H. B. Paksoy,
Modern Encyclopedia of Religions in Russia
and Soviet Union (Academic International Press, 1995), Vol. VI
The Crimean Tatars are a Turkic people who inhabited Crimean peninsula
from at least the 13th century to Word War II, when they were deported
to Central Asia by Stalin's orders. Although the Soviet regime
"exonerated" them, it has denied permission for the Crimean
Tatars to return to Crimea. At present, Crimean Tatars live in
diaspora. Large numbers are living in Ozbekistan, or in the principal
cities of the Turkish Republic. At various times, other Tatar
groupings migrated as far as Helsinki, Finland and New York, while
still others stayed in the Dobruja region of Romania. Poland has a
Origins and Early History:
The word Tatar appears in the Kultigin tablets, which were erected in
early 8th century AD and are located close to the Orkhon river near
the Mongolian border. These tablets were variously
discovered. re-discovered and finally deciphered between the 18th and
20th centuries. According to the inscriptions, Tatars were one of the
tribes living in the vicinity of the Altai range of Eastern Asia.
During the 11th century, Kashgarli Mahmut, the author of Compendium of
Turkic Dialects , noted that Tatars were living around Otuken, next to
the Uyghurs. However, Tatars became one of the tribes forcibly
incorporated into the Mongol armies by Chinggis Khan, when the Mongols
swept through most of Eurasia during the 13th century.
The Latin word "Tartarus," meaning "the infernal regions
of Roman and Greek mythology, hence Hell" had already been
borrowed into Christian theology by the clergy of Europe. Possibly
St. Louis of France was the first, in 1270, to apply this unrelated
term to the troops of Chinggis. By the 14th century, this erroneous
usage was also extended to the homelands of the Tatars. Consequently
that area later known as Central Asia, or Turkistan, was referenced by
the European cartographers and authors, including Chaucer, as
"Tartary," Tartares," or "Independent Tartary."
By extension the term "Tatar," or "Tartar" was applied
by outsiders to almost all groupings of Turkish origin including
numerous Turkish confederations present on the Eurasian steppe before
13th century: Kipcahks, Khazars, Pechenegs and a variety of others.
These Turkic groups were simply incorporated into the new influx of
the 13th century. P. Golden, N. Golb and O. Pritsak provide the
details of some of the Turkic Groups already present in Eurasia.
Togan and Barthold provide the overview, including the movements of a
number of Turkic tribes and confederations. The Mongol leadership was
thus absorbed into the Turkic population. By the early 13th century
the Mongols encountered by all outsiders --including the Russians--
apparently were speaking "Tatar."
Even Timur (d. 1405), a Barlas Turk (who has been called Tamarlane,
Tamburlane, etc. by many authors), was labelled "Tatar."
Christopher Marlowe (and, later, Lord Byron) can probably be partly
credited with the propagation of this error during the 16th century,
as well as for the distortion of Timur's name. Later Western authors
argued among themselves as to the "correct spelling" of the
word Tatar, some opting for the form "Tartar" based on alleged
phonetical studies they conducted. Tatars --and other Turk groups--
seem never to have entertained the thought of including the first
"r." Throughout recent history, the term Tatar has been
further distorted by other Western authors in applications that had no
bearing on the original tribe, descendent or deeds.
The Golden Horde was formed (under Batu Khan, grandson of Chinggis)
out of the Western domains of the great Chinggisid Ulus which had
reached from Northern China to the Carpathians, including Muscovy.
The Golden Horde itself, with its capital at Sarai on the Idil
(Volga), dominated the Yayik (Ural)-Idil area, Muscovy, Kievan Rus and
the Crimea from its rise in the latter part of the 13th century until
the decisive defeat of the Horde under Toktamysh by Timur in the
1490s. However, the Horde was already weakened and fragmented by
1430s, and thereafter one can tentatively begin to speak of an
"independent" Crimean Khanate.
During the period of the Golden Horde's greatest power, it excited the
fear and curiosity of Europe. The dearth of information about the
Tatars contributed to distorted views among outsiders. An historian
of early 15th century (quoted by Togan), wrote of the Tatars:
Their thought processes are as swift as their
actions. All information regarding the political
conditions existing on earth arrive in their
quarters. But, no details of their intentions or
thoughts are allowed to leave their domains or
reach other people.
The Tatars, like other Turks in Chinggisid armies, practiced
Shamanism. The Western edges of the Eurasian steppe also displayed a
varied set of religious beliefs. The Khazar ruling class seem to have
embraced Judaism sometime prior to the 9-10th century. Portions of
the Kipchak (mainly Gagauz and Pecheneks) became Christians. Some
Kipchak Turkish odes to Jesus, written or translated, exist in
manuscript form. Despite the inroads made by all major religions, the
steppe also preserved the earlier beliefs: be it Shamanism, Taoism, or
other remnants that originally arrived from Eastern Asia.
The Tatars had their first flirtation with Islam during the reign of
the Chinggisid Berkei Khan (r. 1257-1267). However, Islam was not
widely established until after the accession of Ozbeg (1313-1340).
Fourteenth century travellers found Islamic communities among Tatars.
The acceptance of Islam, perhaps still incomplete at the end of the
14th century, added an additional dimension and points of contention
to tatar political life. It enhanced the existing competition,
alternating with open conflict, with Muscovy; it expanded the ethnic
and linguistic affinities with the Ottoman dynasty into the realm of
formal religion. Nonetheless, the Crimean Tatars' link to the Golden
Horde and its Chinggisid lineage, rather than the religious dimension,
remained the single most important factor of political life to the end
of the 16th century, possibly longer.
Muscovy had paid tribute to the Golden Horde for 240 years, and Tatar
dominance was exercised occasionally even after the last payment in
1480. During Horde rule, Moscow became increasingly a player in
intra-horde, and later inter-Khanate politics and intrigues,
regardless of any religious issues. The fragmentation of the Horde
was partly induced by Muscovite agents who were pitting prominent
Tatar families against each other to prevent a unity among Tatars..
After the disintegration of the Horde, but before the Muscovite
conquest of Kazan (1552), the Grand Prince of Moscow and the Khan of
Crimea competed to control the appointment of the Kazan Khan.
Bennigsen is an early Western observer bringing these issues to the
attention of the Western world. InalcÞk and Fisher explore later
aspects of the competition.
The Tatar political legacy, particularly the concept that political
legitimacy lay only with the Chinggisid line, was clearly established
under Batu Khan in the mid-13th century and survived at least into the
reign of Ivan IV, "The Terrible" (r. 1533-1584). Pritsak even
relates an incident in 1574 when the Tsar Ivan:
enthroned Simeon Bekbulatovich as tsar in
Moscow... he himself rode simply... Whenever he
(Ivan) comes to tsar Simeon, he sits at a
distance... together with the Boyars... Who was
this Tsar Bekbulatovich? He was a genuine
Chinggisid, a descendent of Orda, the eldest son
of Jochi, who was also a great-grandson of Ahmed,
the last Khan of the Great Horde.
Both in this political realm and in the areas of culture and language,
the influence of tatars on the Russians was enormous. During the rule
of the Horde and even after the fall of Kazan to the Russians, bearing
a Tatar name or Tatar familial ties were a source of prestige for the
Russian nobility. Keenan pointed out how the influence of a
"Tatar Style of Writing" is discernible in 18th century
Russian literature. Kazakh author Oljas Suleymanov, in his recent
analysis of the Igor Tale, long regarded as Russian, presents powerful
if controversial evidence that it si in fact adapted from an earlier
Turkic work. Inalcik, too, demonstrates how Russian Orthodox clerics
between the 14th-17th centuries designed the titles of the Russian
ruler largely on the basis of the Mongol and Tatar originals.
Under Haji Giray, who ruled Crimea in the 1440s, one might begin to
speak of an "independent" Crimea. In 1475, during the reign
of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, "The Conqueror" (r. 1451-1481),
Crimea became a nominal vassal of the Ottoman Sultan. It was not
until the late 16th century that Ottoman power became intrusive.
Sultans then were able to unseat and replace recalcitrant khans and
the name of the sultan began to be mentioned regularly at the Friday
prayer, a symbol of his supreme temporal authority.
Before that time, and occasionally thereafter, the Crimean khans had
freely pursued their own policies. They continued to raid Muscovy
after the fall of Kazan and even conducted a final raid on the suburbs
of Moscow in 1571. As late as the middle of the 17th century, the
Crimean Khan made a treaty with Poland against Muscovy. Nonetheless,
continued Muscovite control over Idil --with attendant claims to be
the legitimate successors to the Golden Horde-- effectively quashed
Crimean ambitions to reestablish Chinggisid rule. Crimean Tatars then
turned to the Caucasus and Iran in the East and South, and to Hungary
to their West.
Crimea under Russian Rule
Catherine II (r. 1762-1796; German princess married Peter --who later
became tsar Peter III) separated Crimea from the Ottoman empire and
later annexed it to her own empire. The first step was taken in the
Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarja (1774), which ended her Russo-Ottoman war of
1773- 74 and provided for the independence of Crimea.
In 1773 Catherine had instructed the Holy Synod to issue a
"toleration of All Faiths" edict. She had already closed the
Office of New Converts (established by Peter I). Both steps were
possibly meant to make the tsarist russian empire more attractive to a
Crimea she intended to absorb. In 1777, i.e. after Crimea's
detachment from the Ottoman Porte, Catherine ordered preparations for
the settlement of Greek and Slavic groups from Ottoman domains in
order to strengthen Russia's position there. Catherine annexed Crimea
six years later.
Catherine was advised by one Baltic German nobleman that Crimean
Tatars, if properly incorporated in a new Russian administration of
their homeland, might ultimately prove useful in advancing Her
Majesty's imperialist goals in Central Asia. Catherine wished to
utilize Tatar merchants, who included itinerant Muslim
"clerics," in Islamizing the steppe people. The Russians
believed that the adherence to Islam would prevent any union against
Russians and make Islamized subjects more pliant. As the Russian
empire began preparations for military occupation of Central Asia,
special schools were established. In such institutions, Tatars were
encouraged to enroll to train as translators and minor officials, for
duty in Central Asia to represent and enforce the tsarist interests.
After the Crimean War (1855-6), the Russian empire sought to expel,
and indeed induced by force, large numbers of Tatars from Crimea, on
the ground that the tatars sided with the invading allied forces.
Hundreds of thousands migrated to the Ottoman domains, to Dobruja,
located West of the Black Sea. Portions of the emigrants went
directly to Istanbul. As a result of the later Balkan Wars (1912-3),
sizeable groupings of Tatars crossed the Bosphorus and settled in
various cities in Asia Minor. The armistice (and terms of peace
treaty) following the First World War further speeded this process.
Despite the emigrations, there still remained a Crimean Tatar
populations living in Crimea in the 19th century, apart from the
Tatars of Kazan. This group was urged on to further develop their
original culture --which predates the first mention of the word Rus in
the Chronicles (e.g. Annales Bertiniani of 9th c.)-- and adapt it to
the demands of the age. Such 19th century Crimean and Idil Tatars as
Kayyum Nasiri, Marjani, Ismail Bey Gaspirali and others advocated this
position. They sought to establish cultural links with other Tatar
and Turk groupings living elsewhere in order to prevent a total
assimilation by the Russians. This movement was labelled Jadidism,
or, convolutedly, "Pan- Turkism." Treated as if a
"pan" movement were the plague itself, even today, such
"bogey-man" approach is widely applied to any thought even
remotely suggesting that Crimean Tatars have a history prior to the
coming of the Bolsheviks.
However, those Crimean Tatars remaining in their homeland were also to
be subjected to another type of ideological struggle as well --the
struggle between kadim (old) and jadid (new). The Jadid movement had
begun among Idil Tatars as an attempt to modernize the curricula of
the madrasa (loosely, Islamic seminaries). The Jadids advocated the
rejuvenation of education by ending blind memorization of a few texts
and the addition of such secular courses of study as sciences and
Western languages. Those Crimean Tatars who followed this movement
and in all spheres of life advocated adapting to the age of science
and were known as the Jadidists.
The religious establishment in Crimea, as in the Idil region, resisted
these attempts to introduce changes which they interpreted as
heretical, and would, in any event, threaten their hold over the
education system and the population. Encouraged by the russian
bureaucracy, indeed incorporated into the russian bureaucracy by a
system of appointments and regulations, the Crimean Tatar Muslim
clergy insisted on maintaining the strict hold of religious dogma over
the Crimean Tatars. This group was named kadimist because they strove
to remain the "old," or kadim.
After the imposition of the Soviet regime in Moscow, Crimea was the
scene of brief but bloody conflict between Bolshevik sailors at the
port of Sebastopol and the Tatar national organization, the Milli
Firka (The National Party). The Milli Firka was entirely in the
Jadidist tradition and oppose control of waqf (religious endowments)
and schools by the conservative ulama (religious scholar/jurists and
administrators; most of whom were kadimist) of the official
establishment. Military defeat of the Tatar armed forces at the hands
of the Bolsheviks (January 1918) was followed by German occupation in
The Germans brought in a Lithuanian Muslim, General Sulkevich, to
administer the occupied Crimea. His policies, including the shipping
of Crimean food supplies to Germany, earned him and the Germans
considerable unpopularity. The withdrawal of German forces in late
1981 was followed by brief rule of the Milli Firka and subsequently by
a second communist government. The Red Army had invaded Crimea in
April 1919 and established, among other organs of administration, a
Crimean Muslim Bureau. Despite its name, the Bureau had little to do
with religious affairs and was intended to administer all matters
concerning the Tatar population (rather than the Russian settlers).
This communist government rejected offers of cooperation in return for
power sharing advanced by the Milli Firka.
This second communist government fled one month after its
establishment at the approach of General Denikin and his White forces.
The rule of denikin was the worst of those governments since 1917.
Post-revolutionary reforms were reversed and the tsarist Mufti (the
highest cleric) of Crimea, unseated by the Milli Firka in 1917, was
restored to his former post. The Milli Firka was outlawed; in order
to drive out the Whites, the Milli Firka allied with the Reds. The
latter fought its way to power in Crimea in October 1920, despite the
shipment of British weapons to the Whites through Istanbul --which was
then under occupation of the British, French and the Italian forces.
The policies of the third communist government included seizure of
large landed estates, many the results of Catherine II's land grants
to Russian nobles. Despite peasant expectation that these lands would
be distributed, they were instead made into state farms (sovkhozy).
As noted by R. Pipes in his detailed account of the "Civil"
War in Crimea, "many irregularities" were committed in the
establishing of the sovkhozy and the "heaviest losers" were
After the recommendations of Kazan tatar Mir Sultan Said Sultan
Galiev, then deputy to Stalin, the Commissar of Nationalities
(Commissariat for Nationality Affairs), the Crimean policy was
changed. Tatars were accepted into the Communist Party and, in an
effort to soothe ruffled feathers, an Autonomous Crimean Soviet
Socialist Republic (Crimean ASSR) was established in November 1921.
The new status of Crimea as an ASSR within the RSFSR (status which
continued until 1954) had no practical significance. Despite a
liberal sounding list of promises on paper, Crimean Tatars were not
guaranteed political or cultural autonomy by the central government.
One Tatar Communist leader, Veli Ibrahimov was able, in his capacity
as Chairman of the Central Committee and of the Council of Ministers
in Crimea, to continue the work of the pre-revolutionary Tatar
nationalist government. He made government appointments largely from
the ranks of the Milli Firka. Under his leadership, until he was
purged in 1929, Tatar-language schools and newspapers were
reestablished. Tatar, with Russian, became the official language of
After the 1929 purges of Ibrahimov and his followers for "national
deviationism," the new policy of "Sovietization," (meaning
de facto "Russification") was set in motion. Tatar leadership
in education and the press was replaced by Russian and Ukrainian
communist cadres. The Latin script was replaced by a contrived
"specially created" Cyrillic and "new" grammars were
written for Crimean Tatar introducing Russian words in place of
Turkish. Most existing tatar publications were labelled
"nonproleterian" and "non-Soviet." In the 1930s, Tatar
intellectuals were eliminated both by exile and by execution in large
numbers. The clergy, too, was purged wholesale with many ulama being
sent to Siberian and Central Asian exile. Virtually all religious
schools and mosques were closed.
The Soviet regime thus continued the tsarist policies toward religion,
only with the added zeal of Marxism. Religious personnel were branded
social parasites. The "campaign of denigration," as Bennigsen
has called it, was replaced around 1930 with a more direct approach.
The League of Godless Zealots, which had been founded in 1925, were
active in Crimea and other traditionally non-Russian areas only from
the late 1920s' Membership in that league grew from 15,000 in 1930 to
30,000 in 1931 and 42,000 in 1932. Clerics, formerly were
"parasites" now became "counterrevolutionaries." The
role of the Muslim Spiritual Boards (of which there were four in the
USSR: Ufa for the "European" region; Tashkent for Central Asia
and Kazakhistan; Mohachkala; Baku --the latter two in the Caucasus)
were streamlined. Crimea, as in tsarist times, was in the
jurisdiction of Ufa.
During the Second World War, after the Soviets reoccupied Crimea from
the withdrawing German forces (c. 1945), Stalin forcibly loaded the
entire Crimean Tatar population of Crimea onto cattle-cars and
deported them to Central Asia. The alleged reasoning, once again, was
their collaboration with invading forces. Karpat and Inalcik provide
most of the details on the emigration and related aspects. Although
the Crimean Tatars were later exonerated of the previous charges that
they have "collaborated," no "permission" was
forthcoming for their return to their homeland.
Since that time, a large group of Crimean Tatars are living in
Ozbekistan. They are mostly concentrated around Tashkent, Samarkand
and Shehrisebz. They are allowed to publish one weekly newspaper
(until 1992 called Lenin Bayragi --Lenin's Banner). Their struggle to
return to their Crimean domains and with the Soviet security apparatus
and psychiatric hospitals are chronicled in Uncensored Russia,
translated by Peter Reddaway.
Crimean Tatars are one of the earliest and better organized
"nationalities" living in Russia. This fact was once again
brought to the attention of the world through their unprecedented Red
Square demonstrations of 1987, stressing the Crimean Tatar desire to
return to Crimean homelands. They are presently maintaining observers
at various localities around the world, including the "Council of
Europe" in Strasbourg, to inform humanity of their plight.
(Completion date: 1988)
For the earliest known references to Tatars in written sources (8th
c.), see T. Tekin, A Grammar of Orkhon Turkic. (Bloomington: Uralic
and Altaic Series Vol. 69, 1968), containing the originals and
translations. Kilisli Rifat produced the edition princeps of Kasgarli
Mahmud, Kitab Diwan Lugat at Turk. (3 Vols.) (Istanbul, 1917-19),
which places the tatars in the vicinity of the Altai range during the
11th century. This work is also edited by B. Atalay, as Divanu
Lugat-at-Turk. (Ankara, 1939-1941), and translated into English by
R. Dankoff with J. Kelly, Compendium of Turkic Dialects. (3 Vols.)
(Cambridge, MA., 1982-84).
Z. V. Togan, in his Umumi Turk Tarihine Giris (Istanbul, 1981), 2nd
edition, provides the insight into the composition of Tatars in
Eurasia and the later confederations incorporating them.
A. Aziz, Tatar Tarihi (Moscow, 1919) and G. Rahim & G. Aziz,
Tatar Edebiyati Tarihi (Kazan, 1925) provide the later views of Tatars
of themselves. See also H. B. Paksoy, "Chora Batir: A Tatar
Admonition to Future Generations" Studies in Comparative Communism
Vol. XIX, Nos. 3&4 Autumn/Winter 1986. The works by Togan, Aziz
and Rahim are not yet available in Western languages. To avoid the
usual pitfalls, these are panacea.
For an analysis of the Turk groups resident in Eurasia prior to the
arrival of Mongols and Tatars, reference should be made to: Togan's
above referenced works; P. Golden, Khazar Studies. (Budapest,
1980). Two Vols; idem, "Cumanica" Archivum Eurasiae Medii
Aevi, IV, 1984; D. Sinor, Editor, The Cambridge History of Early Inner
Asia. (Cambridge, 1990); Uli Schamiloglu, "Tribal Politics and
Social Organization" (PhD Dissertation, Columbia University,
1986); W. Barthold, Turkestan Down to the Mongol Invasion. (4th. Ed.)
(London, 1977); N. Golb & O. Pritsak, Khazarian Hebrew
Documents. (Ithaca, 1982).
E. L. Keenan shows the high esteem, via imitation, the tatar literary
enjoyed among Russian literati, long after the political position of
the tatars eroded. See E. L. Keenan, "Muscovy and Kazan: Some
Introductory Remarks on the Patterns of Steppe Diplomacy" Slavic
Review Vol. XXVI, No. 4 (1967); idem "The Jarlyk of Axmed-Xan to
Ivan III: A New Reading" International Journal of Slavic
Linguistics and Poetics Vol. XII, (1967). Also O. Pritsak,
"Moscow, the Golden Horde, and the Kazan Khanate from a
Polycultural Point of View" Slavic Review Vol. XXVI, No. 4 (1967).
R. Pipes, The Formation of the Soviet Union (Harvard, 1954) provides
information about the tatars during the Bolshevik revolution.
Turco-Tatar Past, Soviet Present: Studies Presented to Alexandre
Bennigsen (Louvain-Paris, 1986) is of importance. In addition to a
list of Bennigsen's personal (and co- authored) contributions to the
field, this volume (Edited by Ch. Lemercier-Quelquejay, G. Veinstein,
S. E. Wimbush) contains papers directly addressing the issues at hand.
Among them are: J. Martin, "The Tiumen Khanate's Encounters with
Muscovy, 1481-1505;" H. Inalcik, ""Power Relationships
between Russia, the Crimea and the Ottoman Empire as reflected in
Titulature;" K. H. Karpat, "The Crimean Emigration of
1856-1862 and the Settlement and Urban Development of Dobruca;"
E. J. Lazzerini, "The Revival of Culture in pre-revolutionary
Russia: or, why a Prosophography of the Tatar Ulema?;"
A. A. Rorlich, "The Temptation of the West: Two Tatar travellers'
Encounter with Europe at the end of the Nineteenth Century."
A short list of specialist and general works on the Tatars, their
lineage and politics include A. W. Fisher Crimean Tatars. (Stanford,
1978); J. Pelenski, Russian and Kazan: Conquest and Imperial Ideology
(Hague and Paris, 1974); A-A, Rorlich, The Volga Tatars: Profile in
National Resilience (Stanford, 1986); T. Allsen, Mongol Imperialism
(Berkeley, 1987); N. A Baskakov, Russkie Familii Tiurkskogo
proiskhozhdeniia (Moscow, 1972); Peter Reddaway, Editor, Translator,
Uncensored Russia (New York, 1972). Resat Cemilev, Musa Mamut: Human
Torch, M. Serdar, (Ed.) (New York: Crimea Foundation, 1986); Tatars of
the Crimea: Their Struggle for Survival, E. Allworth (Ed.), (Durham
and London, 1988); Shest' Denei: Sudebnyi Protsess Il'i Gabaia i
Mustafy Dzhemileva, M. Serdar (Ed.), (New York: Crimea Foundation,