The Tatars is a name used to describe several distinct groups of Muslim Turkic people who speak Turkic languages. Most are Sunni Muslims and are identified in association with specific areas in Russia and the former Soviet Union. There are four main groups of Tatars; 1) the Volga Tatars; 2) the Crimean Tatars; 3) the Siberian Tatars; and 4) the Kriashen Tatars. Tatars are also called Tartars.

There are around 8 million Tartars in the former Soviet Union today. There are around 6.5 million Volga Tatars. Less than half are in their traditional homelands in the Volga and Urals regions. The others are scattered around the former Soviet Union, with a large number in Central Asia. There are around a half million Siberian Tatars, maybe a million Crimean Tatars and maybe 100,000 or 200,000 Kriashen Tatars. There is also a small group of Tatars in western China.

Extensive populations of Tatars are scattered throughout Russia as well as most of the other former Soviet republics. In the late Soviet period, numerous Tatars migrated to the Central Asian republics, in particular Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The Tatars are a Turkic people whose language belongs to the Kipchak group and has several regional dialects. The region of present-day Tatarstan was occupied by the Mongols when the Golden Horde swept across the middle Volga region in the early thirteenth century. When the Mongol Empire fragmented two centuries later, one of its constituent parts, the Tatar Kazan' Khanate, inherited the middle Volga and held the region until its defeat by Ivan IV. Shortly thereafter, Russian colonization began. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

History of the Tatars and Tatarstan

The Tatars are descendants of the Mongols and the Golden Horde, which are also descendants of the Mongols and their mixing with groups in territories they conquered. Over the decades after their initial conquests the Mongols became weaker. Tamerlane's battles with the Golden Horde in the 14th century in southern Russia, weakened the Mongol hold in that region. This allowed Russian vassal states to gain power but they were unable to completely unify. Russian princes remained vassals of the Mongols until 1480.

In the 1440s, the Golden Horde fragmented into several khanates, including Kazan, Astrakhan and Crimea, and held on until 1502. The people in the khanate of Kazan were the result of the merging of the groups mentioned above. The knanate lasted only a brief time (1445-1552) but was a powerful state that had a string impact in the region. The people that lived there developed the distinct Tatar language and became known as Volga Tatars

In 1552, Ivan the Terrible drove the last Mongol knanates out of Russia with decisive victories in Kazan and Astrakhan. This opened the way for the expansion of the Russian empire southward and across Siberia to the Pacific. After the capture of Kazan by Ivan the Terrible, the Muslim Tatars were evicted from the city and were forbidden to enter or even approach the Kazan Kremlin (fortress) under penalty of death. Until the 18th Century, the Tatars built mosques in their settlement outside the kremlin and these mosques were destroyed and Islam was banned.

Kazan itself was largely destroyed in 1774 as a result of the Pugachev revolt (1774–1776), an uprising by border troops and peasants led by the Don Cossack Yemelyan Pugachev. After Catherine the Great (reigned 1762-1796) visited Kazan everything changed. She abolished that cruel decree issued by Ivan the Terrible and allowed the construction of mosques. This launched a blossoming of Muslim architecture. The Old Tatar Quarter was turned into the center of Tatar national culture and education.

In the 1990s — and still to some degree today — Tatarstan was practically an independent state. Even though it had no army, currency or postage stamps, it flew its own flag, kept it oil revenues in the republic rather than relinquishing them to Moscow. It conducted its own foreign policy and made it own economic policy. It sold it own weapons abroad, owned a gigantic former-Soviet truck factory and General Motors plant that produced four-wheel drive vehicles. Many of the concession that Tatarstan won from Russia was the result of tough bargaining by Tatarstan president Mintimer Shaimiev. In 1996, he ran unopposed and won 97.5 percent of the vote.

Tatars and Mongols

The Tatars were originally a powerful Turkic tribe. The name Tatar was later used to describe the Mongols and groups related to them. Many Russians have traditionally linked the Tatars with the Mongols that terrorized Russia in the 16th century but in fact they are different groups. Tartars were neighbors of Mongols and Turks but were different. Ethnolinguists have difficulty in explaining exactly how they are different, and the links and difference between Tatars, Mongols and Turks is still a matter of debate. Even so, the Tatars are cast as demons and beasts is many Slavic tales when it would be more appropriate to put place Mongols in that role.

The original Tatars where a powerful Turkic tribe subjugated wiped out by Genghis Khan (See Genghis Khan, Under Horsemen, Asian Topic). Under the leadership of his grandson Batu Khan, they moved westwards, driving with them many of the Turkic peoples toward the plains of Russia. Many Tatars and Turks joined the Mongols during their period of conquest and empire buildings. The word Tatar may be derived from Dada, or Tata (The Chinese term for Tatars), but is sometimes linked with Tartarus, a section of hell where the wicked were punished and people with dog heads consumed the bodies of their victims. Europeans often referred to the Mongols as Tatars and argued that barbarians as horrible and wicked as them had to have come from a place like Tatarus.

The name "Tatar" was first recorded on the Kul Tigin monument as Otuz Tatar Bodun ('Thirty Tatar' tribe) in A.D. 732. The "Tatar" clan still exists among the Mongols and Hazaras. The name Tatar was used by Russians and Europeans to denote Mongols as well as Turkic peoples under Mongol rule (especially in the Golden Horde). Later, it was used for any Turkic- or Mongolic-speaking people encountered by Russians. Eventually however, the name stuck onto the Turkic Muslims of Ukraine and Russia, namely, the descendants of Muslim Volga Bulgars, Kipchaks, and Cumans, and Turkicized Mongols or Turko-Mongols (Nogais), as well as other Turkic-speaking peoples (Siberian Tatars, Qasim Tatars, Mishar Tatars) in the territory of the former Russian Empire (and as such generally includes all Northwestern Turkic-speaking peoples). [Source: Wikipedia]

The Tatars formed the Turkic-speaking population of Tartary, the lands ruled by Mongol elites from the 14th century until their conquest by the Russian Empire in the 18th to 19th centuries. Despite the fact that many Tatars were Muslims and were linking with the raping and pillaging Mongols, the Tatars became fairly were well integrated into tsarist. Orthodox Christian Russia, and later the Soviet Union and the post-Soviet Russia. Many Tatars have traditionally lived side by side with Russians and other groups, served as serfs and were involved in various revolutionary movements. A number of famous scientist, artists, writers, academics, dancers and athletes have been Tatars.

In the 1930s a number of ethnic groups, including the Greeks, Tatars, Koreans and Volga Germans were suddenly evacuated from their homes and sent into exile n Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Siberia. Many were imprisoned and executed as “enemies of the people.”

Tatar Language and Religion

The Tatar language is in the Turkic family. It was written for a long time in Arabic and then with the Roman alphabet until 1939 when Stalin ordered that it be written it in Cyrillic. In 2000, the Tatar government decided to drop the Cyrillic alphabet in favor of the Roman one and started teach the Tatar written with the Roman alphabet in school.

The Tatar language was nearly wiped out by the Russians. Most Tatars now speak Russian and an attempt is now being made to revive the Tatar by training teachers and producing textbooks in the language.

Tatars are mostly Sunni Muslims that belong to the Hanafa school. Islam was embraced by the ancestors of the Tatars in A.D. 922. They observe Muslim holidays and many Islamic laws. But their beliefs scheme allows women to act as surrogate imam, encourage the worship of saints at special holy places and tombs, celebrate the Persian New Year and agricultural festivals, and permit the wearing of amulets to ward off the evil eye. Many drink alcohol. In the Soviet era, they were under the jurisdiction of the Religious Board for Muslim of European USSR.

The Crimean Tatars distanced themselves for Islam under czarist rule and eliminated all public practice of the religion under the Soviets. Even today they are not regarded as being very religious. The Volga Tatars were active in trying create a sense of Muslim pride and helped Islam flourish in the Soviet Union. They built new mosques, printed copies of the Koran, taught Arabic in their schools, and tried to rally Muslim groups in the Soviet Union against Moscow.

Volga Tatars

The Volga Tatars are the westernmost of the Turkic ethnic groups living in the former Soviet Union. They have traditionally lived in Tatarstan in the middle Volga’s forest and steppe and Bashkirstan in the southern Urals. There are two distinct groups: 1) the Kazan Tatars; and 2) the Mishars.

There are about 1.8 million Volga Tatars in Tatarstan and another 2.5 million live in nearby republics, particularly Bashkir Republic, and regions and another 1 million live elsewhere in European Russia.

The Volga Tatars are descendants of the Kipchak Turks and formed a distinct Tatar dynasty, the Kazan Khanate, which lasted for more than a century until it was destroyed by Ivan the Terrible. The Tatars were originally a powerful Turkic tribe. Most of the people known in Russia as Tartars were descendants of Turkic tribes like the Kipchaks who inhabited the eastern part of the Mongol Empire and worked as soldiers and tax collectors and were slaves of the Mongols. The name Tatar was later used to describe the Mongols.

Early History of the Volga Tatars

In the 8th century the southern part of what became known as Tatarstan was occupied by a Turkic people called the “Bulghar.” Displaced from Azov steppes by frequent Arab raids, they moved into middle Volga region. When this area was conquered and devastated by the Mongol army under Batu in 1236 most of the survivors moved northward. The Mongols organized the area they conquered in Russia into a state and became known as the Golden Horde.

Under the Mongols, tribes that lived in the fringes of what became Russia, including the Bulghars, Kipachak Turks, the ancestors of the Volga Tatars, and Finno-Ugric settlers, merged to varying degrees.

In the 1440s, the Golden Horde fragmented into several khanates, including Kazan, Astrakhan and Crimea, and held on until 1502. The people in the khanate of Kazan were the result of the merging of the groups mentioned above. The knanate lasted only a brief time (1445-1552) but was a powerful state that had a strong impact in the region. The people that lived there developed the distinct Tatar language and became known as Volga Tatars. Crimean Tatars, See Below.

Defeat and Persecution of Volga Tatars

In 1552, Ivan the Terrible ravaged Kazan and defeated the Volga Tatars, St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow was built to celebrate the victory. The conquest of Kazan opened the way for the expansion of the Russian empire across Siberia to the Pacific.

The conquest of Kazan was followed by a series of assimilation policies of the Russians on the Tatars, that lasted through the 19th century. They included forced conversion to Christianity, economic sanctions and cultural assimilation through education,

Even though Russia had long promised the Tatars people a degree of independence the reality was that Moscow dictated policy, even choosing the street names in Tatar twons. This didn’t make the Russians very popular. One Tartar toast goes, "Being in Russia is good. But being here is better.”

Volga Tatar Rebelliousness

Unhappy under Russian rule, the Volga Tatars participated in rebellions of S. Razin (1667-1671) and E. Pugachev (1773-1775). At the end of the 19th century, they began responding to the Russification policies by organizing a movement called “jadidism” that called for a number of reforms that were aimed at changing the tsarist system not just bringing the Tatars more autonomy. This coincided with a growth in Tatar pride and involvement in Russian politics.

The Russian Revolution in 1917 raised hoped that a Volga Tatar state might be created. That didn’t happen. Instead the Tatar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was created within the Soviet Union and that was a followed by a renewal of the Russification efforts. Purges under Stalin eliminated the most vocal Tatar nationalist

In the old days, Tatars made their living through agriculture, animal herding, hunting, fishing, crafts and trade. They served as primary conduit for goods moving back and forth between the Russian and Muslim realms. After the Russian Revolution, Tatarstan rapidly industrialized and many Tatars got factory and white collar jobs. In the process they lost what little religion they had. In the Soviet-era, one Tatar told National Geographic, "I only heard the Koran read at funerals. Only the old men know it.”

Tatarstan and Kazan

Tatarstan (510 miles southeast of Moscow) is one of 21 internal republics in Russia. Located in the Volga-Urals region, it covers 27,100 square miles (roughly the size of Ireland) and is home to 4 million people and lies on the middle part of Volga River. There is great deal of intermarriage between Tatars and Russian and there seems to be little ethnic tension. The Tatar’s birthrate is 40 percent higher than the Russian’s. Efforts are being made to bring back the Tatar language and culture. Tatarstan is rich in oil. Oil is an important industry in Tatarstan. A petrochemical and refining center in was vital to the Soviet Union military-industrial complex.

Located east of Mari El and Chuvashia and west of Bashkortostan, Tatarstan was established as an autonomous republic in 1920 for one segment of the large and widespread Tatar population of the Russian Republic. In the 1980s, less than one-third of Russia's Tatars lived in the republic designated for them. The population of Tatarstan, about 3.8 million in 1995, is second only to that of Bashkortostan among Russia's republics. According to the 1989 census, the population was 49 percent Tatar, 43 percent Russian, 4 percent Chuvash, 1 percent Ukrainian, and 1 percent Mordovian.[Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

Kazan (on the Volga River, 550 miles southeast of Moscow) is a city of 1.1 million and the capital of the Tatar Republic. Founded in the 13th century and capital of the Tatar state in the 15th and 16th centuries, it was claimed for Russia by Ivan the Terrible in 1552 and later developed as the gateway to Siberia. Both Lenin and Tolstoy studied at Kazan University, one of Russia's oldest. Lenin was thrown out for his revolutionary activities.

Kazan is an old historical city of Moslem minarets, Christian domes and military fortresses. Dominating a large hill, the kremlin has been built, destroyed and rebuilt several times. The current white limestone walls were built under Ivan the Terrible. Important buildings include the the Annunciation Cathedral, designed by the same architect who designed St. Basil's cathedral in Moscow; Syumbeka Tower, striking, leaning 59-meter high structure named after a princess married to three successive khans. There are many legends related to this princess. There are wonderful views of the city from the tower and Spassky clock tower. The Haymarket Mosque has been brought back to life. Used by the communists as a school for builders it was covered with scaffolding in the 1990s as Muslims worked to restore it.

Tatarstan Government and Economy

Tatarstan has a diversified, well-developed economy that has been the basis of bold claims of independence from the Russian Federation beginning in 1992 The first World Congress of Tatars was held in the republic's capital, Kazan', in June 1992. About 1,200 delegates attended from Tatarstan and the Tatar diaspora to discuss the republic's status. In 1994 a bilateral agreement with the Yeltsin administration satisfied some of the republic's claims to sovereignty. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

Tatarstan is practically an independent state. Even though it has no army, currency or postage stamps it flies its own flag, keeps it oil and revenues in the republic rather than relinquishing them to Moscow. It conducts its own foreign policy and makes it own economic policy. It sells it own weapons abroad, owns a gigantic former-Soviet truck factory and General Motors plant that produces four-wheel drive vehicles. Many of the concession that Tatarstan has won from Russia are the result of tough bargaining by Tatarstan president Mintimer Shaimiev. In 1996, he ran unopposed and won 97.5 percent of the vote.

In 1995 the discovery of a large oil field in northern Tatarstan promised to boost the sagging local economy; oil extraction already was Tatarstan's most important industry. Other major industries include chemical manufacturing, machine building, and the manufacture of vehicles and paper products. The agricultural sector produces grains, potatoes, sugar beets, hemp, tobacco, apples, dairy products, and livestock. *

Volga Tatar Life

Most Volga Tatars live in urban areas. Those that live in rural areas live in villages with other ethnic groups. Traditional Tatar homes have a distinctive style. There are usually made of wood and are either one room dwellings with a simple plank porch or two room hexagonal structure made by linking together two one room dwelling with a corridor. One room used by the family everyday faces the street. The other room is reserved for guests. Large homes built by rich peasants had two or three stories and the same floor plan.

Tatar life was defined and shaped by Muslim law and customs. Even though Islam allows a man to marry up to four wives, Tatar men rarely married more than two. By the 20th century most practiced monogamy. Mixed marriages occur but they are often with other Muslims. In the old days some women were veiled but many of them were from wealthy families and their viel was a symbol of their status and the fact they didn’t have work more than a sign of Muslim identity. Under the Soviets, many women worked. Even before that rural women often worked in the fields.

Volga Tatar Culture

Tatar culture is quite rich. A number o Tatar poets and writers are well known to Russians as well as Tatars. Many of them were involved in the Tatar reform and Muslim pride movements. Tatars have a whole range of Turkish-style music that includes village and city songs, dance songs and narrative epics. There have been a number of Tatar operas.

Tatar-Bashkir “sabantui” festivals feature dancing, running, horse racing, climbing slippery poles, fighting on a log and strong man trials Arm wrestling is popular at festivals in Tatarstan. Once Putin showed up and arm wrestled a woman.

In “kureh”, the traditional Tatar-Bashkir form of wrestling, opponents grab each other using sashes or towels. The winner receives a live sheep which he hoists over his head. Kureh is popular thoughout the former Soviet Union. Champions in the sport have won Olympic medals in Greco-Roman wrestling and judo.

Wrestlers use a variety of holds and throws in an effort to get their opponent off balance and make a pin. Wrestlers perform in five weight categories and track suit pants, knitted shirts and national boots. They throw their sash around their opponent’s shoulders and tie it around their waist, with the wrestlers taking hold of each other with their hands. The winner pins his opponents on the shoulder blades,

In some places there are radio and television broadcasts in Tatar and Tatar newspapers. The teaching of Tatar in schools was a controversial topic in the Soviet era.

Crimean Tatars

Crimean Tatars emerged in the 14th century. Their early history is somewhat similar to that of the Volga Tatars but they evolved more or less independently of them but later on at the end of World War II their fate took a tragic turn when practically their entire population was exiled from their homeland to Central Asia. It is not clear how many Crimean Tatars there are. A census in 1989 counted around 270,000 of them, but the true figure is believed to be more than a million. [Source: Peter White, National Geographic, September 1994]

Crimean Tatars speak their own language. It is based on the language of Kipchak Turks like the Volga Tatars but is different. It incorporates a number of Ottoman words, for example. In some ways it is more closely linked to the languages of the Azerbaijanis and Turks in Turkey.

Crimean Tatars have traditionally been an agricultural people but since they were exiled in World War II (See Below) they have mainly lived in cities and worked in the industrial sector.

History of the Crimean Tatars

Crimean Tatars emerged in a way that was not unlike the Volga Tatar. In the mid-13th century Mongols lead by Batu Khan claimed the Crimea. As was true in the Volga region, Mongols intermarried with local Turks and these tribes merged to become a group later called Crimean Tatars by the Russians. In 1440 they created their own state; the Crimean Tatar Khanate ruled by the Giray family, which dominated the Crimea until the Russians under Catherine the Great annexed it in 1783. It was the last Mongol (Tatar) stronghold in present-day Russia.

The Crimean Tatar khanate came under Ottoman hegemony 1475. The Crimean Tatars were key allies of Ottoman Turkey and supplied the great Istanbul-based empire with white slaves. The Turks used the Crimea as a staging area for battles against the Russians.

In a review of Erik Hildinger’s “Warriors of the Steppe”, Christopher Berg wrote: “The Crimean Tatars, like their better-known cousins, employed the same style of war. They relied upon cavalry and steppe tactics to frustrate and defeat their enemies. Unlike other steppe cultures, the Tatars preferred campaigning in winter because the snow protected the hooves of their mounts and frozen rivers allowed easy access. A specific type of booty that brought a handsome return was slaves; many of the women captured were shipped to India and throughout the Turkish Empire. Hildinger, in detail, outlines the organization of Tatar raiding parties. Tatar opportunism meant that they were averse to meeting an enemy in a pitched battle unless they clearly had the advantage. By the advent of Catherine the Great’s reign, the supremacy enjoyed by the steppe warriors had come to an end. [Sources: “Warriors of the Steppe: A Military History of Central Asia 500BC to 1700AD” by Erik Hildinger (Da Capo Press, 1997); Christopher Berg, Sam Houston State University /^]

Some Crimean Tatars have blonde hair and blue eyes because some of the Greeks, Goths and Genoese that lived in the southern Crimea adopted the Tatar language, accepted Islam, and were thus welcomed by the traditional Mongolian-featured Tatars.

After the Russians took over the Crimea in 1783, they offered incentives to outsiders to come to the Crimea and work the land there. Thousands of farmers, many of them Germans, arrived while the Tatars emigrated. An estimated 1 million Tatars emigrated by the end of the 19th century. Their land was given to European immigrants or turned over to Russian aristocrats.

Forced Exile of Crimean Tatars

On May 18, 1944, towards the end of World War II, all of the Crimean Tatars—some 230,000 of them—were roused from their beds and rounded up in one night, under orders from Stalin, and forced onto trucks and rail cattle cars for the long trip to Central Asia (mostly to Uzbekistan) and the southern Urals. The Tatars were falsely accused by Stalin of collaborating with the Nazis— even though they supplied a large of soldiers to anti-Nazi units in the Red Army—and were exiled as punishment. The Tatars were one of a dozen or so ethnic groups accused by Stalin of collaborating with the Nazis.

One Tatar late told the Washington Post, "A Russian officer came with three soldiers and ordered us to leave. He said the Tatars were traitors to the Motherland. My father gave him documents showing that my brother was fighting the Germans in the Red Army, but [the officer] threw them aside. He said that meant nothing.”

The Tatars were locked inside the cattle cars. At stops some food and water was thrown in and dead bodies were removed. As many 100,000 of them died—nearly half their entire population— during the journey and the early days or resettlement. Those who survived lost their land, lost their identity and were subjected to crushing restrictions.

Crimean Tatars in Uzbekistan

The Tatars were settled in communities under tight supervision. They were prohibited from traveling or publishing in their language. One woman told the Washington Post, “In Uzbekistan, Tatars are being turned into Uzbeks and Russians. We're losing our languages, our culture and identity.”

The Tatars first lived in concrete huts set up on the steppes. Over time they built proper houses. After Stalin died, other groups were allowed to return to their homelands, but not the Tatars. Some historians believe this was because that Tatars might stir up anti-Soviet activity among other Muslim groups. Other historians have said the Soviet’s simply wanted the Tatars land and firmer grasp on the strategically important Crimean peninsula.

Back in the Crimea, Russians had moved into Tatars houses and farmed Tatar land and destroyed Tatar mosques and cemeteries. The Crimea was developed into an important military zone and a playground for the Soviet elite. In 1946, the Crimean Tatars ceased to officially exist as a distinct ethnic group, instead they were grouped in the broad Tatar category.

Return of the Crimean Tatars

In the 1960s, the Crimean Tatars began what was described as the most persistent campaign of dissent under Soviet rule. They overwhelmed the Kremlin with petitions that called for apology for what happened to them and for the right to return to their homes in the Crimea. In 1967, the Kremlin issued a decree exonerating the Tatars of allegedly treason. The decree didn't end the petition drive and demonstrations.

With the arrival of glasnost under Gorbachev, Tatars started returning to their homeland with their families in the late 1980s, with the pace picking up in the 1990s after break up of the Soviet Union. About half of the 500,000 Crimean Tatars that lived in Central Asia returned to the Crimea. Many of them lived around Simferopol and Bakhchysaray (the last capital of Crimean Tatarstan). More would have liked to move but couldn't afford it.

Inevitably the Tatars found their old houses occupied by Russians who were unwilling to give them up, and thus the Tatars were forced to build new ones. Authorities denied them land. They squatted and built houses. These were bulldozed. Mass protests ultimately pressured authorities to allow them to stay.

Hardships of the Crimean Tatars Returnees

The Crimean Tatars that returned suffered hardships, poverty unemployment and were unable to obtain citizenship and residency papers. Half lived in small houses without electricity (a hardship that was especially acute during the winter because heating coal was relatively expensive), no paved roads and no running water. In the worst cases people live in shipping containers and children were crammed seven in a room.

Tatar villages are scattered all over the place. Water is collected from a truck with plastic pails. People tap into electric lines. Few have jobs, most get by on subsistence agriculture.

Some of the Crimean Tatars who had returned lived quite comfortably in Uzbekistan and returned to hardship in the Crimea. A member of such a family told the Washington Post, "This is the land of our people...It's sad that we have come in a circle. Our parents built homes in Uzbekistan, and now we have brought our children to live in condition [our parents] started in.

The Tatars now make up about 10 percent of the population in the Crimea. The Melis, the Tatar political leadership, has increased demands for political power and economic opportunity. Rioting has left several people dead. The Ukrainian government had come to their support to counterbalance Russian ambition in the area.

Siberian Tatars

Siberia Tatars are people of Turkish-Mongol origin that live in Siberia. They basically fall into two groups: 1) those who are descendants of people who have lived in Siberia for some time; and 2) those who are more recent immigrants. There are about 500,000 Tatars in Siberia, of which only 200,000 are ancestors of people living in Siberia at the time the Russians arrived in the 16th century.

Most of the immigrants are from the Volga and Urals, and include Volga Tatars (Kazan Tatars and Mishers), Kryashen Tatars and other groups of European Tatars. The aboriginal Tatars are made up of three main groups: 1) the Tomsk Tatars, composed of Kalmaks, Chats and Eushta who have traditionally lived around the Ob River in the Tomsk area; 2) the Barabinsk Tatars, from the Barabinsk steppe in the Novosibirsk region; and 3) the Tobolsk, the largest group, consisting of Kurdak-Sargatsk, Tobolsk, Tiuemn and Iaskolbin Tatars, who hail from the Irysh and Tobol rivers in the Omsk region. The is a wide range of clan and tribal groups, over 250 by one count.

The aboriginal Siberian Tatars are believed to have a more complex ancestry than that of the Volga and Crimean Tatars. They are a mix of Ugric, Samoyed, Turkish, Iranian and Mongolian blood. The initial penetration of Kipchaks to the region from the Altai has been dated to the 5th to 7th centuries and the creation of the Siberia Tatars began sometime around the 14th century, when the first Siberia Tatar khanate was formed. The region was largely ignored by the Mongols but was occupied by groups that had ties to them. In the 15th century a large Siberia Tatar knanate was based in the city of Sibir (Kashlyk). In 1563 it was overrun by Kazakhs. In 1582 Russians and Cossacks arrived.

Siberian Tatar Culture

The Siberian Tatar languages are derived from Kipchak Turkish but are district from the languages spoken by the Volga and Crimean Tatars but is much closer to the Volga Tatar language. Their conversion to Islam began in the late 14th century and gradually all Siberian Tatars became Muslims.

Siberian Tatar culture is a unique synthesis of Siberian and Muslim culture. In the old days they lived in sod houses with sayings from the Koran hung in the walls. The practiced agriculture, herded animals, hunted and fished. Many worked as traders. In the old days bride abduction was practiced and they wore traditional costumes and boots with curvilinear designs without any underclothes.

The Siberian Tatar practice Islam spiked with folk beliefs in spirits. Boys have traditionally undergone a sacred washing and their lips were rubbed with a mixture of honey and grease to protect them from evil spirits. Here are also cults involving sacred trees, the earth, fire, the sun and a variety of animals. The Siberia Tatars have a rich tradition of folklore, with legends, songs and riddles that have traditionally been performed to the accompaniment of native musical instruments. Folklore also played a role in passing on knowledge about animal behavior and weather patterns.

Siberian Dishes include “pelmeni” (ravioli-like, meat-filled Siberian dumplings, often smothered with sour cream), complex soups and meat stews, “omul” (a tangy, salmon-like fish from Lake Baikal), “talkan” (a kind f porridge made from barley, oats, flour and water), “baursaki” (fried dough made of flour, eggs and water), “sansu” (ribbons of dough fried in fat or butter) and pies with a variety of stuffings. A Siberian outdoor feast include tomato-and-cucumber salad, coleslaw, whole tomatoes, cold cuts, cheese, slices of brown bread, “guran” (small Siberian deer) meat, “sashlik” (Russian shish kebab), “bukhely” (dill-seasoned-soup with bone and potatoes in a beef broth) and five kinds of berries.

Kriashen Tatars

The Kriashen Tatars are an ethnic group that inhabits the middle Volga region. They speak a Turkic language like other Tatars but are Christians unlike other Tatars who are mostly Muslims. Because they ceased to be defined as a specific group in 1930 it is difficult to guess their numbers. They have traditionally lived in Kama Basin of the Tatar Republic and in Bashkir and Chuvash republics, and have intermarried wish other groups namely the Chuvash.

The Kriashen Tatars live near the Volga Tatars but speak a different dialect than the Volga Tatars. They evolved from groups in the Kazan Khanate that were converted in the 16th and 17th centuries to Orthodox Christianity and were Russified and became serfs. To escape paying oppressive taxes many of them fled yo the Bashkir and Kazakh steppes. Under the tsars, they were treated like other serfs because they were Orthodox Christians. Under the Soviets, they were grouped with other Tatars because they spoke a Tatar language.

Although the Kriashen Tatars were nominally Orthodox Christians, the Christianity they practiced was largely beyond the confides of the formal Orthodox church and had a character all its own. Many of their rites were based on ancient agricultural rituals ane even animal sacrifices that predated their conversion to Christianity and their earlier conversion to Islam. There were elements of ancestor worship and a cult of heroes. Some groups had seers and diviners that specialized in retrieving lost objects. Their chief deity, Koday, corresponded to the Christian god. Their pantheon of spirits was quite rich and varied. Local communities were believed to be comprised of both the living and the dead.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia, China”, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company, Boston); New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated May 2016

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