Crimea Tatars Are Not An Ethnic Group,
The greatest ethnologist of the 20th century Lev Nikolaevich Gumilev used to say about the ethnic groups the following: ethnic group is a stable form of collective existence of people naturally formed and organically embedded into the biosphere (landscape). Every ethnic group being part of the particular environment, in other words landscape, set itself off against all other similar communities by distinguishing itself with behavioral pattern and mentality. Ethnic groups are formed both in Lithic Age and today on the basis of complementarity which shows itself in common likings and disliking both for people and natural phenomenon. According to Mr. Gumilev the group of similar ethnic groups forms “super ethnic group" which by means of creating ethnic traditions forms cultural and world outlook, forms of communal conduct and economy which have unique peculiarities in every ethnic group. (2) Today there are more than five thousand ethnic groups in the world. Their number continuously increases. The average lifetime of an ethnic group according to Mr. Gumilev comprises around 1200 years. After its birth the ethnic group evolves going through several stages in its development. The natural life of an ethnic group could be interrupted ending up at any stage depending on historical situation. It could also stretched exceeding 2000-year mark.
As far as the nations concerns, Lev Gumilev doesn’t study them. However, it doesn’t mean that a nation as one of the forms of human community doesn't exist. In the 20th century the human public thought just didn’t have time to summon the experience of this form of collective existence of a human being, and naturally, to form the new phenomenon. Taking into consideration all what was mentioned above one could make the conclusion that there is no common clear definition of nation.
We will not enumerate the definitions of nation that were adopted in different countries in this work to avoid polemics over pro’s and con’s of each of them. We will just state our conception of a nation on a particular historical example, stating the fact of existence of particular community of people which in no way could be called an ethnic group, but which nevertheless exists in the form of a monolith and isn't limited by modern national frontiers.
In this case the thing will come about Crimean Tatars.
Well, let’s begin with the question why Crimean Tatars can’t be referred to as an ethnic group? First, because until the 15-16th centuries there was no such ethnic group in the world, while the nation was very quickly formed within the young state known as Crimean Khanate. Second, meaning under an ethnic group the natural entity of human community we in no way could say that Crimean Tatar people were formed in natural way, that is the way all other ethnic groups of the world were formed. The thing is that people who suddenly called themselves Crimean Tatars belonged to the most various ethnic groups of the Crimea that at those times reached the number of up to several dozens according to V.E. Vozgrin (1). Thus, the definition of nation most of all suited to the new community of people that appeared in the young state. However, why this nation was called Tatars? You see, not only Muslims were called so in Crimea.
The thing is that in multiethnic Crimea where in addition was complete religious tolerance it was easier for people that inhabited this Turkic speaking territory to distinguish each other not on their ethnic origin, which not every one could define getting messed up in an countless numbers of ethnic groups of Crimea, but on one's religious belonging, good their number wasn't too large. That is why all kinds of Christians in Crimea were called simply Urums, Jews - Krymchaks, Karaits – Karaims, and Muslims were started referring to as Tatars who after they seized the peninsular back in the 8th century introduced Islam proclaiming it their state religion. Thus, the definition of Tatar in Crimea was referred first to religious belonging, but in no way to ethnic origin. In other words, after the establishment of Tatar – Mongol rule Tatars in Crimea were called exclusively Muslims who could become any resident of the Crimea regardless his ethnic origin.
However, after the declaration of the separatist independent state on the territory of the Crimea in 1443 headed by Chingizid Devlet Khadzhy Giray – Muslim on one’s religious belonging and Tatar on one’s convictions – so he proudly called himself, Islam being unpopular religion in Crimea started gradually gaining popularity, because Khadzhy Giray leaded the war for independence of Crimean population against boring dictatorship of Golden Horde governors from Saray. That is why during the rule of Gerays in Crimea the number of Tatars started growing rapidly.
However, the most significant shift of Crimea population to Islam started when Golden Horde Empire moved its capital to Moscow after the defeat and destruction of Saray by Mengli Giray. Moscow principality harried proclaiming itself the successor of Golden Horde Empire, and the great prince Ivan the Terrible showing off his origin (Elena Glinskaya - Ivan the Terrible’s mother belonged to Chingizid family) proclaimed himself the King – the title that was given exclusively to the descendants of Chingiz Khan, though not on feminine, but on male line, however Ivan the Terrible neglected this convention. Because the state religion of Muscovy was orthodox Christianity the new successor of Golden Horde started Christianization of the entire empire.
However, not only Moscow fought for the legacy of the defeated empire. Crimea also battled for this right, formally having more rights for that. That is why the struggle between Moscow and Crimea acquired much acuity at the times of Mengli Giray’s descendants and Ivan the Third. The confrontation also touched the spiritual sphere. Mainly orthodox in the past Crimea, after the escalation of relations with Moscow started turning very quickly into Islam. That means that almost the entire Crimean population started calling themselves Tatars, generally turning from Christianity to Islam. As far as the ethnic origin of an every newly brought to light Tatar concerned, with the lapse of time people for the most part forgot it. So, by the end of the 18th century 98 % of Crimean population became Tatar. The rest 2 % comprised the same Urums, Karaims and Krymchaks. At that, the number of Urums was fixed very precisely in 1783 by the occupation administration – thirty one thousand people. (3)
Thus, if we will hold to the definition of nation adopted by UN countries Crimean Tatars by the beginning of the 18th century created the nation which was formed within the boundaries of an independent state.
However, in 1783 the state was destroyed and Crimean Tatars suffered an unprecedented genocide. Seemingly in this case the fate of the nation was predetermined: no state and people – Crimean Tatars escaped from Crimean Khanate in panic. In this situation the refugees usually get assimilated, dissolving in those nations they came to. The fate of those people that remained in Crimea and who faced an everyday genocide was even poorer. They were deprived of all human rights.
So what? According to views of UN theoreticians the nation of Crimean Tatars seemingly must have been disappeared. No state – no nation.
However, life showed that this theory couldn’t squeeze into its narrow frames the really existing precedent. Crimean Tatar nation formed in Crimean Khanate didn’t disappear after its destruction, but kept on existing. More over it already exists for 250 years in the conditions of the severest genocide when during the communist regime there were attempts of its physical destruction with the help of an inhuman deportation. What hasn't the authorities made in order to achieve their cannibalistic goal, but the nation just gained unity. And at this the nation represented a real mishmash in its ethnic-anthropological composition, embodying in itself not only more than three tens of ethnic groups, but even two major human races – white and yellow.
Where on earth could one see anything common? In America? Yes, there they have the same mishmash of ethnic groups and races. Though, there this unity is supported by the state boundaries of democratic and prospering state. However, what would happen if Americans will be deprived of their state? Will they remain the same solid nation as now? That is the question. Though, in the case of Crimean Tatars this question didn’t now exist long ago. Instead of the question they have a strong bold dot!
Thus, I hope I could prove on the example of Crimean Tatars that in certain historical conditions the nations could exist even without the state where they were formed. That is why one should make some amendments and notes into the wording of the definition of nation adopted in UN that would take into consideration such kind of precedent. You see. Crimean Tatars are not a unique example of vitality of nation. The history of nations has already seen such phenomenon: two thousands years ago Jew nation experienced the same catastrophe. However, the nation preserved no matter what. Two thousands years later they restored their state.
Examining the given examples from ethnological point of view we couldn’t give logical explanation to them. However, unlike an ethnic group the nation is not natural, but artificial community of people, in other words originating not from an instinct, but mind. As we know, the artificial is more lasting than the natural one. That is why until at least one person on Earth won’t stop calling himself Crimean Tatar Crimean Tatar nation will exist infinitely. Because nation is community of free people united under the flag of common idea and future goals.
1. ÂîçãðèíÂ.Å. - Èñòîðè÷åñêèå ñóäüáû êðûìñêèõ òàòàð. «Ìûñëü», 1992.
2. Ãóìèë¸â Ë.Í. - Ýòíîñôåðà. Èñòîðèÿ ëþäåé è èñòîðèÿ ïðèðîäû. «Ýêîïðîñ», 1993.
3. Ìàðêîâ Å.Â. - Î÷åðêè Êðûìà. ÑÏá. 1902.