Diplomat Oleg Ozerov: “The Arabs loved Karim Khakimov very much because he expressed his thoughts like an Arab”

The successor of “the Red Pasha” for work in Saudi Arabia — about the Tatar Lawrence of Arabia and the “Muslim Communist”

Last week, Russian Foreign Ministry Ambassador at Large Oleg Ozerov released the book 'Karim Khakimov: The Chronicle of Life (about the fate of Islam and communism in Russia)'. It has been published for the 130th anniversary of the outstanding Soviet diplomat who established the USSR's ties with the Muslim East. The author of the publication in the interview with Realnoe Vremya told how bit by bit he collected information about Khakimov, turning to the archives of the FSB and meeting with relatives of the 'Red Pasha' in Bashkiria. He also informed about the postponement of the anniversary celebrations in honour of the “Red Pasha” and the shooting of a film about him. Our interlocutor told how such interest in the Soviet diplomat was aroused by Russian researchers and foreign politicians and shared plans to present his book in Kazan.

“It's time to work on a real feature film about Khakimov”

Oleg Borisovich, could you tell us first, how did you come up with the idea to start preparing this book?

I cannot say exactly what day and year it was, most likely in 2014, when I wrote the article about him “The Death of the Red Pasha”. But my acquaintance with the topic began much earlier, when I was just preparing to go as an Ambassador to Saudi Arabia in 2009, and while studying the history of this country, I drew attention to the generally well-known fact that Soviet Russia was the first to recognise Saudi Arabia. Accordingly, it became interesting how this happened and who was behind it. Of course, after seven years of working as Russia's Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and at the same time as our country's representative in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), I realised that Karim Khakimov was known, revered and respected there.

Of course, I had already heard about Khakimov. We, the diplomats, know about the activities of those who stood at the origins of Russian diplomacy. First, this is taught in MGIMO, and second, practical work in foreign missions obliges you to read and know the history of your own country, including its foreign policy activities. And its history was made by people. But, of course, the details that I found out while working on the book, I did not know at the time.

So I can say that life and especially biography I have been interested in Karim Khakimov for quite a long time, and this is a very rich life of an amazing, strong-willed, undoubtedly very talented person.

Photo: bashinform.ru
We, the diplomats, know about the activities of those who stood at the origins of Russian diplomacy. First, this is taught in MGIMO, and second, practical work in foreign missions obliges you to read and know the history of your own country, including its foreign policy activities

Who helped prepare the book?

While working on the publication, I applied to the state archives, I had to work with the regions, where Khakimov worked or fought, where he himself was. Ufa, Orenburg, Tomsk — this is not a complete list of cities with which active correspondence was conducted and from there I received very necessary archival information. Naturally, the staff of the Bashkir national archive and the director of the Karim Khakimov Museum in his homeland in Dyusyanovo helped me a lot, for which I am very grateful.

Of course, there were applications in Moscow, to various authorities, agencies, for example, the FSB archive. I managed to get a lot of information so that the biography of Khakimov was almost fully reflected in my work.

Have you met with the diplomat's relatives?

Certainly. I have repeatedly spoken with Zarema Khasanovna Gindullina, Karim Khakimov's great-niece: she provided me with very valuable sources and books, memoirs, photographs, which helped me a lot. I also met with Olga Khalikovna Khakimova, the niece of the hero of the book and the daughter of Karim Abdraufovich's younger brother. She told me many interesting details about the life of her father and uncle. Shamil Rimzilevich Valeev (a publicist, chief of staff of the Public Chamber of Bashkortostan — editor's note) also helped me, who provided me with an archive of Karim Khakimov's personal letters.

Bashkiria is also preparing to make a film about Karim Khakimov. Did the authors of the project (e.g., producer Kamil Muzykaev) to you?

Indeed, in Bashkiria, the work is actively continuing on the anniversary celebrations of Khakimov (130th anniversary), and I am a member of the organizing committee. But the situation with the pandemic has adjusted our plans with the postponement of a number of events to a later date.

As for the film, I met with representatives of the creative team and I really hope that I helped them in some way, gave them some good advice, and they will take this into account when finalising the script.

Photo: bashinform.ru
As far as I know, the preparatory work has already begun. But more details about this can be told later

At a recent video conference organised by our representative office in the OIC, headed by Ramazan Abdulatipov, the producers told us how the work is going now and when we can expect the film. As far as I know, this will be a four-part film. We hope it will be a good picture of novice filmmakers.

From my point of view, given that many documentaries about Karim Khakimov have already been made, it is time to work on a full-length, real feature film. Everything for this purpose is available — archive data, my book published. As far as I know, the preparatory work has already begun. But more details about this can be told later.

Why has the interest in the Soviet diplomat “awaken” literally in recent decades?

Why in the last few decades? The interest in the figure of Khakimov first appeared after his rehabilitation in the late fifties of the last century, when the first small book about his fate was published, written by his son-in-law (his sister's husband). The second surge of interest occurred in the early 1990s, when the diplomatic relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia were restored. Numerous conferences were held in memory of Khakimov, there are dozens of publications in scientific journals and in the media. This happened not only in Moscow but also in the regions of Ufa, Kazan, and Orenburg. There is the museum of Karim Khakimov in his native village in Bashkiria, streets are named after him, monuments and memorial plaques are installed in the cities where he lived and worked.

Therefore, interest in the “Red Pasha”, as it was also called, is great in our country, although its figure has not yet received a proper assessment.

Well, all in good time. Diplomacy is a delicate thing. Many things do not open immediately, but years or decades later. Obviously, it is time to publish a book dedicated to Khakimov.

Photo: maukbmo.ru
There is the museum of Karim Khakimov in his native village in Bashkiria, streets are named after him, monuments and memorial plaques are installed in the cities where he lived and worked

“Deep knowledge of Islam and the Koran helps Ramazan Abdulatipov find a common language with representatives of the Islamic world”

How did Karim Khakimov — the leader of the policy of the Soviet state, which, without much concealment, struggled with religion-manage to find points of understanding with the Islamic leaders?

Now, when more than a hundred years have passed since October 1917, sometimes it seems that the new state from the very beginning fought with religion. And if this is true of the Russian Orthodox Church, which was then regarded as one of the pillars of autocracy, then the attitude towards Islam has been different for many years. This is the aspect I touch on in my book, telling about the difficult fate of the “Muslim Communist”, as he called himself, Karim Khakimov.

In the early 1920s, the young Soviet state needed international recognition. And in 1926, we were the first in the world to recognise Saudi Arabia — an important country from the point of view of geopolitics. Soviet Russia, according to the people's commissar of foreign affairs, Georgy Chicherin, needed the support of the Arab-Muslim world. And by that time, due to the colonial policy of Western countries, there had been almost no independent countries in the Muslim regions. It was necessary to establish friendly and partnership relations with them for further political, economic and cultural interaction. And this task fell on the shoulders of Karim Khakimov. And he did a great job with it.

Why is that? In my personal opinion, this was largely because he was a talented, hard-working, and in a good way stubborn person. He had a way of endearing his surroundings. He had a great charisma. And I think he was a sincere person. Therefore, he gained respect not only from king Abdelaziz but also from his entourage. Khakimov was able to find a common language with both the powerful and the common people. The Arabs also liked him very much because the “Red Pasha” or Kerim Bey, as they called him, expressed his thoughts like a real Arab. He knew instinctively what to say. This, perhaps, can be learned, but it was laid down by nature in Khakimov.

He did a lot for the Muslims. In the first years of Soviet power, the Hajj was opened to Russian Muslims after a break caused by the First World War and the Civil War! It would seem that this is possible — Soviet times and the pilgrimage of the Tatars or Bashkirs or other peoples of Russia to Mecca and Medina?! It turned out that then it was possible to “break” even this!

A hundred years ago, Soviet Russia needed contacts with foreign countries, their support and economic cooperation. However, as now.

K.A. Khakimov accompanies the future king of Arabia, Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Moscow, 1932. Photo: wikipedia.org

Did the “Red Pasha” perform Muslim rites (five-time namaz, fasting in Ramadan, Hajj, etc.)?

In 1925, Karim Khakimov makes Umrah (small pilgrimage — editor's note). This fact does not remain without attention on the part of the king, but I don't think that the Soviet diplomat was performed Umrah in some conjunctural purposes. I think it was done honestly, as they say, at the call of the soul. In 1926, he performed the Hajj with the future king Abdulaziz. The claims of some researchers that he never performed the Hajj are incorrect.

It should be said here that Karim Khakimov, from the time of his training in the madrasah and even earlier, when he was a guide to the Koran reader Kariya, knew prayers well, which helped him a lot in communicating with the Islamic world. Today, a deep knowledge of Islam and the Koran helps the current permanent representative to the OIC, Ramazan Hajimuradovich Abdulatipov, to find a common language with representatives of the Islamic World in Jeddah.

Many people know about the tragic death of the “Red Pasha”. Why did the Soviet leadership not appreciate such cadres?

It should be understood that at that time in the Soviet leadership there was an acute struggle for power between Trotskyists and the supporters of Stalin. There is a lot of historical literature about this. A lot depended on the investigators and their level of professionalism. Unfortunately, this was not all right for many law enforcement officers, and they were sometimes guided by “class instinct”, and someone tried to curry favour. It was a complex and multi-layered tangle of problems, a fiery vortex that Karim Khakimov also got into. Later, as you know, Nikita Khrushchev summed up all these tragic events under the “cult of the personality of Stalin”, but it was much more complicated. But this is a different topic and I don't want to go into it.

“I will definitely come to Kazan for the presentation of the book about Karim Khakimov”

Well, do you think the comparisons between Karim Khakimov and Lawrence of Arabia are correct? After all, the latter, as we know, made a “significant contribution” to the destruction of the unity of the Islamic world.

If Lawrence of Arabia and John Philby worked to ensure that the Saudi authorities remained in the orbit of the West, then Khakimov and the Soviet diplomatic mission worked to ensure that Soviet Russia found loyal friends and allies in the face of the Arabs. Therefore, your statement can be said to be quite correct. However, everything is also ambiguous.

Photo: wikipedia.org
The West, declaring support for these sentiments, including through the mouth of Lawrence of Arabia, in practice relied on the division and separation of the Arabs

Unlike Lawrence of Arabia, Karim Khakimov — or as he was also called “the Arabian vizier of the Kremlin” — sought and created a sincere relationship. They were based on the desire of the leadership of the young Soviet country to support the anti-colonial aspirations of the Arabs, their desire to create a large sovereign state. The West, declaring support for these sentiments, including through the mouth of Lawrence of Arabia, in practice relied on the division and separation of the Arabs. Of course, both the USSR and the British had their own tasks and goals, and that's why they were sent by the authorities to the Arabian Peninsula. The British were guided by the old principle of “divide-and-conquer”, aiming first of all to put the oil-bearing areas under control. Each country developed its own tactics and tried to implement them.

Again, about Lawrence of Arabia shot a good picture from the point of view of cinematography with popular actors. If a bright feature film is made about Khakimov, then we can also talk about a correct comparison.

There are disputes over the nationality of the “Red Pasha”. Initially, it was believed that he was a Tatar. However, a number of Bashkir researchers, referring to various documents, claim that he is a Bashkir. What was Khakimov's origin?

Diplomacy is not divided into nationalities, let's say this right away. Karim Khakimov was a Soviet citizen who served his country and put a lot of effort into promoting its interests on a global level.

Khakimov comes from Bashkortostan. But is ethnicity important?! I think that this is not very correct when they begin to relate the hero to a particular group of peoples, divide it into “our” and “your”. He was an internationalist and dedicated to building a great multi-ethnic state. By the way, in Islam, too, there is no division on the basis of ethnicity. All Muslims are members of the Ummah. This brought Islam and communism closer together at the time.

Photo: maukbmo.ru
He was an internationalist and dedicated to building a great multi-ethnic state

It would seem that in recent years, the bilateral visits of the leaders of the two countries — Russia and Saudi Arabia — should have strengthened their relations. Why did we see a certain cooling of relations in the winter, which significantly affected world oil prices?

The relationship between the two countries very often depends on many factors. As you have correctly noted, the ties between Russia and Saudi Arabia in recent years have been marked by the consolidation of the fabric of our contacts and the visits of our leaders, which significantly expands the prospects for developing ties between our countries. During these meetings, the parties sign contracts and agree on joint steps for the future. All this is prescribed and secured by the signatures of the heads of states. In other words, steps are being taken towards the future. The case of Karim Khakimov continues.

As for a number of the above-mentioned points, there is a normal dialogue, both in the bilateral format and within the framework of OPEC plus mechanisms. This is a common global practice — considering one issue, in this case, oil prices, from different points of view and from the positions of different countries. The Saudis have their own point of view, and we have our own. Saudi Arabia has diplomatic missions in Russia, and they have ours. Interstate consultations and discussions are taking place on these issues, and they are being resolved in one way or another.

Are you planning to present your book in Kazan?

This work is addressed not only to the scientific or academic audience. Therefore, I would be very happy to present my book in the capital of Tatarstan as soon as possible, and also meet and talk with well-known politicians and leaders of the republic, the clergy, the student community, including representatives of national communities.

Therefore, as soon as the situation with the pandemic is resolved, I will definitely fly to beautiful Kazan for the presentation of my book.

Then we are looking forward to seeing you!

By Timur Rakhmatullin