Vadim Trepavlov: ‘No people has a monopoly on the legacy of the Golden Horde’

Why was the creation of the Association of Researchers of the Golden Horde contradicts the “imperial paradigm”?

Vadim Trepavlov: ‘No people has a monopoly on the legacy of the Golden Horde’
Photo: Timur Rakhmatullin

A decision to establish the International Association of Researchers of the Golden Horde in Tatarstan and thus making Kazan and world centre of scientific research in this area caused a great interest in society. However, this initiative contradicts to the “imperial paradigm” reigning in our country, thinks Chairman of the association that was created, Director of the Centre for History of the Peoples of Russia and Interethnic Relations of the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Historical Sciences Vadim Trepavlov. In his opinion, the Golden Horde and Tatars are often shown in Russian cinematography negatively. In an interview with Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent, he explained how the new organisation would function and the role of Tatarstan colleagues in it. He also shared his opinion about the politicisation of the topic of the Ulus of Jochi in Kazakhstan and the training level of specialists in the Golden Horde in Russia and in other countries.

“The meaning of the Golden Horde for Eurasia’s history isn’t smaller than the meaning of Byzantine

Mr Trepavlov, were Golden Horde researchers offered to unite before 2019?

I haven’t heard about such initiatives. Scientific life, the practice showed that this wasn’t necessary. But thanks to the activity of Kazan historians, the necessity and prospect of uniting single-minded people began to be seen more.

Golden Horde forums have been held since 2009. The same participants often appeared on them, and the skeleton of the would-be organisation began to be seen. And at the latest sixth forum (in 2019), I offered to create an organisation from the group of Golden Horde researchers.

Are there analogous associations around the world?

Yes, there are a lot of associations of this kind. The most significant ones are Humanism and the Renaissance international organisation (deals with problems of Renaissance), international committees for historical demography, numismatics, iconography and so on. But as for the association dedicated to one state, first of all, I had an image of Byzantines in front of my eyes. Byzantine as well as the Golden Horde disappeared a long time ago, but the interest in it is huge. However, the difference is that an ocean of sources remained from the Eastern Roman Empire, while there are literally almost no Horde documents remaining from the Horde.

But the meaning of the Golden Horde for Eurasia’s history isn’t smaller than the meaning of Byzantine. Both states existed for centuries, both had a huge influence, both were multiethnic, and by the way, both states are now called the way contemporary people didn’t name them. The definitions Byzantine and the Golden Horde weren’t known as names of countries during those times. The official name of Byzantine was Romania, Romei (Roman) Empire, while that of the Golden Horde was Ulus Jochi, Great Ulus.

So you are the chairman of the Association of Researchers of the Golden Horde. Ilnur Mirgaleyev is the director of the Coordination Council. How will you distribute duties between each other?

Chairman is a representative post. As a chairman, I must represent the organisation when in contact with agencies of power, in different talks with representatives of agencies of power, with funds, with different organisations. The chairman hosts forums and other meetings of the Association. While the Coordination Council is an executive body, it is tasked with daily work: organisation of those forums, different meeting, publication, notification of members of the Association and constantly keeping in touch with them. All this is explained in the charter of the Association, it is already available and will be published on the website of the Association, which is created now.

Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov
Chairman is a representative post. As a chairman, I must represent the organisation when in contact with agencies of power, in different talks with representatives of agencies of power, with funds, with different organisations

Did new scientists want to join you after announcing the association was created?

It goes without saying. Precisely the Coordination Council chaired by Mr Mirgaleyev deals with it. He keeps a record and admits new members.

When will your organisation be officially registered?

The foundation meeting was held on 19 November. Amid the pandemic, it was online. It is officially considered that the Association has been existing since then. But as we live in a state, it wasn’t the last stage. Now the Russian Ministry of Justice is considering documents of the Association to finally register it as a public organisation of scientists acknowledged by the state. So the moment when we are given the green light by the Ministry of Justice will be considered the official registration.

When do you think it will happen?

I don’t know. Hopefully, before New Year.

“The Golden Horde for Mongolia and China is a very peripheral topic”

Do I understand correctly that the skeleton was made of the Kazan Research Centre for Golden Horde and Tatar Khanates of the Marjani Institute of History?

Life led to it. Precisely the Centre chaired by Ilnur Mirgaleyev was the initiator of Golden Horde forums. But I would say that constant participants in the forums are also the skeleton of the Association — it is tens of people from different countries.

But the Research Centre for Golden Horde and Tatar Khanates is the organisational skeleton, of course. Employees of the Centre laid another important foundation for the Association — The Golden Horde Review magazine is a top paper, the magazine ranks high in different systems. As I already said, the website is developed now. The Centre and The Golden Horde Review magazine are like the magnet around which the Association began to appear.

It seems that maintaining the website, printing the magazine, hosting conferences will require money. Whose money will all this work with? Do you hope to receive grants from Tatarstan, Russia or foreign countries?

The forums have been arranged since 2009. The Marjani Institute of History prints the magazine. As for money, our organisation is non-commercial, apolitical, and it is early so far to talk about some grants. Less than a month has passed since the foundation day. All this will depend on the projects we will deal with. There will be some certainty in the financial issue, but it is probably early to talk about it. We are a too young organisation, moreover, it hasn’t been registered in the Ministry of Justice.

Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov
Precisely the Centre chaired by Ilnur Mirgaleyev was the initiator of Golden Horde forums. But I would say that constant participants in the forums are also the skeleton of the Association — it is tens of people from different countries

Several committees were created in the association — Kazakhstani, European and Turkish committees. Why isn’t there a Russian one? Are you going to open a US, Asian and other subdivisions?

So it turned out that Russia is the only country to have a long-term, nearly 200-year-old tradition of research on the Golden Horde. Other countries don’t have such a tradition. There are specialists, very qualified researchers, but as a rule, they are in various scientific centres, universities, different countries.

And if we organised a Russian committee (indeed, this question arises logically), I think it would have 80% of members of the association. It isn’t comparable to other committees. This is why we decided to leave the nucleus of the Association unnamed, while researchers from other countries will unite according to their region. This scheme was adopted when the Association was created. But if some people want it, we will reconsider, expand, improve this structure. And at the moment we have three regional committees.

Mr Trepavlov, don’t Mongol and Chinese researchers want to join you?

The Golden Horde for Mongolia, moreover, for China is a very peripheral topic. It is a remote strange country. The Golden Horde was linked with Mongolia in its heyday only indirectly, not to mention China. And there is a handful of historians who study precisely the Golden Horde in these countries. If they express a desire to create committees in the Association, they are welcome. We will be glad if there is a Mongol or Chinese committee.

In Kazakhstan, the Golden Horde is mixed with politics”

Now Golden Horde forums will be held once in three years (the next one is in 2022). Are you going to meet up between these forums (offline or online)?

Of course, different conferences, round-table talks are already held now. But our current situation explains everything nowadays. The work of the Association between the forums is to print The Golden Horde Review, communicate on the Internet. We will also plan interim meetings when this virus (COVID-19) finally disappears from our life.

I have noticed that Kazakhstan is hosting quite a big number of conferences dedicated to the Ulus Jochi. Is Nur-Sultan grabbing the biggest piece of the pie in this process? How you do evaluate their level?

I have been at one or two conferences there. The levels are different, like here. What’s the difference? The interest of the Association and the country in general in the Golden Horde is purely scientific. In Kazakhstan, it is mixed with politics: the Golden Horde is declared as part of the national history at the top, it is claimed that it is the history of the Kazakh people’s ancestors (and it is correct). As this was said by top functionaries, of course, the bureaucratic machine turned on. Such great attention to the history of the Golden Horde in Kazakhstan is incomparable with the reputation of this country in our homeland, in Russia. Here we should also consider the jubilee of the “raid”. The jubilee of the state independence of the Golden Horde was celebrated in 2019. Precisely Kazakhstani colleagues offered to consider the congress of rulers on the Talas River in 1269 (the Talas conference) as a starting point for the independence of the states the Mongol Empire split into. I don’t completely agree with this interpretation, I think it is an artificial jubilee. I have a different stance on those events. Like this has happened many times: the jubilee “rash” is over, and the interest in the reason for the jubilee calms down.

I would not like this to happen in Kazakhstan: I hope the interest in the Golden Horde won’t reduce as the jubilee of the Talas conference remains in the past. Moreover, Kazakhstan has amazing specialists in the history of the Horde. But the number of specialists in general is smaller than here.

Photo: ehonews.kz
The interest of the Association and the country in general in the Golden Horde is purely scientific. In Kazakhstan, it is mixed with politics: the Golden Horde is declared part of the national history at the top, it is claimed that it is the history of the Kazakh people’s ancestors

However, we have had to hear Kazakhstani top functionaries, experts to repeatedly claim that precisely Kazakhstan is the true heir of the Golden Horde, not Russia and other countries and regions.

The Kazakhs have all the foundation to study the Golden Horde as the history of their ancestors. The purely geographical half of the Golden Horde was located in today’s Republic of Kazakhstan. But I think no people has a monopoly on the legacy of the Golden Horde.

The Golden Horde was a multiethnic empire, it gave a lot to the peoples of Europe and Asia. So no people can be a candidate for monopolist legacy of the Roman Empire.

For instance, Romanians can debate with Italians — they saved the name of the Roman Empire (Romania) in their name. Greeks also continued existing in the Eastern Roman Empire after Western Rome collapsed. Yes, the “true heirs” is a beneficial slogan for ideology, propaganda, state policy in Kazakhstan. But scientifically, I don’t consider it well-founded.

“Our initiative contradicts the reigning trend in propaganda”

Can we consider not only scientists but also society in general has become more interested in the Golden Horde? Films (The Horde, Legend of Kolovrad, Karaoglan), series (The Golden Horde, Kublai Khan) are made more often.

If you are talking about the films, The Terrible (about Ivan the Terrible) has recently been shown on Russia channel where the tsar’s life from his youth to his old days is demonstrated. The first scene of the first series is the arson of Moscow by Crimean Khan Devlet Giray in 1571. It is like an epigraph to the whole series. Furious Tatars, the massacre of the Russian population, the Russian capital on fire — this refers to all films about the Horde period of Russian history. Have you asked me about the interest? If this interest is stirred up, it is traditionally negative: an unlucky streak of Russian history, the Golden Horde is a predatory parasitic plaque on the map of Eurasia. These films are, as Gumilyov says, based on “a black legend”. And if the audience has some increased interest, it is rather negative, I wish it didn’t arise.

Have you seen China’s The Legend of Kublai Khan?

It is hard for a historian to watch such films, as you notice inaccuracies, incompliance with historical sources. This film entertains an ordinary viewer more. But it was tougher for me to watch the Chinese series. However, they have amazing Genghis Khan about his childhood and youth, the series is simply breathtaking.

Last year, you said about “stronger imperial paradigm” in Russian science, which is probably seen in cinematography too? Do historians specialising the Golden Horde manage to fight against it?

It seems that at the moment we are doing a thankless job. And our initiative contradicts the reigning trend in society, in propaganda, in opinion journalism. Clearly, the majority of the population, which is also socially active, doesn’t care about such remote events. But in general this paradigm not only isn’t fought it is intensifying nowadays. The Association of Researchers of the Golden Horde isn’t designed to fight this tendency, we have little power for it. We decided to create the Association regardless of the direct connection with the political and ideological situation. We have just been cooperating for so long and closely, it is time to unite officially.

Photo: Timur Rakhmatullin
Clearly, the majority of the population, which is also socially active, doesn’t care about such remote events. But in general this paradigm not only isn’t fought it is intensifying nowadays

You are sometimes reproached for some “Tatarism”. You turned out to agree with Tatar scientists regarding the celebration of the Great Stand on the Ugra River, you often come to Kazan. Does your opinion often coincide with the opinion of Kazan researchers?

I don’t go to Kazan more often than I do to other cities. I chair the Centre for the Peoples of Russia and Interethnic Relations in the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences, this is why a lot of people are within my expertise. I can also be accused of “Kalmykism”, “Cherkessism” and so on with the same foundation. I also have works on the Russian people’s culture, its ethnic development, interaction with Russia’s other peoples.

As for discrepancies between me and Kazan colleagues, we have some, of course. But we have a real scientific life. Some debates, arguments arise — this is the science of history. It moves thanks to such discussions. Science is impossible without discrepancies.

By Timur Rakhmatullin
Tatarstan