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Volga Tatars
Kazan Tatar woman, 18th century
Total population
c. 8 million (2005)
Regions with significant populations

all over former Soviet Union



Tatar, Russian, many others in diaspora


Sunni Islam, Atheism, Orthodox Christianity

Volga Tatars are a group of Tatars, most of whom occupy the central portion of the Ural Mountains.


Volga Tatar subgroups


Kazan (Qazan) Tatars

The majority of Volga Tatars are Kazan (Qazan) Tatars. They are the majority of the population of Tatarstan, one of the constituent republics of Russia.

During the 11th-16th centuries, numerous Turkic tribes lived in what is now Russia and Kazakhstan. The present territory of Tatarstan was inhabited by the Volga Bulgars, a people whose origins are uncertain, but who scholars consider to have been Turkic. The Bulgars settled on the Volga River in the 8th century and converted to Islam in 922 during the missionary work of Ahmad ibn Fadlan. On the Volga, the Bulgars mingled with Scythian and Finno-Ugric speaking peoples. After the Mongol invasion of Europe from 1241, Volga Bulgaria was defeated, ruined, and incorporated into the Golden Horde.

Much of the population survived, and there was a certain degree of mixing between it and the Kipchak Tatars of the Horde during the ensuing period. The group as a whole accepted the language of the Kipchaks and the ethnonym "Tatars" (although the name Bulgars persisted in some places), while the invaders eventually converted to Islam. Two centuries later, as the Horde disintegrated, the area became the territory of the Kazan khanate, which was ultimately conquered by Russia in 1552. There is some debate among scholars as to the extent of that mixing and the share of each group as progenitors of the modern Kazan Tatars. It is widely accepted that demographically, most of the population was directly descended from the Bulgars. Nevertheless, some emphasize the contribution of the Kipchaks on the basis of the ethnonym and the language, and consider that the modern Tatar ethnogenesis was only completed upon their arrival. Others prefer to stress the Bulgar heritage, sometimes to degree of equating modern Kazan Tatars with Bulgars. They argue that although the Volga Bulgars did not keep their language and their name, their old culture and religion have been preserved. According to scholars who espouse this view, there was very little mixing with Mongol and Turkic aliens after the conquest of Volga Bulgaria, especially in the northern regions that ultimately became Tatarstan. Some people even advocate the change of the ethnonym from "Tatars" to "Bulgars" - a movement known as Bulgarism. [1] [2]

Population figures

In the 1910s, they numbered about half a million in the area of Kazan. Some 15,000 belonging to the same stem had either migrated to Ryazan in the center of Russia (what is now European Russia) or had been settled as prisoners during the 16th and 17th centuries in Lithuania (Vilnius, Grodno, and Podolia). Some 2,000 resided in St. Petersburg, where they were mostly employed as coachmen and waiters in restaurants. In Poland, they constituted one percent of the population in the district of Płock.

Kazan Tatars number nearly 7 million, mostly in Russia and the republics of the former Soviet Union. While the bulk of the population is found in Tatarstan (nearly 2 million) and neighbouring regions, significant numbers of Kazan Tatars live in Central Asia, Siberia, and the Caucasus. Outside of Tatarstan, urban Tatars usually speak Russian as their first language (in cities such as Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Nizhniy Novgorod, Ufa, and cities of the Ural and western Siberia).

See also: Tatar language

Noqrat Tatars

Tatars live in Russia's Kirov Oblast and Tatarstan. Their dialect have many Kozla Mari words and they have admixture of Finno Ugrian Maris. Their number in 2002 was around 5.000 people.

Perm (Ostyak) Tatars

Kazan Tatars live in Russia's Perm Krai. Some also comprise an admixture of Komi Permyaks. Some Tatar scholars (as Zakiev) name them Ostyak Tatars. Their number is (2002) c.200.000 people.

Keräşen Tatars

Many Kazan Tatars were forcibly Christianized by Ivan the Terrible during the 16th century, and later, during the 18th century.

Some scientists suppose that Suars were ancestors of the Keräşen Tatars, and they had been converted to Christianity by Armenians in the 6th century while they lived in the Caucasus. Suars, like other tribes which later converted to Islam, became Volga Bulgars, and later the modern Chuvash (who are mostly Christian) and Kazan Tatars (mostly Muslims).

Keräşen Tatars live all over Tatarstan. Now they tend to be assimilated among Chuvash and Tatars. Eighty years of Atheistic Soviet rule made Tatars of both faiths not as religious as they once were. Russian names are largely the only remaining difference between Tatars and Keräşen Tatars.

Some Turkic (Kuman) tribes in Golden Horde were converted to Christianity in the 13th and 14th centuries (Nestorianism). Some prayers, written in that time in the Codex Cumanicus, sound like modern Keräşen prayers, but there is no information about the connection between Christian Kumans and modern Keräşens.


The Nağaybäks are Tatars who became Cossacks (border keepers), generally Russian Orthodox, they live in the Ural mountains; the Russian border with Kazakhstan during the 17th and 18th centuries. Nagaybäks are claimed to be descendants of Tatarized Ugrian Magyar tribes which did not move toward Pannonian Plain but remained in so called Magyar "Urheimat".

The biggest Nağaybäk village is Parizh, Russia, named after French capital Paris; due to Nağaybäk's participation in Napoleonic wars.

Tiptär Tatars

Like Noğaybaqs, although they are Sunni Muslims. Some Tiptär Tatars speak Russian or Bashkir. According to Mishär and some Finnish scholars, Tiptärs are part of the Mişärs which moved to Urals and Yaik to serve in Russian frontier guarding troops after the fall of the Khanate of Kazan.

Mişär Tatars

Mişär or Mishar Tatars are a group of Volga Tatars. They stemmed from a mixture of Burtas and another people of Kipchak descent, populating Mishar Yurt in the Middle Oka River area and Meschiora. They then received a further admixture consisting of the local Finno-Ugric and Slavic tribes. They speak a Western dialect of the Tatar language. Originally they lived in Tambov, Penza, Ryazan oblasts of Russia, and in Mordovia, some western districts of Tatarstan. Later, after the fall of Kazan, some of them resettled in the east, in Southern Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, where they are known as Meshcheryaks, plus in Finland.

Qasím Tatars

Qasim Tatars are Mishär Tatars which moved after 1396 to Meshchora hillfort upland near Ryazan Principality west of Oka River. After the battle of Suzdal some Kazan Tatar noble families joined them. The Qasím Tatars' population numbers around 1100 persons. (See Qasim Khanate)

Astrakhan Tatars

Astrakhan Tatars (nearly 70,000) are a group of Tatars descendant of Astrakhan Khanate's agricultural population, living mostly in Astrakhan Oblast. During the 2000 census of Russia, most of Astrakhan Tatars identified themselves as common Tatars and few determined themselves to be Astrakhan Tatars.

Text from Britannica 1911:

The Astrakhan Tatars number about 10,000 and are, with the Kalmyks all that now remains of the once so powerful Astrakhan empire. They also are agriculturists and gardeners, whereas some 12,000 Kundrovsk Tatars still continue the nomadic life of their ancestors.

While Astrakhan (Ästerxan) Tatar is a mixed dialect, around 43,000 have assimilated to the Middle dialect. Their ancestors are Khazars, Kipchaks, and some Volga Bulgars—Volga Bulgars had trade colonies in modern Astrakhan and Volgograd oblasts of Russia.


The Volga Tatars speak a Turkic language (with a sizable complement of Russian and Arabic words — see Tatar language). Because it is understandable to all groups of Tatars, as well as to the neighboring Chuvash and Bashkirs, the language of the Volga Tatars became a literary language in the 15th century (iske tatar tele). The old literary language included many Arabic and Persian words. Nowadays, the literary language substitutes European and Russian words for Arabic ones.

Tatar language dialects

Tatar traditional rural clothes

There are 3 dialects: Eastern, Central, Western.

The western dialect (Mishar) is spoken by the Mishärs, the Middle dialect is spoken by Qazan Tatars and Astrakhan Tatars, and the Eastern (Sibir) dialect is spoken by some groups of Tatars in Russia's Novosibirsk, Tomsk and Tyumen oblasts by Siberian Tatars.

Middle Tatar is the base of literary for the Volga Tatar Language. The Middle dialect also has subdivisions. Middle dialect as well as Bashkir is a language of Bolgar-Kypchak group, whereas western and eastern form dialect continuum, merging with Kypchak-Nogai group languages.

Volga Tatar diaspora

Places where Volga Tatars live include:

  • Ural and Upper Kama (since 15th century) 15th century—colonization, 16th-17th century—re-settled by Russians; 17th-19th—exploring of the Urals, working in the plants
  • West Siberia (since 16th century): 16th—from Russian repressions after conquering of Khanate of Kazan by Russians 17th–19th—exploring of West Siberia; end of 19th—first half of 20th—industrialization, railways constructing; 1930s–Stalin's repressions; 1970s–1990s—oil workers
  • Moscow (since 17th century): Tatar feudals in the service of Russia, tradesmen, since 18th—Saint-Petersburg
  • Kazakhstan (since 18th century): 18th–19th centuries—Russian army officers and soldiers; 1930s–industrialization, since 1950s—settlers on virgin lands - re-emigration in 1990s
  • Finland (since 1804): (mostly Mişärs) – 19th – Russian military forces officers and soldiers, and others
  • Central Asia (since 19th century) (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan; for Xinjiang see Chinese Tatars) – 19th Russian officers and soldiers, tradesmen, religious emigrants, 1920-1930s – industrialization, Soviet education program for Central Asia peoples, 1948, 1960 – help for Ashgabat and Tashkent ruined by earthquakes. - re-emigration in 1980s
  • Caucasus, especially Azerbaijan (since 19th century) – oil workers (1890s), bread tradesmen
  • Northern China (since 1910s) – railway builders (1910s) - re-emigrated in 1950s
  • East Siberia (since 19th century) - resettled farmers (19th), railroad builders (1910s, 1980s), exiled by the Soviet government in 1930s
  • Germany and Austria - 1914, 1941 – prisoners of war, 1990s - emigration
  • Turkey, Japan, Iran, China, Egypt (since 1918) – emigration
  • England, USA, Australia, Canada, Argentina, Mexico – (1920s) re-emigration from Germany, Turkey, Japan, China and others. 1950s – prisoners of war from Germany, which did not go back to the USSR, 1990s – emigration after the break up of USSR
  • Sakhalin, Kaliningrad, Belarus, Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Karelia – after 1944-45 builders, Soviet military personnel
  • Murmansk Oblast, Khabarovsk Krai, Northern Poland and Northern Germany (1945 - 1990) - Soviet military personnel
  • Israel – wives or husbands of Jews (1990s)

See also



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