Rezeda Khurmatullina, PhD

The Unofficial Anthem of the Tatar People "Tugan tel" as a Reflection of Historical Memory

Rezeda Khurmatullina, PhD

  • Kazan Federal University, Kazan, Russia


Abstract: Among many patriotic songs of hymnal pattern, the true musical symbol of the Tatars was the song "Tugan tel", the melody of which was formerly the basis of the folk bait and the verses were written by the Tatar poet Gabdulla Tukay in 1909. Is it by chance that the song of the Tatars was not about the native region (motherland, land, fatherland), but a song about the native language?

Why did the Tatars single out language as the main marker of national identity, community and exclusiveness? Why is the loss of language perceived by the Tatars as the most terrible collective trauma? How does this unofficial anthem reflect the historical memory of the Tatar people?

The study of the anthem in forging national identity is a contemporary view, which allows us to consider the anthem as a historical source, which reflects both the historical memory and the national identity of the people. Since any art is impossible without a context - historical, social, political and moral; consideration of these contexts will be the subject of our article.

Keywords: historical memory; anthem; Tatar.


Historical memory is interpreted as «colonization of time» (M. Halbwax), «invention of tradition» (E. Hobsbaum), «inventing memory» (A. Renner), «construction of genealogy» (B. Anderson); as «construction of the past», it’s (re)construction and (re)interpretation, as well as intentional «forgetting» (Savelieva I. M., Poletayev A. V., 2003, p.249). The concept of «historical memory» has no unambiguous interpretation in scientific research. It is used as a close concept (up to synonymous use) to such definitions as «historical consciousness», «social memory», «social and historical memory», «ethnic historical memory», «collective memory», «cultural memory», «external memory», «memory of the world», etc. But with all the differences in approaches, methodological grounds, etc., in the definition of historical memory, the common thing is that it is a living memory of the historical past, which in various forms, angles, aspects specifically preserves images of the past.

The purpose of our study of the structure of the historical memory of Muslim Tatars in the Volga region and the Urals: to trace the formation of musical symbols of the Tatar people, contributing to the formation of national identity.

In our study, we will adhere to the definition of nationalism given by E. Gellner: " Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness: it invents nations where they do not exist, but it needs pre-existing distinctive features ..." (Gellner, E., 1964, p. 69). Thereby, in our understanding, nationalism is a complex and multidimensional complex of social experiences, thoughts, ideas and actions aimed at constructing and maintaining an aggregate of national identity.

According to Gajaz Iskhaki, "... the most important basis for the formation of the people as a cultural nation is its national music" (Akhunov A., 2018). Wundt argues that "... the national anthems most accurately reflect the nature of the nation» (Wundt, W., 2018).

The paradox of Tatar hymnography is that along with the official, national anthem, there are also unofficial ones. All of them, one way or another, shape a national identity, evoking patriotism, nationalism and solidarity.

The significance of the unofficial anthem of the Tatars titled "Tugan tel" (Mother Tongue) as a means of shaping public mentality capable of linking together in a holistic perception space, time and human solidarity, has a long common memory. Considering the "Tugan tel" as an anthem, we proceed from the definition of the Explanatory Dictionary by S.I. Ozhegov "... a song adopted as a symbol of state or social unity" (Ozhegov S, 1999, p.944).

However, the national anthem of the Tatars has not been studied in the context of historical memory and the process of formation of musical symbols, contributing to the development of national identity.


For the Tatar culture, the end of the nineteenth - the beginning of the twentieth century was a period of an extraordinary cultural revival and national self-consciousness.

In an attempt to trample the awakening self-consciousness of the Tatars, the government introduced a number of repressive measures. It prohibited the circulation of the Koran printed in Russia, subjected all publications in the Tatar language to strict censorship, limited the participation of Tatars in local self-government bodies – district councils, forbade the children of Tatars who broke away from Orthodoxy to be admitted to mekteb (schools) and madrasah (schools at the mosques), as well as imposed educational censure for the Muslim clergy, the main requirement of which was the knowledge of the Russian language. Muslim confessional schools were transferred under the supervision of the Ministry of Public Education, although they were not financed by the state (Historical and contemporary significance of the Christian missionary/ Missionary anti-Muslim collection, 1894, p. 280).

However, no matter how hard retrogrades tried; they could do nothing against the song-writing people of the whole nation, for it was impossible to impose censure on songs and poetry. It was at that time that among the Tatars of various walks of life songs of an anthem character were widely composed and distributed. They expressed compassion for the formidable destiny of the oppressed, hatred of the oppressors, and a call for national liberation combat. Those songs were immediately picked up by listeners, passed by word of mouth, that is to say, by grape-vine technique. Along with literature, the press and books of historical content, it was the folk and art song that gave the impression of unity and spiritual uplift of people belonging to different social classes, but united by a single historical memory and national self-identification.

Such songs as: "Berensche Sada" ("First Call"), "Ikenche Sada" ("Second Call"), "Muslim Marseillaise", "Shekertlar Zhyry" (Song of the Shakirds) on the verses of G. Tukay shakirds (madrasah students) sang at rallies and demonstrations during the first Russian revolution.

Two versions of "Varshavyanka", three editions of "Marseillaise", "Kyu atlagyz, iptashlar" (Comrades, keep up boldly), "Tөrmәdәn" ("From prison"), "Sөz korban buldygyz" (You became sacrificed) were known from the published sources, etc. The second edition of the "Tatar Marseillaise", which was published in the collection of "Tatar Folk Art. Historical and Lyrical Songs" in 1988 (Tatar folk art, 1988, p. 92) is also of interest. Compared to the "Russian Marseillaise," the "Tatar Marseillaise" by its implication contained the information of not only class hatred of the high and mighties, but was also an appeal to the combat for freedom and independence of the Tatar people.

Ничә йоз буе без –татарлар,

Зур золымнар күреп яшәдек.

Күрмәде гөмеребез якты таңнар,

Мәңге мәзлүм булып агладык.

Татадык без бинихая җәфалар,

Хурланып, рәнҗешеп агладык.

Китсеннәр бездән бу җафлар,

Яшәсен хөр Ватан, хөр Ватан.

The Tatars have been living for hundred years

Enduring great misfortunes.

We haven’t seen light dawns in our life

We have lived forever offended

Enduring humiliation and deprivation

We cried outraged and cursing

Let the torment leave us,

Long live, free Motherland!

For the Tatars, this was the time of creating "national artifacts" possessing "deep emotional legitimacy", "... the creation of these artifacts .... was a spontaneous distillation of complex "mixing" of discrete historical forces, but as soon as they appeared, they immediately became "modular", suitable to be transferred to a plethora of social territories acquiring the ability to associate itself and be associated with a wide variety of very different political and ideological constellations " (Anderson B.,,1991, p.256).

Bait was another widespread musical genre that contributed to the growth of the Tatar national identity. The word bait (tat. bәet) is of Arab origin, where two misras make one bait which is a poetry unit. In Tatar literature the meaning of this term gradually expanded, and it began to be used not only to refer to a two-line poetry stanzas but to mean a self-contained piece of poetry and an entirely independent genre of Tatar poetry.

Baits were devised and distributed both verbally and in writing thanks to the expansion of written language, both in the Middle Ages and in modern times. Scholars believe that baits have ancient origins and that this genre of epic art existed since pre-Mongolian times (Nadirov I., 1991, p.6). Bait is primarily a form of poetry, and lyrics have priority over music. At the heart of bait lies a catchy and recurring tune. Researcher F. Urmanche methodologically divided baits created in XIX - early XX centuries into three sub-genre groups: baits that depict important military and historical events, baits about social and everyday family activities telling us about the lives of various groups of population, and social and historical baits about the Tatar people’s fight against suppression of their national and social freedoms (Urmanche F., 2002, p. 68).

Let’s look at baits dedicated to social and historical subjects because they contributed most to the formation of Tatar ethnic and national identity at a time when it did not have modern media outlets such as newspapers, magazines, radio, etc. Popular bait would quickly fill the void and would be widely distributed. Great Tatar poet Gabdulla Tukai talked about this in his lecture on folk songs in 1910.

“Apparently this old custom has been preserved since we were nomads but for some reason our people are very capable of producing a wide variety of songs and baits. Something happens, click, and the next day there is bait about it. For example, a man named Gaynutdin himself or his daughter committed a misdoing and that’s it: people would immediately begin to sing baits about them on the streets” (Tukai G., 1961, p. 10).

Baits illustrating occasions of social confrontation between the Tatar Muslim population and Russian colonial administration played a special role in the formation of Tatar national self-identification. Such events were common in the second half of the XIX century. For example, there is a bait that tell us about events that took place in the village of Yshna (unfair division of land), in the village of Changly (illegal peasants’ land expropriation by landowner), and in the village Srednyaya Elyuzan of Saratov province, where Muslim peasants in the midst of the revolution of 1905 burned down a distillery that belonged to landowner named Nikonov and destroyed an estate belonging to a landlord named Popov. Thus we can say that bait was a special form of folk journalism.

Bait can be regarded as a historical source that reflects historical events more accurately and truthfully than the official reports from Kazan. This can be illustrated by the example of Srednyaya Tiganal Bait. Orta Tiganali bait is dedicated to the events that took place in Kazan province in the 1878-1879. Peasants living in five different districts with mainly Tatar population, namely, Spassky, Kazansky, Chistopolsky, Mamadyshsky and Tetyushsky all rebelled all simultaneously. The major uprises were recorded in B. Mengersky, B. Atninsky Mamsinsky townships of Kazansky uezd. The rebellion was sparked by the publication of the “Guide for the rural communities on the execution of their legal responsibilities”. Some articles of the instruction were absolutely not fit for Muslims.

Here's what famous orientalist and Kazan educational district instructor V. Radloff had to say about it: “How should a Tatar person understand that this is applicable to them if §47 simply says: worldly levies are those duties that are collected for the benefit of communities and used for churches, rural school maintenance, and teacher compensation; and when the village heads are ordered by the Governor and such orders are required for all communities?” (The agrarian question and the peasant movement in Tataria of the XIX century, 1936, p. p. 304). Tatars felt that this document called for their forcible baptism. These suspicions were strengthened by the local officials and missionaries of St. Guria society.

To find out the truth Muslims began to send letters to the Spiritual Administration of Orenburg. In response, the Mufti S.Tevkelev urgently sent a letter to the governor N. Skaryatin. In his letter he warned about the tension that existed with Muslim communities and urged him to pay serious attention to the activities of heads of township administrations and clerks spreading rumors about baptism, and bring them to justice if necessary (Proceedings of a special meeting on education of eastern outlanders, 1905, p. 304 ) . But it was too late. The Governor asked for a battalion of soldiers (500 people) in order to pacify the Tatars, which came to the village of Sredniye Tigany of Spassky uezd from Chistopol. Here is how this was described in bait: “Урта Авылга җыелды өч өязның халыгы” -“People from three uezds gathered in the Middle village”. “Җыендагы халыкны чолгап алды казаклар” - "People were surrounded by Cossacks”. Let’s now compare this bait with the governor’s report. The Governor wrote: “When I appeared Tatars along with mullahs dropped on their knees, begging for forgiveness, and immediately started the election, while putting together appropriate statements, applying seals and promising to immediately make insurance payments. Thus peasants’ obedience was restored. Because of this I did not have to resort to tough measures”. At the same time the bait tells us that the soldiers robbed Tatar villages until the Governor arrived. “Губернатордан элгәре күп ратниклар килделәр, Сишәмбе көн кич белән йөз пот икмәк җыйдылар” - "Numerous soldiers came before the arrival of the governor. On Tuesday evening, one hundred pounds of bread have been collected”. The bait goes on further explaining how for several days Cossacks plundered peasants, taking all they wanted.

Командылар килу белян, таганларын астылар,

Биш ротанын яртысы Иске авылга бордылар;

Иске аулнын казларын кочак-кочак жыйдылар,

Тимягез казга дигач, камчы белян кыйнадылар.

As soon as the squads arrived and hung the boilers,

Half of the soldiers from five divisions went to the old village.

In the old village they began to grab armfuls of geese,

And those who shouted “Do not touch the geese” were whipped.

In the village of Bolshie Menghery Skaryatin was even more ruthless. N. Firsov, a historian, describes these events as follows : “The Governor Skaryatin accompanied by police officials and army came to the village of Bolshie Menghery and unleashed a ruthless crackdown on the peasants of 11 to 80 years of age, about 1,000 people in total who were called in from Atninsky and Mamsinsky townships. He told the crowd to kneel, then placed the troops around them and began to pace through them while tearing some people’s beards, hitting others in the chest etc. Then he whipped 800 of them. He showed no mercy to anyone. Elders and children suffered heavily from the beating ... As he was beating them the governor kept repeating: “Here is Mohammed for you, here is the Qur'an, here for rejecting such and such articles...A lot of cattle was taken from Tatars in order to feed the soldiers, and many peasants eventually went bankrupt” (Firsov N., 1932, p. 41).

The bait ends with the following words: “Төнля белян команда фатир саен таралды; Беләр кеше булмас булды, күңнелләре каралды” - “At night the commands were housed in apartments, people retreated into themselves, and their souls turned black”.

Despite the fact that the peasant uprising was suppressed, Tatars demonstrated to the authorities an unwavering determination to defend their faith. Peasants refused to elect police foremen and village heads who tried to comply with authorities’ orders were re-elected; village heads’ actions were brought under the control of village assemblies and mullahs who helped to pacify peasants were beaten and expelled from their parishes. After this revolt Muslims demanded that the Mufti was not the appointed government, but instead was elected by the Muslim population. The authorities abolished all paragraphs of the “guidelines” that infringed upon Muslim population rights, and Skaryatin was removed from the governor’s office.

Among many patriotic songs of hymnal pattern and tragic bait which were created during that period, the true musical symbol of the Tatars was the song "Tugan tel", the melody of which was formerly the basis of the folk bait "Salim Babai" ("Old Man Salim"), and the verses were written by the Tatar poet Gabdulla Tukay in 1909.

Despite the traditional vision that an anthem should be a solemn musical and poetic work of a patriotic pattern, the unofficial anthem of the Tatars is a song of a deeply lyrical, one might even say an intimate character, as compared to the anthems of totalitarian states, most of which are characterized by a square rhythmic structure, abstract heroics, gigantism. Is it by chance that the song of the Tatars was not about the native region (motherland, land, fatherland), but a song about the native language?

As is known, after the conquest of Kazan by Ivan the Terrible, the Tatars were evicted outside the city limits. The Tatars were allowed to live only in the territory of the Old - Tatar settlement. The Tatars were forbidden to appear in the territory of the Kremlin under penalty of death. Therefore, the lost territory of the state is perceived in the collective memory of the Tatars as a cultural trauma. The Tatars as the main marker of national identity, community and exclusiveness, highlight the language as the main means of preserving their identity and uniqueness in the conditions of the centuries-long anti-Tatar policy of the Russian state. According S. Wertheim: «… language in particular is seen as a metonymic representative of the nation and the barometer of the health of the nation, where the impurity and decline of the Tatar language are seen as representative of the impurity and decline of the Tatar nation as a whole» (Wertheim S., 2003).

The song, in which the author addresses the native language from the first person point of view, sounds like a prayer, the sacred meaning of which lies in the great gratitude of a person to the native language presented to him by fate. The brilliant poet seemed to foresee those terrible transformations and losses to which the Tatar language had been subjected throughout its history. Gabdulla Tukai wrote "Tugan Tel" with Arabic script, as Tatars had done for many centuries. With the transition to the Latin alphabet in 1927, the alphabet lost seven letters, and the written speech, sonority and depth. It was in 1939 when a new reform had gone through - there was a transition to the Cyrillic alphabet which resulted in the Tatar language losing its continuity and the nexus of generations. Access to the richest historical potential of the language had been blocked for future generations. „The fate of the Turkic-speaking peoples in the zones incorporated into today’s Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and the USSR is especially exemplary. A family of spoken languages, once everywhere assemblable, thus comprehensible, within an Arabic orthography, has lost that unity as a result of conscious manipulations. To heighten Turkish-Turkey’s national consciousness at the expense of any wider Islamic identification, Atatürk imposed compulsory romanization. The Soviet authorities followed suit, first with an anti-Islamic, anti-Persian compulsory romanization, then in Stalin’s 1930’s, with a Russifying compulsory Cyrillization” wrote B.Andersen (Anderson B., 1991).

The song "Tugan tel", which was first performed in 1909, is passed on by the Tatars from one generation to another as a folk tradition, as the very symbol of national unity, thanks to which the people perceive it as an anthem. This song unites the Tatars scattered all over the world, helping each one of them to feel commonality with folk sources, language and culture.

During the Soviet era, when the national schools were closed, "Tugan tel" was sung in chorus as a protest against the national policy of the center at various gatherings of the Tatar community.

This song became especially topical in connection with the socio-political events of the second half of 2017 in the Republic of Tatarstan pertaining to teaching of the Tatar language in schools. At a meeting of the Council on Interethnic Relations in July 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced about an inadmissibility to reduce the hours of teaching the Russian language in the national republics. He emphasized that "making a person learn a language that is not native for him is also unacceptable, as well as reducing the level and time of teaching Russian" (The website of the President of Russia, 2018). Students started putting written requests refusing to study the Tatar language, which has the status of the second state language in the republic. It was reported that teachers of the Tatar language either became redundant or offered other vacancies in the Kazan schools.

We turn now to the statistics:

There are 235 schools in Kazan, 29 of which are Russian-Tatar oriented schools; only 12 schools are Tatar schools. There are 33 FM stations in Kazan, of which only 4 are in Tatar language. In 2002, 5.34 million people had a good command of the Tatar language, whereas in 2010 - 4, 28 million people. During these 8 years, the number of native speakers has decreased by 1 million people ... (The website "Idel.Realities", 2018).

In this context, "Tugan tel", as a text of culture, which gradually disappears, acquires a new meaning and a new interpretation.


We analyzed the Tatar anthem "Tugan tel" as a historical memory and a musical symbol of the Tatar people, contributing to the formation of nationalism, national identity. The basic laws of integration of historical memory, music and nationalism are established. Music is at the same time a direct instrument of historical memory and nationalism, a means of inventing non-existent national features and an instrument of the Genesis of the nationalities themselves.

We found out that the Tatars singled out the language as the main marker of national identity, community and exclusiveness. The unofficial anthem of the Tatars "Tugan tel" reflects the historical memory of the people, forms a national identity. This song unites the Tatars scattered all over the world, helping each one of them to feel commonality with folk sources, language and culture. During the Soviet era, when the national schools were closed, "Tugan tel" was sung in chorus as a protest against the national policy of the center at various gatherings of the Tatar community.

This song became especially topical in connection with the socio-political events of the second half of 2017 in the Republic of Tatarstan pertaining to teaching of the Tatar language in schools. This event led to a split in Russian society. The struggle of the non-Russian peoples of Russia for the preservation of their language, culture and identity continues.

"Tugan tel" for the Tatars is a national artifact that is able to unite people in time and space and form the highest national feelings, including human solidarity.


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