Norihiro Naganawa

Associate Professor of Slavic Studies at Hokkaido University

When did you first develop an interest in Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies?

As a junior-high student in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the whole world looked as though it was irreversibly changing: the collapse of the Communist camp in Eastern Europe and ultimately in the Soviet Union, the Gulf War and its reverberations in the Middle East, and the death of the Showa emperor in Japan signaled an end to the “long postwar.” At  university I looked for an intersection of Russia and Islam and discovered the Volga-Urals region. I struggled to learn not only Russian, but Turkish and Arabic as well, in order to read Ottoman Turkish and pre-revolutionary Tatar. I was also trained to see Tatar history in the broader triangle of Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and Central Asia.

How have your interests changed since then?

The 9/11 tragedy occurred a week after my arrival in Kazan for my dissertation research. The “global war on terror” and the aftermath motivated me to link my local study to wider developments in the world. My dissertation addressed a vibrant Muslim civil society in the Volga-Urals region after 1905, where the Muslim public actively discussed their relations with the religious administration, organs of local self-government, and the army. My post-doctoral research under the auspices of the comparative mega-project “Russia-China-India” (led by the SRC from 2008 to 2012) enabled me to contextualize the hajj from the Volga-Urals, as well as the local Muslim quest for Islamic reformism, and national ideas in global circulation patterns encompassing coreligionists from South Asia and China.

What is your current research project?

Now, I am writing a biography on the Tatar/Bashkir revolutionary, Karim Abdraufovich Khakimov (1890-1938). My first encounter with him occured at the Butler Library of Columbia University in June 2009, where I came across his biography in Bashkir printed in Ufa in 1966. Once I turned its pages, I was electrified. As a Bolshevik since 1918 he fought the Civil War in Orenburg and in early 1920Khakimov moved to the Turkestan Front. After the revolution in Bukhara he became plenipotentiary of Soviet Russia there. Then he worked as consul-general at Mashhad and Rasht in Qajar Iran from 1921 to 1923. From 1924 on his life revolved around the Red Sea: he was the first Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In short the story of Karim Khakimov as a Bolshevik interlocutor to the Muslim world illuminates the Bolshevik transformation of the fractured empire they inherited into an empire of revolution. Like so many multivalent characters, Khakimov was shot in January 1938. Today Tatarstan and Bashkortostan vie for his legacy in order to forge good relations with Saudi Arabia!

What do you value about your ASEEES membership?

First of all, the annual conventions provide me with great opportunities to talk with far-flung colleagues, whom I otherwise would only know by their influential articles and books, and the presentations are state of the art. I am very happy to find that in recent years the conventions have become a precious venue for reunion with North American friends, old and new. Secondly, I am honored to have published my article in Slavic Review, whose reviewing process was really tough but provided a thrilling dialogue with distinguished scholars. The ASEEES membership is a powerful driver in my scholarly life.

Besides your professional work, what other interests and/or hobbies do you enjoy?

Hokkaido, with enormously rich nature, gives us the wonderful opportunity to be outdoors. I particularly like May holidays, when we enjoy spring skiing on the tops of melting mountains and rafting on the thawing rivers below. Afterwards, we love to soak in hot springs and to have Sapporo beer, born in the same year as our university. The Slavic and Eurasian Research Center (SRC) has already welcomed hundreds of ASEEES members to Hokkaido as Foreign Visiting Fellows and presenters at the annual Winter and Summer Symposia. We look forward to hosting hundreds more!

Image Caption: Karim Khakimov between M. I. Kalinin and Faysal ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Āl Sa‘ūd (1932). Courtesy of the Museum of Karim Khakimov, Bizhbuliak District, Republic of Bashkortostan.