Skip to main content
Select Source:





LOCATION: Russian Federation

POPULATION: 6.6 million


RELIGIONS: Islam (Sunni Muslims, majority); Orthodox Christianity; Sufism; Old Believers; Protestantism; Judaism


There are many Turkic-speaking ethnic groups living throughout the Russian Federation. These diverse groups lie scattered from the Caucasus and Ural mountains to eastern Siberia, and include the Tatars, Chuvash, Bashkirs, Sakha, Tuvans, Karachai, Khakass, Altays, and others. This article focuses on the largest Turkic group in the Russian Federation, the Tatars.

Historically, the Tatars lived farther west than any other Turkic nationality. As Mongolian control over the Volga River region weakened during the 1430s and 1440s, several successor states emerged. During the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the Kazan khanate became the most prominent of these states, and its people became known as the Tatars. The Kazan Tatars were conquered by imperial Russian forces during the reign of Tsar Ivan IV in 1552, becoming the first Muslim subjects of the Russian Empire.

When the Russian Empire collapsed in 1917, the Tatars took advantage of the chaos and immediately formed their own home-land, the Idil-Ural State. The Soviet government, however, did not tolerate the independence movement and instead formed the Bashkir Autonomous Republic (Bashkortostan) and the Tatar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Tatarstan) on the same soil. When the Soviet government took over these regions, it redrew the boundaries and gave neighboring Russian provinces the best lands. By changing the boundaries, about 75 percent of the Tatar population found itself living outside the borders of Tatarstan.

In the 1920s, most Tatar leaders and intellectuals who wanted independence were eliminated through execution or exile. This policy against the Tatars continued to some extent until the early 1950s. Tatar culture was also affected until the 1970s through the policy of Russification, where the Russian language and culture were legally forced on the Tatars and other ethnic groups. During the Soviet era, economic hardship and job preference given to Russians in industrial areas caused many Tatars to leave their homeland.

In August 1990, the Tatar parliament declared Tatarstan's independent authority and in April 1991 declared that Tatar law had dominance over Russian law whenever the two were in conflict.


The Tatars are a very diverse group, both ethnically and geographically. The Tatars formed the second largest non-Slavic group (after the Uzbeks) in the former Soviet Union. There are more than 6.6 million Tatars, of whom about 26 percent live in Tatarstan, an ethnic homeland that is located within the Russian Federation. Tatarstan, with about 4 million inhabitants, is about the size of Ireland or Portugal. It is considered the most northern frontier between Muslim and Orthodox Christian cultures. The capital of Tatarstan is Kazan, a city of more than 1 million people and the largest port on the Volga River.

After Russians and Ukrainians, the Tatars are the most populous ethnic group in the Russian Federation. About 15 percent of all Tatars live in Bashkortostan, another ethnic homeland in the Russian Federation that lies just east of Tatarstan. There are also smaller Tatar populations in Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and in the regions to the north and west of Tatarstan. Small Tatar communities are also scattered across Russia. A unique group of Tatars are the Krym (also called the Crimean Tatars), with a population of around 550,000. The Krym are from the Crimean peninsula of present-day Ukraine. The Tatars were one of the most urbanized or city-dwelling ethnic groups of the former Soviet Union, especially those who lived outside of Tatarstan.


In 922, the Tatars' predecessors, the Bulgars, converted to Islam, and the old Turkic script was replaced by the Arabic alphabet. A famous old Tatar saying is Kilächägem nurlï bulsïn öchen, utkännärdän härchak ut alam, which means "To make my future bright, I reach for the fire of the past." Another well-known Tatar proverb is Tuzga yazmagannï soiläme, which means, roughly, "If it's not written on salt, it's wrong to even mention it." The proverb refers to the ancient method of keeping records on plaques made of wood and salt, and commends the practicality of keeping written records.


A Tatar legend about the city of Kazan tells of a rich man who was a beekeeper and would often take along his daughter to visit his hives in the woods near Jilan-Tau ("snake hill"). When his daughter got married, she lived in an older part of Kazan, where it was a long walk to get water. She complained about the poor planning of the town to the khan (ruler), and suggested that Jilan-Tau would be a better place for the city, because it was close to a river. The khan ordered two nobles to take one hundered warriors to the site and to then open his sealed orders. According to the orders, they were to cast lots (draw straws) and bury the loser alive in the ground on the spot where the new city was to be built. However, when the khan's son lost, they buried a dog in his place. When the khan heard the news, he was happy for his son but said that it was a sign that the new city would one day be overtaken by the "unholy dogs"a term referring to those of a different religion.


Most Tatars are Sunni Muslims, with the exception of the Kryashan Tatars, who are Christian. In Tatarstan, along with Islam and Russian Orthodox Christianity, there are some other religious communities such as Old Believers, Protestants, Seventh-Day Adventists, Lutherans, and Jews. Islam has played an important role in strengthening the Tatar culture, because the imperial Russian government repeatedly tried to limit the spread of Islam from the Tatars to other peoples. This approach, however, usually pushed Tatar Muslims closer to their faith, and there is generally a devout observance of rituals and ceremonies among Muslim Tatars.


Tatars typically observe some of the Sovietera holidays and also Muslim holidays which, to a large degree, are the same as those elsewhere in the Muslim world. The Soviet celebrations include New Year's Day (January 1), International Women's Day (March 8), Labor Day (May 1), and Victory Day (May 9commemorates the end of World War II). Since the Tatars are widely scattered across Russia and Central Asia, different communities have regional holidays as well.

The Islamic holidays include Milad al-Nabi (the birth of the Prophet Muhammad), Eid al-Adha (celebrating the story of Abraham offering his son for sacrifice), and Eid al-Fitr (celebrating of the end of the Ramadan month-long fast). The dates of these holidays vary due to the rotating nature of the lunar calendar. The Kryashan Tatars celebrate Christian holidays such as Easter and Christmas.


Circumcision and other rituals associated with birth, as well as those associated with death and marriage, and even certain Muslim dietary restrictions, are practiced by many Tatars today.


For centuries, there was tension between ethnic Russians and Tatars. As a result, the Tatars suffered from discrimination, which affected how they came to interact with Russian society. The Tatars of today typically live in small communities and often rely on a network of friends and business contacts from within the Tatar community.


Living conditions are similar to those of neighboring populations (Russians, Bashkirs, and Ukrainians). Tatar houses are often surrounded by low fences to keep in their animals.


Tatars often encourage endogamy (marriage to other Tatars) out of the belief that it will help keep the Tatar identity from being lost. Family size is usually larger than that of neighboring populations and is often an extended family of three or more generations.


Tatars, as one of the most urbanized minorities, wear Western-style clothing, and occasionally, mostly in rural areas, include fragments of traditional clothing such as the headscarf for women and skullcaps for men.


Peremech (Meat Pie)

Dough ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 6 Tablespoons of light cream or half-and-half
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2½ cups flour
  • Filling ingredients
  • 1 pound groundbeef chuck
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt vegetable oil for frying


Make dough:

  1. Beat eggs. Add sour cream, light cream, sugar, salt, and flour. Knead until smooth and pliable.
  2. Wrap the dough in wax paper and chill overnight before making into pies.

Make pies:

  1. Combine salt, garlic, chopped onion, and ground meat.
  2. Remove about a quarter of the dough from the refrigerator at a time, keeping the rest of the dough chilled.
  3. Roll each quarter of dough into a 12-inch cord.
  4. Slice each cord into six pieces, rolling these smaller pieces between the palms of the hands to form balls. Flatten the balls slightly.
  5. On a surface dusted with flour, roll each into a circle about 3½ to 4 inches in diameter.
  6. Spread 1 tablespoon of the meat mixture on each circle of dough, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Gather the dough upward all the way around, forming a round, flat pastry. Leave a hole about 1-inch across on top.
  7. Cover finished pies with a cloth to prevent dough from drying.
  8. Heat about ½ inch of vegetable oil in a large skillet. Cook the pies, with the hole side down, in the oil. Cook a few at a time without crowding them in the skillet, for approximately 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Makes 24 pies.


Lamb and rice play a prominent role in the traditional Tatar diet, as in those of many other central Asian peoples. The Tatars are known in particular for their wide array of pastries, especially their meat pies, which, besides beef or lamb and onions, may include ingredients such as hard-boiled eggs, rice, and raisins. Another traditional dish is chebureki, or deep-fried lamb dumplings. A recipe for the basic Tatar meat pie called peremech is included in this article.


During the Soviet era, the required Russian language exam served to keep many Tatar youths out of institutions of higher learning.


It is believed that Tatar prose dates back to the twelfth century, but scholars disagree about its origin. During the early part of the Soviet era and immediately after World War II (193945), Tatar literature was largely confined to praising communist ideology. Since the 1960s, however, Tatar literature has often emphasized the role of the artist in voicing the ideals of the Tatar people.


Traditional occupations of the Tatars include agriculture, hunting, fishing, crafts, and trade. Under Soviet rule, many jobs were in state-run agricultural and industrial collectives. The Tatars have held an increasing number of white-collar and professional jobs since World War II.


The Tatars enjoy many traditional and Western-style sports. Soccer became popular during the Soviet years and is perhaps the most widely played sport among young men. Horse racing is also very popular, as the horse has long been an important part of traditional Tatar culture.


Tatars enjoy many of the same leisure-time activities as neighboring populations in the former Soviet Union, such as watching television and visiting with friends and neighbors. Prominent among the traditional entertainments in rural areas is the week-long Festival of the Plow, or Sabantui, held in spring, which ends with a day of singing, dancing, and sporting events.


The ancestors of the modern Tatars were skilled in crafting jewelry of gold, silver, bronze, and copper. They also were known for making pottery with engraved ornaments, as well as for crafting metal decorations and bronze locks in the shape of animals.


The Tatars in general suffered discrimination under the imperial Russian government, as well as during the Soviet era. Large deportations of Tatars fragmented the culture, and the loss of lives and property from those days still has an impact on modern Tatar society.

Problems with Crimean Tatars are much more complicated because of forced deportation from their homeland in the Crimean peninsula. Now that almost half of the Crimean Tatars have returned from Central Asia, they are facing problems with employment, housing, and schooling.


Fisher, Alan W. The Crimean Tatars. Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press, 1978.

Rorlich, Azade-Ayse. The Volga Tatars: A Profile in National Resilience. Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press, 1986.

Shnirelman, V.A. Who Gets the Past?: Competition for Ancestors among Non-Russian Intellectuals in Russia. Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Smith, G., ed. The Nationalities Question in the Post-Soviet States. New York: Longman, 1996.


Agi, Iskender. Tatar/Tatarstan FAQ with Answers. [Online] Available, 19951996.

Embassy of Russia, Washington, D.C. Russia. [Online] Available, 1998.

Interknowledge Corp. and Russian National Tourist Office. Russia. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide. Russia. [Online] Available, 1998.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Tatars." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Tatars." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . (December 10, 2017).

"Tatars." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from


Tatars (tä´tərz) or Tartars (tär´tərz), 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, the 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 the 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.


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

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Tatars." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Tatars." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (December 10, 2017).

"Tatars." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from




Tatar peoples living in China represent only 1 percent of all Tatar peoples. The Tatar population in China was 4,837 in 1990, up from 4,300 in 1957. Most Tatars live in the cities of Yining, Qoqek, and Urumqi in the Xinjiang Uigur Autonomous Region, though until the early 1960s a number of them herded livestock, also in Xinjiang. The Tatar language belongs to the Turkic Branch of the Altaic Family. The Tatar have no writing system of their own, but rather use Uigur and Kazak scripts.

In the earliest Chinese references to the Tatars, in records dating to the eighth century, they are called "Dadan." They were part of the Turk Khanate until it fell apart in approximately 744. Following this, the Tatar grew in strength until they were defeated by the Mongols. The Tatar mixed with Boyar, Kipchak, and Mongols, and this new group became the modern Tatar. They fled their homeland in the region of the Volga and Kama rivers when the Russians moved into Central Asia in the nineteenth century, some ending up in Xinjiang. Most Tatar became urban traders of livestock, cloth, furs, silver, tea, and other goods as a result of the trading opportunities created by the Sino-Russian treaties of 1851 and 1881. A small minority of Tatar herded and farmed. Perhaps one-third of the Tatar became tailors or small manufacturers, making things such as sausage casings.

The urban house of a Tatar family is made of mud and has furnace flues in the walls for heating. Inside, it is hung with tapestries, and outside there is a courtyard with trees and flowers. Migratory pastoralist Tatar lived in tents.

The Tatar diet includes distinctive pastries and cakes, as well as cheese, rice, pumpkin, meat, and dried apricots. They drink alcoholic beverages, one made of fermented honey and another a wild-grape wine.

Though Muslim, most urban Tatar are monogamous. Tatar marry in the house of the bride's parents, and the couple usually lives there until the birth of their first child. The wedding ceremony includes the drinking of sugar water by the bride and groom, to symbolize long-lasting love and happiness. The dead are buried wrapped in white cloth; while the Koran is being read, attendants throw handfuls of dirt on the body until it is buried.


Ma Yin, ed. (1989). China's Minority Nationalities, 192-196. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.

National Minorities Questions Editorial Panel (1985). Questions and Answers about China's Minority Nationalities. Beijing: New World Press.

Schwarz, Henry G. (1984). The Minorities of Northern China: A Survey, 69-74. Bellingham: Western Washington University Press.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Tatars." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Tatars." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . (December 10, 2017).

"Tatars." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from


Tatars (Tartars) Turkic-speaking people of central Asia. In medieval Europe, the name Tatar referred to many different Asiatic invaders. True Tatars originated in e Siberia, and converted to Islam in the 14th century. They divided into two groups: one in s Siberia, who came under Russian rule; the other in the Crimea, which was part of the Ottoman Empire until annexed by Russia in 1783.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Tatars." World Encyclopedia. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Tatars." World Encyclopedia. . (December 10, 2017).

"Tatars." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from


Tartars: see Tatars.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Tartars." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Tartars." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (December 10, 2017).

"Tartars." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from


Tartars See Tatars

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Tartars." World Encyclopedia. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Tartars." World Encyclopedia. . (December 10, 2017).

"Tartars." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from