resolve against Soviet designs. A series of denunciations
immediately declared them 'reactionary,' 'poisonous,' and
'feudal.' [32] The Soviets wanted to eradicate them totally.
They were banished from all libraries, removed from sight,
and became contraband. But the dastans did not die; thanks to
their oral tradition they remained safe in the minds and
souls of their reciters.
     The Russians responded, in part, by liquidating the
reciters and the traditional native schools in which they
trained. The memory of the dastans still did not fade away,
because entire generations had heard them many times. Finally
realizing that overt methods were not succeeding in removing
them from the minds of the Central Asians, the Soviets
changed their approach. This new method involved a renewed
effort to take down the traditional oral literature of the
Central Asian Turkic populations and fix it on paper. These
manuscripts were then deposited with the nearest branch or
affiliate of the USSR Academy of Sciences, for 'safekeeping'
and eventual 'preparation for publication.' Not all versions
thus collected were heard again. The censorship duties with
respect to the Central Asian literature seems to rest, as
they had before the revolution, in the Oriental Institutes.
This appears to have remained the case despite the creation
by the Soviet regime of GLAVLIT, which oversees the Russian
literature. The Soviet Oriental Institutes, under the orders
of the Communist Party, went beyond merely removing offensive
passages and were charged with the task of actively and
zealously propagating Marxism. [33] To obey and execute the
order, the Oriental Institutes devised 'sanitization.'
     The phase of preparing for publication, under very close
Russian supervision, has crucial importance. During this
process, any passages reminiscent of the old ways or
statements bearing on the historical identity of the Central
Asians are deleted from the text. I term this practice
'sanitization' as it strives to remove all aspects of the
historical heritage that may be instrumental in germinating
the true Central Asian identity in the minds of the new
generations. All relevant historical facts are stripped away
and in some cases replaced by artificial versions sympathetic
to the Soviet cause. Along the way, the linguistic style is
also altered. [34]
     When the Russians 'proudly' claim that they are doing
all they can to preserve the 'native folklore' of the Central
Asian heritage, they are referring to the sanitized versions
they have been printing of Central Asian literature. The
Russian use of the term 'folklore' is not incidental. The aim
is to relegate all aspects of native Central Asian culture to
the status of folklore, a harmless and antiseptic body of
tales which will only add skin-deep color to Soviet life.
     As a platform for the sanitization, some of the old
popular reciters and their works were 'rehabilitated' post
mortem, albeit after having been subjected to this heavy
'sterilization.' These works are now held by the Russians as
the ultimate and 'final' versions of the dastans. These are
the ones found in the libraries and one and all are
encouraged to study them, while the complete and old
variants, collected by the Orientalists, languish in the
manuscript departments of, inter alia, Tashkent, Alma Ata,
Leningrad, and Moscow. This new method is infinitely more
destructive and has more far-reaching effects. When the young
Central Asians now read the sanitized, 'folkloric tale'
versions of the most important Central Asian historical
documents, they have no way of knowing that these have been
completely gutted. The older generations, who knew these
works well, are no longer there to advise their offspring


     Becoming aware of the games the Soviets are playing,
Central Asians have been adapting to the new conditions.
Their weapon is historical fiction. That is to say, the new
generations of authors have been producing volumes of
'fiction' on historical topics. Since the genre is officially
classified and labelled as 'roman' (novel) these young
Central Asian authors have been able to move in directions
that are not possible for their historian brethren. [35]
     The Central Asian historian is fettered by the works of
Lenin, Marx, and the latest Politburo chairman. On the other
hand, the novelist can write about an allegedly fictitious
area and timeframe. That does not mean, however, that the
novelists are completely free and without official manuals to
guide their pens. [36] For that matter, occasionally the
censors are awakened to the fact that a work is a direct
indictment of the Soviet system in the guise of glorification
of it. Consequently, the guilty author is suitably paraded
before his knowing colleagues, officially repenting, and
promising to rework his latest opus. [37] Nevertheless, the
novelists are able to return to the original sources of their
own history, the dastan. Mamadali Mahmudov's OLMEZ KAYALAR
(Immortal Cliffs), published in 1981 is a prime example, one
which also incorporated CHORA BATIR into its main theme. [38]
Thus the 'official history' now becomes the fiction. As one
Marxist philosopher recently put it: "We all know that the
future is glorious, comrades. It is the past that keeps


     The dastans are so resilient that they also adapt
themselves both to adversity and to new technology. Some
'unsanitized,' unapproved dastans are now being spread on
cassettes. These cassettes are prepared and recorded within
the Soviet sound studios by the Central Asians, much to the
chagrin of the Soviet establishment. [39] More significant
even than the production of these unsanitized cassettes is
their immense popularity. Demand for them is great and they
appear to be selling widely. This is indicative of their
continuing appeal to the populace at large, and not merely to
the educated 'elite.'
     That popularity raises an even larger, fundamental issue
--the nature of Central Asian identity. Current views of
Soviet Central Asia stress that religion is the primary
identity among Central Asian 'Muslims.' The popularity of
these cassette dastans, which are not religious, [40] and the
conditions under which they are produced and sold is yet
another signal demanding a rethinking of the conventional
wisdom. In the face of mounting evidence recently reaching
the West, the primacy of Islam as the driving force of
current Central Asian identity can no longer be accepted as
     The clear distinction between the ethnic and religious
identities, though generally ignored in the Western
scholarship during recent decades, is not a new phenomenon.
It is often expounded, in various forms, by many native
Central Asian authors, old and new. Among the last four
generations of writers elucidating this issue, in addition to
Oljay Suleimanov already referred above, can be cited Yusuf
Akcuraoglu, [41] Gazi Alim, [42] Hamid Alimcan, [43] Alisher
Ibadinov, [44] Mamadali Mahmudov, [45] and Qulmat Omuraliyev.
[46] This is by no means a comprehensive list.
     All of these authors have risked not only their careers,
futures, and lives but also those of their families. Many
others lost their lives in the purges. But all these dangers
did not restrain the Central Asians. Each author, for an
expression of his true identity and those of his fellow
Central Asians, drew on the historic documents of their
common heritage. Their sources included the dastans, the
repositories. In their approach to the task of recovering
their native identity, Central Asian authors utilize dastans
and alps as sources and models for their arguments. Some,
such as Mahmudov and Ibadinov, freely borrow motifs. Others,
like Gaspirali, include the name of a specific alp in their
address to the public.
     Gaspirali Ismail Bey, [47] was the founder of Jadidism,
[48] and the proprietor of one of the longest lived Turkic
language newspapers in the Russian empire, TERCUMAN. [49]
During 1905, a group of revolutionary young Tatars
impetuously criticized Gaspirali Ismail Bey in the newspaper
TAN (Dawn) [50] for his cautionary views. Gaspirali answered
his critics in his widely read TERCUMAN. [51] His reference
to CHORA BATIR, without further elaboration, reflects the
wide familiarity of his readers and critics with the dastan
and its messages. Moreover,, Gaspirali does not leave to
chance or interpretation whose duty it is to follow these
lessons --each individual and the community as a whole must
heed the admonition of the dastan. In this way Gaspirali acts
as a link between traditional recitation and necessarily
elliptical allusion. He is utilizing the dastan in the spirit
it is intended and foreshadowing the work of later rescuers
of Central Asia's alps and their legacies. Gaspirali's retort
is embedded in his following poem:

     If my arrow would hit the target
     If my horse should win the race
     CHORABATIR is valiant

     If my arrow could not reach its target
     And my horse cannot win the race
     Tell me, what could CHORABATIR do? [52]


[1] Much has been written on this propensity of the Rus
chroniclers, inter alia, 'predicting' events that have
already happened. For an evaluation of the chronicle genre,
see Basil Dmytryshyn, A HISTORY OF RUSSIA (Prentice Hall,
1977). For the political deployment of these chronicles, see
IDEOLOGY, 1438-1560  (Mouton, 1974); Edward L. Keenan,
"Muscovy and Kazan: Some Introductory Remarks on the Patterns
of Steppe Diplomacy" SLAVIC REVIEW, Vol. XXVI, No. 4, 1967.

[2] Vol XXVI, No. 4, December 1967.

[3] The very definition of dastan in BOL'SHAIA SOVETSKAIA
ENTSIKLOPEDIIA is written to downgrade its true nature. See
my ALPAMYSH (manuscript in progress) for details. [ALPAMYSH:

[4] "Alpamysh Dastanina Mukaddime" (Introduction to the
dastan ALPAMYSH) by Gazi Alim, in BILIM OCAGI Nos. 2-3, 18
May 1923. Since the majority of the events related in CHORA
BATIR generally took place in the first half of the 16th
century, we must conclude that Gazi Alim was referring to the
Tatars, whose tribal confederation included the Naymans from
earlier times. At this point, however, we do not know the
sources on which Gazi Alim based his arguments with respect
to the Nayman reference. CHORA BATIR may well have travelled
with Naymans east to Turkistan, after the fall of Kazan.
These Naymans then joined and merged into Kungrats, a
subdivision of the Ozbeks. See Z. V. Togan, TURKILI TURKISTAN
(Istanbul, 1981). Substantiating Gazi Alim's observation, an
earlier variant of CHORA BATIR was taken down from the
Kirghiz, in the Chimkent region by Divayoglu. See below.

[5] For further details of the early work on this matter, see
my "Saviours of Dastans," presented at the Middle East
Studies Association (MESA) national conference, Boston,
November 1986.

[6] Full text of this resolution is found in INTERNATIONAL
AFFAIRS (Moscow: All Union Znaniye Society) August 1984, P.

[7] See P. B. Golden, KHAZAR STUDIES (Budapest, 1980); N.
CENTURY (Ithaca, 1982); U. Schamiloglu, "Tribal Politics and
Social Organization" (Doctoral Dissertation, Columbia
University, 1986); Alan Fisher, CRIMEAN TATARS (Stanford,

[8] Olzhas Suleimanov, AZ I YA: kniga blagonamerennogo
chitatelia (Alma-Ata, 1975).

[9] For a discussion of AZ I YA, see F. Diat, "Olzhas
Suleimanov: Az I Ja" CENTRAL ASIAN SURVEY Vol 3, No. 1 1984.

[10] P. B. Golden, "Cumanica" ARCHIVUM EURASIAE MEDII AEVI,
IV 1984; Thomas Noonan, "Polovtsy" MERSH, 1981.

[11] M. T. Choldin, A FENCE AROUND THE EMPIRE (Durham, 1985);
B. Daniel, CENSORSHIP IN RUSSIA (Washington, 1979).

[12] Hugh Seton-Watson, THE RUSSIAN EMPIRE, 1801-1917
(Oxford, 1967).

[13] See my "Saviors" and note 26 below.

[14] PROBEN (St. Petersburg, 1896) Vol. 6.

[15] G. Rahim and G. Gaviv, TATAR EDEBIYATI TARIHI (Kazan,
1925), p. 141.

[16] CHORA BATIR. Polska Akademja, Nr. 20.

[17] Collected by Hasan Ortekin, Eminonu Halkevi No. X.

[18] DASTANLAR (Tashkent, 1980). Reprinted in EMEL. 1984. 


[19A] F. V. Ahmatova (Ed.), TATAR HALK ICADI (Kazan, 1984).

[20]  There were also relations between the Tatar domains and
Central Asia. The Russian encroachment towards East
'Turkistan' (also called Independent Tartary by romantic
authors) was being watched closely by Central Asian rulers.
See Togan.

[21] E. L Keenan, "The Jarlik of Axmed-Xan to Ivan III: A New
POETICS, Vol. XII, 1967.

[22] The figure 32 is not necessarily among the more widely
known and recognized auspicious numbers which are at times
employed for ornamentation.

[23] See Pelenski, RUSSIA and KAZAN.

[24] . W. Fisher CRIMEAN TATARS, op. cit. p. 43.

[25] Used interchangeably with Batir, meaning valiant,
gallant; as attributes of a skilled and fearless champion
tested in battle or contest. See Clauson, ETYMOLOGICAL
p. 127.

[26] Abubekir Divaoglu, CHORA BATIR (Tashkent, 1895).

[27] See my ALPAMYSH.

[28] Among others, Radloff was such an Orientalist who served
as Inspector of Schools.

(Princeton, 1956).

[30] A. Bennigsen, "The Crisis of the Turkic National Epics,
1951-1952: Local Nationalism or Internationalism" CANADIAN
SLAVONIC PAPERS Vol. XVII, No. 2&3 (1975).

[31] Bennigsen, ibid.

[32] Bennigsen, ibid.

[33] Wayne S. Vucinich (Ed.) RUSSIA IN ASIA (Stanford, 1972);

[34] See my ALPAMYSH.

(forthcoming) [PUBLISHED-- Istanbul: ISIS Press, 1992].

[36] L. Branson, "How Kremlin Keeps Editors in Line" THE
TIMES (London) 5 January 1986). See also MUHBIR.

[37] John Soper, "Shake-up in the Uzbek Literary Elite"
CENTRAL ASIAN SURVEY (Oxford) Vol. 1, No. 4 (1983).

[38] H. B. Paksoy, "Central Asia's New Dastans" CENTRAL ASIAN
SURVEY Vol. 6, No. 1 (1986). [1987] 

[39] "V tsene li'chernye glaza" KOMSOMOL'SKAIA PRAVDA,
December 5, 1984.

[40] See note 27; also H. B. Paksoy, "The Deceivers" CENTRAL
ASIAN SURVEY Vol. 3, No. 1, 1984.

[41] "Uc Tarz-i Siyaset" (Ankara, 1976) [For an English
translation, see CENTRAL ASIAN MONUMENTS, op. cit].

[42] See note 4.

[43] Introduction to ALPAMYSH (Tashkent, 1939).

[44] "Kuyas ham Alav" GULISTAN No. 9, 1980. [for an English
translation, see CENTRAL ASIAN MONUMENTS, op. cit].

[45] See note 38.

[46] KAZAK EDEBIYATI, No. 30, 1982. See also C. F. Carlson
and H. Oraltay, "Kul Tegin: Advice on the Future?" CENTRAL
ASIAN SURVEY, vol. 2, No. 2, 1983; N. Shahrani, "From Tribe
to Umma: Comments on the Dynamics of Identity in Muslim
Soviet Central Asia" CENTRAL ASIAN SURVEY, Vol. 3, No. 3,

[47] E. J. Lazzerini, "Ismail Bey Gasprinskii and Muslim
Modernism in Russia, 1878-1914" (Unpublished Doctoral
Dissertation, U of Washington, 1973).

[48] E. J. Lazzerini, "Gadidism at the Turn of the Twentieth
Century: A View from Within" CAHIERS DU MONDE RUSSE ET
SOVIETIQUE, No. 16, 1975.

[49] A. Bennigsen and C. Lemercier-Quelquejay, LA PRESSE ET
(The Hague, 1964).

[50] A. Bennigsen and C. Lemercier-Quelquejay, ISLAM IN THE
SOVIET UNION (London, 1967).

[51] Kirimli Cafer Seydiahmet, GASPIRALI ISMAIL BEY
(Istanbul, n.d [1934]).

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