An interview with Rustam Nuriev about the Bashkir language Wikipedia community

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When did you start editing Wikipedia?

How did it all start?! It all started with my friendship with the Internet in the early 1990s when it became possible to connect to the World Wide Web. In the first half of 2005 my interest to learn new things led me to Wikipedia. At the end of that year, I found out that there is a Wikipedia section in my native Bashkir language. Eureka! There are Bashkir letters in the editing window, too. Just click on them and type. You can’t imagine how excited I was. Because, at that time, there was no keyboard layout for the Bashkir language anywhere.

I discovered that the main page of the Bashkir section of Wikipedia was created in June 2002, and there were three draft articles. There was silence, no editors, no readers. I started going around various online forums (there were no social networking sites back then), creating topics in forums, writing articles to local newspapers and magazines inviting volunteers to the Bashkir Wikipedia.

While researching the project, I found out that the first version of the first article was written on April 16, 2005. It was an article “Bashkortostan”, created by an anonymous author. It was then that I decided that April 16 would be the birthday of the Bashkir Wikipedia section. This year we celebrate the symbolic coming of age of the project – 18 years of Bashkir Wikipedia.

Having discovered the Wikipedia section in the Bashkir language, I registered and created a user page in January 2006. I started to ask questions to the administrator, asked him to correct errors on the main page. Instead of answers to questions and requests at the end of the month, I received a notification that I was assigned the status of “bureaucrat” and “administrator” of the section. Since then I have been performing the duties of the administrator, from the functions of the bureaucrat gave up in 2010.

The first year I worked alone in the section, and sometimes my mentors from the Russian language section, Pavel Kaganer and Vyacheslav Ivanov, came to help. A year later, Zufar Salikhov joined the project and is still actively editing and administering the section. It is largely thanks to him that Bashkir Wikipedia survived in its infancy.

Thus, Bashkir Wikipedia has survived, grown stronger, and came of age. For 18 years, more than 3,250 people have contributed to the development of the project. Currently, the number of active editors per month keeps at the level of 100 people. There are over 62,000 articles, which contain 26 million words. Bashkir Wikipedia is the most visited and largest site with open content in the native language. Due to this content Bashkir language was included in the international project on computer linguistics NLLB-200, which we are very proud of. Because on the basis of NLLB-200, our Bashkir developers have started creating various applications.

Congratulations on receiving an award from the World Kurultai (Congress) of the Bashkirs, please tell us about your successes

Executive Director Yuldash Yusupov (right) presents the medal of the World Kurultai (Congress) of the Bashkirs to Rustam Nuryev, Ufa, 2023.

Thank you. A key component of the success of any endeavor is motivation. Motivation can be both material and moral. In our volunteer work, moral motivation is primary. It is important to see, appreciate and thank people for their work. We, Bashkir volunteers, are a bit lucky in this respect. We are lucky with the informational support of our republic’s media resources. Journalists are constantly writing and showing us about our activities. They make society, in general, have a positive attitude to Bashkir Wikipedia. 30 active editors of the project have been awarded various state and public awards of the Republic of Bashkortostan.

I was awarded twice the annual public prize of the non-profit partnership “Wikimedia RU” for active participation in the project. For long-term and fruitful public activity as the administrator of Bashkir Wikipedia I am awarded the Diploma of the The Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs, received the highest award of the World Kurultai (Congress) of the Bashkirs – the Medal “Ал да нур сәс халҡыңа!” (“Shining Light to the People”), the state award of the Republic of Bashkortostan – the Order of Salavat Yulaev. Thus, my award is not the first, and hopefully, not the last one in our community.

The medal of the World Kurultai (Congress) of the Bashkirs “Ал да нур сәс халҡыңа!” (English: “Shining Light to the People”) has been awarded since 2010 to prominent figures of culture, literature, clergy for active fruitful and longstanding work on consolidation of the Bashkir people, preservation and development of national culture, language and spirituality.

Could you tell us about the Bashkir-language community? You’re also part of the Wikimedians of Bashkortostan User Group, what is the group doing now and what plans do you have for this year?

For 18 years, more than 3,250 people have contributed to the development of Bashkir Wikipedia. Currently, the number of active editors per month keeps at the level of 100 people. The main group of the most active volunteers, there are about 40 people. These are teachers, journalists, writers, and other enterprising people, many of whom are retired and continue to be useful to the community, doing creative work in Wikimedia projects. Most members of the Bashkir community are women, which is recognized as a unique feature of the volunteer movement around the world. We are proud that this was mentioned in the closing keynote by the Wikimedia Foundation’s former Executive Director Katherine Maher at the Wikimania2019 conference in the Golden Hall of the Stockholm City Hall, and that Wikimedians around the world applauded the Bashkir Wikigrannies.

There are also young people in our community: students and schoolchildren. There are not many of them, and there is a high turnover among them. On the one hand, this is a natural phenomenon. Young people need to develop in a multifaceted way, not get stuck in one direction. On the other hand, we observe our colleagues’ Wikimedia projects, and we realize that we could have more young people, too. We keep looking for ways to motivate them. In my opinion, an informal leader of the same age will have to appear and attract the attention of young people to the project by his example. There is another option. If there are good and regular sponsors, and we will have them in time, I would create paid jobs as editors for students. It’s no secret that young people earn extra money for themselves so they don’t have to burden their parents. So why not give them the opportunity to make money editing Wikipedia articles! It would be useful in many ways: one could make money, learn new things, and help Wikipedia grow.

A little bit about the plans…

We finalized our strategic plan, priorities, and current action plans, and began to work on our annual report. Our Strategy is one – Creation of a knowledge base in the Bashkir language, which anyone can use without restrictions. Three priorities: 1) Popularize popular Wikipedia, 2) Recruit new and retain experienced volunteers, 3) Increase the number and quality of articles on Wikimedia projects. Specific activities are planned and carried out with all three objectives in mind at the same time.

This year we will continue to participate in all traditional article contests at the international level. In our project we plan to organize a number of thematic months to create and update articles. The list of “1000 vital” and “10000 recommended” articles is always a priority, for articles from these lists we assign additional points. We will continue the five-year practice of updating the list of current day jubilees on a daily basis. However, there is one technical problem with this. For anonymous readers the main page of Bashkir Wikipedia automatically updates once every 2-3 days, which is not very convenient. Maybe the developers will listen to me and fix this problem.

For several years already we have been announcing the priority theme of the current year, synchronizing it with the theme of the World Kurultai (Congress) of the Bashkirs. This year it is the “Year of Science and Education”. We have recommended volunteers to create lists of teachers and tutors for individual educational institutions and articles about educational institutions and educators. Traditionally, our representatives will attend international conferences. I myself have applied for Wikimania, which will be held in Singapore. If the application is approved, I plan to make a report called: “Bashkir Wikipedia is 18 years old!

On the occasion of the 18th anniversary of the Bashkir Wikipedia, we are preparing to publish a book that showcases our activities. With the support of NP “Wikimedia RU,” we are planning to hold the 5th Forum of Bashkir Wikipedists in Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan. We will also be combining this event with the annual international “Wikiconference” of the Russian speaking community.

It is impossible to carry out our activities without financial resources, but we are exploring various options to fund them. Last year, we asked the public for support to publish the book for the first time in our practice. We were thrilled that the community responded to our request, and we were able to collect about 160,000 rubles (equivalent to $2,000 at the current exchange rate). We will use these funds to cover the publishing costs and release the book in electronic format. If we manage to secure additional funding, we hope to publish the book in a high-quality printed format. Our motto is “He who seeks shall always find,” and we remain hopeful that we will find the means to publish the book as we envision.

Thank you very much and all the best wishes.

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