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Tatars (täˈtərz) or Tartars (tärˈtərz), Turkic-speaking peoples living primarily in Russia, Crimea, and Uzbekistan. They number about 10 million and are largely Sunni Muslims; there is also a large population of Crimean Tatar descent in Turkey. The name is derived from Tata or Dada, a Mongolian tribe that inhabited present NE Mongolia in the 5th cent. First used to describe the peoples that overran parts of Asia and Europe under Mongol leadership in the 13th cent., it was later extended to include almost any Asian nomadic invader. Before the 1920s Russians used the name Tatar to designate the Azerbaijani Turks and several tribes of the Caucasus.

The Tatar Empire

The original Tatars probably came from E central Asia or central Siberia; unlike the Mongols, they spoke a Turkic language and were possibly akin to the Cumans or Kipchaks and the Pechenegs. They were nomads, moving across the vast Asian and Russian steppes with their families and their herds of cattle and sheep. After the conquests of the Mongol Jenghiz Khan, the Mongol and Turkic elements merged, and the invaders became known in Europe as Tatars. The Mongol invasion led by Batu Khan into Hungary and Germany in 1241 is also known as the Tatar invasion.

After the wave of invasion receded eastward, the Tatars continued to dominate nearly all of Russia, Ukraine, and Siberia. Because of the gorgeous tents of Batu Khan, his followers were known as the Golden Horde. The empire of the Golden Horde—also known as the Kipchak khanate—controlled most of Russia either directly or through exacting tribute from the Russian princes. The Golden Horde adopted Islam as its religion in the 14th cent.

Disintegration of the Empire

Internal divisions, the expansion of Moscow, the invasion by Timur, and the appearance of the Ottoman Turks contributed to the disintegration of the Tatar empire in the late 15th cent. The independent khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, Sibir, and Crimea emerged. In the 16th cent. Russia conquered the khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, and Sibir (Siberia); the khans of Crimea became (1478) vassals of the Ottoman Empire. Nevertheless Siberia long continued to be known as Tartary and the Crimean domains as Little Tartary. The Crimean Tatars continued to harass Ukraine and Poland and to exact tribute from the czars of Russia; they raided Moscow in 1572.

The majority of the Tatars in Russia had by that time reached a relatively high degree of civilization. They were generally settled, were skillful in agriculture and crafts, and had great centers of Muslim learning. Only minorities, such as the Nogais, who were subject to the Crimean khans, remained nomadic. Tatar political leaders, administrators, and traders had a great influence on Russian history. Many Russian noble families were of partly Tatar origin. The social and military organization of the Muscovite state was influenced by the institutions of the Tatars, and many Russian customs are traceable to them.

Recent History

In 1783 the last Tatar state, Crimea, was annexed to Russia. The Nogais were gradually pushed eastward into the Caucasus by the Russian settlers. The Crimean Tatars themselves—except for the large numbers that emigrated to Turkey at the time of the Russian conquest of Crimea and after the Crimean War—remained in the Crimea until World War II and formed the basis of the Crimean Autonomous SSR, founded in 1921. It was dissolved in 1945, and all Crimean Tatars (about 200,000 in 1939) were exiled to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan for alleged collaboration with the Germans. In 1956 they regained civil rights and beginning in the late 1980s many returned to Crimea; their numbers there now exceed prewar levels. Following the disintegration of the USSR, leaders of Tatarstan began to press the Russian government for increased powers. In a 1992 referendum, over 61% of the voters supported a “sovereign” Tatarstan. Tatarstan signed a power-sharing treaty with the Russian government in 1994, but the treaty was renegotiated in the early 21st cent. to conform with the national constitution. Since Russia's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, which Crimean Tatars generally opposed, Tatars there have faced political repression.


See B. S. Izhbolden, Essays on Tatar History (1963).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the main inhabitants of the Tatar ASSR, where they numbered 1,536,000 persons in 1970 (census). Tatars also live in many other parts of the USSR. The 1970 census showed that the total Tatar population of the USSR was 5,931,000. The Tatar language belongs to the Turkic branch of the Altaic language family. With the exception of the Kreshen Tatars, who profess Orthodoxy, religious Tatars are Sunni Muslims.

The ethnicon “Tatar” first appeared among the Mongol tribes that roamed the area southeast of Lake Baikal between the sixth and ninth centuries. After the Mongol-Tatar invasion in the 13th century the name “Tatar” became known in Europe. Several Eurasian peoples belonging to the Golden Horde were called Tatars in the 13th and 14th centuries. From the 16th to the 19th century many Turkic-speaking peoples and some non-Turkic peoples living in the borderlands of the Russian state were called Tatars in Russian sources, among them the Azerbaijanis and various peoples of the Northern Caucasus, Middle Asia, and the Volga Region. In the case of several of these peoples the name became an ethnicon.

The first appearance of Turkic-speaking tribes in the Urals and the Volga Region in the third and fourth centuries A.D. coincided with the invasion of Eastern Europe by the Huns and other nomadic tribes. Settling in the Urals and in the Volga Region, the Turkic tribes assimilated some aspects of the culture of the indigenous Finno-Ugric peoples and to some extent intermingled with them. In the fifth to seventh centuries, the expansion of the Turkic Kaganate stimulated a second migration of Turkic tribes into the forest and forest-steppe areas of Western Siberia, the Urals, and the Volga Region. In the seventh and eighth centuries Bulgar tribes, also Turkic-speaking, came to the Volga from the Azov region, and in the tenth century the Bulgars, together with the earlier Turkic arrivals and local Finno-Ugric peoples, formed the state known as Bulgaria on the Volga.

In the 13th to 15th centuries, when most of the Turkic tribes belonged to the Golden Horde, their language and culture became more homogeneous. In the 15th and 16th centuries, when various feudal states flourished (for example, the Kazan, Astrakhan, Crimean, and Siberian khanates), distinct groups of Tatars emerged, among them the Middle Volga and Urals Tatars (also known as Kazan Tatars and Mishari), the Astrakhan Tatars, the Siberian Tatars, and the Crimean Tatars. The Middle Volga and Ural Tatars, the most numerous and economically and culturally the most highly developed of the Tatar groups, formed a bourgeois nation at the end of the 19th century.

Before the October Revolution of 1917 most Tatars were farmers, although among the Astrakhan Tatars herding and fishing were the main occupations. Many Tatars were fine craftsmen, noted for their production of decorated footwear and other leather goods, weaving, embroidery, and jewelry-making. The material culture of the Tatars, which evolved over a long period of time through the amalgamation of Turkic and indigenous cultural elements, was also influenced by the culture of the peoples of Middle Asia and other regions. From the late 16th century Russian culture had an impact on Tatar material culture.

The traditional dwelling of the Middle Volga and Urals Tatars was the log izba (hut), separated from the street by a fence. The outer walls were decorated with multicolored painting. The Astrakhan Tatars, who tended to preserve their steppe livestock raising traditions, lived in yurts during the summer. The clothing of both men and women consisted of sharovary (baggy trousers) and a shirt worn under a sleeveless jacket. Women also wore embroidered bibs over their shirts. Kazakins served as outerwear in warm weather; a quilted beshmet or a fur coat was worn in winter. Male headgear consisted of a tiubeteika (skullcap) over which was worn a hemispherical fur cap or felt hat. Women wore a small embroidered velvet cap (kalfak) and a kerchief. The traditional footwear was soft-soled leather ichigi (for outdoor wear they were covered with leather overshoes). Women, especially rich women, wore a great deal of metal jewelry.

At the turn of the 20th century most of the Tatar groups began to unite with the Middle Volga and Urals Tatars, who received autonomy after the October Revolution of 1917 and developed into a socialist nation (see).

Under the Soviet system, radical changes have been effected in the Tatar economy, way of life, and culture. More than half of the Tatars (53 percent in 1970) live in cities and work in various branches of industry, science, and culture. Imbued with the best of its national traditions, contemporary Tatar culture is developing in close contact with the cultures of the other peoples of the USSR. Science, literature, and various types of art are flourishing.


Proiskhozhdenie kazanskikh tatar. Kazan, 1948.
Tatary Srednego Povolzh’ia i Priural’ia. Moscow, 1967.
Istoriia Tatarskoi ASSR. Kazan, 1973.
Mukhamedova, R. G. Tatary-mishari. Moscow, 1972.
Khalikov, A. Kh. Tatar khalkïnïng kilep chïgïshï. Kazan, 1974.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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