Crimean Tatars

Image - Crimean Tatar dancers. Image - Crimean Tatar dancers. Image - Crimean Tatar rally against the Russian intervention in the Crimea (7 March 2014).

Crimean Tatars [кримські татари; krymski tatary]. Turkic-speaking nation native to the Crimea. The Crimean Tatars are Sunni Moslems. In 1926 they numbered 179,000 and were divided into two groups: the northern (or steppe) Tatars and the southern Tatars. The steppe Tatars (125,000 in 1926) lived in the northern part of the Crimea and in the adjacent mountain foothills. Their language belongs to the Kipchak (Cuman) group of the Turkic languages, and they are descendants of the Mongol-Tatar invaders of the Crimea intermixed with other Turkic steppe peoples. The Tatars, who inhabited the southern part of the peninsula, including the Crimean Mountains, are descendants (54,000 in 1926) of Tatars intermixed with various other former inhabitants of the southern Crimea—Greeks, Goths, Khazars, Italians, and Slavs. Their language belongs to the Turkish group of the Turkic languages.

The Crimean Tatars emerged as a nation during the formation of the Crimean Khanate in the mid 15th century. The Khanate gained independence from the Golden Horde in 1449 and in 1478 it became a vassal state of Turkey. Following the annexation of the Crimea by Russia in 1783, the religious and economic repression of the Crimean Tatars caused their mass migration to Turkey. The number of Crimean Tatars declined continuously in absolute and relative terms: in 1775 there were estimated to be 200,000 Tatars, constituting 80 percent of the population; in 1897 there were 194,000 or 35.5 percent; in 1926 there were 179,000 or 25.1 percent. In 1944 the Crimean Tatars were deported en masse from the Crimea by the Soviet government to the Soviet interior. Since the 1950s they organized numerous mass campaigns for the right to return to their ancestral homeland, but these attempts met repeatedly by opposition from the Soviet authorities. In 1979 there were 15,078 Tatars in Crimea oblast of the Ukrainian SSR.

The Crimean Tatars were finally allowed to return to the Crimea in the late 1980s, but their migration began in earnest only after the 1991 Ukraine’s Declaration of Independence. Today some 250,000 Tatars reside in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.

(For more on the history of the Crimean Tatars, see Tatars.)

Fisher, A. The Crimean Tatars (Stanford 1978)
Allworth, E. (ed). The Tatars of Crimea: Return to the Homeland. 2nd edn (Durham, NC 1998)
Finnin, R. Blood of Others: Stalin’s Crimean Atrocity and the Poetics of Solidarity (Toronto 2022)

[This article was updated in 2014.]

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