Journey to the Tatar homeland

[Guest post by Leslie Akchurin in the Republic of Tatarstan] In July, I accompanied my husband and some of his family on a unique trip to Russia, on invitation for a cultural visit from the Tatar National Congress. While all but one of this group were raised in Turkey, the lives of their Tatar parents and grandparents had spanned turbulent decades in several countries. My companions were excited to visit the villages that their families had left behind, to find people they were related to, and to augment their understanding of places and things that had been hinted about all their lives.

At 2:00 a.m., we flew into Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, and I had my first delightful experience of a light-filled northern summer sky. We were greeted at the airport by local officials, and in the days that followed, we were received by many dignitaries and scholars. I speak no Tatar, but this deficit did allow me extra time for sketching while the others were engaged in conversation.

Below is the Marcani Mosque, which was the first mosque built in Kazan after it came under Russian rule. It is now the oldest acting mosque in Tatarstan. People were coming out and posing for group photos after a wedding.

Here, you see the statue of the Tatar poet Musa Djalil—who was martyred by the Gestapo in 1944—at the front gates of the fascinating Kremlin, which Ivan the Terrible captured after a long seige in 1552, afterwards banishing the Tatars and Jews to the far side of the river.

From Kazan, we took an overnight train to Saransk, the capital of the Republic of Mordovia, and for several days traveled by car to small villages where my companions’ ancestors had lived. One convivial afternoon, a local imam–a distant relative of one of our group–shared artifacts and entertained us in his home. (See sketch at the top of the page)

In another lush little village, we enjoyed a fabulous lunch with relatives who treated us like long-lost kin.

The local imam liked to engage in somewhat hectoring religious education when he found the opportunity…

Mordovian villages tend to be identifiable from a distance by their churches or simple mosques, like this one. The central figures in this sketch were our friendly but terrifyingly speedy drivers!


Ultimately, we ended up in Moscow, where, like all tourists, we were simply overwhelmed by the magnificent buildings in Red Square and the Kremlin—here the famous St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Ivan the Great Bell Tower.

After our Russian adventure, my husband and I spent time with his immediate family in Turkey with several days at our favorite seaside town, Çirali, which lies next to the ancient Lycian city of Olympos. I leave you with a few sketches from our relaxed time there: the afternoon beach scene and a local lady with her curiously tall chickens.


Leslie Akchurin is a Connecticut Yankee who lives on the Texas Panhandle. She drew these sketches with an Apple Pencil in the Tayasui Sketches app on her iPad Pro. Currently, she tutors at a university writing center and sketches as much as possible. She’s an administrator of the USk Lubbock chapter, and more of her work can be seen here.


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