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History of Crimea - Tatar Homeland



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
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

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. Inalcşk 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.

Crimean Khanate
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

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.

Soviet Period
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 May.
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 1918 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
the tatars.
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 Crimea.
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
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. ...

(Completion date: 1988)

by John Sloan, August 2000
The first entry in the Primary Chronicle for the appearance of the
Polovtsi ( the medieval Russian name for the Kypchak - Cumans) is in
1054 when they appeared south of Kyiv and the leader, Bolush, signed a
treaty with Vsyevolod, prince of Pereyaslavl. Then under 1061 they
appeared for the first time in battle against the same Vsyevolod and
defeated him. The leader then was Iskul. From then on they appear in
Russian sources continuously sometimes fighting against and often as
allies of various Rus princes, including wars against the Hungarians,
Poles, and Byzantine Empire.
Moreover, quite a few Rus princes married Kypchak princesses. The famous
Yuri I Dolgoruki's first wife was Anna, daughter of Kypchak khan Aepa.
He is the theoretical 'founder' of Moscow.
Svyatopolk II, Vladimir II, Oleg Svyatoslavich of Chernigiv all had
Kypchak wives.
Most interesting perhaps is that Mstislav Mstislavich Udaloi ( died
1228) the Daring married Maria, daughter of the great Kypchak khan,
Khotyan. Interesting because their daughter, Rostislava-Fedosia, married
Yaroslav II Vsyevolodovich, grand prince of Vladimir and thus Maria
became the grand mother of a whole set of most famous Russian warriors,
including Alexander Nevski. So when anyone questions the antecedents of
a Crimean Tatar one might point out that "Saint" Alexander Nevski's
grandmother was a Tatar and long before anyone heard of Batu. Of course
all the princes of Moscow, Tver, Rostov, Nizhnigorod et cetera are
descended from her too.
There were others. To carry the story forward, Fedor Rostislavich,
prince of Smolensk and then of Yaroslavl married Anna, the daughter of
the great Mongol-Tatar general Nogai. (maybe folks don't remember that).
Thus she was the mother and grandmother of the whole line of princes of
Yaroslavl, Mologa and other towns in that region.

The actual situation is that the ancestors of the Crimean Tatars were in
all southern Ukraine, Romania, Crimea, Kuban, Don-Volga valley from the
11th century. Only a very few of Batu's warriors in 1237-40 were even
Mongols (some estimate as few of 5000) - most were Central Asian Turkish
ethnic types related to the Kypchak of the western region - which of
course was called the Kypchak steppe. And even those Central Asian
soldiers were quickly absorbed by the indigenous Kypchak -Tatar families
who lived there all along. And they were not all nomads either. The
major Kypchak port Surozh- Sudalia-Sudak was famous all over the
medieval world.
On the other hand, while the vast majority of the Crimean Tatars had
very little to do with any "Mongol" ancestry, the Khans of the Gerei
family could indeed trace their line through the male side directly to
Chingis Khan. Thus they were of the "Golden Kin'; something that no
Ottoman Sultan or Tamerlane could claim. This always gave them a
certain cachet. And of course they were by far the longest lasting and
remaining rulers descended from Chingis Khan (by some 200 + years).