The Crimean Tatars and their place in the history of Ukraine

The Crimean Tatars and their place in the history of Ukraine
Oleksiy Savchenko, Senior Researcher, National Museum of Ukrainian History
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The Western Tatars are quite mysterious ethnic group. It is difficult to find information about them in school books. However, they were a part of the history of Ukraine and Eastern Europe as a whole. Oleksiy Savchenko, the senior museum researcher at the National Museum of the History of Ukraine, held a lecture on the Tatars from the Right Bank and Western Ukraine.

- The interrelations of ancestors and modern Ukrainians with the Steppe region, the East and, accordingly, the Turkic peoples are usually one of the central topics of our historical narrative. Although, the researchers often touch on this topic, they mainly stress out the military aspect implied by the neighborhood. Such situation had developed since the XIX century. As always, the history depended on politics. At that time, highlighting the relationship with the closest neighbors, as negative, was a beneficial strategy. The researchers tried to oppose the "advanced" agricultural civilization to "barbaric" nomadic one. This attitude was entrenched in the Soviet times as well.

The Western Tatars is an ethnic group, formed as a result of almost five hundred years of relations between the population of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Kingdom of Poland and the Turkic population of Eastern Europe. Traditionally, scholars from Lithuania, Belarus and Poland paid more attention to Western Tatars history, than researchers from other countries. Nowadays, the small communities (25-30 thousand) of them have remained only in these countries, although, their population has been growing in the last decade. The Lithuanians call them the Lithuanian Tatars, the Belarusians - the Belarusian Tatars, the Poles the Polish Tatars. Tatars from Volyn, Galicia and Podil also exist. All these denominations concerns the same community that settled in the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and later - in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Western Tatars were studied rather in the context of the neighboring countries history, then the history of Ukraine. They were not associated with Ukrainians, which was a mistake. The image that illustrates the lecture hold a special significance: the Polish media mark that there are Polish Tatars in it. The study confirmed that this image described Tatars from the territory of Ukraine, and it was taken from a postcard, signed as follows: “Ukraine. Tatars with horse-drawn carriages in national costumes. June 30, 1917. Lithuania".

Western Tatars’ communities were scattered on the territory of Ukraine, then destroyed by the Soviet government and the German occupation. Significantly, even researchers, who came from this ethnic group in Lithuania and Belarus, were repressed: some of them were arrested and executed by Soviet troops, some of them - by the Gestapo. Their fates illustrate the destiny of the Western Tatars, including those who lived in the Ukrainian lands.


A Rescue through assimilation

- They began forming as an ethnos in the XIV – XV centuries. During prince Vitovt reign, the Tatars soldiers passed the legal registration. They were awarded with the first privileges, which guaranteed them military status and imposed certain duties. The descendants of the Western Tatars appealed to these privileges even in the 19th century.

Tatars quickly mixed with the local population. It is telling that the Glinski clan comes from Mamaia, Tatar temnik. His son Mansur-Kiyak settled in the territory of modern Poltava region, where he built a number of settlements. His son’s name was Andrew and he was married to Ostroh knyaz’s daughter, and his grandchildren were Christians. Such examples were more than enough: losing power, the khans tried to sit out in Lithuania. Lithuanian princes and Polish kings were bragging about such a prestigious ally and honorary prisoner, who sat to the right of the Lithuanian prince, and participated in all red carpet events, as a symbol of the successful steppe policy.

By the end of the XIV century, the Tatars had already spoken the local Slavic languages and adopted the local lifestyle. Some of them joined the zemstvo service and tried to participate in the political life of societies. That required being Christians. Scholars wrote that at least one third of the szlachta nobility servicemen from the Kyiv and Bratslavshchyna regions were of Turkic origin - every third szlachta serviceman was from the Steppe.

From the end of the 15th to the beginning of the 16th century the Western Tatars faced some changes in their policy. The threat from the Teutonic campaigns had already disappeared by that time, as well as the interest in strengthening the western borders. Though, there was a need to strengthen the southern and south-eastern borders. The Tatar siege moved precisely to these boundaries, and, as a result, much more of Tatar population went to the military service on the territory of Ukraine. Some of the Tatars, who were in the service to knyazes and kings, can be compared to the registered Cossacks. They had nobility titles. They were freed from physical labor, but they had no political rights, and did not elect a king.

Imagine, in the 16th century you came to visit the Orthodox knyaz, Kostyantyn Ostrogski, the patron saint of religion, but first you had to pass by Tatar tower with a Tatar garrison. In order to reach this tower, one had to drive through Zarechye the Tatar arrows lived in and guarded the entrance to the city.

A lot of Ukrainian figures were of Turkic origin and the Kozakevych family was among them. Its descent, Mustafa Kozakevych, was the famous ethnographer, who explored Polissya region in Ukraine. Agatangel Krymsky is also directly related to the community of Western Tatars. Although, his ancestor was a mule in Bakhchisarai, he moved to Belarus later.


Where in Ukraine are traces of Western Tatars?

- The Tatars, who moved to the Polish, Lithuanian and Ukrainian lands, could practice their religion - Islam. They already spoke Slavic languages, wore local clothing, but still followed their certain customs. Tatars wrote prayer books, using Ukrainian or Polish words but by Arabic letters. They lived in national neighborhoods, often called Tatar. As a result, nowadays there are quite enough localities and streets that are called Tatar in the Right Bank and Western Ukraine.

In Starokostiantyniv’s countryside (Khmelnytskyi oblast’) Tatars lived in 24 houses (3-4 families in each). By 1636, this number had risen to 60 houses. For a long time there was a shop in the town, where people could buy halal food and drink Tatar koumiss. In the 19th century, a Russian colonel passed through this town one day. He recalled that the Tatars had not already a mosque, but when he entered the local synagogue, he saw an Arabic inscription on one of the stones. Local people explained him that that synagogue was rebuilt from a mosque, because building materials were quite expensive.

Lutsk also had a street, where a lot of Tatars lived. Lutsk Tatars even initiated a legal proceeding against the city Orthodox clergy concerning illegal construction. An Orthodox church was built on this street without Tatars’ permission. There was a Tatar settlement in Ternopil countryside, which became a part of the city and nowadays it is called Tatarska Street.

A vivid example of colonization is Kovalivka settlement (present-day in Vinnytsia Oblast’). There are evidences that in the second half of the 18th century, several Tatar families still lived there. They had a mosque, their own mule, serviced masses in Arabic, but they did not understand the meaning, just memorized the necessary prayers. There were interesting cases concerning this Mykhailo Yakubovych wrote about: Turkish Sultan, who reigned in the 18th century, was mentioned in Yuvkyvets Hamail in the 19th century.

There is Tatarska Street in modern Lviv, as well as Krakowska Street, which was also previously called Tatarska Street. Through the Tatar gates people could entered the city coming from the north, and the Tatars' families lived near those gates.

Actually not all modern names and locations directly relate to the Tatars. Some towers were called Tatars, because they faced the steppe. The Tatar fords got this name, because they were located on the Tatar road. There is a Tatariv village in the Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, but it has no relation to Tatars, and until 1930 it was called Tatariv.

Western Tatars took part in our ethnogenesis process and were a part of our history. Many words have Eastern etymology, and some even become sacred for us. For example, “Maidan” is also borrowed from the languages of the steppe nomads.

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