Volga Tatars Story

Click on the image to watch the incredible “History of the World” animation by Ollie Bye. Volga Bulgaria appears on the 13th minute that aligns with 660 CE. 

The ancestors of the modern Tatars were the semi-nomadic cattle-breeders who around 650 CE (common era) migrated north from the steppes surrounding Black Sea and settled the banks of Volga and Kama rivers where they merged with local tribes. In the historical texts the nomadic and semi-nomadic people of Eurasian steppes are referred as Scythians or Saka who thought to be of  Iranian/Mesopotamian/Turkic/Altaic origin.

In 660 CE, Volga Bulgaria / Great Bolgaria (660-1240) were established in the territories that are roughly outline the borders of the modern Tatarstan Republic. Volga Bulgaria was a powerful and developed state – an active trading center connecting Silk Roads and Volga trade roads with many countries. The Volga Bulgars were agrarians with highly developed culture, trade and crafts. In 922, the people of Bulgar State joined the Islamic umma (community of believers) that established Volga Bulgaria as the centre for Islamic education, religion and culture. The Bulgars became well-known for their handiwork: quality and intricate metal-, gold- and silverwork, pottery, jewellery and leather goods. Bulgar leather goods and furs became famous all around the continent. Since those times the soft leather got referred to as bulgari in Central Asia, Middle East.

Volga Bulgaria was invaded by the Tatar Mongols in the late 1230s, making it a part of Golden Horde (Ulug Ulus). Since then, the ancestors of Volga Bulgars and other Turkic (non-Slavic) indigenous people became referred as Tatars.  By 1430s, the territory of Volga Bulgaria became part of Khanate of Kazan that inherited wits, skills and crafts of the Bulgars. After brutal siege of Kazan in 1552, Kazan Khanate was turned into Kazan Province of Tsardom of Russia: The Tatar intelligentsia was destroyed and islamic population was forced to change their faith to christianity. It took much time for the Tatar people to recover from the tragic loss and devastation as well as to restore their craft trade.

Boundaries of modern Tatarstan Republic (highlighted with red)

With establishment of the Soviet Union in 1920, Kazan Province became TASSR / Tatariya – a region with partial autonomy in Soviet system of governing. In 1990s, after the collapse of Soviet Union, the Tatarstan Republic declared sovereignty, which served to heighten consciousness of its culture and heritage. It became an independent state while remaining part of the Russian Federation.

In 1994, the Mutual Treaty between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Tatarstan was signed. The Republic of Tatarstan became a constituent of the Russian Federation- a federal subject that is tied with the Russian federal government by the uniform federal treaty. Relations between the government of Tatarstan and the Russian federal government has been complex ever since. The following passage from the Constitution of Tatarstan defines the republic’s status without contradicting the Constitution of the Russian Federation: “The Republic of Tatarstan is a democratic constitutional State associated with the Russian Federation by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the Constitution of the Republic of Tatarstan and the Treaty between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Tatarstan On Delimitation of Jurisdictional Subjects and Mutual Delegation of Powers between the State Bodies of the Russian Federation and the State Bodies of the Republic of Tatarstan, and a subject of the Russian Federation. The sovereignty of the Republic of Tatarstan shall consist in full possession of the State authority (legislative, executive and judicial) beyond the competence of the Russian Federation and powers of the Russian Federation in the sphere of shared competence of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Tatarstan and shall be an inalienable qualitative status of the Republic of Tatarstan.”[53]

The recent (2018-21) developments in position of Russian Federation government towards centralizing the powers, eliminating presidencies of 13 “independent” ethnic republics (including Tatarstan) and challenging the legitimacy of minority languages instructions in public education, leave Tatarstan with inability to keep earlier-established sovereignty. These developments give green light for discrimination of all minority indigenous cultures and languages against dominant (Russian) culture by restricting funding and reducing opportunities for Tatar and other ethnic minorities to prosper.