The term Urum is derived from the Arabic word روم (rūm), meaning Roman and subsequently Byzantine and Greek, with an prothetic u in some Turkic languages. In Ottoman Turkish under the Ottoman Empire, Rum denoted Orthodox Christians living in the Empire; in modern Turkish, Rum denotes Greeks living in Turkey.
The term is used by the following sub-ethnic groups of Greeks as a way of ethnic self-identification:
- Crimean-Tatarophone Greeks of North Azov (Ukraine) (Crimean Greeks)
- Turcophone Greeks of Tsalka (Georgia) (see Caucasus Greeks)
North Azovian Urums
The Greeks of Crimea (and later of the adjacent Azovian region; present-day Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine) were represented by two groups: the Hellenic-speaking Romaioi, whose dialect is known as Rumeíka, and the Turkic-speaking Urums (also called Graeco-Tatars). These Byzantine Greeks of Crimea are Pontic Greeks who colonised Crimea. Both groups populated the region over the course of many centuries and consist of both the descendants of the ancient (4th century BC – 4th century AD) Greek and Byzantine Christian Greek colonizers of the northern shores of the Black Sea and interior of southern Russia and Ukraine and also of Pontic Greeks who fled as refugees or 'economic migrants' from northeastern Anatolia between the fall of the Empire of Trebizond to the Ottomans In 1461 and the 1828-29 Russo-Turkish War. However, the Greek settlers of the Crimea region underwent social and cultural processes, which led to them adopting the Crimean Tatar language as a mother tongue.
In 1777, after the annexation of Crimea by Russia, Catherine the Great ordered all Greeks from the peninsula to settle in North Azov, and they have been known as the North Azovian Greeks (приазовские греки / priazovskie greki) henceforth. Some linguists believe that the dialect spoken by the North Azovian Urums differs from the common Crimean Tatar language on a more than just dialectical level and therefore constitutes a separate language unit within the Kypchak language sub-group (see Urum language).
Urums practice Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Throughout history, they represented an isolated cultural group and rarely settled in towns populated by the Romaioi, despite sharing Greek heritage with them. Unlike Greek, Urum has never been a language of secondary education in Ukraine. Turkologist Nikolai Baskakov estimated that by 1969, 60,000 people spoke Urum as a native language. According to the All-Ukrainian Population Census of 2001, only 112 of the Donetsk Oblast's 77,516 Greeks listed languages other than Greek, Ukrainian and Russian as their mother tongue.
Little is known about this ethnic subgroup. They are sometimes referred to as the Trialeti Greeks or the Transcaucasian Turcophone Greeks. Pontic Greeks and Caucasian Greeks call them Τσαλκαλίδες (Tsalkalides); a name that refers to the Georgian town of Tsalka, where Urums once made up the largest ethnic community.
Between the fall of the Empire of Trebizond to the Ottomans in 1461 and the Russian annexation of Georgia in 1801 there had been several waves of Pontic Greeks who left the eastern Black Sea coastline and the highlands of the Pontic Alps and then settled as refugees or economic migrants in Georgia and the South Caucasus. The largest and most recent waves came in the late 18th and especially the early 19th century, when the South Caucasus experienced mass migrations of Greeks from the Ottoman Empire, mainly from the region of Pontus as well as the vilayets of Sivas and Erzurum in northeastern Anatolia. This wave of Pontic emigrants is particularly associated with the 1828-9 Russo-Turkish War, when many Pontic Greeks collaborated with or welcomed the Russian army that had occupied the region and then, to escape likely Turkish reprisals, followed it with their families when it withdrew back into Russian territory.
Many Pontian Greeks spoke Turkish either as Greek-Turkish bilinguals, or as a mother tongue due to linguistic assimilation processes that isolated groups of the Anatolian Greeks were exposed to.
According to Andrei Popov, throughout the 19th century hundreds of Turkish-speaking Greek Orthodox families from Erzurum, Gümüşhane and Artvin moved to Southern Russia and settled on the Tsalka Plateau, in present-day Georgia. During the Soviet era they populated over 20 villages in Georgia's Tsalka, Dmanisi, Tetritsqaro, Marneuli, and Akhaltsikhe regions. In 1926, there were 24,000 Greeks living in Tiflis and the neighbouring area with 20,000 of them being Turcophone.
The dialect spoken by the Tsalka Urums is similar to many other Central Anatolian dialects of Turkish. However some linguists, like Nikolai Baksakov, classify it as a separate Oghuz language due to differences in phonetics, vocabulary and grammar. Present-day Urum Turkish is also thought by some to be phonetically closer to Azerbaijani than to the literary Turkish, which leads them to believe that it is rather a dialect of Azerbaijani. Late Soviet censuses also showed Azerbaijani as the mother tongue of the Tsalka Urums, however this may have been done simply due to the Soviets' somewhat unfavourable attitude towards Turkish culture. No secondary education in Urum Turkish has been available; its speakers attend schools where subjects are taught in Russian or Azerbaijani.
The Tsalka Urums themselves call their language bizim dilja 'our language'. Many were assimilated and spoke Russian. Also starting from the 1980s, there has been a modest cultural revival among the Turcophone Greeks. Historian Airat Aklaev's research showed that 36% of them considered Greek their mother tongue despite not speaking it; 96% expressed a desire to learn Greek.
A documentation project on the language of Caucasian Urum people compiled a basic lexicon, a sample of translations for the study of grammar, and a text collection. The website of the project contains further information about the language and the language community.
In comparison with the Hellenophone Pontic Greeks of Georgia, the Tsalka Urums were less exposed to emigration after the fall of the Soviet Union, hence nowadays they constitute the majority of the country's Greek population. Nevertheless, some migration did take place, so Greeks are no longer the largest ethnic group in Tsalka. Between 1989 and 2002, their population declined from 35,000 to 3,000. Many emigrated to Greece, particularly Salonika and other parts of Greek Macedonia in Northern Greece, and also to the relatively near the North Caucasian region of Krasnodar Krai and other parts of southern Russia (particularly the cities of Krasnodar, Abinsk, Sochi, and Gelendzhik).
- Ethnolinguistic Situation by Elena Perekhvalskaya (in Russian). Retrieved 2 October 2006
- The All-Ukrainian Population Census of 2001: The distribution of the population by nationality and mother tongue. Retrieved 2 October 2006
- Popov, Andrei. Pontian Greeks. Krasnodar: Studia Pontocaucasica, 1997. Retrieved 17 July 2005
- Volkova, Natalya. The Greeks of the Caucasus. Krasnodar: Studia Pontocaucasica, 1997. Retrieved 2 October 2005
- Turkic Languages. Classification by Nikolai Baksakov. 1969. Retrieved 2 October 2006
- Azerbaijanis in Georgia. Retrieved 2 October 2006
- Aklaev, Airat. Ethnolinguistic Situation and Ethnic Self-Identification Features of the Georgian Greeks. Soviet Ethnography, #5, 1988. Retrieved 2 October 2006
- Urum documentation project at "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-04-26. Retrieved 2012-01-04.