As the protests continued in the following days, the riot police reportedly
used smoke grenades, tear gas and batons to disperse the crowd, injuring at least 40 people. Two protesters died afterwards of their injuries, while about 200 were detained
, with more than 40 now facing criminal charges.What does ‘khara’ mean?
The charges against Alsynov had to do with his speech at a local gathering (not in Baymak) on April 30, 2023, where he called some unidentified people “black people” (khara khalyk)
“In current times,” he said,
“we are even not allowed to organize a meeting… at his time Salavat Yulaev
[an 18th century Bashkir historical hero who joined a popular uprising against the imperial administration of Catherine II], who defended his homeland, was also called a terrorist. All people who defend their homeland are called terrorists… outsiders will develop our gold, and then Armenians will go back to their homeland, ‘black people’ (khara khalyk
) will go back to theirs, Russians to theirs and Tatars back to Tatarstan, and only we will stay here. We have nowhere else to go. Therefore,it is only us who have an obligation to protect this land.”
I asked my father, who understands Bashkir and lives not far from the area how one should translate khara khalyk
– the words for which Alsynov was tried and sentenced. “Khara khalyk
is us, my dear. It is us, ordinary folk, whom privileged elites call plebs,” he said, unaware at that moment why I was asking.
However, there is also another, literal meaning of khara khalyk
as “black people.” Thus, the words in the context of Alsynov’s speech could have been used in reference to some particular groups. Indeed, it happens that Tatars and Bashkirs call some groups of immigrants khara
, though this word does not possess such a negative connotation as churki
As an experiment, I spoke to several people from different villages in the Volga region, asking them what khara khalyk
means. No one told me that this was a derogatory word for members of other nations. However, for some of them, unlike for my father and me, it was indeed a word that brought together several ethnic groups of immigrants into one. Of course, being part of the broader Russian context, indigenous minorities may have their own prejudices and may not recognize that identifying people by their skin color can be regarded as racism, even if they do not mean to offend anyone.
Nevertheless, the main argument of Alsynov’s speech for which he was сonvicted, as well as the context in which he used this word, implied that all those people who came to his land to extract gold and other resources would one day go back to their own homelands. It is unlikely he wanted to offend specifically khara khalyk
, whom he mentioned among other nations such as Armenians, Russians and Tatars.
In any case, khara khalyk
was picked up by many protesters and could be seen on signs and profile pictures of Telegram channels supporting the detained activists in Baymak. In my view, this phrase with its other, more common, meaning as “plebs” shows the true nature of these protests: ordinary people against the ruling elites.