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September 26, 2002

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Sitting in a closet sized cabin on the overnight train, two bunk beds on each side, we thought how we've grown accustomed to sleeping with perfect strangers in tight quarters. We can't carry a normal conversation with our bunkmates because of the language barrier, although our Russian is becoming conversational. We can say a few intelligible sentences yet we rarely understand what Russians say back to us. At 1:00 PM we arrived in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, an independent republic of Russia. The Tatars were the last remnants of the Mongolian hordes that conquered Russia in the 14th century. Kazan acted as the capital of the Golden Horde until the Russians under Ivan the Terrible conquered the city and built St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow to celebrate this victory. Since then, the Tatars have lived as minorities of greater Russia. Today they have a degree of independence, electing their own government officials as an autonomous Republic. They dream of creating a new country and we see evidence of their strong nationalism with the green, white, and red-striped Tatar flag flying over Kazan. The Tatars look like oriental Turks, they speak their own Turkic language, and signs are bilingual.
Inside Kazan's fortress is a tower where a Tatar queen, Syuyumbike, jumped to her death rather than marry tsar Ivan IV. This couldn't have helped the tsar's self esteem.
Tatars attend mosques, Russians attend Orthodox churches.