PEOPLE FROM AKTANYSH ARE UBER-POLITICAL, A SEPARATE POLITICAL NATION OF THEIR OWN...
AIDAR SHAIKHIN
AIDAR SHAIKHIN
PEOPLE FROM AKTANYSH ARE UBER-POLITICAL, A SEPARATE POLITICAL NATION OF THEIR OWN...

Aidar Shaikhin is the project curator at the Aktanysh Boarding School of Humanities for Gifted Children and founder of the Giylem project. He also translated Harry Potter into Tatar.
Aidar Shaikhin is the project curator at the Aktanysh Boarding School of Humanities for Gifted Children and founder of the Giylem project. He also translated Harry Potter into Tatar.


Can you tell us how you decided to return to Aktanysh?

Everyone around me was saying—and they still do—"Don't return to Aktanysh; why on Earth would you do that?" They said it in Kazan and they say it in Aktanysh. I can't really say that they were happy for me to return; there was no "Oh, Shaikhin is back, awesome!" In our boarding school itself they were delighted, of course, because we're a team there. But, yeah ...

They might think that I'm not here for long, or something like that, that I feel cramped in Aktanysh. I do really feel a little cramped there, because ... the scale of some projects is more suitable for Kazan than for Aktanysh. In Aktanysh I feel like we try them out, put them to the test.

It's just that I have business connected with Aktanysh.
I CAN'T LEAVE UNTIL I COMPLETE IT.
I'm still studying for my master's degree in theology. And, sure, like, studying that in Britain would probably be much more useful and interesting. But I need to be in Aktanysh now. My soul pulls me here. For some reason. It's like some kind of debt, you could say.

In fact, that's how we were taught in the boarding school. Our class. That's us, the first class of the school. Children who were chosen and selected to form a new Tatar intelligentsia. And we've absorbed these concepts. Nation, duty, responsibility, and so on. This upbringing pushed me to return. I've returned to the boarding school, and my classmate, a physics teacher, returned from Yelabuga. He travels between Yelabuga and Aktanysh. Our graduates, wherever they are, even if they can't come back often, still look back on our school with a sense of responsibility.
You could say that a small revival is taking place in the Aktanysh boarding school. We're updating our projects, coming up with something new. It's looking like it's going to be a very interesting process. We work with children who are competing with each other. This year we received a license to conduct a TEDx, and it will be a Tatar–English event. When we were studying, we had those as well—education events to speak in English, Tatar, and Russian—and this year it was decided to hold a real TEDx. There will be benefits for society, for everyone around us.

You could say that I'm the deputy director of Aktanysh, but really ... I call myself an adviser. An academic advisor—that's a more suitable description of what I do. I mean, deputy directors have to attend the morning meetings. I don't go to meetings.
An academic advisor is someone who guides students in American schools. First and foremost, they help them figure out their future profession. In my case ... I help them with their projects. Project work is now a must. A student who has not defended a project during the school year can't move on to the next grade.

We collected all these projects and came up with a festival of projects, calling it Haroun Fest. Why Haroun? It's named after the Tatar scientist Haroun Tazieff, a volcanologist. These days nobody really knows about him, because he wasn't born in Tatarstan and didn't live in here. If I'm not mistaken, he was born in Warsaw and lived in France. He was a cabinet minister in France. To ensure that students remember his name, we named the festival after him.

In addition to the students' projects, the boarding school has older projects: a school newspaper, a television channel, and a radio station. Giylem has emerged as one such project. Teachers also have their own projects: for example, building a geographic atlas of Aktanysh. Developing and directing such projects is also my responsibility.
How did Giylem come about?

Giylem came to fruition in the summer of 2014 at Camp Buluk. The idea started at the beginning of the year. It was inspired entirely by PostNauka [a Russian project focusing on modern fundamental science and scientists]. A Tatar PostNauka, as it were. We started it in Aktanysh. It was difficult to put together a Tatar PostNauka in Aktanysh, because there aren't very many people ready to give lectures. There didn't used to be any, and now there are very few. We tried making some videos, with my teacher Lenar Khusainov. Now he's my colleague. And we came to the conclusion that we need to work more with texts. I translated scientific texts and posted them on the site.

When I moved to Kazan, some volunteers got together. Renat and Azat Mirgayazov got involved. Tabris Yarullin helped out a lot: in October 2015 we held a round table with the Forum [World Forum of Tatar Youth] about science in Tatar.
THE QUESTION "IS THERE A TATAR SCIENCE?" IS LIKE A RED FLAG.
When they hear it, our abyilar-apalar [grandmothers and aunts] get indignant and start complaining: "we need a university; they've destroyed education in our universities." Well, we imagined that Giylem would grow and grow and turn into the Open University. But Giylem has turned into a popular-science site. Our educational function has not developed as much; popularizing science has come to the fore.

Now there are more popular-science projects in Tatar like Giylem. In fact, Achyk University (Open University) is a big project in itself. It has courses and may become the basis of the National University. Volunteers have become more active. One young man, Ilnar Salimzhanov, translates Khan Academy lessons, mathematics lessons. And his dream, if I'm not mistaken, is to translate hundreds of videos from English into Tatar and lay the foundation for learning mathematics in Tatar. There are more people like that.

For example, Giylem has a project called Khulbuki. Lecture halls. They hold scientific lectures in Tatar. And the lectures that we hold are, in fact, unique. You can't listen to them anywhere else. Despite the fact that the audience is small, the most important thing for me is that it exists and there's a record of it.

Back in the days of Tuqay [Ğabdulla Tuqay, 1886–1913, Tatar poet and founder of modern Tatar literature] they had a project—they've really ruined the language with the word project—called Gavam darelfөnene (People's University). They also had lectures on various sciences, in the Oriental Club and elsewhere. Tuqay himself held talks there. His lecture on literature was written as part of this "project." In encyclopedias there are just a few sentences about Gavam darelfөnүne, literally just a few words. I read about them myself in a literary dictionary written by Ismagil Rami; it was a ten-line text. If our experiment, too, gets at least one line in history textbooks ... well, that would be great.
IN SHORT, WE ARE SIMILARLY AMBITIOUS PEOPLE.
We consider ourselves their successors.

Romantics?

Romantics, of course, yeah. Giylem isn't just a website and an organization, or a kind of movement: it's an idea, the idea of Tatar language science. Work towards this is also going on in the boarding school. I was talking about our projects: one student submitted a topic for a project; he's collecting information about Tatar mathematicians. This is actually one of Giylem's topics. And he wants to do it in Tatar.

Then another ... I have a student, Ural. I work with him more often. One of the reasons I returned to Aktanysh this year was to work with Ural. We're participating in the same competition at the Higher School of Economics. And he's doing it in long form, in the field of media communications. His long-form article is dedicated to Bashir Rameev.

This is why our offices are named after different historical figures, so they can at least see the faces of Tatar scientists, their photographs, remember their names. And for each individual there are, well, not entire sites, of course, but webpages on the site, to attract students to it. There we have Haroun Taziev, Mushtari, Ğilem Qamay, Musa Bigiev, and Märcani. If only 150 people studying at the boarding school remember them, that would be wonderful.
SCIENTISTS, IN GENERAL, ARE OFTEN FORGOTTEN. THE TATAR WORLD DOESN't RECOGNIZE ITS RELATIONSHIP WITH ITS SCIENTISTS.
There's no cultural association with them. We have more writers, singers, and politicians.

And where does someone like Sunyaev [Rashid Alievich Sunyaev, Russian astrophysicist of Tatar decent] fit in, for example? He's a worldwide star. My ambitious dream is to invite him to Aktanysh to meet with our students.

In Giylem our icon is Qayum Nasıyri. I want to make Qayum Nasıyri as famous as a pop star; he must turn into an idol. We commemorate the Day of Tatar Science on Nasıyri's birthday. We've invented a holiday. Nasıyri gave knowledge to the Tatars; he laid the foundation for Tatar sciences and Tatar linguistics. At the same time, he was also a theologian, so for me he's a real icon.

How did your interest in religion begin?

Of course it began with Islam. When I was in elementary school, our class teacher gave me two books, a black book, the History of Ancient Times, for fifth graders, and the World History of Religions for grades 10–11. I couldn't get all the way through the latter; it was pretty difficult for me in any case. But it piqued my interest then. In 10th and 11th grades I was obsessed with Catholics. And I still am, it seems. My thesis was also related to Catholic theology.

The main influence was ... you know the film The Exorcist? My interest in Catholicism probably came from there. The ritual part was interesting to me. Rituals and action, so to speak. How do they do it?

I really like the image of the Pope. And even more interesting than the Pope is the Secretary of State of the Vatican. I realized this after watching The New Pope. He's a much more important, responsible person. And a position like that suits my character more.
That seems to be the role you were playing, in the boarding school.

We don't talk about that out loud, but probably, yeah. In fact, Catholics are helping me understand Islam better. When I was in ninth grade, in 2013, the Pope was elected; Francis was chosen. There was a page on VKontakte [vk.com, a Russian social media site] called, if I'm not mistaken, Pope Francis. Every day they posted what the Pope was doing that day, all the news there was. Sermons were also uploaded. I read them and ... Well, they were like ready-made Friday sermon for a mosque; you could just take them and preach it there. Common themes of mercy, poverty, they're universal in all religions.

The peculiarity of Islam is both a plus and a minus. We don't have a great leader; there's no leading face. Well, now anymore, because there are no caliphs. We can't take an example from a living person. But life, perhaps, sometimes lacks vivid images. A living example.
CATHOLICS ARE INTERESTING. WHEN THEY ASKED ME WHOM I WANTED TO BECOME, I ALWAYS ANSWERED THE POPE.
But when I chose my major, the biggest factor was ... chance; I took history, social studies, and Russian, and I applied to get in to these departments. However, when I arrived in Kazan, the original documents could be submitted for just one field. But which one? So I decided to go first to the institutes themselves.

I went to the Institute of History, on Pushkin Street. There was no one there to answer my question; they just constantly passed me along to someone else, "go here … go there." Okay, I think, I get it. I went to the building where the selection committee is sitting. That's also where the Department of Religious Studies is; so, I went to the head of the department and had an interesting conversation. I submitted my forms there. In this case, personal attitudes played a role.

And I have no regrets about entering Religious Studies. Well, you can't really say that quality of knowledge that they instilled in us was that great, but yesterday we were just discussing our subjects, sciences ... In fact, even just getting acquainted with them broadens our horizons. The philosophy of religion, sociology of religion, history of religion. Since I read outside of the curriculum, I was pleased with my knowledge. Studying at our department also gave me additional free time. I came to Aktanysh every month; I had time to work on Giylem, and so on.

… and translate Harry Potter.

Yeah … Harry Potter was one of my brightest childhood memories. Harry Potter is wonderful; Harry Potter is warmth; Harry Potter is being at home. And back then it could only be watched on TV. And it was an event that happened only once or twice a year. Harry Potter is still an important thing for me, a world in which I find solitude when I'm sad.

The idea to translate it, probably, comes from childhood:
WHAT GIVES ME PLEASURE SHOULD BE HEARD IN MY NATIVE LANGUAGE.
You know how kids have like, imaginary friends? Mine was Harry Potter.

I started translating it when I was in 11th grade, and I paid the price, for real. It was during winter break when I was supposed to be studying for the history Olympiad. As a result, I didn't win anything or place in the Olympiad. I sacrificed my republic-wide Olympiad to Harry Potter. But it gave me something, too.

Like what?

Well, for the media it turned out to be an interesting tidbit, even if it was just a volunteer project. When the media became interested in my translation of Harry Potter, I was able to tell them about Giylem, because it's not really of interest for the Russian-language press on its own.

So when Harry Potter comes out, we say that the Giylem project translated it. Even though the translators weren't associated with Giylem. Sometimes they recognize us and say
YOU'RE THE ONES THAT TRANSLATED HARRY POTTER.
In fact, work has just started. We're pretty much a group of amateurs. Our translation isn't perfect, of course. But it can become an aid, a basis for an official translation. This is an open document. Some schools have printed it out, for example, to use in classrooms. But if a serious publishing house were to print it, then good literary editors would be needed. When we contacted J.K. Rowling's agents, they said that they weren't against us putting it into print, but an experienced publishing house would be needed to ensure that the books were printed well. I have taken a break from it for now. How many copies do you need to print Harry Potter to sell it? I think 1000 books would go very quickly. It is true that it won't be read; it will be sold as a souvenir.

Sure, they read it electronically; there is an audience. They read it to improve their language. But our translation isn't the best way to learn the language. I can feel the mistakes in my translations. Well, not as I'm translating, but later, after some time. I start to think: "This text sucks." And at first, I take criticism hard. Although I agree with it, really. I just need time.

Of course, there aren't enough translators. Especially for Giylem. We need translators with knowledge in different sciences. Now, after all, one term can be translated in different ways. One translator may leave a word as it is in Russian, another might come up with a new Tatar word.

Let's say we use the word migmariyat instead of arkhitektura [the Tatar and Russian words for architecture], as literary words. Or, now the word inzhener has begun to be replaced with mөһәndis [the Russian and Tatar words for engineer]. We're starting to borrow from Arabic instead of borrowing from Russian. No, someone will say, that's our heritage. Why wasn't this or that word used? If you do use that word, they'll ask you why didn't you use another one.

There's something else. For example, the word theorem. Someone will say, "what, Tatars have no word of their own for theorem?" And I ask, where did the word theorem come from in Russian?
AND THE TATAR WIKIPEDIA IS ALSO GOING THROUGH A DISCONCERTING PROCESSES.
St. Petersburg is called Piterbur there; Arkhangelsk is Arkhangil. One active user sits and edits everything. If these words enter the rest of the internet like this ... So far, they're only in Wikipedia, but then it will start affecting Google. An interesting situation may arise with the Tatar language due to informatization.

Sure, there are people teaching physics and mathematics in Tatar; there are people who have written textbooks in Tatar. But if you start teaching philosophy ... like someone who wrote about philosophy in Tatar: Kazbek Gizzatov, the son of Tazi Gizzat. Someone who is younger and who worked with Kazbek Gizzatov, Zulfiya Ibragimova, for example, could teach it.

A lot of people are very shy about speaking Tatar. They speak well, but don't want to speak it, mixing in Russian terms.

Do you teach in Tatar in Aktanysh?

Sometimes. I once worked in a village school, alongside my work at the Aktanysh boarding school, as a volunteer. There aren't enough textbooks. You can find them in Russian, but there aren't enough in Tatar.
AND MANY OF THE TEXTBOOKS THAT EXIST AREN'T ON OFFICIAL COURSE LISTs, so THEY CAN'T bE USED IN LESSONs. they just GATHER THEM UP AND put them IN THE BASEMENT.
Aktanysh is far away, on the border ... Who knows what's really going on there. Maybe we're putting together a national army there ...

Well ... that's kind of what it sounds like.

Actually, Aktanysh is changing a lot. Engel Fattakhov [Head of the Aktanysh Municipal District] has returned from Kazan. He has changed and, together with him, Aktanysh must now change. All the resources, all the experience that he received as a government minister, he uses for the good of Aktanysh. I don't think any other district has such a thing; it's not possible. All of our school directors and deputy directors have been trained by experts from Kazan and Moscow throughout the year. Each school has its own program for growth.

Back when we studied, life in Aktanysh was somewhat more measured. One has only to look at the boarding school. We studied in a more relaxed atmosphere. It was fun. As a child, I liked to read about madrasahs of the early 20th century. I liked the image of a national school. I saw this in the boarding school too: our personal experience, a simpler, warm atmosphere. Now the students have changed; they have different ambitions. This seems to be due to the financial growth of the boarding school. The students get great gifts; they go abroad. It's a completely different reality, and it has its positives and negatives.

And Aktanysh has its own idiosyncrasies.
FOR EXAMPLE, ONCE A MONTH, SOMEONE FROM THE BOARDING SCHOOL HAST TO TAKE PART IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH GROUP. AND THEY DON'T GET TO CHOOSE.
Although it's a voluntary people's squad. If as a matter of principle, you don't participate, of course, nothing bad will happen to you. You'll just know that the boarding school's principal won't win any accolades if you don't. And if you're a good person, you won't want to put him or her in an awkward position. It may seem like a waste of time, but we need to help out the police, catch idle drunken types. There are a lot of things like that. In Aktanysh, the system cannot work in any other way, I think.

This year, several of our employees took part in a parade of Ded Moroz [Slavic Santa Claus] and Snowmen. Everyone dressed differently, there was a Ded Moroz in a Tatar skullcap there, stuff like that. We walked along the central street of Aktanysh, right. Who even watched it, though? It was during the day—children were in class and adults were at work. In the end, the city workers came out to see us. Well, it was a good idea, anyway.

I'd like to do such heartfelt events in Aktanysh. Activities that aren't tied to any position, because once they become mandatory, the idea, the meaning, will be lost. For example, we're now visiting villages with our Saturday School. We go to village schools, hold lectures, play games, have lessons, and conduct master classes. It's such a warm, sincere, wonderful event. And, thank God, there's nothing official about it.

I was influenced by one of my friends, who said "Children should be looked at with love and be brought up with sincerity." If something is insincere, they can tell right away. They can feel when something is done under duress.

I lead a class in the boarding school that incorporates philosophy, mythology, and political science. We don't have a thematic plan, it's just a free-form class. We talk about current topics. During the political crisis in Britain ... They know that I'm obsessed with Britain. They asked how they it happened; they're interested in it, and so am I.

We recently put on a play by Shakespeare. The first question everyone asked was "Why do that?" "Why put on that play?" "Who needs it?" "Is it for a competition, a festival, or what?" When they found out that we were doing it just to do it, they became very interested.
SOME SIXTH GRADERS SHOWED UP, LITTLE BOYS KICKING a BALL, AND SAID: "WE WANT TO ACT IN SHAKESPEARE TOO."
It's surprising, of course. Well, at least we're romantics. We're not limited by reality at all.

In general, it's very hard to work in Aktanysh, because there's a kind of political hierarchy there. There's a constant struggle. People in Aktanysh people are uber-political, a separate political nation of their own, so a lot of the workforce leaves Aktanysh. Aktanysh is this cauldron and we're cooking in it, fighting with each other. Who else would we fight with? And when you leave, all that energy finds a way out.

We have a visiting teacher who's been working for eight years. He is different: patient, and he has very clear principles. If he were a real Aktanyshian, he'd have gone crazy in eight years.

Often, on days when the principal is supposed to come in the morning, I sit there and think: "Oh, I if they'd only kick me out. I can't leave on my own. So ... if they kicked me out ... well, then it wouldn't be my fault. " No, I want to follow it all the way through to the end.

Does that happen often?

Mr. Fattakhov is a very active person. I was working late one time and, as I was closing the office, and I saw the principal, the principal of the boarding school, and Mr. Fattakhov standing in the hallway. He was examining the boarding school at half past eight in the evening. He gets up at the break of dawn, walks around, checking on everything. And he keeps people in good shape, too.

It's said that a district performs as well as its leadership. In Aktanysh, life moves very quickly. Shops and cafes have been opening in the last few years. True, there's still nowhere to sit and work or talk for a long time, but it's starting to grow.

Things are good in Aktanysh; come visit us.

INTERVIEW: YOLDYZ MINNULLINA
DIRECTOR: ILSHAT RAKHIMBAY
CAMERA OPERATOR AND PHOTOGRAPHY: RUSLAN FAKHRETDINOV
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