The name of Tukay means a whole epoch in the intellectual development of the Tatar people, its literature, art and the whole culture making....

Syumbel Taisheva Runaway Knights of the Russian Empire

After a meeting with the Governor of the Ulyanovsk Region Sergei Morozov in March this year, there was a sightseeing tour for us, editors, in the historic downtown of Ulyanovsk where, luckily, pre-Revolution buildings survived. The gentry town of Simbirsk that was renamed Ulyanovsk in 1924, in the memory of Vladimir Ulyanov born there, is, along with Kazan, one of the most beautiful towns in the Volga Region. We were accompanied by Ramis Safin who had been reelected by a majority of votes as the head of the Tatar national and cultural autonomous association. He told us the external architectural character of Simbirsk was greatly affected by the commercial and industrial bourgeois class. Throughout the XIX century and in the early XX century, the town was rapidly developed with luxury buildings and mansions. The marvelous architectural monuments build at the expense of noblemen and merchants during that period continue to define the distinctive architectural appearance of the town.
After getting acquainted with the major site of the town – the memorial complex called “The Motherland of Vladimir Lenin” – we stopped by several houses that drew our attention with their ancient looks. Moreover, the management of the memorial complex was located in one of the houses. We could not disguise our amazement with the wonderful condition of a former mansion at the corner of Lenin Street and Zheleznoy Divizii Street, which used to belong to the Akchurins industrialists in the past century. Today, everybody knows the Akchurins, a famous cardio surgeon Renat Suleimanovich and his brother Colonel General Rasim Suleimanovich. They are the descendants from a renowned family of merchants that was one of the most well-known families in Simbirsk Province due to their entrepreneurial, charity and enlightenment activities. The money of the Tatar merchants was used to build mosques and to maintain madrasahs. In Simbirsk, Ibrahim Kuramshevich Akchurin opened the first secular school for Tatar girls.
Having noticed our interest, Ramis Safin suggested that we should come in the summer, and he would be our guide to the Akchurinns’ “family seat” in the villages of Ziya Bashy and Kalda located in Baryshsky District, one hundred
kilometers from Ulyanovsk. So, here we are, on the eve of Sabantuy in Staro-Kulatkinsky District!
The source of the Sviyaga River. I came across several works by school-students where they state their version of the occurrence of the Tatar name of Ziya Bashy. According to local residents, when ecdemic Tatars, known as the Mishars, settled down in the area, there were religious activists among them who proselytized the local Mordovian residents of Staroye Timoshkino village to Islam and gave the place an ancient Tatar name of Ziya Bashy in honor of the source of the Sviyaga River located here. Then, some of the Tatars who got Russian family names during census, such as the Volkovs, the Ognevs the Orlovs, the Berkutovs, remained in Ziya Bashy. Some of them, probably being more unsubmissive, settled down in the vicinity and named their village Kalda (according to one version, the name comes from the Tatar word “kaldy”, which means “remainder” or “left over”).
Local peasants practiced soap making and wool washing. In Ziya Bashy, there were five mosques, and in two of them the Salah was read even in the Soviet time. At the moment, there are more than three thousand Tatars and Russians living here. The high school where the Tatar language is studied as just an option, is considered to be one of the largest educational institutions in the District. More than 350 school-students are welcomed with a commemorative plaque telling about the role of the Akchurins dynasty.
Tatar princely dynasty of the Akcrins. It was the local school museum where our closer acquaintance with the Akchurins dynasty began. Their family name comes from a Turcic-Bolgar combination of words “ak chura” which means “white knight”. The museum carefully preserves personal belongings of the famous family, and mounts are populated with extracts from newspapers and photos from archives. One of the mounts shows the family tree. We learnt that the first Akchurins were mentioned in documents back in 1509, although the family is believed to come into being much earlier. The documents which have survived untill today state that there was a family of princes or “murzas” that originated from Prince Akchura Adashev. He came to serve in the Russian Tsar’s army, for which he was granted land in Mordovia by Ivan IV. At that time, there were many Tatars among servicemen. The Akchurins princes drew their duty at the expense of the tribute they collected from the Mordovians (as they were to arrive for the army service in their full armor and equipment), and from the late XVII century, they possessed manors where Russian bonded peasants lived. These were the sources of their supplies and the basis of their service.
Abdullah Yusupov writes in his book “Messieurs Akchurins” that “after the left bank of the river Volga joined the Moscow State, many people were brought to the area. Some were to develop the land, others – to build frontier forts”. However, in the feudal society, many Tatar princes and murzas lost their privileges.
Examining the family tree, we learn that the family comes from the founder of the dynasty, a local peasant of Alekseevka village of Staro-Timoshkino Prikaz, Shafi (Safa) Akchurin. His son Abdullah Akchurin continued his father’s business of purchase of wool from local residents and its resale. In 1796, a son was born to him, who was named Kuramsha. Along with his other brothers, he also began to sell washed wool. He built wool washing facilities on the bank of the Sviyaga River to expand the volume of his trade. In order to legalize his activities, Kuramsha paid more than eight thousand rubles for himself and his family to the Department of fiefs in 1839. Thanks to that, Kuramsha, Suleiman, Yakhya and Ilias, the sons of Abdullah, were entitled to trade throughout Russia and abroad. Later, they became merchant members of the First Guild and honorary citizens of the town. Their children Khasan, Yusup and Yakup (the sons of Suleiman), Timerbulat, Asfandiyar (the sons of Kuramsha) became prominent citizens and merchants. Among Kuramsha’s grandsons, Khasan, Yakub and Abdullah (the sons of Timerbulat) are well-known too.
We continued our way to a once powerful factory that is desolate and abandoned by people now. Only a cuckoo’s monotonous voice broke the silence. The adjoined ground was overgrown with ill weeds. Where has everything gone? Where are 387 machines operated by more than one thousand four hundred employees?
Staroye Timoshkino is located on the crossroads of trading routes along which horse carts with goods from beyond the Volga and the Urals used to roll. Using the developed transportation logistics, as it is said nowadays, the First Guild merchant Suleiman Akchurin founded a textiles manufacture here in 1849. Kuramsha and Suleiman Akchurins were buying wool from local residents and gradually became monopolists leaving their competitors behind. Wool was delivered to all fourteen manufactures in Simbirsk Province.
Later, he and other members of the family turned Staroye Timoshkino into a large wool-washing center of the region. Among the large manufactures owned by the Akchurins family, there also was a “subsidiary” Gurievka factory where more than one thousand employees used to work, as well as Samaykino factory where more than 500 workers were harshly exploited. Both factories participated in government bids to manufacture textiles for the military needs.
Khasan-Bey and Tukay. In 1908, Khasan-Bey, as he was called by the people, invited Gabdulla Tukay as his guest for a week.
As written by a historian N.I. Tairov in his research paper “Gabdullah Tukay and the Akchurins industrialists”, “As the poet’s works appeared on the pages of the Tatar press, the industrialist took an interest in the creative works and the personality of Tukay. That was why Khasan Akchurin wanted to meet the poet in person and to get acquainted with him. The invitation was delivered through a merchant Batretdin Apanayev. The latter, through the people in the poet’s circles, managed to persuade him to visit Khasan Akchurin who defrayed all the expenses related to the travel. Khasan’s acquaintances in Kazan and the poet’s friends did not tell him about the money transfer but had him dressed up and accompanied him to Gurievka. According to published memories, the poet went to the industrialists on his own. At Barysh station of Moscow-Kazan railway, the poet was welcomed on a very high level by the Akchurins and their close ones lead by Khasan. … Khasan, one of the richest Tatars in Russia, asked for the poet’s permission to arrange a dinner party. Tukay agreed. …»
However, as mentioned in the memories of Tukay’s contemporaries, the poet was taken aback with hard working conditions in the factory where many women and children worked (the children were usually hidden from inspectors). He shared his impressions from his trip with a bitter feeling of sorrow with a playwright Galiaskar Kamal. Later, he wrote several satirical poems describing his protest. In one of his poems, “Шыер” (“Shyer”), there are the following lines: “Азраил килсә, бар кеше үләр, / Тимай бай булсаң да — азанчы күмәр”.
The same protest was expressed during a strike, the first one in the province, by the workers of the Staroye Timoshkino textiles factory in 1905, three years before the arrival of the great poet. Although, this factory was one of the most advanced in the Russian Empire for the time being in terms of equipment and processes used for the manufacture. It was here where a steam boiler was introduced, and mechanized work of employed workers, not bonded peasants, was used as the owners thought voluntary labor to be more efficient. According to historians, the employees used to receive higher wages for their work compared to other similar factories. It was only once that trouble occurred. According to history, on the night of January 28 to 29, 1870, a large fire happened in the textile factory, which entrapped 38 women who decided to stay in the looming workshop over a severely cold night. As old-time local residents told us, the Akchurins donated very large sums of money for that time to support the families left without their mothers and
to build two churches, including the one in Zagoskino village in Sengileevsky district, as they were afraid of vengeance and arson of their own house.
After the Revolution of 1917, all the Akchurins’ property, such as factories and houses, was nationalized. During the World War II, military cloth was manufactured in the factories. Later, as the Soviet regime collapsed, everything degraded. Only a crumpling brick building with no windows is left of the former glory. Neither could we find a marble monument to Vladimir Lenin that used to stand next to the factory that got a new name after The III International. Nowadays, young people leave for big cities as there is practically no job in the village.
Tatar philanthropists. The Akchurins were well-known benefactors and philanthropists. Khasan Akchurin founded a very rich local history museum that was admired by Rizaetdin Fakhrutdinov. The museum that used to be in Gurievka at that time was a home for the collection of ancient coins from all over the world, bladed arms and firearms, ancient manuscripts and books in West-European, Oriental languages, in Russian and Tatar. Nowadays, most of the Akchurins’ personal belongings are in the collection of Ulyanovsk Regional Fine Arts Museum, while the school museum holds a slam sofa upholstered in velvet, a leather armchair, big street lights from the Staroye Timosjkino textiles factory. It is difficult to imagine to what extent the Akchurins were harsh and demanding in their enterprises, and how generous they were in their public and charity activities.
In a historical document, I found information that Timerbulat Akchurin who was a Glasnyi1 of Simbirsk City Duma at that time donated 7 thousand rubles a year during a drought in the Volga Region in 1880-1881 to maintain free canteens for the starving. Every day more than three hundred poor people received food in such canteens. For this generous deed, in 1882, the merchant was awarded a silver medal “For Diligence” to be worn on St. Stanislav’s ribbon. The money of Kuramsha, Timerbulat, Ibrahim, Yakub (the sons of Suleiman), and Khasan (the son of Timerbulat) was used to publish books and newspapers, to support Tatar intellectuals. Asfandiyar’s daughter – Zukhra – became Ismail Gasprinsky’s first wife and together with her husband published the first Tatar newspaper “Tarjeman”, being an interpreter and an author. This family also gave the world a famous politician who graduated from Sorbonne University, a deputy of the Parliament of Turkey, Yusuf Akchura. He turned out to be Suleiman Akchurin’s
grandson. Yusuf’s father passed away early. The father’s brothers spent much money to have their nephew educated in Europe, and Timerbulat Akchurin ordered that Yusuf should be made a partner in the Akchurins’ joint-stock company. For that purpose, 5000 Rubles were deposited on his behalf as the value of one share.
Akchurins’ mansions. Our tour continued, and for three hours we were observing former wooden mansions owned by several families of the Akchurins’ kin and marveled at their grandeur in spite of their abandoned condition. In the very center of the village, there is a big house of the industrialist Yakub Akchurin who founded a joint-stock company “Partnership of Staroye Timoshkino Textiles Factory” in 1892. The last owner of the house was his son Ali. A two-story house with surviving sawn wooden lacework on the windows, the balcony and the perch remind of the love with which the house was built by its owners. In the Soviet time, it was housing an outpatient clinic that closed about two years ago. At the moment, the only legitimate owner of the house is a swallow that made its nest under the perch. “The family fortress” was shown to us by its faithful custodian Shamil Khanov who takes care of the house forbidding nailing up the windows and finding money for heating it in the winter time. Together with him, we walked from one room to another with signs “Surgeon” or “Physician” on the doors, we saw miraculously surviving cast-iron fireplace, molding and stoves on the upper floor. This floor turned out to be special in the house. “My mother gave birth to me in this room”, — Shamil Khanov said as he brought us to a small room flooded with sunlight, — “Women of the village were happy there was a small delivery department. They used to say that the house had a very light aura, so it was easy to deliver a baby”. I was amazed with uncle Shamil’s devotion. The house where his mother gave life to him got a continued life thanks to him. It would be great if some investors took the same care of this architectural masterpiece to prevent it from sinking into oblivion! The same is needed for another Suleiman Akchurin’s house where thirteen families live who got their rooms as they worked for the factory. It goes true for the house of Khasan Seit-Shakulov who was a large supplier of wool from Mongolia and Manchuria for the Akchurins’ textile factories, and a new owner is the last hope for this house.
Farewell Salah. The noon was coming. Our route ran through Kalda village where we attended a surviving and operating mosque whose construction was sponsored by the Akchurins, as well as other five mosques in Ziya Bashi. Here, the host of the village, hospitable Ravil Khanov was waiting for us. He invited us to his brother’s house where he told us about the history of the place and treated us as his guests, similar to how the Akchurins treated Gabdulla Tukay to a mutton noodle soup “shulpa” and a fragrant pilaf.
Before we left, we visited a cemetery where practically all the representatives of this formerly powerful family rest. Linar Gubaydulin from “Beznen Miras” magazine who accompanied us, read Arabic inscriptions in old tombstones and provided clarifications. Hopefully, an expedition of historians will be sent here to study them in more detail.
So we prepared to leave when young voices of muezzins sang from two minarets at the same time, and the earthly hustle and bustle stopped for a moment. Soon, having said “Amen!” we got into our cars and left, and on our way we were discussing the fact that the events of the past century confirmed that the whole of this area owed its well-being and prosperity to the outstanding children of the Tatar nation, the Akchurins dynasty.
If ponder more on it, the whole of the Akchurins’ manor, including the factory, the mosque and other structures could become an open-air museum. Is there anybody willing to eternalize the memory of the ancient and still-living Akchurins dynasty that served the well-being of our Motherland faithfully for centuries?
Written by Syumbel Taisheva

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