Tatars

   Ethnic group. The original Tatars were a northeast Eurasian ethnos that was subsumed into the Mongol hordes during the conquests of Genghis Khan. Eventually, the ethnonym came to be applied to a number of ethnically heterogeneous, Eurasian, Turkicspeaking peoples from the Black Sea to Siberia. There are more than 5.5 million Tatars within the Russian Federation; at 4 percent of the total population, they are the largest national minority in the country. The largest subgroup is the Volga Tatars; other communities include the Crimean Tatars and Siberian Tatars. The Volga or Kazan Tatars enjoy the status of titular majority in the Republic of Tatarstan.
   The Kazan variant of the Tatar language is a member of the North Kipchak or Volga-Ural subbranch of Turkic languages; unlike most other Turkic tongues, it is heavily influenced by neighboring FinnoUgric languages. Tatar is spoken by over 90 percent of ethnic Tatars, and it is also the native language of many ethnic Bashkirs and some Mari. The Tatar language employed a modified Arabic script until the Latin alphabet was adopted in 1928. After 1938, modified Cyrillic became the official orthography. Tatarstan readopted the Latin script in 2000; however, this change was outlawed by the federal government. The Latin alphabet continues to be used in cyberspace and as a vehicle for interlingual communication with other parts of the Turkic world, particularly Turkey and Uzbekistan, which use the Latin alphabet.
   The Tatars adopted Islam during the 10th century and were brought under Russian rule in the 16th century. A small number converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, but the vast majority remained Muslims. While the Tatars gained fluency in the Russian language and the mores of the Romanov Empire, they tended to maintain their own language—which had possessed a developed literature since the 15th century and vibrant popular press since the end of the 19th century—and cultural identity. This endowed the Tatars with a privileged status as preceptors of Russian influence in the Muslim lands of Central Asia: Tatar merchants and missionaries spread Russian influence across modern Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkey. During the 1917 Russian Revolution, Tatar nationalists—many of whom espoused a progressive form of Islamism known as Jadidism—created the Idel-Ural State, a federation of Turkic, Finnic, and Uralic peoples from the Volga basin and Ural Mountains. The Bolsheviks destroyed the state and divided the territory among the Tatars, Bashkirs, Chuvash, Mordvins, and Udmurts.
   Tatar nationalism quickly expanded from the intelligentsia to the masses under Mikhail Gorbachev’s tenure. Glasnost allowed for a flowering of Tatar culture, while perestroika allowed local elites to expand their control over Tatarstan’s ample natural resources. As the 1980s came to an end, the nationalist organization the All-Tatar Public Center (Tatar: Bötentatar I˙ctimag˘í Üzäge), or VTOTS, lobbied intensely for an elevation of the Tatar ASSR to the status of a sovereign entity (Tatarstan had long been denied the status of a union republic, ostensibly due to its lack of an international border). Soon the organization was joined by more radical groups such as Milli Mejlis and Ittifaq (Unit), the first non-Communist political party registered in Tatarstan, which espoused strident Russophobia and anticolonialism. Ittifaq’s founder, Fauzia Bayramova, remains a potent force in current Tatar politics.
   With the 1990 declaration of sovereignty, Tatarstan emerged as guarantor of the linguistic and national identity of Tatars across the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and, later, the Russian Federation. In 1992, the First Worldwide Congress of Tatars was held in Kazan in 1992 to promote unity among Kazan Tatars and the larger Tatar diaspora; further congresses have been held since. In 2005, Vladimir Putin marked the millennium of Kazan by delivering a speech in Tatar, which symbolized the importance of the Tatar community to the identity of contemporary Russia. Mintimer Shaymiyev’s policies of multiculturalism within Tatarstan hewed the sharp edges from Tatar nationalism and promoted the incipient development of a new Tatarstani identity based on civic loyalty to the Republic of Tatarstan. Despite this, a majority of ethnic Tatars support separatism, the highest of any ethnic republic. In recent years, Tatar identity has been influenced by resurgent pan-Turkism as well as neo-Jadidism; the popularity of both movements reflects the Tatars’ seminal role in shaping the identity of Russophone Muslims for more than a century. There has also been a marked rise in the level of religiosity among ethnic Tatars, with an increasing use of the hijab, or headscarves, among women and demands for halal food to be served in the military. However, most Tatars are resistant to the austere allure of fundamentalist Islam, instead embracing a modified form of “Euro-Islam.” The Muslim Board of Tatarstan, under the leadership of Gusman Hazrat Iskhakov, has worked to mitigate radical influences from the Middle East and South Asia; his recent efforts include the establishment of a small Islamic university in Tatarstan.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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