Rafael Khakimov: ''Europe has myths that Tatars come from Tartarus and conquered a half of Europe''

English translation of The Golden Horde in World History to be presented in Oxford

Rafael Khakimov: ''Europe has myths that Tatars come from Tartarus and conquered a half of Europe'' Photo: Maksim Platonov

English translation of The Golden Horde in World History of the Mardjani Institute of History to be presented in Oxford on 8 April. Realnoe Vremya talked to director of the institute Rafael Khakimov who revealed curious details of the work on the uneasy project. For instance, our interlocutor told who translated the book, how much money the translation needed and how the translation of the scientific endeavour can strengthen Tatarstan's investment attractiveness.

''There are good works we can boast about, but we are always asked for a version in English''

Mr Khakimov, first of all, we would like you to tell us what will be presented in Oxford on 8 April. What an endeavour are we speaking about?

It is the book I am holding in my hands called The Golden Horde in World History, and it has been translated into English. It is our joint work with the University of Oxford. Of course, it is a very unusual event for us – the very book The Golden Horde and, moreover, the cooperation with the best European scientists are under the umbrella of Oxford (it is one of the best universities of the world, you know).

It is a very important step for us. We wrote many good endeavours. But for the world scientific community, it is important that the version in English has appeared – it always was our problem. There are good works we can boast about, but we are always asked for a version in English. If we don't have it, the circle shrinks to certain Russian-speaking scientists. Of course, it is very important in terms of distribution of information about the history of Tatars at universities because in Europe they are the basis for politicians, journalists and whose who make decisions at the government level – everything begins from the university.

The presentation in Oxford will be on 8 April. We will have a small conference on 7 April. There will be a round-table talk dedicated to the history of Tatars in Europe. So our appearance in Europe is an important event for us.

Are there any similar endeavours about the history of Tatars in English abroad?

There are works on separate topics, separate aspects because there are quite many scientists in the world who study the history of Tatars. The interest has grown in recent years. We printed the first fundamental work about the Tatar history in Istanbul under the aegis of IRCICA. It was mainly written by us, our scientists from Tatarstan and Russia. This time an international collective worked, and our share is not the biggest: there are many Russian scientists but mainly from Europe and the States.

Are there many works like yours about the Golden Horde?

Marie Favereau (Editor's Note: an Oxford research associate) is my co-editor (we are two editors-in-chief). She already wrote pieces about the Golden Horde in French and English, so she has experience. But other works are about some separate aspects of this issue, for instance, relations of the Golden Horde with some European republics.

We wrote many good endeavours. But for the world scientific community, it is important that the version in English has appeared – it always was our problem

What is the concept of the Golden Horde abroad? What is its difference from the Russian one?

We need to specify: if we are talking about the scientific or university community, here everybody perfectly understands the objective history, they work with sources. But in Russia, there is a big difference between scientists and what is written in books, though we corrected the books in part – the Tatar and Mongol raid has disappeared. But still, there are politicians who don't agree with the scientific world. There are those who have an old-fashioned opinion. There are wandering popular concepts (what Gumilev called a ''black legend''), myths about Tatars like they are evil, cruel conquerors who led Russia to deep middle ages for centuries.

In Europe, everything is objective if we are talking about science. They lack sources at times, they have not accumulated enough materials to present something as a totality. In the public's opinion, Tatars are from Tartarus, come from the underground hell and conquered a half of Europe – there are many things of this kind. But the scientific world has changed in recent years, of course, which makes us glad. An entire army of supporters of the Horde – scientists, students and postgraduates – who are changing opinions has grown in the last years.

Can your endeavour translated in English fill the lack of information abroad that you mentioned?

Sure, it changes a lot (though in the scientific world only). It is important for us to be in university libraries – we have both electronic and printed versions. As soon as an endeavour reaches university catalogues, it immediately becomes a property of the grass roots.

It is important to note that we set a certain standard of terms in seven books of The Golden Horde in World History. Tatar terms in English are different, and sometimes translators don't know what to base on. Now the standards have appeared, so that the scientific world will coordinate its terminology in English.

''First of all, we worried about the quality because people don't like bad English abroad''

Did you attract many people to translate this material? We would like you to tell about the translation nuances into English in detail.

To start with, we invited tenders because the sponsor of the translation – TAIF Group of Companies – wants us to be the best. First of all, we worried about the quality because people don't like bad English abroad.

The sponsor of the translation – TAIF Group of Companies – wants us to be the best. First of all, we worried about the quality

There were many translators: about 40 translators worked on the history of Tatars in seven books because there was little time. And native speakers were the editors. At the same time, we looked (we have English-speaking employees), we needed to change some articles. And a single style appeared. We can say a collective of translators who now know the Tatar history (but it is not only Tatar but rather Eurasian, Turkic in general) formed due to the work on the seven books. So it was easier to translate The Golden Horde. I think it is a grandiose book. Few people believed it was possible to do it within little time.

By the way, how much time did the translation take?

Not much, 6 months.

Who were the translators?

A Moscow company hired them: somebody lives abroad, somebody in Moscow, in regions. They have quite a complicated working technology – they divided all books and translated them at the same time.

I would also like to specify the number of copies and the investment volume if it is not a secret.

Probably it is a secret. But I will say it is big by our standards. We – scientists – are shy people. It is almost a 6-month budget of our institute where about 100 people work. The sponsor understood it is a historic event, a landmark for us in international work as well as for both our big companies and our president. Now our history is available in English. And it shows we are educated people with a very ancient and rich history. In business relations, it is one of the important impulses for investments and joint work. It is one of the aspects of big business. There are 500 copies. I think it is not bad for a start. Some people prefer an electronic version, though not for a present, of course. If needed, it will be easy to print additional copies.

It was said the work you did is comparable with the importance of Kazan's millennial anniversary…

The millennium was not an easy project as well but we had been writing the history of Tatars for 15 years, over 200 scientists all over the world worked on it. I think we did not miss anybody. Almost nobody refused – only one in two hundred did. We wrote The Golden Horde in a flash because the edition is prestigious, and nobody talked about money. On the contrary, there was a competition to be here. Somebody even took offence (laughing). One American asked: ''Why did not you include me? How come?''

Perhaps these things are comparable in terms of importance. We will see the effect later. However, we understand even today that it is an element of statehood. Kazakhs had a problem when Vladimir Putin mentioned in passing that Kazakhs did not have their own state. They worried and urgently started to look for information. But we can't say we did not have it. We have an endeavour about Tatars written by not just Tatars but the best scientists of the world. By the way, this is why there is no criticism. One journalist said: ''Fine, there is nobody to criticise. You attracted everyone. You, Tatars, are sly''. I can't help but agree with it (laughing).

European guests in Oxford, museum for failed battle and moderate Tatar tribute

I would also ask you about the presentation that will be on 8 April. What will be there? Who will participate?

It will be in Oxford, we booked a hall there. The Oxford administration, Marie Favereau, of course, whom I mentioned, Ambassador of Russia to Great Britain Yakovenko will be there. Moreover, our partners who live close to Britain will be there, for instance, Hungary, including very good expert from the University of Warsaw Kołodziejczyk (they have a separate research area on the Golden Horde but mainly Crimea). In addition, there is an alliance of Tatars in Europe. They will also come because, first of all, they are interested and there is a reason to gather to discuss their issues. Secondly, we promised them to write the first book of the history of Tatars in Europe. Lithuanian Tatars write the second book themselves – there are professors, they already have a sociological material, and we will write the whole history. We have a plan, we will discuss everything and set a deadline.

The copies were sold out quickly. I am protecting the last copy to have it here

So what will be there? Maybe round-table talks, lectures?

Firstly, there will be a small conference, a round-table talk about the plan and presentation, which will be free, there is a short list of speakers there. It is a usual two-day format.

I would like to ask you about the manuscript of the monograph dedicated to the Golden Horde. What reactions did you receive after this endeavour came to light? Was there any criticism?

There was not criticism. But the copies were sold out quickly. I am protecting the last copy to have it here. Mainly they went to the Apparatus (Editor's Note: Presidential), many experts. We also have an e-version of the text, it is on our website.

What school representatives did you manage to unite working on the monograph? Maybe you had to bring them together.

No, because the very idea came about in Leiden – we had an international conference there. We have the third book of the history of Tatars in the Golden Horde, then the forum took place. When we gathered in Leiden, we thought about a single idea of how to write it because we already had experience. No contradictions left. Debates are always present, of course. The scientific world can't exist without debates. However, there already was the big picture. This is why it was quite easy to gather, create an editorial board and come to an agreement on what we wrote.

Mr Khalikov, are any new authors going to participate in creation of the monograph this year? Can they do it now?

Yes. The Moscow University has very good scientist Karpov, head of department Gorsky, Pochekaev who deals with legal issues of the Golden Horde appeared in Petersburg, Belyakov in Belgorod did a PhD on the golden dynasty of descents of Genghis Khan, Maslyuzhenko in Siberia – on the Siberian Khanate and Trepalov who studied the Nogai Horde and is working on the Golden Horde in general. Ilya Zaitsev also had a PhD on the Crimean Khanate, Astrakhan Khanate and Great Horde. In other words, we have a very serious team. Of course, scientists have appeared in Europe. Cambridge used to study numismatics, now it is also working on the Golden Horde. There are good scientists in Serbia, Bulgaria, though they existed even before but worked only on the Bulgarian period. America also has several good scientists. Kinna, unfortunately, died. But there is a young generation. So we have supporters.

There is an aspiration to fix the Tatar and Mongol raid as victory at the political level. It is unknown what kind of victory it is

There is great in interest in Russian regions: students got degrees in departments, study this issue. The situation in Russia is that an elderly and eminent scholar is not afraid to tell everything he thinks, while others are under political pressure at the moment. There is an aspiration to fix the Tatar and Mongol raid as victory at the political level. It is unknown what kind of victory it is. Great stand on the Ugra river: Ivan III met with Akhmat, nobody dared to attack, so they diverged. Ivan III said he won but paid tribute. Or Battle of Kulikovo. They wanted to make this day festive, a big museum was built in Tula Oblast, Medinsky opened it on the ceremony. There have not been any battles on Kulikovo Field in general, never. Archaeologist dug there but found nothing. One can dig in any place in our Bolgar, arrowheads, arrows and sabres are found, while there is nothing on Kulikovo Field – no arrow reached it even by chance (laughing). It is a bit strange. Moreover, not Russians fought against Tatars but Russians, Tatars and Lithuanians from one side and Russians, Tatars and Lithuanians from the other plus Genoese with Mamai came and paid for this campaign. But these myths still exist. But I think little time left because the Internet is available for anyone, many materials are there.

In addition, we wrote the seven books from Huns until today. And there was not any ethnic opposition of Russians and Tatars. Groups, politics, everything always mixed. Christianisation after Petr's order is probably an exception. But Ekaterina cancelled it, and everything was quite peaceful. And these strikes… Russians did not oppose the raid in no circumstances, only against their own corruptors, so to speak, against princes who imposed additional tribute except a Tatar one, which was, by the way, very moderate – 10% (if we were imposed such tribute today, we would just blossom). For this tribute, they protected borderlines, maintained the financial system, the state apparatus and maintained roads.

By Lina Sarimova. Photo: Maksim Platonov