P8. Borderland Groups and Contested Identities Across Eurasia

Session: Session 1, 1:45 – 3:15 pm, Friday 9/29

Category: Organized Panel

Location: Alma Meter

Chair: Michael Brose (Indiana University Bloomington)

Paper Presenters: Jing Xu (Maggie) (Indiana University Bloomington), Aleksei Rumiantsev (Indiana University Bloomington), Emily Stranger (Indiana University Bloomington)

Discussant: Michael Brose (Indiana University Bloomington)

Abstract: People who live in borderlands spaces face unique challenges to their ability to lead normal lives as citizens of their home states while maintaining their own unique identity. These borderlands are also not limited to physical spaces along state peripheries but may also include special socio-political spaces that have been created by state actions to limit or contain particular groups of concern or interest to the state. This panel presents three case studies of specific ethnic minority groups that live in these kinds of borderlands in Russia, Iran and China, and the papers uncover or illustrate how the precarious positions of the subject groups have been created and the impact of those actions on the lives of people in each group. The papers focus on Chuvash in contemporary Russia, Kurds in Iran, and specific ethnic minority groups now described by China as “cross-border ethnic groups.”

Unpacking “Cross-Border Nationality” Identity in China

Speaker: Jing Xu (Maggie)
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: Indiana University Bloomington
Abstract: This paper examines the relatively new term Kuajing Minzu (“cross-border ethnicity”) that was first coined by a Chinese scholar in 1982 to illustrate the specific cross-border relations between ethnic minority groups in China and Vietnam. This term extends and adds significant complexity to the traditional notion “minzu” (translated variously as “nationality” or “ethnic group”) that has dominated the understanding of China’s ethnic minorities for decades. Largely unknown and unused by Western scholars, this term was proposed to describe specific groups that enjoyed cross-border relations. Interestingly, this term is still being developed and argued in China and has recently enjoyed growing interest by anthropologists, ethnographers, and political scientists generally, who see this term and the related Kuaguo Minzu (“transnational ethnicity”) as categories that more firmly embed and illustrate the salient issues that borderlands play in ethnic identity and state solidarity. Some also champion use of this term because it will provide China with claims on non-Han groups who live in neighboring states.

Chuvashia in the interwar period: from indigenous borderlands to Soviet-model autonomic republic

Speaker: Aleksei Rumiantsev
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: Indiana University Bloomington
Abstract: The revolution of 1917 in Russia opened unprecedented opportunities for peripheral regions of the former Empire that were populated by ethnic minorities. The Chuvash ethnic group had not had a comprehensive education in their language prior to the Communist take-over. This paper examines the shift in identity of the homeland of the Chuvash people in the Soviet Union that occurred as a result of Stalin’s measures to cleanse that “under-developed” region of anti-Communist sentiments by the Chuvash Bolshevik elite that was Russified and liquidated later. The paper draws on the analysis of Chuvashia as a periphery area by Alfred Rieber, who argued that Stalin was unable to imagine that peoples who lived in the periphery or borderlands areas such as the Chuvash were not ready for the Russocentric unitary state system that he wished to implement across the Soviet Union. The early decades of the Soviet power witnessed the awakening of the ethnic identity. In addition to forming the purely Chuvash political elite, the local language and culture flourished, only to be used later as a pretext for repressions of late 1930s. In fact, as history shows, Stalin’s actions resulted in a long-term decline in Chuvash identity that culminated in the All-Soviet school reform of 1958 that finally abolished education in the Chuvash language in schools across the whole country.

Mahsa Amini Protests: A new trend in Iran’s borderlands or business as usual?

Speaker: Emily Stranger
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: Indiana University Bloomington
Abstract: Despite centuries of peripheral unrest among ethno-cultural minorities who live in Persian/Iranian borderlands areas, mass protests triggered by the September 2022 death of Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini have been exceptionally violent. The Islamic Regime of Iran (IRI) largely blames outside influences as the sole cause of these upheavals and avoids acknowledging interethnic tensions between the Kurdish habitus and the theocratic state. The massive amount of media and public attention brought to this event provides a unique venue through which to better understand how the Iranian regime navigates its historically fraught relationship with the Kurds and other minorities to include Khuzestani Arabs, Azeris, Baluch, and Turkmen. This paper will address the following questions: How does the Khamenei theocracy approach dissent in the borderlands and has its approach changed from previous authorities? Have the importance and administration of Iran’s frontier lands changed in an emerging multipolar world?