The Tatars Story

Click on the image to watch the incredible “History of the World” animation by Ollie Bye. Volga Bulgaria appears on 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 on the banks of Volga and Kama rivers where they merged with the local tribes and established the State of Volga Bulgaria. In the historical texts the pastoral nomadic people of the vast EurAsian steppes are referred as ancient Scythians, Saka, Bulgars who are thought to be a conglomerate of Turkic/ Hunnic/ Altaic/ Iranian  origins. (This short animation by Marjani Institute of History  explains the assumed origins of the modern Tatars.) 

Volga Bulgaria was established in the 7th century in the territories that roughly outline the borders of the modern Tatarstan, that is home for modern Volga (Kazan) Tatars and a subject of Russian Federation. 

Volga Bulgaria was a powerful and well-developed state – an active trading center connecting Silk Roads and Volga trade roads with many countries. 

In 922, the people of Bulgar State joined the Islamic umma that had established Volga Bulgaria as the centre for Islamic education, religion and culture. Volga Bulgaria became the northernmost state with Muslim population.

The Volga Bulgars were skilled agrarians with highly developed culture, trade and crafts. They became well-known for their handiwork: quality and intricate metal-, gold- and silverwork, pottery, jewellery and leatherwork. 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.

In the late 1230s, Volga Bulgaria was invaded by the Mongol tribes (who were referred as the Tatars), making it a part of Golden Horde (Ulug Ulus). Since then, the Volga Bulgars and other Turkic (non-Slavic) indigenous people of Eurasia became referred as Tatars by the European sources, and later by Muscovite and Russian ideologists. (Interestingly, self-name for modern Tatars were Muslims and since around 18th century Bulgars, and later Tatars). Around those times Muslims-Bulgar-Tatars had been migrating to various areas of modern Russian Federation. Those Tatars are referred now by the location they settled in: Astrakhan, Siberian, Tyumen, Crimean 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. Over the years, the Tatar muslim intelligentsia was slowly destroyed and most Islamic population was forced to change their faith to Christianity, the ones who managed keep the original Islamic religion . By the beginning of 20 century,

Boundaries of modern Tatarstan  (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.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union on August 30, 1990, Tatarstan  declared sovereignty, which served to heighten consciousness of its culture and heritage. Tatarstan Republic became a sovereign state within the Russian Federation. In 1992 Tatarstan held a referendum on a new constitution supervised by Helsinki Commission staff.  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 tied with the Russian federal government by the uniform federal treaty. The following passage from the Constitution of Tatarstan had defined 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]

Relations between the government of Tatarstan and the Russian federal government were complex with slow deterioration of Tatarstan’s independence. In 2002, the referendum and constitution were declared unconstitutional by the Russian Constitutional Court. Introduced in 2002, Articles 1 and 3 of the Russian Federation Constitution identified Tatarstan as a part of the Russian Federation, removing the “sovereignty” term. Power-sharing agreement was renewed on July 11, 2007, with much of the power delegated to Tatarstan reduced. On July 24, 2017, the Mutual Treaty / autonomy agreement signed in 1994 between Moscow and Kazan expired, making Tatarstan the last republic of Russian Federation to lose its special status. In 2018, the Tatar language instructions in primary public education were reduced to the minimum and assumed the optional status. In 2022, the Office of Presidency of Tatarstan was reduced to carry the title of the Head or Rais (in Tatar) of Tatarstan.