The archival section in this issue of Ab Imperio features the recently uncovered documents of the Vaisov God’s regiment of the Muslim old-believers, or Vaisov movement. This was a controversial religious sect (which evolved from a Sufi order) with social, ethnic and political dimensions to it. Chronologically its story encompasses the period from the early 1860s to the late 1920s, when the last participants of the movement were prosecuted. In the Introduction to the archival publication, the historian Dilyara Usmanova explains why the Vaisov movement is hard to interpret within one particular historical mode. Its religious status within the Volga Sufi community is still a debatable issue. Among various issues, its religious self-descriptive terms differ from the Russian terms of description (like sect), which were used by the Russian officials and the adherents of the movement (Vaisians) in their Russian-language texts; the group invented its own original historical genealogy from the ancient Bulgar khanate, which tied them to the Volga region; government persecutions politicized their leadership; they experimented with social identities and proposed their own social categories; and finally, they simultaneously opposed Russification and the Tatars as an emerging national entity. The Vaisov movement is a case indicative of the inevitability of taking into account the semantics of the languages of self-description while studying a historically evolving groupness. Moreover, it is illustrative of the power of a religious mobilization to compete with national mobilization or even substitute for the latter.
The history of the movement and the complicated conjunctures of its religious, social and political appearances are reconstructed in the Introduction to provide a context for the documents from the Russian State Historical Archive (RGIA) and the National Archive of the Republic of Tatarstan (NART), covering the period from the 1880s to 1917. Six documents selected for this publication together show how religious community may act or be perceived as a form of proto-national, social and political groupness; and how the language of the Vaisians’ self-description changes depending on the context of the event, the actual language of the document (Russian or Tatar, original or translation, composed by an activist of the movement or by an interpreter) and its addressee.