Hiroaki Kuromiya and Andrzej Pepłoński
[tekst pierwotnie opublikowany w://text originally published in:
"Nowy Prometeusz nr 3, grudzień 2012 r., ss. 89-105]
The Muslim population in the Soviet Union was sizable. According to the 1937 census, the only Soviet census taken under Stalin that surveyed the faith of the Soviet population, there were more than eight million (to be exact 8,256,550) Muslims (Magometane). They accounted for approximately 8.4 percent of the surveyed population of 98.4 million adults, or the second largest religious group after Christians (of all denominations), far larger than all other groups of believers (Jews, Buddhists, and others). Muslims resided all over the country, with concentrations in Central Asia, the Idel-Ural (Volga-Ural) region, and the Northern Caucasus. While the numbers in the 1937 census are difficult to verify with complete accuracy, the substantial Muslim population in the Soviet Union naturally attracted the attention of foreign strategists whose goal it was to dismember the multi-national Soviet Union and to let the national minorities achieve independence from Moscow.
In the West, the Polish-sponsored Promethean movement was the best known and the most important of such foreign conceptions. In the East, Japan had its own version of a Promethean movement, although it was inherently an imperialist scheme directed against the Soviet Union. In both movements, Muslims played a critically important, if not central, role. The anti-Moscow Muslim leaders were divided, however, with regard to where they would find the most reliable and the strongest support for their goals. The divisions reflected different views of their identity and of the future. In a rapidly modernizing world, were they to belong to the West (Europe or Occident) or to the East (Asia or Orient) or somewhere else altogether? What was the future for the Eurasian Muslims? The liberal course of the “nation” sponsored by Poland (behind which stood Britain and France) or the pan-Islamic or pan-Turkic movement supported by Japanese imperialism? What was to be done about the successor of the Ottoman Empire, Ataturkian Turkey, which, having distanced itself from pan-Islamism and pan-Turkism, followed a “Western” secular path while seeking a rapprochement with the atheist Soviet Union?
The present essay discusses the clash of these visions that played out in the mid-1930s in the Far East between two Muslim leaders: Mukhamed-Gaiaz Iskhaki (Iskhakov) (Gayaz Isxaqiy, Ayaz Ishaki, Gaiaz Iskhakyi, 1878–1954) and Mukhammed Gabdulkhai Kurbangaliev (Muhammed-Gabdulkhay Kurbangaliev, 1889–1972). It was a critical time for Muslims in Eurasia. In the West, Poland and the Soviet Union had concluded and ratifi ed a non-aggression pact, dashing the Muslim hope for Polish support for anti-Soviet movements. Although Hitler’s regime of explicitly anti-Soviet Nazism emerged in Germany in 1933, its racist ideology was inherently anti-Muslim (and anti-non Aryans). In the East, Japan invaded northeast China (Manchuria) in 1931 and the following year established a puppet government (Manchukuo) which appeared to some Muslims to foreshadow a future of Eurasian Muslims living under Soviet and Chinese imperialism. Yet Manchukuo was the product of Japanese imperialism. Ironically, the end result of the clash between the two Muslim leaders was political triumph for Moscow.
Iskhaki was not the most notable among the Muslim leaders in the Promethean movement. He contributed just a few essays to the journal Prométhée, the organ of the movement, as compared to Mustafa Chokaev (Chokai, Shokai, Chokai-ogly, 1890–1941), a Kazakh who wrote much more frequently for the journal. It was, however, Iskhaki, not Chokaev, who engaged the East more directly in the 1930s. As the biographer of Iskhaki, S.M. Iskhakov has noted, Iskhaki remains a somewhat mysterious figure: there are many puzzles and contradictions in his life. Iskhakov (who may be related to the subject of his work), attributes this to the lack of reliable information. Still he concludes that the often-accepted image of Iskhaki as an irreproachable ideological fighter as portrayed in today’s literature is not convincing. Who was he, then?
Iskhaki was born in 1878 into a mullah family in the village of Iaushirma (Kutlushkino) near Kazan. He studied in madrasahs and at a teacher’s college in Tatarstan. Exactly when he became politically active is difficult to pinpoint. Iskhaki began to publish early and already by 1899 he was famous, known as “the founder of Tatar literature,” and as a correspondent of Maksim Gor’kii. By 1901, when he was only 23, Iskhaki was already involved in illegal political circles. Seeking answers to the “backwardness of the Muslim world,” Iskhaki called on the Tatars to combine the “European path of development” with the spirit of Muslim “reformation.” He was sympathetic with the populist party of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, although in 1905 he supported only a cultural union of Muslim peoples and was against the creation of a Muslim political party. After arrest and exile, he fled to Istanbul. He returned to Russia in 1910, only to withdraw to Turkey quickly. He was disappointed, however, by the Young Turks movement, claiming that in Istanbul there was “no Muslim culture at all.” Iskhaki went back to Russia’s capital where he was arrested and sent back into exile. Amnestied on the occasion of the tercentenary (1913) of the Romanov dynasty, Iskhaki returned to St. Petersburg. While engaged in literary writing, he published newspapers and contributed to a journal by the liberal Russian Constitutional Democrats as well.
In 1917 Iskhaki took active part in political life. He spoke against the “national-territorial construction” of Russia and for “national-cultural autonomy.” Like many other leaders of the national movements (such as Mykhailo Hrushevs’kyi who subsequently, in 1918, became the first president of the independent Ukrainian National Republic), Iskhaki was reluctant to support the outright independence of his homeland which he called “Idel-Ural.” He advocated instead an “autonomous state.” which, along with other similar states, would join a “Russian federal republic.” Iskhaki’s dream was frustrated, however, by another Muslim leader from Bashkortostan, Zeki Velidi (Akhmet-Zaki Akhmetshakhovich Validov, Zeki Velidi Togan, 1890–1970). Zeki declared his homeland Bashkortostan an autonomous republic independent from Idel-Ural. Velidi himself led a complex political life, at one point joining the Bolshevik party but eventually turning against it in the anti-Soviet Basmachi movement. He subsequently emigrated and led an academic life in Europe and Turkey.
Velidi has left the following account of Iskhaki in 1917:
[Iskhaki] made fun of the issue of autonomy and even with Ukrainians, wrote: “They are intending to create an independent Xoxlandia. Since we are connected with the Russian people throughout history, we cannot enter into that path. As a delegation of four individuals (Sadri Maksudi, Islam Sahmemedov, Ayaz Ishaki and Sakir Muhammedyar) we went to the head of Government Kniaz L’vov and announced that we do not wish to separate like the Malorus (meaning Ukrainians) from you. We wish to be together with you.”
This is no doubt a prejudiced account by one of Iskhaki’s old political rivals. However, Iskhaki’s position was not so different from many other national leaders in the former Russian Empire who imagined their nations within the framework of a reconstructed, federated, and democratic Russia.
After the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917, Iskhaki chose to fight against the Bolsheviks and adhered to the ultimate goal of a democratic and federated Russia. He retreated to Ufa, Petropavlovsk (in Kazakhstan), and Harbin, China. Later he went to Tokyo in 1919 and then moved to Prague and Paris in 1920. In 1921 in Paris he engaged in relief work for the famine victims in Russia along with other émigrés such as Pavel Miliukov. In 1923 Iskhaki moved to Berlin to join his daughter who had managed to reach Berlin from the Soviet Union. In Berlin Iskhaki became part of the anti-Soviet “Turan” club created for the unity of Muslims from the former Russian Empire. Velidi and his supporters also gathered in Berlin. As a result, the club was paralyzed, according to one account. According to Velidi, the political views of Iskhaki in European exile had not changed much since 1917.
At any rate, in 1925 Iskhaki moved to Turkey, from where he went to Finland, and then, in 1927, settled in Warsaw. In Warsaw he headed the “Central Committee of Independent Idel-Ural,” in whose name he joined the Promethean movement. It was then, in 1927, that the journal Prométhée began to add Turkestan to its name: “The Organ of the National Defense of the People of the Caucasus, Ukraine, and Turkestan.” He also lectured at the Oriental Institute in Warsaw, an institution that served the cause of the Promethean movement. Clearly, Iskhaki had abandoned his old political position and now subscribed to the independence of Idel-Ural. According to Velidi, this was an opportunistic move on the part of Iskhaki: “It was especially poignant that Ayaz Ishaki and his friend Omer Teregulov, by joining the Oriental Institute in Warsaw, were forced to show themselves in favor of independence. However, they chose to change the nature of the old ‘unitarism and federalism’ debate into [a] Tatar-Baskurt [Tatar-Bashkir] tribal fight.” At any rate, in 1929 Ishaki moved back to Berlin where his daughter was studying. Although in Berlin Iskhaki began to publish a new journal (Milli Yol or “National Road”), he continued to work for the Oriental Institute in Warsaw in the 1930s.
Iskhaki’s work of this period on Idel-Ural suggests that he may indeed have tailored his view to please the Polish sponsors, as Velidi insinuated. In “An Outlineof the Struggle of the Idel-Ural Tatars for their Independence,” for instance, Iskhaki wrote about the Sultan-Galiev affair in 1929as if the Soviet account were true: Sultan Galiev and those arrested with him had organized a “secret Turkic-Tatar Communist organization” in order to take power in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, the Crimea, and Central Asia. It sought to create a great Turkic-Tatar republic on the ruins of the Soviet Union, with the Crimea to become a separate independent republic. The conspirators entered into negotiations with Ukrainians, Georgians, Armenians, and Belarusians in order to form a united front against the Bolsheviks. It is possible that Iskhaki possessed privileged information through his clandestine contacts with his homeland. Yet in essence he merely and oddly repeated the Soviet propaganda on the clandestine political network in the country, which, although untrue, titillated the Poles. In another essay, “A Historico-Political Essay on the Idel-Ural Republic,” Iskhaki emphasized the central importance of Ukraine, whose victory over the Soviet Union would be the victory of “all nationalities,” a point of central importance to the Poles. Idel-Ural would become Ukraine’s ally. It seems as if he knew well exactly what his Polish sponsors wanted to hear from him.
Mukhammed Gabdulkhai Kurbangaliev
Kurbangaliev’s life turned out similarly to Iskhaki’s. Kurbangaliev, like Iskhaki, was born into an imam family in 1890 in the village of Mediak, in today’s Cheliabinsk oblast’. His father was an influential religious leader among the Bashkirs. He studied at a madrasah founded by his father in Mediak. After receiving a degree in “ethics of theology,” Kurbangaliev moved to St. Petersburg, where he became the head of the capital’s “Muslim Circle.” Like Iskhaki and Velidi, Kurbangaliev was caught in the revolutionary upheaval in 1917. He welcomed the February Revolution enthusiastically. Unlike Velidi, however, Kurbangaliev opposed Bashkortostan’s political autonomy (or independence) and supported cultural-spiritual national autonomy within the framework of a single undivided democratic Russia.
Kurbangaliev’s opposition to the Soviet government led him to work with Admiral Kolchak, Lieutenant-General Vladmir Kappel’, Ataman Semenov, and other White military leaders and to create, with varying degrees of success, Bashkirian national military units within the White forces in the Urals and Siberia. In the Civil War, he lost his father and a brother who were executed by the Bolsheviks. Another brother was killed in a battle against the Bolsheviks. With the surrender of the Kolchak forces in 1920, Kurbangaliev called for his fellow Bashkir fighters to lay down their arms and moved further east, eventually reaching Tokyo in 1920 via Harbin. Kurbangaliev first met a Japanese military intelligence official in Omsk and Chita. Captain Jirō Hirasa of the Japanese Army was dispatched to Omsk as early as January 1918 where he appears to have met Kurbangaliev. In 1920 they met again in Chita. Obviously Japan eyed him as a figure for use in the future. With the support of the Japanese Consul in Harbin, he went to Tokyo in November 1920, returning there in February 1921 with ten Bashkir and Tatar officers (including Colonel Sultan-Girei Bikmeev). In Tokyo Kurbangaliev met important Japanese politicians and military leaders. His second trip was enabled by Masatane Kanda, a Soviet specialist who was to become Japan’s military attaché in Istanbul from 1931 to 1934.
Thus began Kurbangaliev’s collaboration with Japan. In 1922 he was employed as a non-staff member of the Southern Manchurian Railway Company, Japan’s main tool to run Manchuria as its colony. Simultaneously he was in contact with Japan’s intelligence service in Harbin. Returning to Tokyo in 1924, he taught the Turkish language at the General Staff. The following year he organized the Muslim Society of Tokyo. In 1927 he founded the fi rst school for Muslims in Japan and in 1928 he created the All-Japan Society of Muslims. There were about 400 Tatars in Japan (about half of them in Tokyo, the remainder in Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, and elsewhere) at the time, working in various trades and in the sale of clothes in particular. In 1929 Kurbangaliev built the first printing house in Japan to publish in the Arabic script and began publishing a journal, Yani Yapon Mohbiri.
Like Iskhaki in Europe, in Asia Kurbangaliev supported ideas that pleased his sponsors. In Japan, he promoted the idea of the “Ural-Altaic peoples” who would unite under the slogan of a “Great Asia” with Japan as its protagonist, an idea quite different from that he supported in 1917. He took the model from pan-Slavism and called for the revival of the Ural-Altaic peoples. This would require a Fourth International opposed to the Third International (Comintern). His view was strengthened by his meeting in Tokyo in 1922 with the Hungarian scholar Baráthosi Balogh Benedek (1870-1945) who proposed a theory of the Ural-Altaic peoples (among whom he counted Hungarians, Finns, Estonians, Tatars, Bashkirs, Uzbeks, Japanese, Koreans, Mongolians, and others in Eurasia). Kurbangaliev began to advocate an “eclectic combination of Pan-Turkism and Pan-Islamism that appealed to Pan-Asianists in Japan, assuring that the vast Turkish populations in the Euro-Asian and North African continents befriended by Japan will aid the achievement of a just future for the peoples of Asia under the leadership of Japan.” He thus promoted the slogan “From the Urals to Mt. Fuji.”
How firmly Kurbangaliev held this view of the future is not known. His “Ural-Altaic” vision went far beyond the borders of the Soviet Union. It was not compatible with Iskhaki’s Promethean vision focused on Idel-Ural within the borders of the Soviet Union. In any case, Kurbangaliev found sympathetic friends among Japanese political and military leaders, who in turn, used him for their own strategic purposes. The Japanese strategy was to link and unite Chinese Muslims (including those in Gansu, Shaanxi and Xinjiang) against the Communists of the Soviet Union through Kurbangaliev. With the support of Japan, he worked closely with some Chinese Muslim leaders as well.
Confrontation in Tokyo
In October 1933 Iskhaki traveled to Japan from Berlin via Shanghai. He carried a Turkish passport (which Japanese authorities strongly suspected was a forgery). The aim of his trip was, according to Iskhaki, to observe how Muslims lived in the Far East. In Warsaw, Iskhaki had been in contact with Japanese intelligence officials (who, in turn, worked together with Polish Intelligence against the Soviet Union). In 1930 he met with Japan’s military attaché Hikosaburō Hata and asked his help in establishing contact with members of the Tatar community in Mukden, China. Hata met with many Muslim leaders in Warsaw in 1931–32 and carried out “significant work,” according to Soviet information. Iskhaki also appeared to have had contact with Hata’s successor Genzō Yanagita who was stationed in Warsaw from 1932 to 1934. It was in fact through Yanagita that Iskhaki received help from Hata back in Tokyo. Iskhaki cleared his plan (to unite émigré Muslims in the Far East “in order to overthrow the Bolsheviks in the Soviet Union”) with Polish Intelligence. The Soviet secret police reported to Stalin that Iskhaki went to Japan with Yanagita’s support in order to sell to the Japanese General Staff a plan to create a Idel-Ural republic under Japanese protection.
Clearly, Iskhaki’s visit to the Far East was prompted by the rapidly changing international scene both in the West and in the East. Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in September 1931, the foundation of a puppet government Manchukuo in March 1932, and Japan’s recognition of the new state in September 1932 generated a great deal of both anxiety and hope among the nations of Eurasia and beyond. These events prompted the masses of Tatar émigrés in Manchuria to recognize Japan’s political and military might. Poland, too, became active in the Far East. In 1932, taking advantage of Ukrainian activism, Władysław Pelc (1911–2002), member of the Ekspozytura II of the Dwójka working at the Polish consulate in Harbin, organized Ukrainians, Georgians and Tatars into a Promethean group in the Far East. In the West, in the course of 1932 Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and France concluded a non-aggression pact separately with the Soviet Union. This rapprochement with the Soviet Union disappointed many émigrés, who turned increasingly to Japan for support and inspiration. Ukrainians in Turkey, for instance, submitted to Masatane Kanda, Japanese military attaché in Istanbul, an action plan in the event of war between Japan and the Soviet Union. The plan, dated November 1934, included the creation of special Ukrainian military units in the Far East as well as assassinations of prominent Communists in Soviet Ukraine.
The Polish government did not officially recognize Manchukuo in view of the strong reaction against it by Western democratic countries. In contrast to them and the League of Nations, the Promethean Club reacted very approvingly: “Dans cette période d’anxiété, de pessimisme, voire méme de découragement que nous traversons, la reconnaisance officielle de l’indépendance de la Mandchourie par le Japon est un événement qui retient l’attention et qui ne manquera pas de réjouir tous les amis de la liberté des peuples.” China, torn by internecine wars, was neither a state nor a nation. There was very little bond among its peoples in terms of race, language or religion. China was chaos and anarchy. Under these circumstances, the danger of Soviet Russia was all important. It had already conquered Outer Mongolia, and had Manchuria in its sight. The new state of Manchukuo, with a population of 30 million and supported morally and materially by a great power (Japan), was a “personalité internationale.” The most important issue was the “liberté du peuple mandchoului-même.”
Iskhaki was even more enthusiastic about Manchukuo. In an essay published in Japan in 1934, he emphasized the historical struggle of Manchus and Mongols for liberation from Russia and China. He characterized Manchukuo as championing the culture of oriental peoples and Japan as providing spiritual and material support in order to ensure peace in the Far East. The peoples in Manchuria, according to Iskhaki, felt rejuvenated by the foundation of Manchukuo. Iskhaki added that there were approximately two million Muslims (and 10,000 Turco-Tatars) in the new state. His goal was to support the new country on all fronts and to become a happy witness to the “unification and fusion of our Islamic culture and Far Eastern culture.” At the same time Iskhaki promoted the idea of independence for Idel-Ural: just as it was logical for non-Han peoples to be liberated from the Chinese, so it was logical for non-Russian peoples to be freed from Russia, whose future would be a dissolution into republics of nations. It seems natural, then, for Japan to welcome Iskhaki’s visit and his support for Manchukuo, although Iskhaki’s plan was limited to Idel-Ural and much less grand than Kurbangaliev’s, which extended much farther to include the “Ural-Altaic peoples.” Therefore, according to Polish Intelligence, at that time Japan began to intensify its activity with the “Turan Society” in Europe.
Shortly after he arrived in Japan, Iskhaki gave a talk in Tokyo in Turkish (which was translated into Japanese). He made it clear that the Russians were the enemies of the Turco-Tatar people: three-fifths of the estimated 50 to 60 million Turco-Tatars in the world lived under Russian yoke. Iskhaki emphasized that the most nationally conscious group among them was the people of Idel-Ural, whose sentiments were greatly stimulated by Japan’s victory over Russia in 1905. Iskhaki confessed that it was only after the foundation of Manchukuo that he came to understand that Japan actually promoted nationalism. Just as Manchukuo was not part of Han China, neither was Idel-Ural part of Russia. Iskhaki delighted many Japanese by stating that there were two great Asian nations, the Japanese in the east and the Turco-Tatars in the west, whose common enemy was Russia and that Japan’s rise meant the rebirth of Asia. Later in 1934, in Hailar, Manchukuo, Iskhaki “stressed the close ties of Tatars, Manchurians, Mongols, and Japanese with [sic] the Genghis Khan Turks, calling all of them ‘children of Genghis Khan’.”
Yet it was Kurbangaliev, not Iskhaki and his supporters, who had long been established as the Muslim leader in the Far East. Kurbangaliev was the person many Japanese strategists knew well. After the foundation of Manchukuo, Japan began to take the Muslims (and spreading Japan’s influence throughout the Islamic world) much more seriously than before. Facing the Soviet Union along the Manchukuo borders stretching more than 3000 kilometers, Japan dreamed of using the Muslims to advance farther to the west in China towards Gansu, Shaanxi, and Xinjiang where Muslims were prominent or even predominant. Kurbangaliev welcomed the foundation of Manchukuo. In June 1932, Tokyo appears to have organized a secret conference in which Kurbangaliev, representatives of the White Russian émigrés, supporters of Siberian independence, and Japanese strategists took part. It discussed the issue of uniting the Muslims of Japan, Manchukuo, and China. To that end, it was decided to convene a congress in Tokyo, with Kurbangaliev in charge. This plan somehow became known to Iskhaki in Europe. It was this plan that appears to have prompted Iskhaki to visit the Far East. The Tokyo scheme entrusted to Kurbangaliev does not appear to have progressed very far or quickly, although Kurbangaliev did visit Manchukuo in late 1932 where he met Muslim leaders from all over Manchukuo. (It was said that measures had already been taken to make all of the 20 million “brethren” scattered along the Russian-Chinese borders into their adherents.)
Kurbangaliev had every reason to resent the visit of the prominent Tatar from Kazan. Iskhaki was much better known in the Turco-Tatar community and in the world as a writer, intellectual, and politician. He knew both the Orient and the Occident, whereas Kurbangaliev knew only the Orient. Moreover, most of the Tokyo Muslim community were Tatars from the Kazan region, and not, like Kurbangaliev, Bashkirs. Their visions for the future were also different, as discussed earlier.
As soon as Iskhaki arrived in Japan, his supporters and Kurbangaliev’s supporters attacked each other. The former sought to discredit Kurbangaliev by portraying him as a Soviet and American spy! A man with no citizenship could not be trusted. In any case, Iskhaki urged the Turco-Tatar community in Japan to acquire, like himself, Turkish citizenship, which would be very useful in the event of war between Japan and the Soviet Union. Moreover, Iskhaki emphasized, Kurbangaliev and his company maintained close relations with White Russians in Japan, but all Russians, Red or White, were enemies of the Turco-Tatars. In terms of religion, according to Iskhaki, Kurbangaliev and his company practiced “heresy” (the “evil course”) and his (Iskhaki’s) mission, was to lead the Turco-Tatars in the Far East to the “path of righteousness.” In any case, according to Iskhaki, Kurbangaliev was against the Turco-Tatar independence movement and in favor of an “undivided powerful Russia” (a position he apparently had taken in 1917). Because he lacked support among the Turco-Tatar community, he had had to turn to the Russians. Yet a “Russian is an eternal enemy of the Turco-Tatar.” Iskhaki stated in his letter dated 17 March 1934 and addressed it in English to Japan’s Foreign Minister (Kōki Hirota, a former Ambassador of Japan to the Soviet Union): “Idel-Oural will be born in the same way as Poland [and] Estonia were in 1918. Idel-Oural’s birth will be followed by the birth of Turkestan, Confederation of Caucasus, Ukraina [sic] and etc. The unity of Russia will come to the [sic] end. Japanese circles have to consider this situation seriously.”
Kurbangaliev and his supporters, in turn, contended that it was Iskhaki and his company that served the Russian cause. Iskhaki was a socialist (Socialist-Revolutionary) who knew personally K.K. Iurenev, the current Soviet Ambassador to Japan, from the time of exile before the Revolution. It was Iurenev, via the Turkish Embassy in Tokyo, who supported Iskhaki’s activity. Kurbangailev’s anti-Iskhaki campaign was supported by the émigré Russians in Japan and elsewhere who circulated vicious rumors about Iskhaki’s alleged links to Moscow. Japan’s police and intelligence circles were concerned about Iskhaki as well. They possessed information that before he came to Japan, Iskhaki contacted a Communist (“Akhmetos”) in Shanghai and subsequently, when he went to Harbin after Japan, he met a man (“Gurov”) connected to the Soviet secret police. The Japanese police concluded that the sole aim of Iskhaki’s visit to the Far East was to “disturb and divide” the Muslim groups and prevent Japan and Muslim countries from drawing closer.
In the end, Iskhaki triumphed. From the start, the sympathy of the Turco-Tatar community in the Far East, according to Japanese analysis, appeared to have been more with Iskhaki than with Kurbangaliev. Japan’s Muslim strategists and supporters were not united but divided and were unable to support Kurbangaliev unequivocally. Iskhaki’s insistence that he wanted to unite the Turco-Tatar community (there were some 27 different organizations of them) contrasted well with Kurbangaliev’s apparent enmity towards his rival. Nor did Kurbangaliev’s forceful personality and his supporters’ behavior help them. On 11 February 1934, for instance, when Iskhaki and his supporters had a preparatory meeting for creating the “Cultural Society of Idel-Ural Turco-Tatars” in Tokyo (to which Kurbangaliev was not invited), according to the Japanese police, Kurbangaliev, Colonel F.I. Porotikov (an émigré Russian supporter of Siberian independence) and several other “Russians” (“Drugov,” “Emel’ianov,” both “Russian Fascists,” as well as some Bashkirs) appeared at the meeting. Porotikov and his retinue struck Iskhaki in the head and stomach and choked him “half to death.” They treated some others present to similar violence.
This incident became known all over Japan, Asia, and beyond, helping Iskhaki to extend and solidify his influence. Shortly after this incident, Iskhaki and his supporters succeeded in founding the “Cultural Society of Idel-Ural Turco-Tatars” in Tokyo. They also took legal action against Kurbangaliev and his supporters to take over their property. The creation of branches of the Idel-Ural Society followed in Kobe, Nagoya, and Kumamoto, Japan. In May 1934 Iskhaki managed to convene the First Kurultay of Japanese Turco-Tatars in Kobe, where his supporters overwhelmed those of Kurbangaliev. The Turco-Tatars in Manchukuo (Mukden [today’s Shengyang], Xinjing [today’s Changchun], Harbin, Hailar, and beyond) as well as Tianjin and Shanghai in China followed suit, creating branches of the Idel-Ural Society in their cities and provinces.
Then, in 1935, Iskhaki staged a coup. In February 1935, he and his supporters convened an All-Far East Turco-Tatar Kurultay in Mukden, China (Manchukuo) with forty-one delegates, about 90 (170 according to one report) invited guests, and some 30 journalists. 130 congratulatory telegrams were received by the meeting, including those from The Promethean Club in Warsaw, the Idel-Ural Committee in Berlin, and Ukrainian organizations in Manchukuo. The Kurultay, under Iskhaki’s chair, went so far as to express to the Japanese and the Manchukuo Emperors “Long Live! ” Attacking Kurbangaliev and his circles, Iskhaki called on the Turco-Tatars in the Far East to unite against Russia: unlike the “materialist” European Christian Russians, Turco-Tatars were Asian, “spiritual,” and Islamic. The Congress founded its religious-national center (merkez) in Mukden, elected Iskhaki as its President, and resolved to publish its own organ, Milli Bairaq (National Flag), in Tatar in Arabic script. The Kurultay went out of its way to emphasize its ties to Japan: “schools of Idel-Ural Turco-Tatars” should be organized where they do not exist already, and from the third year, the Japanese language should be taught, and from the fifth year, Japanese history.
Some 400 issues of the Milli Bairaq were published from 1 November 1935 till 20 March 1945. Japan did not finance the newspaper but subjected it to censorship. The first anniversary issue (no. 51) of the newspaper published contributions by leaders of the Promethean movement (including Mustafa Chokai [Chokaev] and Mammad Amin Rasul-Zade).
Iskhaki left for Europe via Shanghai in March 1936. When he left, his supporters summarized the significance of Iskhaki’s two-and-a-half-year work in the Far East: “We liquidated all enemies, all communities created on a rotten basis were destroyed and new ones were established. . . . . Our national interests and independence are linked tight[ly] with other nations; we have close relations and friendship with them. They are Georgians, Ukrainians, Caucasians, and Turkestanis, etc.” This was a victory declaration for the Promethean movement, a rival movement for Japan’s pan-Islamic movement. Understandably, the Japanese reports hardly ever mentioned Iskhaki’s link to the Promethean movement. In contrast, during his stay in the Far East Iskhaki explicitly noted his links to and support for the Promethean movement. At the Mukden Kurultay, for instance, Iskhaki was reported to have “called for friendship with Prometheus and Asian nations under the leadership of the Japanese.” After Iskhaki’s return to Europe, the journal Prométhée also published a triumphal essay about his long journey to the Far East.
Thus, the net result of Iskhaki’s journey turned out to be the division of the Muslim organizations in the Far East in decisive favor of the Promethean movement. The Russian historian S.M. Iskhakov has recently also reached a similar conclusion: Iskhaki “objectively prevented the rapprochement of aggressive anti-Soviet Russian émigré circles and ‘White’ Tatars.” Kurbangaliev was not politically destroyed completely, because he still enjoyed some support in Japanese military circles. Yet his influence among the Turco-Tatar community declined sharply. Ultimately he was banished from Japan (with a generous financial gift) in 1938, just before the first mosque was opened in Tokyo. In the meantime, Japanese authorities found the Idel-Ural society untrustworthy politically. They found many “pro-Soviet” members there. Some were arrested in Tokyo as Soviet spies. In 1939, the newspaper Milli Bairaq was briefly suspended for publishing an article disagreeing with the idea of Japan’s “Great Prosperity Sphere.”
Iskhaki was not the only Muslim leader who came to Japan in 1933. Abdrashid Ibragimov (Abdürreşid Ibrahim, 1857–1944), a Tatar from Western Siberia, Russia, had already visited Japan before the Russo-Japanese War. In the wake of Japan’s victory over Russia, Ibragimov wrote about Japan and Islam, predicting (more correctly, expressing his wishful thinking) that the Japanese nation might convert to Islam. In 1908–10 he visited Japan again, met many influential Japanese, and praised Japan as a force that could help the Muslim peoples to be liberated from the European yoke. Japan, in turn, found Ibragimov useful for future war against Russia and provided financial support to him. Ibragimov worked for the Ottomans during World War One. Sometime after the October Revolution in Russia, he returned to Russia and worked with the Soviet government. In 1923 he returned to Turkey, where he became politically suspect for his alleged pan-Turkism and anti-Kemalism. Yet sometime before 1933, Kanda, Japan’s military attaché in Istanbul, sought the old friend of Japan out. Kanda arranged for Ibragimov to return to Japan and help Japan’s strategy towards the Muslims. Ibragimov thus arrived almost simultaneously with Iskhaki, in October 1933.
Even before he arrived Japan, Iskhaki had attacked Ibragimov as a Soviet agent, particularly for his alleged pro-Soviet propaganda. Iskhaki repeated his accusations in 1934 after both arrived in Japan. Iskhaki even insisted that Ibragimov came to Japan before the Russo-Japanese War as a Russian spy. Where Ibragimov’s loyalty actually resided is difficult to determine. Before he left Turkey for Japan, according to Kanda, Japan’s military attaché in Istanbul, President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk himself invited Ibragimov for a conversation. The President expressed his concern about the situation in Xinjiang, where Turkey was not in a position to do anything. In five years at the latest, Turkey would be able to work with Japan on “Asian questions.” Therefore he asked Ibragimov to establish an exchange of students with Japan. Kanda cautioned Tokyo of Turkey’s ulterior motives.
It appears that Atatürk’s anxiety about Xinjiang (Chinese or Eastern Turkesta) was the key to the journey of Iskhaki and Ibragimov to Japan in 1933. Ankara was deeply disquieted by Japan’s Islamic policy in Asia, where Turkey felt overwhelmed by Japan’s influence. Most importantly, Turkey suspected that Japan, at least some powerful military and political circles, wanted to create a second, “Muslim Manchukuo” in China’s Muslim areas, in Xinjiang in particular. Moreover, like Japan and Manchukuo, the new “Muslim Manchukuo” would become a monarchy with a king from the old Imperial House of Osman, an explicitly anti-Kemalist move on the part of Japan. In May 1933, in the midst of Muslim rebellions in Xinjiang, an Ottoman prince, Sehzade Abdülkerim Efendi (1904–1935, grandson of the Pan-Islamic Sultan Abdülhamid II) arrived in Japan At the same time, Mehmed Rauf (Kırkanahtar), “an active member of the Turkish secret service of the Republic, also arrived in Tokyo in 1933 and started teaching Arabic and Turkish in Tokyo.” From July 1933 to the spring of 1934 Abdülkerim toured China along with Japanese sponsors. Even though he denied it repeatedly, the world, especially Ankara and Moscow, suspected that Abdülkerim was there to be installed as the king of an independent East Turkestan in the making.
Moscow suspected, furthermore, that the Muslim rebellions taking place in Xinjiang since 1931 were instigated and supported by Japan. Moscow also reckoned correctly that both Kurbangaliev and Abdülkerim were helping Japan to extend its influence to Xinjiang and that Japan’s influence in Xinjiang would spill over into Soviet Central Asia (Soviet Turkestan). With Japan’s imperial ambitions in mind, Moscow made the decision, in opposition to the wishes of the Comintern, “not to help the rebels but instead to assist the Chinese government by providing weapons and even aircrafts.” In 1933 Stalin “went so far as to dispatch, clandestinely, special military forces to Xinjiang to crush the rebellions.” In the end, the rebellions failed, and the Han (Chinese) control of Xinjiang was restored with Moscow’s help. Efendi’s and Japan’s scheme did not succeed. Abdülkerim Efendi left the Far East after the Xinjiang rebellions were crushed, and died a mysterious death in New York City in 1935.
As Japan’s imperial policy shifted without clear direction, Kurbangaliev was forced to move to Manchuria in 1938, and in 1945 he was arrested by the Soviet forces and died in the Soviet Union. Ibragimov never found a proper place among the Muslim community in Japan except as its symbolic figurehead. He died in Tokyo in 1944.
One can conclude that Iskhaki’s trip to the Far East turned out to have fulfilled the desires of both Ankara and Moscow. Such was not the direct aim of the Promethean movement. All the same, Iskhaki’s trip was a great success for the Promethean movement. (Japan did not attack the Promethean movement, which it still deemed useful in its strategy against the Soviet Union.) Many circles in Japan suspected that despite his pro-Japan and pro-Manchukuo rhetoric, Iskhaki in fact acted on behalf of the Soviet Union to divide the Turco-Tatar community in the Far East and frustrate Japan’s ambition in Xinjiang.
Whatever the case, the success for the Promethean movement in the East was illusory. In August 1937, Pelc, now based in Paris, recognized a serious crisis in the Promethean movement in the West, which appeared to him to be eclipsed by national democrats such as Haidar Bammat (1890–1965) supported by Japan. Iskhaki even criticized the Georgians and Ukrainians in the promethean movement for their alleged lack of will to achieve the independence of their countries, whereas he and his comrades always stood for “integral nationalism” free of socialist influence. The Prometheans harshly criticized Japan as well. Iskhaki’s colleague, Chokai, for instance, sharply attacked Japan’s imperial ambitions that used Pan-Islamism. In 1937, when Xinjiang failed again to liberate itself from Chinese control, Chokai denounced Japan for empty propaganda which made it easy for Moscow to crush the rebels by providing military forces to the Chinese. In the following year, in a conversation with a Japanese diplomat in Geneva, Chokai again criticized Japan’s support of pan-Islamism as anachronistic: it used to be important when the majority of Islams lived under the yoke of imperial powers, but now it only aroused the suspicions of Britain, France, and “Russia” (the Soviet Union) and antagonized Turkey, Iran, and others on their way to establishing their nation states.
Chokai’s criticism was well taken except that it was very odd for a Promethean to group the Soviet Union with Britain and France. This did not prevent Moscow from accusing Chokai of being an agent of Japanese imperialism! It is likely that Chokai was intimidated and deeply disturbed by Stalin’s terror directed against so many people inside the Soviet Union for their alleged links to Iskhaki, Chokai, Kurbangaliev, and other émigré fighters. (It is also likely that, even earlier, Iskhaki had similarly been broken into ideological capitulation by Stalin’s terror.) Surely Moscow, the foe of the Promethean movement, must have been delighted by the irony of being coupled with Britain and France, the supporters of the Promethean movement! It was this that signified the real crisis for the Promethean movement.
Meanwhile, Japan and Poland continued to work closely against the Soviet Union. After signing in 1932 a non-aggression pact with Moscow, Warsaw pursued “balanced diplomacy” by signing a similar treaty with Berlin in 1934. Whereas Japan did not officially join the Promethean movement, Poland strove to “disturb” Soviet-French and Soviet-British relations as much as possible, because although its goal was to isolate the Soviet Union, it was not strong enough to break the “Soviet-French alliance” (referring to the Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance of 1935). It appears that Moscow proved adept at politically disrupting Poland in the West and Japan in the East, the most prominent supporters of émigré Muslim ambitions in the 1930s. The Muslim leaders found themselves caught in the intrigues of international politics.
Prof. Hiroaki Kuromiya – historian, professor at the Department of History, Indiana University Bloomington, he specializes in the history of the Soviet Union and Ukraine. He is an author of numerous works devoted to Stalinism as well as Japanese-Polish and Japanese-Caucasian anti-Soviet cooperation.
Prof. Andrzej Pepłoński – historian, head of the Department of National Security at the Pomeranian University in Słupsk. He specializes in Poland’s modern history, especially military and intelligence history.