The Republic of Tatarstan is situated in the centre of the Russian Federation on the East-European Plain at the confluence of the two greatest rivers – the Volga and the Kama. In winter it is possible to walk across the frozen rivers and meet those who have bored holes in the ice in order to fish. In the summer the river beaches bask in Mediterranean temperatures.
It is a flat and stable landscape of 67,836.2 sq. km. The highest point is only 381 metres above sea level with most of the land below 200 metres. Geologically it sits on a deep seated platform of stable crystalline rock – there is no fear of earthquakes in Tatarstan. Yet at depth there are vast reserves of oil and on the surface huge water resources. The history of the land and people is rich, complex and compelling.
Tatarstan is a sovereign state in a treaty association with the Russian Federation. The official languages are Tatar (in the Turkic group of languages) and Russian (in the Slavic group of Indo-European languages).
The capital city, Kazan, is a large industrial, academic and cultural centre. 1.6 million people live in Kazan where the majority of the population is Russian and nominally Orthodox. 2.2 million people live in other regions of the country which are largely rural with 4,200 villages and several large towns. In the villages the people are mainly Tatar and Muslim.
Life both in the country and the city can be hard with long winters and harsh living conditions. Ever increasing prices trouble all families but it is possible to rise above these elements and engage in sport, the arts, church, cultural events and family celebrations. In Kazan, an ideal day out might even be a visit to the vast IKEA shopping mall with its play areas, shops and restaurants. While some long for the ‘best of the west’, others want to uphold old ways and traditions. The Tatars have kept alive traditions of craftsmanship in wood, ceramics, leather and cloth.
One Christian visitor in Tatarstan commented: “I have been introduced to the old and the new, to the Orthodox and the Muslim, to the city and the villages, to the Russian desires and the old Tatar ways, but all need to hear and be touched by the truth of the Christian Gospel and Jesus Christ.”
Today the Kazan Kremlin is one vivid example of independent state policy. During the celebration of the 1,000th anniversary of Kazan thousands of inhabitants of the Tatarstan Republic and guests from abroad witnessed the ceremonial opening of the Kul-Sharif mosque and the Annunciation church symbolizing the co-existence of the two main religions in the republic – Islam and Christianity.