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Russia Between East and West

Russia Between East and West

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The importance in post-Soviet Russia of identitary thought tying the
country to Asia, as well as the revival of geopolitical fashions (geocul-
turalism and “civilizationism”) invites us to question ourselves about older
traditions of thinking about Russian imperial expansion: since the sec-
ond half of the nineteenth century, after the conquest of the Caucasus,
Russia has been indissociably binding its imaginary on the Orient with
the constitution of a geopolitics that could legitimate the Empire. This
geopolitical orientalistic imaginary still remains unknown as it is one of
the major stakes of the rediscovery of a memory on Orient anchored
in Russia and of epistemological traditions different from the Western
traditions. Such a survey permits us to re-place Russian intellectual life
in the setting of western intellectual life of this time. It also explains in
original ways the traditional debates on the Russian identity: “Orient”
is only the reversed mirror of “the West”; the appeal of Asia and dis-
courses on the “yellow peril” reveal the Russian intellectuals’ affirmation

The Orient in Russian Thought at the Turn of the Century • 35

of a specificity for their country in front of Europe. Russian orientalism
is then just one style of thinking about the national identity and is a
culturalist cover supposed to legitimize the political orientations as impe-
rialism or authoritarianism.
A better knowledge of the heterogeneous Russian imaginary on the
Orient that preceded the foundation of the Eurasianist movement gives
a missing historical and theoretical depth to contemporary Russian polit-
ical questioning, to the nostalgia of the Empire as well as to the new
“Eurasianist” legitimations of some post-Soviet states, and the reappro-
priation of Eurasianist ideas by Turco-Muslim elites in Tatarstan and
Central Asia.

The study of the genesis of Eurasianist ideology permits us to avoid
clichés and to question ourselves about the intellectual evolution of the
Russian world. Eurasianism belongs to currents of thinking with roots
in the Russian nineteenth century: the ambiguous relation to the Byzantine
empire, conservative pan-Slavism, the “yellow peril” myth at the time
of the Russian progression toward Far East, literary pan-Mongolism and
Asiatism at the beginning of the century, movements of the Conservative
Revolution in the 1920s, and so on. Eurasianism rephrases in its own
terms, often in ways disconcerting to western thought, the Russian intel-
lectuals’ questioning of the founding of the identity of their country and
their own identity. The resurgence of this movement with the downfall
of the Soviet Union fits into the European conservative renewal that
started in the United States and the West at the beginning of the 1980s.


Benningsen, Alexandre and Chantal Lemercier-Quelquejay. 1986. Sultan Galiev, le père de
la révolution tiers-mondiste
. Paris.
Boss, Otto. 1961. Die Lehre der Eurasier: Ein Beitrag zur russischen Ideengeschichte des 20.
. Wiesbaden.
“Buria nad Aziei.” 1932. Svij put’ 2 (April).
Chadaaev, Petr Y. 1970. “Nous sommes situés à l’Orient de l’Europe, cela est positif,
mais nous ne fûmes jamais l’Orient pour cela.” In Lettres philosophiques adressés à une
. Paris.
Evraziiskie tetradi. 1935. 5: 13–14.
Evraziistvo. 1926. Evraziistvo: Opyt sistematicheskogo izlozheniia. Paris.
Guénon, René. 1921. Le théosophisme: Histoire d’une pseudo-religion. Paris, 1921.
Hauner, Milan. 1992. What Is Asia to Us? Russia’s Asian Heartland Yesterday and Today.


Ivanov, Vsevolod N. 1926. My Kul’turnoistoricheskie osnovy rossiiskoi gosudarstvennosti. Kharbin.
Laruelle, Marlène. 1999. L’idéologie eurasiste russe ou comment penser l’empire. Paris.
Layton, Susan. 1994. Russian Literature and Empire: Conquest of the Caucasus from Pushkin to
. Cambridge.
Nikitin, V. P. “My i Vostok.” Evraziia, 24 November.
Niqueux, Michel. 1999. “Les différents Orients de la Russie.” Slavica occitania.
Nivat, Georges. 1966. “Du panmongolisme au mouvement eurasien: Histoire d’un thème
millénaire.” Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique.

36 • Marlène Laruelle

Petrovich, Michael B. 1966. The Emergence of Russian Panslavism, 1850–70. New York.
Savelli, Dany. 1996. “Le péril jaune et le péril nègre: éléments pour une représentation
de la France et de l’Allemagne chez V. Soloviev et A. Biély.” In Transferts culturels tri-
angulaires France-Allemagne-Russie
, ed. Katia Dimtrieva and Michel Espagne. Philologiques
5. Paris. 257–72.
Savitskii, P. N. 1921.”Povorot k Vostoku.” In Iskhod k Vostoku: Predchustviia i sversheniia. Sofia.
. 1993. “Step’ i osedlost’.” In Rossiia mezhdu Evropoi i Aziei. Moscow.
Trubetskoi, Nikolai Sergeevich. 1996. Evropa i chelovechestvo. Trans. Patrick Sériot, L’Europe
et l’humanité.
Vernadskii, Georgii V. 1914. “Protiv solntsa: Rasprostranenie russkogo gosudarstva k
Vostoku.” Russkaia mysl’ 1.

The Orient in Russian Thought at the Turn of the Century • 37

II. Eurasianism as a Reaction
to Pan-Turkism

Stephan Wiederkehr

Translated by Barbara Keller and Ellen Simer

In his 1925 booklet “Nasledie Chingiskhana: Vzgliad na russkuiu istoriiu
ne s Zapada, a s Vostoka” (The Legacy of Genghis Khan: A Perspective
on Russian History Not from the West but from the East), Nikolai
Sergeevich Trubetskoi criticized the Imperial government’s policy of
forcible Russification in the following words:

as they merged with the Russian tribe, the Russified Turanians imparted
their own characteristics to the Russian people and introduced them into
the Russian national psychology, so that together with the Russification of
the Turanians there occurred a simultaneous Turanianization of the Russians.
From the organic merger of these two elements there arose a new, unique
entity, the national Russian type, which is in essence not pure Slavic but
Slavo-Turanian. The Russian tribe was created not through the forcible
Russification of “indigenous peoples,” but through the fraternization of
Russians with those peoples. . . . Artificial, government-inspired Russification
was a product of complete ignorance of the historical essence of Russia-
Eurasia, the result of forgetting the spirit of her national traditions.
Consequently, this seemingly nationalistic policy did great damage to
Russia’s historical interests. (1925b: 248)

In the same year he published an essay entitled “O turanskom elemente
v russkoi kul’tur” (“On the Turanian Element in Russian Culture”), in
which he wrote:

Drawing the conclusions of all that has been said about the role of the
Turanian ethnopsychological traits in the Russian national character it can
be said that altogether this role has been positive. . . . We are rightfully
proud of our Turanian ancestors no less than of our Slavic ancestors and
we are obliged to gratitude to both of them. The consciousness of not
only belonging to the Aryan but also to the Turanian psychological type
is indispensable for any Russian striving to personal and national self-
knowledge. (1925a: 375)

Why did a leader of the Eurasian movement take such a positive attitude
toward Turan and Turanians? And what does this have to do with the
official policy toward non-Russian nationalities in the Russian Empire and,
let me add, in the Soviet Union?

Eurasianism as a Reaction to Pan-Turkism • 39

The explanation that I should like to offer is that Eurasianism can be
understood as a reaction to Pan-Turanian and Pan-Turkic ideas, which
in the first quarter of the twentieth century were discussed in Russia as
well as in Western Europe and the Ottoman Empire. After spreading
among the Turkic Muslims of Russia in the second half of the nineteenth
century, Pan-Turkism was perceived as a danger to the territorial integrity
of Russia both by politicians and in public debate. In the aftermath of
World War I, when Eurasianism arose, the multinational Habsburg and
Ottoman Empires had collapsed and the Russian Empire was likely to
fall apart into its national constituents as well. At the same time, supra-
national ideologies such as Czechoslovakism and Yugoslavism had led
to the formation of states. In these circumstances, I argue, the Eurasians
consciously constructed an ideology intended to safeguard the territorial
integrity of the multinational Russian Empire despite its takeover by the
Bolsheviks, thereby integrating its Turkic population by redefining the
term Turan to fit their own aims. In this sense as an ideology intended
to undermine potential secession demands of Russia’s Turks I consider
Eurasianism a reaction to Pan-Turkism.
With this new interpretation, I do not intend to question either rec-
ognized work on the intellectual roots of Eurasianism or the argument
of Patrick Sériot, who relates the emergence of Eurasianism to the emer-
gence of structuralism in linguistics (see Böss 1961; Riasanovsky 1967;
Luks 1986; Hagemeister 1989: 417–57; Alevras 1996; Vandalkovskaia
1997; Laruelle 1999; Wiederkehr 2000. See also the exhaustive bibliog-
raphy O Evrazii i evraziitsakh (1997: 73–91); Sériot (1999. I intend rather
to add an aspect that has been largely overlooked until now (see Urchanova
1995; Laruelle 1999: 294; Doronchenkov 2001: 138).
Modern research makes an analytical distinction between Pan-Turkism
and Pan-Turanianism. The former refers to the idea of the unification
of all peoples of Turkic origin; the latter refers to the unification of
Turkic peoples w ith the Finno-Ugric peoples, for whom a common
ancient homeland in “Turan” is ascribed. This Urheimat of Turan is to
be found in an imprecisely defined region of the Central Asian steppe
(Landau 1995: 1f).1

The logical consequence of both ideologies was the
ultimate disintegration of the Russian Empire due to the secession of its
Turkic (and possibly Finno-Ugric) peoples, and their uniting with the
Turkic peoples of the Ottoman Empire to form one state. Pan-Turanianism
in the modern sense of the word has not achieved any political significance,


On the etymology and geographical and political use of the term Turan, see Minorsky
(1934); Yalçinkaya (1997: 431–33). In the nineteenth century some linguists presumed a
Turanian language family, a position Minorsky (954) already called outdated.

40 • Stephan Wiederkehr

and the importance of Pan-Turkism was also overrated (on Pan-
Turanianism in Hungary, see, however, Kessler 1967).
These recent findings, however, are less relevant to my approach than
is contemporary perception. (See Landau 1995; Geraci 1997: 151; Hyman
1997; Roy 1997: 75–78; Adam 2000. On Pan-Turkism in the Russian
Empire and the Soviet Union see also Arsharuni and Gabidullin 1931;
von Mende 1936; Hostler 1957; Arnakis 1960; Zenkovsky 1967; Önder
1977; Mukhammetdinov 1996. The Armenian point of view is reflected
in Zarevand 1926, 1930, 1971.) In late nineteenth- and early twentieth-
century sources the term Pan-Turanianism was often used in the sense of
Pan-Turkism. There was no clear distinction between the two ideologies
among their proponents and contemporary observers. This is also true
for the writings of the Eurasians, in which reference is usually made to
“Turan,” “Turanian,” and “Pan-Turanianism.”
If Eurasianism was a reaction to Pan-Turkism, which is my contention,
it was a reaction to the way the latter was perceived at the beginning
of the twentieth century. Therefore in the first section of this chapter,
after an overview over Pan-Turkism on the basis of current research, I
have to reconstruct its contemporary image on the basis of Russian and
Western language sources. These influenced Russian consciousness more
than publications in widely unknown Turkic languages could.2

In the
second section I analyze the Eurasians’ attempts to redefine the term
Turan, to create a supranational ideology, in order to integrate the multi-
national Russian Empire and at the same time delegitimize the idea of
uniting all Turks in one state.


Pan-Turkism emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century as a
diaspora ideology among the Turks of the Russian Empire. It originated
in resistance to the imperial government’s Russification and “civilization”
policies (on the imperial government’s “civilization policy,” see Baberowski
1999). Propagated by the liberal Turkic intelligentsiia, it was from the
beginning directed against autocratic rule and connected with modern-
ization and secularization (Landau 1995: 7–10; Mukhammetdinov 1996:
27; Baberowski 2000: 392–94). At the turn of the century, Turkic peoples


As I am not able to read Turkic languages I am in the same position as most observers
of the Pan-Turkic movement at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Eurasianism as a Reaction to Pan-Turkism • 41

made up some 11 percent of the population of the Russian Empire. Around
85 percent of Muslim Russia was Turkic, and about 90 percent of this
population was Muslim (Zenkovsky 1967: 9; Landau 1995: 7). Thus Pan-
Turkic and Pan-Islamic activities went hand in hand (Zenkovsky 1967:
vii; Adam 2000: 204).
In the second half of the nineteenth century, a portion of the Tatar
bourgeoisie and a few members of the liberal, western-educated Turkic
intelligentsiia came to believe that the Turkic and Muslim populations of
the Russian Empire would be able to preserve their own identity among
the Russians only if they could overcome their traditional social order and
develop a common national consciousness. The creation of a common
Turkic literary language and the development of a secular education sys-
tem in this language seemed to them to be a decisive means of modern-
ization. The Crimean Tatar Ismail Bey Gasprinskii (1851–1914) was a
particularly active spokesman for this idea through his newspaper Tercüman
(Interpreter), founded in 1883. Gasprinsky’s outspoken attitude toward the
Russian state was conciliatory in the last decades of the nineteenth cen-
tury. In his Russkoe musul’manstvo (Russian Islam) and “Russko-Vostochnoe
soglashenie: Mysli, zamietki i pozhelaniia” (“Russo-Oriental Relations:
Thoughts, Notes, and Desires”), he emphasized that belonging to Russia
was advantageous to the modernizing projects of its Muslim Turks
(Gasprinskii 1881, 1896; see also Fisher 1988; Lazzerini 1988, 1989;
Ortayli 1991; Iordan and Chervonnaia 1994).
As a consequence of the 1905 Revolution, newspapers, magazines, and
journals written in Turkic languages and containing Pan-Turkic ideology
were founded in great numbers and given the opportunity to expand in
the Russian Empire (Bennigsen and Lemercier-Quelquejay 1964: 47–52).
As a result of the three Muslim Congresses in 1905 and 1906, a polit-
ical party representing the interests of Russia’s Muslims in the newly
created Duma was founded: Ittifak-ul-Muslimin (Zenkovsky 1967: 40–54;
Landau 1995: 11–13). The social base of a modern Turkic national con-
sciousness, however, a secularly educated middle class, remained under-
developed. Most Turkic Muslims were hardly affected by modernization.
They continued to live in traditional nomadic and agrarian societies.
The majority of the Muslim clergy strongly resisted the secularization of
the educational system and opposed the “new method” (usul-i cedid)
(Zenkovsky 1967: 35–36, 272; Baberowski 2000: 405–6). Within the
Western-educated Turkic intelligentsiia, Pan-Turkism competed with lib-
eral Pan-Islamism and the narrower national constructs of individual
Turkic peoples such as the Volga Tatars, Crimean Tatars, or Azeri
(Allworth 1990: 240–5; Altstadt 1992: 69–71; Swietochowski 1996; Kirimli
1996; Kendirbay 1997); Yémelianova 1997; Noack 2000).

42 • Stephan Wiederkehr

Thus, until World War I, the Russian Pan-Turkists, aware of their
own weakness (and writing under Czarist censorship), adhered to a pol-
icy of Realpolitik, making no secession demands and striving instead
toward totally equal rights within a future democratic Russia. Therefore
a close collaboration arose in the Duma between the liberal Kadets and
the Ittifak Party (Amaeva 1998: 9 and passim). The main focus of Pan-
Turkism prior to 1914 was the spiritual and cultural union of all Turkic
peoples, existing state borders for the moment not being challenged. While
(re)writing their own past and creating a national myth, the Pan-Turkists
revalued the tribes of the steppe, drawing a heroic picture of Genghis
Khan and other Mongol leaders (Zenkovsky 1967: 109; Mukhammetdinov
1996: 95, 114–15).

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