Volga Tatars

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Volga Tatars
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Total population
c. 6.8 million
Regions with significant populations
 Russia : 5,310,649[1]
 Turkey 25,500[2]
 Uzbekistan 467,829[3]
 Ukraine 73,304[4]
 Kazakhstan 203,371[5]
 Turkmenistan 36,355[6]
 Kyrgyzstan 28,334[7]
 Azerbaijan 25,900[8]
 Romania 20,282
Tatar, Russian

Sunni Islam Majority

Orthoxox Christian Minority
Related ethnic groups
Bashkirs, Chuvash people
Warriors of the Golden Horde raid upon Moscow.

The Volga Tatars are a Turkic ethnic group, native to the Volga-Ural region, Russia. They are in turn subdivided into various subgroups. They compose 53% of the population of Tatarstan.

Volga Tatar history[edit]

Tatars inhabiting the Republic of Tatarstan, a federal subject of Russia, constitute one third of all Tatars, while the other two thirds reside outside Tatarstan. The formation of some of the communities residing outside Tatarstan took place before the Russian Revolution of 1917 due to Tatars being specialized in trading.[9]

The emergence of ethnonym "Tatar" is disputed, with two theses trying to explain its origins. Mongol thesis, according to which etymology can be traced back to the Chinese "Ta-Tan" or "Da-Dan", is more widely accepted than Turkic one.[10]

Tatars became subjects of Russia after the Siege of Kazan in 1552. Since Russians linked Tatars with the Mongol Golden Horde (that ruled Russia in the 13th century), they began to negatively stereotype the Tatar people. Due to these negative stereotypes, some of which persist in modern Russian society, recently some Tatar intellectuals have been trying to link Tatar heritage with the historic Bulgar population of today's Tatarstan. Russians were using the Tatar ethnonym during the 18th and 19th centuries to denote all Turkic inhabitants of the Russian Empire, however the Turkic peoples of the Russian Empire before the emergence of the Soviet Union did not usually self-identify as Tatars.[11] Up to the end of the 19th century, Volga Tatars mainly identified themselves as Muslims until the rehabilitation of the ethnonym Tatar occurred.[10] Russian officials used literary Tatar language to interact with the Turkic peoples of the Russian Empire before the end of 19th century. Volga Tatar role in the Muslim national and cultural movements of the Russian Empire before the 1917 Revolution is significant and this situation continued even after 1917.[9] Tatar authorities attempted in the 1990s to reverse the Russification of Tatarstan that took place during the Soviet period.[11]


"Bulgarism" is a term for the position that the Volga Tatars are significantly descended from the Volga Bulgars.[12][13][14]

A more accepted position, however, is that the Volga Tatar ethnogenesis was completed upon the arrival of the Kipchaks, Cumans and Mongols to the lands inhabited by the Volga Bulgars.[citation needed]

Volga Tatar subgroups[edit]

Kazan (Qazan) Tatars[edit]

The majority of Volga Tatars are Kazan Tatars. They form the bulk of the Tatar population of Tatarstan.[citation needed]

Arab invasions forced Bulgars, Turkic people, to migrate from the Azov steppes to the Middle Volga and lower Kama region during the first half of the eighth century.[10] In the period of 10th-13th centuries, Turkic peoples, including Kipchaks, migrated from southern Siberia to Europe. They played a significant role in the Mongol invasion of Rus' in the 13th century. Tatar ethnogenesis took place after Turkic peoples, who were mixed with the Bulgars and other local inhabitants of the Volga River area, kept Kipchak dialect and became Muslims. Several new Tatar states had emerged by the 1500s after the Golden Horde fell.[15]

Controversy surrounds the origin of the Tatar people, whether they are descended either from Bulgars or Golden Horde.[9] According to one theory, Kazan Tatar heritage can be traced back to Kipchaks of the Golden Horde, yet according to another theory, the Tatars emerged from the Bulgar culture which had survived the Mongol conquest of 1236-1237.[10]


Mishars (or Mişär-Tatars) are an ethnographic group of Volga Tatars speaking Mishar dialect of the Tatar language. They comprise approximately 1/3 of the Volga Tatar population. They are descendants of Cuman-Kipchak tribes who mixed with the Burtas in the Middle Oka River area and Meschiora. Nowadays, they live in Chelyabinsk, Ulyanovsk, Penza, Ryazan, Nizhegorodskaya oblasts of Russia and in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and Mordovia.

Qasím Tatars[edit]

The Qasím Tatars have their capital in the town of Qasím (Kasimov in Russian transcription) in Ryazan Oblast. See "Qasim Khanate" for their history. Today, in Kasimov live 1100 Qasím Tatars. There is no reliable information about their number elsewhere.

Noqrat Tatars[edit]

Tatars live in Russia's Kirov Oblast and Tatarstan. Their number in 2002 was around 5.000 people.

Perm (Ostyak) Tatars[edit]

Kazan Tatars live in Russia's Perm Krai. Some Tatar scholars (as Zakiev) name them Ostyak Tatars. Their number is (2002) c.130.000 people.


Main article: Keräşens
Ivan the Terrible subjugated the Tatars and forcibly converted many of them to Christianity.

Many Volga Tatars were forcibly Christianized by Ivan the Terrible during the 16th century, and later, during the 18th century.

Some scientists suppose that Suars were ancestors of the Keräşen Tatars, and they had been converted to Christianity by Armenians in the 6th century while they lived in the Caucasus. Suars, like other tribes which later converted to Islam, became Volga Bulgars, and later the modern Chuvash (who are Orthodox Christians) and Kazan Tatars (who are Muslims).

Keräşen Tatars live all over Volga-Ural area. Now they tend to be assimilated among Chuvash and Tatars. Eighty years of Atheistic Soviet rule made Tatars of both faiths not as religious as they once were. Russian names are largely the only remaining difference between Tatars and Keräşen Tatars.

Some Cuman tribes in Golden Horde were converted to Christianity in the 13th and 14th centuries (Nestorianism). Some prayers, written in that time in the Codex Cumanicus, sound like modern Keräşen prayers, but there is no information about the connection between Christian Cumans and modern Keräşens.

1921–22 famine in Tatarstan[edit]

The famine deaths of 2 million Muslim Volga Tatars in Tatar ASSR and in Volga-Ural region in 1921-1922 was catastrophic as half of the Volga Tatar population in USSR died. This famine is also known as "terror-famine" and "famine-genocide" in Tatarstan.[16] The Soviets settled ethnic Russians after the famine in Tatar ASSR and in Volga-Ural region causing the Tatar share of the population to decline to less than 50%. All-Russian Tatar Social Center (VTOTs) has asked the United Nations to condemn the 1921 Tatarstan famine as Genocide of Muslim Tatars.[17] The 1921–1922 famine in Tatarstan has been compared to Holodomor in Ukraine.[18]

Traditional culture[edit]


Historically, the traditional celebrations of Tatars depended largely on the agricultural cycle.

Spring/summer period

Fall/winter period

  • Pomochi
  • Nardugan


Main article: Tatar cuisine

Tatar cuisine is rich with hot soups (şulpa), dough-based dishes (qistibi, pilmän, öçpoçmaq, etc.) and sweets (çäkçäk, göbädiä, etc.). Traditional Tatar beverages include ayran, katyk and kumys.

Population figures[edit]

In the 1910s, they numbered about half a million in the area of Kazan. Nearly 2 million Volga Tatars died in man-made 1921–22 famine in Tatarstan by Joseph Stalin. Some 15,000 belonging to the same stem had either migrated to Ryazan in the center of Russia (what is now European Russia) or had been settled as prisoners during the 16th and 17th centuries in Lithuania (Vilnius, Grodno, and Podolia). Some 2,000 resided in St. Petersburg. Volga-Ural Tatars number nearly 7 million, mostly in Russia and the republics of the former Soviet Union. While the bulk of the population is found in Tatarstan (around 2 million) and neighbouring regions, significant number of Volga-Ural Tatars live in Siberia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. Outside of Tatarstan, urban Tatars usually speak Russian as their first language (in cities such as Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Nizhniy Novgorod, Ufa, and cities of the Ural and Siberia).

Volga Tatar diaspora[edit]

Tatar-inhabited areas in Russia according to the Russian Census of 2010

Places where Volga Tatars live include:

  • Ural and Upper Kama (since 15th century) 15th century—colonization, 16th-17th century—re-settled by Russians; 17th-19th—exploring of the Urals, working in the plants
  • West Siberia (since 16th century): 16th—from Russian repressions after conquering of Khanate of Kazan by Russians 17th–19th—exploring of West Siberia; end of 19th—first half of 20th—industrialization, railways constructing; 1930s–Joseph Stalin's repressions; 1970s–1990s—oil workers
  • Moscow (since 17th century): Tatar feudals in the service of Russia, tradesmen, since 18th—Saint-Petersburg
  • Kazakhstan (since 18th century): 18th–19th centuries—Russian army officers and soldiers; 1930s–industrialization, since 1950s—settlers on virgin lands - re-emigration in 1990s
  • Finland (since 1804): (mostly Mişärs) – 19th – Russian military forces officers and soldiers, and others
  • Central Asia (since 19th century) (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan; for Xinjiang see Chinese Tatars) – 19th Russian officers and soldiers, tradesmen, religious emigrants, 1920-1930s – industrialization, Soviet education program for Central Asia peoples, 1948, 1960 – help for Ashgabat and Tashkent ruined by earthquakes. - re-emigration in 1980s
  • Caucasus, especially Azerbaijan (since 19th century) – oil workers (1890s), bread tradesmen
  • Brazil (19th century): With the end of the colonial period, after the abolitionist movement, Brazil stimulated the coming of Europeans to the country, mainly Italians, Germans and Slavs. Among these Slavs came Tatars who went mainly to Paraná and Rio Grande do Sul
  • Northern China (since 1910s) – railway builders (1910s) - re-emigrated in 1950s
  • East Siberia (since 19th century) - resettled farmers (19th), railroad builders (1910s, 1980s), exiled by the Soviet government in 1930s
  • Germany and Austria - 1914, 1941 – prisoners of war, 1990s - emigration
  • Turkey, Japan, Iran, China, Egypt (since 1918) – emigration
  • England, USA, Australia, Canada – (1920s) re-emigration from Germany, Turkey, Japan and China. 1950s – prisoners of war from Germany, which did not go back to the USSR, 1990s – emigration after the breakup of USSR
  • Sakhalin, Kaliningrad, Belarus, Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Karelia – after 1944-45 builders, Soviet military personnel
  • Murmansk Oblast, Khabarovsk Krai, Northern Poland and Northern Germany (1945–1990) - Soviet military personnel
  • Israel – wives or husbands of Jews (1990s)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Russian Census 2010: Population by ethnicity (Russian)
  2. ^ Joshua Project. "Tatar in Turkey". Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  3. ^ "Uzbekistan – Ethnic minorities" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-06-03. 
  4. ^ "About number and composition population of Ukraine by data All-Ukrainian census of the population 2001". Ukraine Census 2001. State Statistics Committee of Ukraine. Retrieved 27 September 2012. 
  5. ^ Агентство Республики Казахстан по статистике: Численность населения Республики Казахстан по отдельным этносам на 1 января 2012 года
  6. ^ Asgabat.net-городской социально-информационный портал :Итоги всеобщей переписи населения Туркменистана по национальному составу в 1995 году.
  7. ^ (PDF) http://www.stat.kg/stat.files/din.files/census/5010003.pdf.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ http://www.azstat.org/statinfo/demoqraphic/en/AP_/1_5.xls
  9. ^ a b c "TATAR. THE LANGUAGE OF THE LARGEST MINORITY IN RUSSIA". Princeton University. 
  10. ^ a b c d Azade-Ayshe Rorlich. "1. The Origins of the Volga Tatars". Stanford University. 
  12. ^ "A. Rorlich - Origin of the Volga Tatars". Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  13. ^ Great Soviet Encyclopedia, article on Tatarstan.
  14. ^ Viktor Aleksandrovich Shnirelʹman, Who gets the past?: competition for ancestors among non-Russian intellectuals in Russia, Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1996, ISBN 0-8018-5221-8, ISBN 978-0-8018-5221-3. Limited preview at Google Books [1] (Chapter The Rivalry for the Bulgar Legacy).
  15. ^ James S. Olson, ed. (1994). "An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of the Russian and Soviet Empires". pp. 624–625. 
  16. ^ "Battle with Famine". Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  17. ^ "Tatar Nationalists Ask UN to Condemn 1921 Famine as Genocide". MariUver. Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  18. ^ "Seven million died in the 'forgotten' holocaust - Eric Margolis". Retrieved 10 May 2015. 

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]