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Tatarstan is a Federal Republic in the Russian Federation. What a Tatar is, seems far more difficult to define. Some call Tatars "Tartar". Others say Turkic or Volga-Bulgarian. This is an informal, though hopefully informational, web page about a little-known and misunderstood minority in the beautiful but cruel East.


Who are the Tatars?

Why "Tartar"? In the words of Thomas CARLYLE (1837): "Into the body of the poor Tatars execrative Roman History intercalated an alphabetic letter; and so they continue TaRtars, of fell Tartarean nature, to this day." "Tartarean" referring to Tartaros, the Greek Underworld or Hell.

It is both old and new. There are many peoples all over the Eurasian continent that call themselves (or have been called) Tatars. Some of my own ancestors belong to the stock of


a village in Tatarstan
A Tatar village.

According to some researchers, the Volga Tatars today consist of three major dialect groups: the Central or Kazan Tatar (dominant in Tatarstan), the Eastern or Siberian Tatar, and the Western or Misher. The Tatars are generally Muslim, although there are Christian minorities called Kryashen (from the Russian word 'kreshchennyi', converted). Before the heyday of nationalism in the 19th century, the Tatars usually termed themselves Müsülman (Muslim). Some ethnic names in use were Qazanli, Bulgar, Tatar, Türk, Misher. The Russians used "Tatar" as a general term for many Turkic and even Mongol peoples.

My ancestors, and most Finnish Tatars, are Misher (Finnish: mishääri). Some scholars connect their name to a Finno-Ugric tribe mentioned as one of the founder nations of old Rus', the 'Meshchera'. The Mishers are a mixed people and appeared in the course of the 14th-15th century. Their origins lie amongst the Turkic Bulgars and Qipchaks, and also the Finno-Ugric Meshchers and Mordvins, which were brought together in the area by the Volga-Bulgar rule and the Golden Horde.

The Mongols conquered the Volga-Bulgar state, but the Turko-Tataric peoples became worthy aides and co-rulers of the region, when the Great Khan extended his rule over the Russian principalities. When the Mongol Empire fell apart, the Golden Horde remained in charge in the West. This period is known to Russians as The Tatar Yoke. However, great national heroes such as Alexander Nevsky profited from being the Khan's vassals and tax collectors, and intermarrying and cultural exchange took place. But the tide of time turned, and the rising Grand Duchy of Moscow gained power. The Kazan khanate, heir to the Golden Horde, fell in October 1552, after a two-month siege by Ivan IV - the Terrible. Queen Suyumbika, the Khan's widow, threw herself down to her death from the tower of the Kazan kreml. Many Tatar nobles survived, however, integrated and indispensable to the new rulers. Famous historical charaters of Tatar descent include Boris Godunov, the Yusupov family, the Apraksins, the Urusovs, the Rostopchins, names like Arakcheev, Artsybashev, Bakhmet'ev, Berdiaev, Kochubei, Muratov, Musin, Nazarov, Saltykov, Tiutchev, Shakhmatov, Sheremet'ev, the poet Lermontov on his mother's side, poets Denis Davydov and Derzhavin, the nationalist historian Nikolai Karamzin, Sergei Rakhmaninov, Rudolf Nureyev...

When I was a very very small girl, my parents used to tell me stories about my heritage. The stories were mostly about their own childhood in Finland, but I was in an early age aware (and proud) of another exotic part of my heritage: the Tatar side. A century ago, my great-grandfather, Bedi Bavautdin, left a small Tatar village called Aktuk in the guvernment of Nizhniy Novgorod, to eke out a living as a travelling businessman or merchant venturer. He went as far to the west as he could and ended up in the port of Rauma, a Finnish town famed for its sea-faring people. In those days, the Tsar's Empire was merely trembling - but it would soon shake and crumble. As empires often do, it was replaced by another, which Bedi's son Abbas ended up fighting against in the IInd World War. Abbas fought for Finland, married a Finnish girl, Helvi, and settled down.

The old crown of the Russian Tsars is actually the crown of Kazan's Khan. Some Russian nationalists claim that the design is based on Byzantine crowns. However - those were square and open, not pointy.

Tatar ladies in traditional costumes.


An essay on Volga Tatar origins

Maps of Volga-Bulgaria

The Official Website of the Republic of Tatarstan in English and in Russian

Tatarstan on the Internet - WWW server of the Tatarstan Civil Network
© 1997-2001 Kazan State University

Tatarstan - a beautiful site, nice pictures. Updated 1998, though.

PEREMETCH, fried dumplings! Tatar specialty. Recipes in different languages: Finnish, Russian, English, a happy Tatar song where "peremec" are mentioned along with other delicacies (such as "pilmen" - pelmeni? - and "pilav").



Tatar singers with totally different styles - Alsou sings saccharine-sweet pop and even duets with Enrique Iglesias (her voice is better tho') - while Zemfira ROCKS.

Concise English-Tatar Dictionary - the Tatar words are given in Kyrillic letters

The Tatar Gazette - cultural and educational newspaper of the Tatar community in the Republic of Mordovia. Articles about religion, history, ethnology, cultural studies.

Member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation UNPO

The Tatar mosque in Helsinki (photo)


Golden, Peter B.: An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples. Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1992



Få svenskar vet att den första muslimska församlingen i Sverige grundades av tatarer år 1949; de var invandrare från Finland och flyktingar från det krigshärjade Estland. När turkarna kom med 60-talets stora invandringsvåg tog de så småningom över verksamheten, och tatarerna glömdes bort.

Ordet "tatar" förväxlas ofta med "tattare", dvs resande eller zigenare. Tattare är ett nedsättande uttryck för inhemska resande, invandrande romer, utlänningar och all slags socialt utstötta människor sedan 1700-talet. Ursprungligen är ordet samma som "tatar" och antydde att dessa folkgrupper betedde sig som "vilda tatarer".

På 15-och 1600-talet var man mer informerad om tatarer i Sverige. Det berodde på Vasasönernas inblandning i de polska tronföljdskrigen (Polen har haft en betydande tatarminoritet sedan medeltiden). Kung Gustaf II Adolf var imponerad av tatarernas beridna bågskyttar och planerade till och med att införa liknande enheter i den svenska armén. Det förblev ett tankeexperiment, men de mest effektiva enheterna i svensk tjänst under 30-åriga kriget var finnarnas lätta kavalleri, Hakkapeliterna, som spred skräck bland de kejserliga fotsoldaterna - kanske lät sig deras officerare inspireras av tatarisk taktik? Osannolikt, men fascinerande.

Källor på svenska:

Sverige och den islamiska världen : Ett svenskt kulturarv. Red. Karin Ådahl, Suzanne Unge Sörling & Viveca Wessel. Wahlström & Widstrand 2002

Jalla! Nu klär vi granen - möte med den muslimska kultursfären. Red. Gufran Al-nadaf. Utrikesdepartementet 2002

Om "tattare" och resande:

Hazell, Bo: Resandefolket - från tattare till traveller. Ordfront 2002


Irreverently... (I'm not very fond of nationalist fervour or blind patriotism - there is plenty of that on the internet. We should be able to joke about our prejudices while still remaining respectful of each other's identity and heritage. It's a tough balance to keep. I find it funny that the Russian stereotype of Tatars lies somewhere between "hotblooded barbaric womanizer" and "shrewd and tricksy merchant". Others might feel offended. The first thing my great-grandmother learned to say when she arrived in Finland was "We are not Jews!" The stereotypes have a darker side to them. And nobody is free of prejudices, not even their victims.)

In the turn of the century 1890-1910, when the Finns began to notice the influx of Tatars, the stereotypical Tatar merchant became a character of jokes, stories and even cabaret songs. The famous vaudeville artist Alfred Tanner appeared as a "Tattari" in his comedy shows in the 1910's-1920's. This character is clearly a Tatar and not a traveller (tattare in Swedish) - his name is "Haidulla", he speaks a mix of Finnish, Swedish and Russian, and his travel route is "Petrograd-Moskva-Kazan". The most interesting part is Haidulla's dream - he wants to open a store in Helsinki and carry the Imperial order of St Stanislav. A perfect mirror image of the comfortable bourgeois dreams of many a Finnish Tatar!

The Russians were inspired by the Tatars to wear boots. The Tatars' love of bright colours in daring combinations influenced Russian architecture - think about St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow! Other influences include a considerable amount of loanwords, mainly names of torture instruments and taxation terms.


There is a Russian saying: An uninvited guest is worse than a Tatar. (Alternatively: An uninvited guest is almost as bad as a Tatar.) Curiously, there is a Finnish saying where the Tatar is changed to a Russian. Which reminds me of another (international) saying: Scratch a Russian and you find a Tatar. (Here, Tatar equals "barbarian"...)

(... and here, the Tatars are more like stereotypical Jews:) A Russian joke: The Soviet government announces a new government program of pensions to the veterans of the Kulikovo battle (between Tatars and Russians in 1380). A hopeful old Russian goes to the pension commission and asks: 'But where do I get the confirming documents, the battle took place about seven centuries ago?' To which the commission replies: 'We don't know, don't know - but the Tatars keep coming and bringing them!'

Some Tatar/Tartar related expressions found in the OED:

3. fig. a. A savage; a person supposed to resemble a Tartar in disposition; a rough and violent or irritable and intractable person: when applied to a female, a vixen, a shrew, a termagant. 1818 BYRON Juan I. clxxxiv, His blood was up: though young, he was a Tartar.

b. slang. One hard to beat or surpass in skill, an adept, a ‘champion’. ... 1785 GROSE Dict. Vulg. T. s.v., He is quite a tartar at cricket, or billiards.

4. Phrase: to catch a Tartar: to get hold of one who can neither be controlled nor got quit of; to tackle one who unexpectedly proves to be too formidable. 1897 FLOR. MARRYAT Blood Vampire xiv, You must give up flirting, my boy, or if I mistake not, you'll find you've caught a Tartar.

The facts, figures and images have been compiled by ainur @




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