Who are the Tatars?

Indigenous people territories in modern Russian Federation

The Tatars find themselves among 100+ indigenous ethnicities who populate the territories of modern Russian Federation. Based on 2010 census Tatars form the largest non-Slavic ethnic group comprising of 3.9% of total population of Russian Federation.

Although the Tatars are scattered across the large areas within Russia, majority of them (about 7 million) reside in the  Republic of Tatarstan (the indigenous land of the modern Tatars). With its capital in Kazan, Tatarstan is a home and central focus of the Tatar (Volga or Kazan Tatars) culture, crafts and lifestyle.

The largest Tatar population is Volga Tatars. The modern Tatars trace their roots to early nomads (Saka or Scythians) and Volga Bulgars who had settled in their indigenous territories in Middle Ages (now the territory of Republic of Tatarstan, Russia). The smaller groups of Tatar people live outside of Tatarstan Republic. Crimean Tatars call Crimean Peninsula their home. Lipka Tatars reside in Belarus, Lithuaia and Poand. Astrakhan Tatars live by the Caspian Sea and Siberian Tatars populate vast areas between Ural Mountains and Yenisei River in Russia. After World War I, a vast group of the Tatars migrated to the other parts of the world. These days, Tatar diasporas (comprising of roughly 3 million Tatars) are thriving in Finland, Australia, China, Belgium, USA, Canada, Ukraine, Afghanistan.

The Tatars speak the Tatar tongue (Altaic, Turkic language family) and have a culture, customs and traditions that are largely influenced by Islamic norms and mindsets. Tatars share language similarities and cultural origins with many Turkic-speaking ethnic groups. Based on lexicostatistical matrix of Turkic languages and according to the to recent article in Journal of Language Evolution, Tatar language exhibits more than 50% basic vocabulary similarities with at least 12 Turkic languages (Azeri, Bashkir, Crimean Tatars, Kazakh, Karachi, Khakas, Kyrgyz, Turkish, Turkmen, Tuvan, Uyghur, Uzbek). The modern written Tatar language is based on the Cyrillic script since 1938, prior to that it was in Latin and Arabic scripts, Uyghur writing and ancient Turkic runes.  

The Tatar language is utilized actively by rural residents of Tatarstan. The urban residents tend to favor Russian, leaving Tatar language to deteriorate. Unpopularity of Tatar language in modern Tatarstan can be partially explained by language education policies of Russian Federation. Reduction of indigenous languages instruction and increase of Russian and English languages instructions are the current strategies. The absence of the alternatives of GED/SAT/ACT tests and the higher education opportunities in native/Tatar language are among contributing factors for Tatar language to be assumed as inferior and “not useful”. 

Below are some images of Tatar girls of 19th, 20th and 21st centuries who are pictured wearing Tatar traditional outwear. You can view more modern Tatar types in this video or enjoy Tatar folk tunes and colorful Tatar ethnic costumes while watching this traditional Tatar folk dance.

Tatar girl of mid-19th century (J.Frost)
of early 20th century
(D. Zalyaletdinov)
of Soviet 1970ies. Mosaic mural by S.Bubenov
of early 21st century

One comment on “Who are the Tatars?

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