On July 9, 2022, in a village of Chukaly (Bolsheignatovskiy district, Republic of Mordovia) the national prayer gathering of Erzya people, popularly known as Ras’ken’ Ozks, took place. It is known that Ras’ken’ Ozks was forbidden as early as 1629 by Russian tsar’s decree. However Erzya people continued to support their religious tradition unofficially, particular during totalitarian rule of Russian communists. For first time after a long period of abandonment renovated folk prayer gathering took place on July 17, 1999. The representatives of Erzya intellectulas, activists of Erzya national revival Mariz’ Kemal and Kshumantsian’ Pirguzh have initiated the prayer gathering. Traditionally the venue for such a solemn event was chosen in connection with Erzya history, namely an ancient burial mound in a village of Chukaly, which confines, according to ancient legend, over 11 thousand of Moksha, Mari and Udmurt warriors fallen in 1612 in a battle with the Nogai horde. Since that time Chukaly became the traditional location for Ras’ken’ Ozks, that is conducted every three years.
The very first gartherings after the revival of the old tradition were oriented mostly to folk traditions and ancient rituals (just because they were organized by real grass-root activists), but in some time Mordovian authorities managed to overtake and control the process.
The intention to dilute the sacral and national components of Ras’ken’ Ozks showed itself most clearly this year. For the first time ever the top officials of the Republic of Mordovia visited the gathering together with personal guards, that brightly contrasted with the atmosphere of previous years, when officials were plainly walked among people, shaking hands and even hugging. However the real outrage among Erzya participants was caused by the attempts of republican officials to take Ras’ken’ Ozks under their full control, controlling everything that takes place in this momentous day in the village of Chukaly.
Yogan’ Min’ka, an activist of Erzya national movement, shares his impressions:
“When I arrived in Chukaly, it was very visible that special people in plain clothes selectively stop only Erzya activists, took away Erzya flags and so on. While passing to the gathering I decided to unfold the banner declaring that ” Ras’ken’ Ozks is not just a holiday!”. Virtually in a few seconds the banner was brutally grabbed out by people in plain clothes, who looked very much alike to FSB operatives. After this failure I went to the traditional gathering place of Erzya activists in order to hang our national flag on a tree as a clearly identifiable sign for Erzya to gather under their flag. It hanged there 2-3 minutes at most. The same FSBists, who took away my banner, came running together with a uniformed policemen. Our fellow Erzya who had witnessed this episode with the flag, tried to convince FSB officers that it is legal Erzya flag, that it was openly present at previous gathering, that Erzya national symbols are not forbidden by Russian laws, but still the flag was taken off. Then I decided to unfold another banner and take a picture with honorary Inyazor (Chief Elder) Kshumantsian’ Pirguzh. He unfolded the banner and I managed to make some pictures. FSBists arrived less that in a minute, steal my another banner and forced me to remove picture from my camera. They asked Pirguzh what’s inside his bag. His answer was exactly as follows: “You want to know, you see for yourself!”. Operatives started to rifle through his bag, took away banner about Albert Razin and set of documents from our activist Erzyaikin, intended to file to Zdunov, the Head of the Republic of Mordovia. These documents contained completely legal demands of our movement concerning opening Erzya gymnasium in Saransk”.
Other Erzya visitors of Ras’ken’ Ozks also confirm informal pressure of Russian siloviki against national movement activists. As reported by Gainin’kai Pichai, a participant of Ras’ken’ Ozks, “FSB knew all of us (activists) in person and repressed us purposefully. I was together with Pirguzh, honorary Inyazor (Chief Elder). At once in Saransk at a bus terminal two men came up to us, introduced themselves as FSB officers. They asked about our luggage, searched our belongings. Nothing was taken away at that moment, but they started to ask actively, what are these banners and what intentions do we have. We had two banners, one saying “Remember Albert Razin!” and “Prayer gathering is not for dances!”. I told them that they can’t legally behave in such manner, that it isn’t allowed to interfere in our Erzya prayer gathering, as well as we do not interfere with the religious matters of Russians. After this conversation we take a bus and went to Ignatovo, and few days later relocated to Chukaly. Already at the entrance of Ras’ken’ Ozks everything was surrounded by police guards in positions around the perimeter. They also started to check up visitors’ personal things and asked me about sticks (that I prepared as handles for my banners), and what is written on our banners, – however the banners weren’t taken away. When I walked up to the place, where Erzya usually gather, I saw a group of our activists, surrounded by 10-12 unknown men in plain clothes. It’s interesting that some of them openly presented themselves as FSB operatives, and they spoke Erzya language very fluently. These FSBists started to ask honorary Inyazor about that he carries in his bag. They took away two banners I mentioned earlier. For the first time since 1999 there were no Erzya flags at the prayer gathering”.
Acting Inyazor Syres’ Boliayen’ considers that main fear of both Moscow occupants and their local republican minions is the loss of power, resulting in intentions to control national movements and pressure against national activists: “They have a gut instinct that the old regime approaches its collapse. Zdunov arrives to peaceful prayer gathering surrounded by bodyguards, uniformed policemen and FSB officers in plain clothes are literally everywhere. Preventive measures are practiced as early as Saransk, a few days before Ras’ken’ Ozks itself. I have very strong doubts that confident authorities would behave like this. Officials know that this is a real popular gathering, and ordinary Erzya gather to communicate on their religious and cultural issues. Well, they can take away our banners, confiscate our flags, frighten our activists. Trust and respect of the people can’t be earned by such methods. We can see that it is occupational authority that speaks to our people only with prohibitions, repressions and threats”.