- Ethnic group. Udmurts (Meadow People), formerly known as Votyaks, developed into an identifiable ethnicity in the 6th century. After violently resisting Slavic colonization and Islamicization under the Khanate of Kazan, the Udmurts began accepting Orthodox Christianity in the 16th century, though most only nominally embraced the new faith. Certain elements of pre-Christian animism (worship at sacred groves, sacrifices, and other rituals) have persevered among the Udmurts, particularly in southern Udmurtiya, to the present day. Since 1994, the neo-pagan revival has been led by the national animist organization Vos.Udmurts remained a predominantly rural people well into the 20th century, and supported the formation of a non-Russian Idel-Ural State in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution. Sovietization of the region and subsequent industrialization combined with the influx of Slavic settlers suppressed Udmurt identity in the second half of the 20th century. The Udmurt language, existing in written form since the 18th century, is part of the Finno-Permic subgroup within the Uralic language family; it is most closely related to Komi and Komi-Permyak but possesses links to Finnish, Estonian, and, most distantly, Hungarian. Udmurt enjoys co-official status with Russian in Udmurtiya.Two-thirds of all Udmurts reside in the Udmurt Republic, also known as Udmurtiya; worldwide, the population is in excess of 600,000, making the Udmurts the fourth-largest Finno-Ugric nation. In terms of appearance, Udmurts—like the Irish—are internationally recognized for their red hair, a fact initially recorded by the Greek historian Herodotus when identifying the proto-Udmurts. Due to intense Russification, many Udmurts registered as ethnic Russians during the Soviet era; however, most reembraced their ethnic identity during glasnost as organizations like the Udmurt National Center, Club of Udmurt Culture (later known as Demen), and radical Udmurt Kenesh (Udmurt Council) made identification with the nation socially acceptable.The Udmurt language served as a key tool for preserving national identity. More than three-quarters of all Udmurts use Udmurt as their first language, and many rural Udmurts do not possess proficiency in the Russian language. In 1996, all Udmurts in the republic gained the right to be educated in their native language. Udmurt nationalists have emerged as key voices in the pan-Volga (i.e., non-Russian) and transnational Finno-Ugric movements.See also Finland; Komi.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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