Category Archives: Mordvin

Tatar and Finno-Ugrian separatism real or supposed

The Mari news site MariUver has reposted an interesting article originally published at PolitRUS about a recent political conference in Russia, which I’ve translated from Russian below. There’s an element of conspiracy ravings here; the “expert in Islamic studies” Suleymanov has drawn criticism for his claims of Tatar extremism. The last paragraph reveals something of opinions held within Russia on the Mari, Mordvin and Udmurt emigrants who have been of such help to Finno-Ugrists at European universities.

The West is Evaluating the Possibility of Supporting Islamic Separatists in the Volga Region

The issue of drawing NATO countries’ attention to outbreaks of national separatism and Islamic terrorism in the Volga Region was one of the main themes of the Sixth All-Russian Conference of Applied Studies “Наука молодых” (Study of Youth) which was held on December 18 in Arzamas (Nizhny Novgorod oblast). The conference was organized by the A. P. Gajdar Arzamas State Pedagogical Institute and drew participation from scholars and experts from neighbouring oblasts and republics. Attendees were especially interested in talks by researchers from Tatarstan, where over the last year the situation of religious extremism and national separatism has been sharpened.

As Rais Suleymanov, the director of the Volga Centre for Regional and Ethnoreligious Research РИСИ explained, starting with the “Nurlat episode” (a special forces operation to liquidate a group of armed militants in the Nurlat region of Tatarstan on November 25, 2010), as of December 2012 Tatarstan has been visited by journalists and political analysts from France, the United States, Great Britain, Holland, Poland and other countries. There have even been visitors from Australia and Brazil.

In the opinion of Suleymanov, such visits are not coincidental: Arriving under the pretext of being reporters, scholars and analysts, our Western guests often come not because of an interest in journalism or research, but in order to gather information about how serious the problem of the Volga Region becoming a hotspot is.

At the same time, in the words of this specialist in Islamic studies, the Western experts that he has met with personally use a special “methodology of communication”. Besides, the very existence of greater interest in this subject and the overwhelming desire to meet with separatists and fundamentalists speaks to the fact that the West is evaluating the possibility of financing and providing informational support to the Islamist underground and nationalists in Tatarstan, Suleymanov stated. He added that in this context one should look to the activities of journalists from the Qatar television network Al Jazeera, which has a branch in Kazan.

In addition to Suleymanov’s talk, his colleague Vasily Ivanov noted that the international terrorist organization Muslim Brotherhood through its agents in Russia has also shown an interest in Finno-Ugrian nationalist movements.

Ivanov gave his own talk titled “Finno-Ugrian separatism in the Volga Region: its ideology, the extent of its spread and foreign influences”. Analysing outbreaks of Finno-Ugrian separatism in Russia at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, the researcher pointed to the support that Mari, Mordvin and Udmurt nationalists receive today from Finland, Hungary and Estonia.

The situation is becoming more serious because anti-Russian propaganda is published on the internet by people studying in institutes of higher education in those countries — undergraduates, graduate students and PhD candidates from the Volga republics at universities in the European Union, Ivanov underlined.

Iranian loans in Mordvin

I found this little bit of trivia from Raija Barten’s Mordvalaiskielten rakenne ja kehitys (Helsinki: Finno-Ugrian Society, 1999) worth translating and sharing.

Mordvin also has Indo-Iranian and Iranian loanwords which are not found in other Finno-Ugrian languages. Some 18 items have been found (Korenchy 1988: 675; only Hungarian has more of these loans: in Hungarian alone 30 Iranian loanwords have been found; in Mari there are only 6 such loans). Examples include M[oksha] pavas, E[rzya] pas ‘God;’ in Moksha also ‘luck’ ~ Sanskrit bhagas ‘God, sun, luck’. E veŕges, M vəŕgas ‘wolf’ ~ Sanskrit vṛgas. By the time of Avestan, Iranian words had already lost final sibilants, so Mordvin may have borrowed the words from an older layer. However, it may be that some Iranian dialects spoken in Southern Russia had conserved old features. Therefore, the borrowing may have occurred later, in the Middle Iranian period. (The Middle Iranian Saka tribes inhabited the north shore of the Black Sea as late as AD 400.) The Erzya name for the Volga, Rav, Ravo is attributed to Iranian, while in Moksha the same word rava means river. The term tarvas for a scythe and the E śeja and M śava ‘goat’ were also borrowed from the Iranians. The Mordvin kinship term E sazor, sazoro, M sazə̑r, sazə̑ra ‘sister’ is attributed to an Iranian source (it is present in Baltic Finnic from a Baltic source and Mari, Udmurt and Komi possibly have cognate words).

The Korenchy 1988 citation given is the chapter ‘Iranischer Einfluss in den finnisch-ugrischen Sprachen’ in The Uralic Languages: Description, history and foreign influences ed. Denis Sinor (Leiden: Brill, 1988).

Festschrift for Sammallahti now available on the web

The Sami-titled Festschrift for Pekka Sammallahti Sámit, sánit, sátnehámit. Riepmočála Pekka Sammallahtii miessemánu 21. beaivve 2007, published last spring as Mémoires de la Société Finno-Ougrienne 253, is now available online. There are a number of interesting papers here, published in Sami, German, Finnish or English. One of them in particular, Juha Janhunen’s ‘The primary laryngeal in Uralic and beyond’ is especially striking for its application of contemporary phonetic and phonological theory (and an updating of FU transcription) to a well-known Proto-Uralic mystery.

Komi and Erzya news broadcasts online

YLE, the Finnish broadcasting company, has run a Russian-language programme called Uzy Druzhby, but it is now supplemented with news snippets in Erzya and Komi. These can be listened to online.

I’ve always been rather disappointed that the library of my department doesn’t have audio material for students to reach real proficiency in listening, but the amount of Internet resources for audio in the Uralic languages is becoming so large that one can get meaningful exposure to them without a trip to Russia.

Mordovian authorities seek to shut down Erzya-language newspaper

This is unfortunate news for both Erzya-language publishing and for the press freedoms of Russia’s language minorities. There was an English-language article at the Finnish-Russian Civic Forum (no longer available) on the start to this:

Authorities in Russia’s autonomous Republic of Mordovia have pressed charges against the independent newspaper, Erzyanj Mastor (“Land of Erzya”), demanding its closure, Radio Svoboda reports.

The newspaper is being accused of inciting ethnic hatred and of extremism. The trial date has been set at 10 August 2007. The newspaper’s editors expect the court to deliver a verdict that will satisfy the prosecutor.

The editor-in-chief of Erzyanj Mastor, Mr Yevgeny Chetvergov, said the prosecutors moved against the newspaper immediately after the Finno-Ugric festival that was held in Saransk recently. The newspaper criticised the event repeatedly.

Erzyanj Mastor has been published in Saransk since 1994. The newspaper’s publisher is the Foundation for the Salvation of the Erzyan Language, which was founded by members of the Erzyan intelligentsia.

The deputy editor-in-chief of Erzyanj Mastor is Mr Grigory Musalev, Chairman of the Foundation for the Salvation of the Erzyan Language. He is the leading figure in the national opposition movement in Mordovia. has archived a Russian-language article that covers some of the legal attacks made so far.

Adobe says no to exotic Cyrillic

On the URA-List, Johanna Laakso brought attention to an announcement at an Adobe employee’s weblog suggesting that Adobe will not be supporting the Cyrillic characters used in Mari, Udmurt, and Komi-Zyrian, as well as the neighbouring Turkic languages Bashkir and Chuvash. Apparently even common Old Church Slavonic characters will not be provided. Feedback can be posted there.

The problem isn’t in the realm of character sets, sticking with an outdated system of code pages instead of embracing Unicode. Instead, it’s just a matter of Adobe not wanting to undertake the painstaking task of designing fonts that cover the entire Cyrillic range of Unicode. Well, at least LaTeX’s Computer Modern font family has long been extended to cover almost all Cyrillic-based alphabets, it’s all free.

New book on the Mari and Mordvinians

An announcement from the Ura-list about a new book by the scholar Helimski:

Mari und Mordwinen im heutigen Russland: Sprache, Kultur, Identität / Hrsg. von Eugen Helimski, Ulrike Kahrs und Monika Schötschel (Veröffentlichungen der Societas Uralo-Altaica, 66). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2005 ISBN: 3-447-05166-3

Im immer noch polyethnischen und mehrsprachigen Rußland stellen die Siedlungsgebiete der beiden finnisch-ugrischen Völker Mari (Tscheremissen) und Mordwinen, die häufig zusammen als Wolgafinnen bezeichnet werden, keine ferne Peripherie dar: Ihre Titularrepubliken befinden sich genau im geographischen Zentrum des europäischen Teils der Russischen Föderation, und sie unterscheiden sich ­ was die Natur oder die wirtschaftliche Situation betrifft kaum von den Nachbargebieten mit fast ausschließlich russischer Bevölkerung.

Ist durch diese Lage die Nivellierung der sprachlichen und kulturellen Unterschiede unvermeidlich prädestiniert auch bei den „letzten Heiden Europas”, wie die Mari manchmal genannt werden? Werden die Grenzen der marischen und der mordwinischen Welt ­ dadurch, daß die Zahl der noch verbliebenen ethnisch homogenen Dörfer immer weiter schrumpft immer enger gezogen werden? Ist die ethnische Tradition stark genug, um dem Druck der Russifizierung und der Globalisierung auch langfristig zu widerstehen? Verfügen die Wolgafinnen über die Voraussetzungen für die Bewahrung ihrer Sprachen und Kulturen, für die Stärkung ihrer ethnischen Identität unter den Rahmenbedingungen der urbanisierten und technologisierten Zivilisation?

Die Herausgeber und die Autoren des Bandes (von denen die Hälfte aus den Republiken Marij El und Mordwinien stammt) sind sich darin einig, daß der Wert der ethnischen Sprach- und Kulturtradition unbedingt anerkannt werden muß, und daß die Wolgafinnen sich gegenwärtig in einer neuen und entscheidenden Phase ihrer Identitätsbildung befinden. Der Band verfolgt das Ziel, die widersprüchliche Dynamik der Verluste und der Revitalisierungsprozesse, des Schutzes der alten Heiligtümer und der Suche nach neuen Formen aufzuzeigen ­ und den Lesern des Buches eine vielschichtige Momentaufnahme der Entwicklungen der letzten anderthalb Jahrzehnte zu präsentieren.