Young and Minority Leaders

History of Tatar Muslims in Russia, & the Russian Conquest (1200-1953)

Hans Mayfield asked:

From the European Heritage Library


This essay offers the complete history of the Turkic Muslim Tatar people, often called the Scourge of Europe because of their Jihad against local Slavic peoples (as it is historically interpreted by the Slavs), followed by the history of their expulsion and massacre by the returning Slavs of the Russian Empire. Also included below are my personal ethnic and social observations of the Crimea from my vacation. Click the link at the top and bottom for the images that go with this article.

The region of the Crimea (today the southern tip of Ukraine) has acted for nearly a millennium as the buffer zone between the west and north (the Slavic Christian world), and the east and south (the Islamic Turkic world). This geographic volatility has caused the region of modern Ukraine and the Crimea to change hands between various Turkic (Tatar) armies and those of growing European empires. The endless ethnic conflict between the Turks and the Slavs (which continues today), as well as the war between the the Slavs’ colonial conquest and the retaliatory Islamic Jihad, are all epitomized in the Crimea and the Eurasian steppes. The collision between the two cultures, and the rapid expansion of the Russians at the expanse of the Muslim Turks can be described as a cause of Islamic uprising and conflict, and the aggression of Central Asian peoples when it occurred. Admittedly, though, the destruction of Russian principalities by the Mongols and the Turks, and the subsequent subjugation of much of Slavonia by the Islamic Golden Horde for centuries thereafter, preceded the brutal expansion and colonization of the Russians. The Russian side cannot pass all blame to the Muslims for their aggression then and now, just as the Muslim side cannot shroud the Turks’ continental holy war as a response to Christian cruelty.

Before the Mongol invasion of the 13th century, Central Asia west of Mongolia was populated by Sunni Muslim Turkic peoples collectively and derogatorily called “Tatars” (though today the Tatars themselves have embraced this heritage) who settled in modern Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, the eastern Volga, and southern Siberia. The Tatar Turks were famed for their efforts to raid civilian Christian caravans, though this is probably exaggerated and biased; nonetheless, the Tatars were famed for their corporal will, Islamic piety, and equestrian prowess. The Tatars were disunited tribal confederations who spoke a language in the Turkish family (today called Tatar), and adhered to the Turkish culture and Islamic faith. The Mongol scourge conquered the many Turkic tribes in Central Asia along with the Russian Slavs to the west as part of history’s most massive contiguous empire. Instead of simply looting his subjects, he exploited the equestrian skills of the Turkic peoples by creating vassalized nation-states throughout Central Asia to fuel their need for military regiments. The use of Turkic Muslims by the Mongol invaders is visible today as a legacy, as the ethnic distribution of Central Asia consists of large Turkic and Mongol populations together. All are linguistically and culturally Turkic because of this heritage. These Turkic Tatars settled in these formerly-Russian lands of modern Ukraine and the Volga (especially at the capital of Kazan in today’s Tatarstan of central Russia), having secured a new Turkic empire after the victorious assault against the Christian Slavs. The Russian states had been obliterated, their land replaced by Islamic authority in the east, with Russian states as far north as Novgorod forced to pay annual tribute as vassal states. With the quick collapse of the Mongol Empire into a huge variety of successor states in China, Mongolia, Central Asia, Iran, and central Russia, the Tatar Muslims were divided into a number of “hordes” such as the Blue and White Hordes — all united under the banner of Sunni Islam. Though many Central Asian Mongol-borne states were Turkish- and Muslim-populated, their leaders tended to be animist/pagan Mongol as descendants from Chinggis Khan. Batu Khan led the Blue Horde, and Urda Khan the White. The population was ethnic Turkic Tatar Muslim. The broken Russian Christian Slavs were busy rallying against invading crusading knights of the German Empire, and gradually worked to coalesce together in the face of Mongol and Muslim hegemony, though it would not be until the 16th century that the Slavs began to create a unified Russian empire as a world superpower free of Islamic fighters stretching from the Urals to the Crimea.

By 1300, the warring Turkic Muslim hordes and their Mongol leaders had coalesced into a unified state of Central Asian Turks, merging the Blue and White Hordes into the Golden Horde first under Berkei Khan. The Golden Horde was only one of several Turkic Muslim states that followed the expansion of the Mongols. The new superpower — whose leaders remained ethnic Mongol Shamanist or Buddhist and their population ethnic Turkish Muslims — quickly annexed excluded Turkic states, engaged in an expansive Jihad against Christian Russian states, against the Byzantine Greeks, against eastern Poland, and against Lithuania and Hungary. By 1400, the Golden Horde stretched from eastern Poland to East Turkestan (western Mongolia), and from Siberia to northern Turkmenistan. By the reign of sultan Uzbeg Khan, whose reign ushered in the Golden Horde’s golden age, the non-Turkic leaders of the post-Mongol states had formally adopted Sunni Islam as the compulsory religion of all their citizens. The role of the ethnic Mongol elite gradually collapsed, and the Tatar Muslim population more and more gained authority. The Golden Horde’s conquest of Ruthenians (Ukrainians) and Slavs of modern Russia tightened the wedge between Christian Europe and Turkic Muslims of the east. The application of religious conviction and zeal to conquest as a Jihad was natural for the time, just as European conquests were rife with Christian rhetoric. The Turks of modern Turkey had already entered Anatolia (where Turkey today lies) to the south, where their Jihad expelled the Greek Byzantine settlers in the wake of their mighty horseback armies. The advanced military tactics of the powerful Golden Horde caused millions to suffer death under the blade of their Jihad, making the Golden Horde one of the wealthiest, advanced, and powerful states in Eurasia. Its wealth made the Golden Horde’s territory highly attractive to Muslim scholars and merchants from across the Muslim world. The Christian Slavs, expelled from Ukraine (Ruthenia) and the Volga, were far too weak following the Mongol conquest to offer uniform resistance to re-establish their Slavic native statehood. The gorge of violence cannot be solely placed upon the Muslim conquerers; both cultures brutally warred against each other and their respective religions. In this history, however, it was the Muslims whose Jihad brought much of Slavonia to its knees, long before the Russians began to exploit and conquer the remaining Muslim states in Central Asia.

The Golden Horde suffered a gradual decline towards its end, and its mortal blow was not dealt by revolting Christians nor a uniform Christian crusade, but rather ironically by a Mongol Muslim general to the south. The ethnic Mongol (Uzbek) Muslim Timur-i-Leng of the Timurid Empire (centered in Uzbek Samarqand and Shi’ia Iran) worked to expand one of the world’s greatest empires by slaughtering the Horde’s largest armies and burning the Tatar capital. Timur’s (also called Tamerlane and Temur) empire stretched from the Crimea to the gates of Muslim Delhi in India. Timur is often described as a Tatar despite being an ethnic Mongol due to his adherence to Turkic and Persian culture. In his brutal Jihad for world conquest in which he never lost a single major battle, Timur crushed the Ottoman empire, the Delhi sultanate, the Mongol hordes of Central Asia, Mongol-ruled Iran, Iraq, Georgia, and finally the Golden Horde, becoming one of history’s
greatest (yet lea
st known) conquerers since Alexander the Great. Timur claimed to use the Golden Horde’s perceived decadence against Islam and treachery as a pretense for conquering the Golden Horde, then ruled by the emir Toktamysh. The Horde, like Timur’s empire, would barely survive past their respective leaders’ deaths. Within 100 years, the Golden Horde and surrounding Turkic Muslim “khanates” (Mongol successor states) further shattered in pieces. One of these breakaway states was that of the Crimean Emirate (or Khanate) to the south of the Russian/Ukrainian Slavs centered along the Crimean peninsula. Other broken successor states of the Golden Horde were centered in Kazan (Tatarstan) of modern central Russia, Kazakh and Uzbek tribes, and the emirate of Astrakhan to the southern marches of the Caucasus. The Muslim leaders would retain leadership in Crimea (modern southern Ukraine) for centuries to follow.

The collapse of the Islamic Tatar empire in civil war allowed the Slavic Ruthenians (Ukrainians), Lithuanians, Poles, and Russians to expand and dominate, causing a golden age in all of the Slavic world. Muskowy (Moscow) Russian kings Ivan the Great and Ivan the Terrible expanded Moscow to include nearly a dozen warring ethnic-Russian states (especially Novgorod, Tver, Pskov, and Yaroslavl) in the new Russian Empire. Crowning himself emperor of the Third Rome, as the second Rome had been obliterated by the Islamic conquest at Constantinople, Ivan the Terrible conquered Tatar Astrakhan and Kazan (modern Tatarstan in Russia), foreshadowing a permanent decline of Islam and the triumph of Orthodox Slavs in what would soon become “Russia”. The Muslims were expelled from Slavic lands, and Islam was largely banned. The new Russian state, which included Ukrainians (but not the Tatar Islamic Crimea to the south) soon stretched from the Arctic to the southern Volga. The hegemony wrought by Islam was quickly replaced by the hegemony of the Christian Slavs, whose colonial conquest eventually annexed what by modern populations would include more than 60,000,000 Muslims — nearly all of the Muslims of Central Asia, the Crimea, and the Caucasus. An ironic reversal of the social history of Eurasia. The brutality of the Islamic warriors is no different than the massive colonial conquests of the Russian Christians, who soon created the largest nation on earth, a geographic wonder that remains to this day.

The post-Golden Horde emirate of the pre-Slavic Crimea of modern Ukraine functioned thereafter as an independent Islamic Tatar state too crippled to levy significant damage to the towering behemoth that was the new Russia. The wealthy trade of the Black Sea coast allowed this large but relatively passive Islamic state to thrive. The population became known as Crimean Tatars to distinguish from ethnic Turkic Tatars elsewhere in Central Asia. The Crimea, previously inhabited by Slavic Russians and Ruthenians (Ukrainians) before the Mongol conquest, were now instead Turkic Muslim after the conquest and expulsion of Slavs by the Golden Horde. The emirate of the Tatars also was able to thrive due to frequent and stable trade alliances with the Turkish Ottoman Empire, the Turkmen hordes, the Noghai, and other Tatar states based upon common stock and Sunni Muslim faith. But the expansive efforts of the European superpowers and colonial kingdoms marked the end of Tatar power in the pre-Slavic Crimea. The Genoese Catholic Italians colonized Kaffa, modern Yalta, and Azow in the middle 15th century. The Russians had conquered nearly all of Siberia, the Volga, and the Ukrainian steppe, effectively cutting off the sociopolitical link of the Crimean Tatars to their Muslim allies expelled by the Russians. A Christian (Genoese) presence in Turkic Tatar Crimea infuriated their Turkish Ottoman brothers, who promptly invaded the Crimea to save the righteous from the infidels invading from the north. The Crimean Tatars and their emirate became vassals of the Ottomans by the end of the 15th century.

Turkish support of their Tatar brethren allowed the Tatar Crimean state to survive, and independence of the Crimea from the Christian Russians was retained until the late 18th century. The brilliant military and political genius of the Swedish czarina of Russia, Katherina the Great, as well as the increasing decline of the Ottomans allowed the Russian superpower (the world’s largest empire) to annex the Tatar Crimea from the Ottomans and the Crimean Emirate in 1783. Cut off from Turkish aid and now ruled by the Russians, the Islamic heritage and faith of the Tatars was quickly banned, their mosques burnt (among them some of the oldest in Central Asia), and millions of Tatars all across southern Russia slaughtered or expelled. Tens of thousands of those who survived fled their homes to the Ottoman Empire as what are today referred to as “Mujahiruna” (Muslim expatriats displaced by non-Muslim conquest). Their traditions were marginalized, their women’s veils and headscarves banned, Islam forbidden, their language outlawed, and treated as second-class citizens based upon their non-Russian race as Turks (forever the enemy of the Slavs, as seen above). Nonetheless, thousands of Tatars remained in Russian political land and in the Crimea for several centuries until today. The Crimea and its northern frontiers, previously ethnic Slav and then replaced entirely by Turkic Tatar, was once again almost entirely Slavic Ukrainian and Russian. Russia would expand to conquer the Uzbek, Kazakh, and other Mongol Muslim tribes in Central Asia by the 1900 under the Alexandrian reign. Because of Russia’s history of extensive conquest of Mongol and Muslim peoples across Central and Northern Asia, Russia has since had a unique ethnographic distribution of Mongols, Turks, Iranians, and all the religions they express.

The Crimea remained a region populated by Russians, Ukranians, and Tatar Turks until the Communist revolution, when the ethnopolitical situation became even more complicated. The overthrow of the Russian Empire by the Bolsheviks forced Russia out of the war. A result of the Brest-Litovsk Pact (through which Russia escaped the war) effectively cemented the declaration of independence of non-Slavic Estonia, Latvia, Finland, as well as Slavic Poland, Ukraine, and Lithuania. The fact that some ethnic groups or nations achieved independence, but others did not, incited the Islamic cultures under Russian rule to seek independence, including the Azerbaijani Shi’ia Turks and the Tatars of southern Russia and the Crimea. The appointment of Premier Joseph Stalin as absolute leader of the Soviet Union spelled the reversal of their independence hopes. The invading Axis powers (Germany, Finland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, etc.) were surprised to find a faithful ally in the Tatars, many of whom joined the German SS (Schutzstaffel) and volunteer legions by the thousands. Many Tatars applied Islamic Jihad as a way to liberate Muslims from the harsh rule of the atheistic Communists. The Muslim Tatars hoped to gain independence via their aid to the Fascists, and the leaders of both sides found a natural bond between the Muslims and the National Socialists due to a mutual hatred for Jews, Communists, as well as the common rejection of Allied secularism and atheism. After the war and the ascension of the Soviet Union to world geographic supremacy, Joseph Stalin expelled virtually every single Muslim, Tatar, and Turk to Kazakhstan — along with the Volga Germans — for their collective treacherous anti-Soviet support for the enemy Fascists. The Tatars, once again, were expelled from their homelands in the Eurasian steppes and in the now-Slavic Crimea. Tens of thousands of others were either executed or sent to gulags for mass forced labor in Uzbek camps or in Siberia in southern Russia. Retaliatory reprisals or Jihad by the expelled Muslims was impossible against an enemy so powerful as Stalin’s Soviet Union, the largest empire on earth.

After the death of Stalin in 1953 and the gradual liberalization of the USSR under Mikhail Gorbachev (and especially the 1991 co
llapse of
the Soviet Union), the Muslim Turks, Tatars, and Mongol (Uzbeks, Kazakhs, etc.) cultures were allowed to return to what remained of the Soviet Union. Crimean Tatars returned to the Crimea of the Ukrainian SSR, and Volga Germans fled the Kazakh SSR to West or East Germany based upon ethnic grounds. Such remains today: the now-Slavic Crimea of independent Ukraine is almost entirely Slavic with a tiny minority of Tatars. Officially, only .5% of Ukraine is of the Turkic Tatar race (Source: CIA World Factbook). A variety of social and historical factors make the Tatars of the Crimea even less reminiscent of their staunch Islamic roots. Firstly, the Tatars live in a Christian Slavic country with no almost independent politics. They are a minority in a white European nation, and fear that the use of traditional Islamic beliefs or clothing like veils and robes will make them target for discrimination. Secondly, a long history of Russian brutality and Communist atheism have caused many of the Tatar Turks still today under non-independent Russian statehood to lose their Islamic faith. Thirdly, many Tatars in the Crimea view it such that social (not ethnic) integration will offer access to economic opportunities that are already so rare during the hardships following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Indeed, the Crimea has acted as a geographic buffer state between the Islamic east and the Christian Slavic west for nearly 900 year of ethnopolitical history. Still today, despite the largely ceremonial creation of “autonomous” ethnic republics for Russia’s different ethnic groups and religions, the Tatars lack their own in the Crimea. This ethnosocial hardship and decline in faith of the Crimean Tatars does not apply to the ultraconservative Tatar Muslims in southern Russia and the Caucasus like the Chechnyans, whose Jihad continues to this day. So too, the independence of the Kazakhs, Uzbeks, and Azerbaijanis allows a great degree of piety and Islamic revival often in the form of Jihad and fundamentalism in these Central Asian Islamic cultures. To read about the Muslims of Chechnya and the Caucasus, their Jihad then and now, and the Russian conquest thereof, read our other article.

Below are my ethnic & social observations of the Crimea from my vacation to Yalta on the Crimean coastline. A vacation to the Crimea of modern Ukraine today would encourage a tourist or resident to think that no Muslim army or nation ever set foot here. The Christian Slavs — both during the Orthodox Russian Empire and the atheistic Soviet Union of Stalin — have truly erased all evidence of the Islamic and Tatar heritage of the region. Ukraine and the Crimea are among the world’s most racially homogeneous regions on earth (the population being almost 100% Slavic). The Slavic culture is nearly universal. The mosques have been replaced by radiant and conservative Orthodox cathedrals. The Tatar Turkish language has been replaced by Ukrainian Cyrillic (but the former is now legal). The tiny ethnic Tatar population that remains seldom engages in ethnic conflict with the locals due to the fact that they both have no chance at armed succession due to their decimated size as well as the fact that Gorbachev’s liberalization of the Soviet policy already gave them relative autonomy. Almost no headscarves or Islamic gear can be seen. Nonetheless, having enjoyed nearly a decade of post-Soviet stability, many Tatars are working to return to their non-Slavic Islamic roots as well as calls for independence like the Azerbaijani and Turkmen (now-free ex-Soviet Turkic states). Ukraine and the Crimea are no collapsed and dilapidated ex-Soviet states as one would expect; Ukraine is a growing and upright economy whose cities have almost no trash, no graffiti outside of Kiev, and few trash cans (indicating social responsibility). It is among the most beautiful countries in the world, with massive parks and nature areas to preserve the lush forests and coastlines. The growing job market causes Ukraine to have a small immigrant population of Dravidian and Indo-Aryan laborers from India, as well as Asians from Korea and especially Muslim Central Asia due to its proximity. There is a small ethnic Gypsy population that, like in Bulgaria and Romania, is brutally hated for their universal theft, dire poverty, and crime as a whole. Very little English is spoken due to the fact that few tourists are expected at this point. The language barrier allows swindling salesmen to fraudulently sell false products like leathers, “designer clothing”, and caviars that actually contain poisons that can result even in death.

Tatar culture can be seen in the economic business sense. The huqqah/hookah waterpipe through which fruit-flavored tobacco (shisha) is smoked is a relic of Muslim Arabic and especially Turkish culture. The popularity of huqqah bars (seen below) in Ukraine is indicative that the Turkic Muslim Tatars are having a degree of economic influence in their former Crimea. Many of the businesses are owned by Turks, though some are owned by Ukrainians. Tatars are trying to build mosques in Ukraine, indicating a return to their Islamic roots, though almost none exists at this stage. The history of the Islamic conflict and their Jihad with the Slavs can be seen in one of Yalta’s greatest palaces, whose backside has a cut half-dome with minarets to resemble a mosque (a picture shown below) to commemorate its beautiful style as well as the brief period of Russian peace during the period with the fundamentalist theocracy of Safavid Shi’ia Iran.

The issue of alcohol is a problem in Ukraine as well. Alcohol of all forms is forbidden in al-Qur’an without exception. When the Christian Slavs defeated the Jihad, this policy was reversed, as is apparent to the modern relatively liberal Tatars of today (though many of whom drink beer as well). The importance of alcohol now in contrast to its illegality in the Islamic past is a great indicator of the ethnic history of the Crimea from Islamic Turkish rule to Christian Slavic. In Ukraine, alcoholism is a common and serious problem. Dozens of children as young as perhaps 13 can be seen at the crack of dawn with beer in hand, despite the fact that alcohol can only be served to Ukrainians at age 18 under the guise that an adult is present (and they aren’t). Alcoholism is so common in Ukraine that many local leaders of the Ukrainian SS ordered the burning and closure of nearly half of all Ukrainian vinyards, distilleries, and breweries to alleviate excessive alcohol consumption. The state-owned vineyards offers Ukraine’s most popular wine for internal shipping as well as export. Massive vineyards all throughout the nation can be visited for wine tasting; Ukraine specializes in quite strong ports, dessert drinks, and other brandy-like spirits ranging from 15% to 30%. Indeed, a great cultural and religious reversal is present in the alcohol-free culture of the Muslim past and the over-indulgent one of the Slavic-dominated present.

The issue of corruption in Ukraine is as intense as any post-Soviet country. The Russian and Ukrainian mafia own a variety of “philanthropic” businesses like sanitaria, hospitals, social and health clubs, and hospitals that are solely for political power and economic income. Many local restaurants and businesses are actually illegal gambling sites or mafia fronts. The mass wealth of the mafia in comparison to the economically-struggling Ukrainian majority allows the mafia to control a great deal of politics and the police. There are soldiers everywhere in Ukraine even in restaurants, causing many to link them to mafia control efforts. Gambling and casinos are banned in much of Ukraine to prevent corruption. Drivers in Ukraine are quite reckless generally, with many claiming that this is the result of the ability for the wealthy to bribe police desperate for the extra Hryvnia (Ukrainian dollar). The recent 2004 Orange Revolution that ushered in the poisoned Victor Yushchenko into the presidency was Ukraine’s answer to drastically reform and annihilate police corruption and the mafia. The poisoning of Yushch
enko was
believed to be the work of the same Russian or Ukrainian mafia, or even the KGB some claim. The nationalization of many businesses to the state — reminiscent of their hated Soviet oppressors of the past — is a positive way for the government to prevent the corruption of privatized mafias. Most Ukrainians attribute economic crime and corruption to the native Slavic Ukrainians, whilst social crime, theft, and youth gang activity rest disproportionately with the Turkic Tatar minority. Many Ukrainians attribute the corruption to the Russians themselves, and thus an almost universal hatred for Stalin and Lenin exists here, despite the long history of support for the Soviet Union. All monuments and statues to Lenin and Stalin have been torn down with few exceptions. In Yalta, there exists a monument to Lenin seen below that is to be demolished with haste. Communist parties are opposed greatly due to being deemed affiliates of the corrupt mafias, though socialism remains strong with a very strong (not liberal or left at all) government. Some of the locals, some buildings, and a lot of what little graffiti exists in Ukraine includes Swastikas (Hakenkreuze) out of sympathy for the fact that Russian atheistic Communism, Russian political control, and Jewish domination of the economy and the government (as they almost universally acted as leaders of Communist movements all over Europe) were all quelled by the invading Germans and Romanians. This labeling of current Jewish dominance is dubious due to the fact that more than 1.5 million Jews died here at the hands of the Ukrainians and Germans alike; the rest fled to the United States and Israel. The Ukrainian hatred for the Fascist invaders to the west as well as the corrupt atheists to the east cause Ukrainians to bind themselves to their independent heritage as Orthodox Ukrainian socialists and nothing else. Ukraine’s position on the Black Sea (thus their mass abundance in natural gas and rich oil reserves) causes Russia to use its superior technology in Ukraine to exploit their rich resources, again accelerating Ukrainian claims of Russian corruption and imperialism.

The endless ethnic, social, and religious conflict between European Christian cultures and the Jihad of Islamic ones is epitomized in the region of the Crimea, where Christendom was destroyed by the blade of the proud Mujahidin, who successively were destroyed by the Slavs once again. Indeed, the Christian Slavs are just as guilty as the Mujahidin Islamic fighters of violent warfare. Nonetheless, the dormant ethnic and religious incompatibility of the cultures of Europe and those of the Prophet Muhammad is becoming more and more aware as the two worlds come into collision with each other.

From the European Heritage Library


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