Crimean Tatars in Bulgaria
After 1241 , the year of the earliest recorded Tatar invasion of Bulgaria
Bulgaria , officially the Republic of Bulgaria , is a parliamentary democracy within a unitary constitutional republic in Southeast Europe. The country borders Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, as well as the Black Sea to the east...

, the Second Bulgarian Empire
Second Bulgarian Empire
The Second Bulgarian Empire was a medieval Bulgarian state which existed between 1185 and 1396 . A successor of the First Bulgarian Empire, it reached the peak of its power under Kaloyan and Ivan Asen II before gradually being conquered by the Ottomans in the late 14th-early 15th century...

 maintained constant political contacts with the Tatars. In this early period (13th and 14th century), "Tatar" was not an ethnonym
An ethnonym is the name applied to a given ethnic group. Ethnonyms can be divided into two categories: exonyms and autonyms or endonyms .As an example, the ethnonym for...

 but a general term for the armies of Genghis Khan
Genghis Khan
Genghis Khan , born Temujin and occasionally known by his temple name Taizu , was the founder and Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, which became the largest contiguous empire in history after his death....

’s successors. The First Tatar settlements in Bulgaria may be dated to the 13th and the beginning of the 14th century, when military units persecuted in the wake of dynastic feuds in the Golden Horde
Golden Horde
The Golden Horde was a Mongol and later Turkicized khanate that formed the north-western sector of the Mongol Empire...

 defected to Bulgarian rulers (Pavlov, 1997).

From the late 14th to the late 15th century, several groups of Tatars settled in the Bulgarian territory (then under Ottoman
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 rule) for various reasons. The settler
A settler is a person who has migrated to an area and established permanent residence there, often to colonize the area. Settlers are generally people who take up residence on land and cultivate it, as opposed to nomads...

s, probably nomad
Nomadic people , commonly known as itinerants in modern-day contexts, are communities of people who move from one place to another, rather than settling permanently in one location. There are an estimated 30-40 million nomads in the world. Many cultures have traditionally been nomadic, but...

s, eventually adopted a sedentary way of life and, in some areas, survived as compact communities for more than two centuries. The records show that the Tatars were inclined to raid villages and resist authority, and were therefore resettled among the local, just as restive, populations in Thrace
Thrace is a historical and geographic area in southeast Europe. As a geographical concept, Thrace designates a region bounded by the Balkan Mountains on the north, Rhodope Mountains and the Aegean Sea on the south, and by the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara on the east...

. The Tatars were assigned special messenger
A courier is a person or a company who delivers messages, packages, and mail. Couriers are distinguished from ordinary mail services by features such as speed, security, tracking, signature, specialization and individualization of express services, and swift delivery times, which are optional for...

 and military missions, and were incorporated into the Ottoman military administration. This fact, along with their small number, the closeness between the "Tatar" and local Ottoman Turkish languages, and the common religion, led to the eventual loss of group Tatar identity
Cultural identity
Cultural identity is the identity of a group or culture, or of an individual as far as one is influenced by one's belonging to a group or culture. Cultural identity is similar to and has overlaps with, but is not synonymous with, identity politics....


Unlike the situation in Thrace, the ethnic composition of Dobruja
Dobruja is a historical region shared by Bulgaria and Romania, located between the lower Danube river and the Black Sea, including the Danube Delta, Romanian coast and the northernmost part of the Bulgarian coast...

 attests to the existence of a large Tatar community from the 15th to the 20th century. The Ottoman conquest of Bessarabia
Bessarabia is a historical term for the geographic region in Eastern Europe bounded by the Dniester River on the east and the Prut River on the west....

 created conditions for the constant migration of Tatars from the Northern Black Sea
Black Sea
The Black Sea is bounded by Europe, Anatolia and the Caucasus and is ultimately connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas and various straits. The Bosphorus strait connects it to the Sea of Marmara, and the strait of the Dardanelles connects that sea to the Aegean...

 region to Dobruja in the 1530s and 1540s.

The 18th century saw the beginning of a radical change in the ethnic composition of the Northern Black Sea region as a result of Russian invasions. Between 1783, when the Crimean Khanate
Crimean Khanate
Crimean Khanate, or Khanate of Crimea , was a state ruled by Crimean Tatars from 1441 to 1783. Its native name was . Its khans were the patrilineal descendants of Toqa Temür, the thirteenth son of Jochi and grandson of Genghis Khan...

 was annexed to Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

, and 1874, there were several waves of emigration from the Crimea
Crimea , or the Autonomous Republic of Crimea , is a sub-national unit, an autonomous republic, of Ukraine. It is located on the northern coast of the Black Sea, occupying a peninsula of the same name...

 and Kuban
Kuban is a geographic region of Southern Russia surrounding the Kuban River, on the Black Sea between the Don Steppe, Volga Delta and the Caucasus...

, and a considerable number of Crimean Tatars
Crimean Tatars
Crimean Tatars or Crimeans are a Turkic ethnic group that originally resided in Crimea. They speak the Crimean Tatar language...

 settled in the Bulgarian lands. The Tatars who live in Bulgaria today are descended precisely from those immigrants, who kept their identity.

The largest wave of emigration was during and after the Crimean War
Crimean War
The Crimean War was a conflict fought between the Russian Empire and an alliance of the French Empire, the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Sardinia. The war was part of a long-running contest between the major European powers for influence over territories of the declining...

 (1853–1856). Of the approximately 230,000 Tatars who emigrated from 1854 to 1862, about 60,000 settled on Bulgarian territory (Romanski, 1917, p. 266). The majority dispersed in Northern Bulgaria
Northern Bulgaria
Northern Bulgaria is the northern half of the territory of Bulgaria, located to the north of the main ridge of the Balkan Mountains which conventionally separates the country into a northern and a southern part...

 especially in Dobruja, on the plains near the Danube River and in the area of
Vidin is a port town on the southern bank of the Danube in northwestern Bulgaria. It is close to the borders with Serbia and Romania, and is also the administrative centre of Vidin Province, as well as of the Metropolitan of Vidin...


The mass settlement of Tatars in the Bulgarian lands led to the establishment of traditional relations between Bulgarians
The Bulgarians are a South Slavic nation and ethnic group native to Bulgaria and neighbouring regions. Emigration has resulted in immigrant communities in a number of other countries.-History and ethnogenesis:...

 and Tatars. Contrary to the Circassia
Circassia was an independent mountainous country located in the Caucasus region of Eurasia and was the largest and most important country in the Caucasus. Circassia was located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea...

n immigration, Bulgarian National Revival society did not disapprove of the settlement of Tatars.

The Tatars themselves were in a state of ethnopsychological shock but, in all likelihood thanks to their nomadic past, succeeded in adapting to "the alien world". This first period in the modern history of the Tatar group in Bulgaria (1862–1878) was characterized by economic and environmental adjustment to the new realities and the consolidation of all Kipchak
Kipchak language
The Kipchak language is an extinct Turkic language of the Kipchak group.The descendants of the Kipchak language include the majority of Turkic languages spoken in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus today, as Kipchak was used as a lingua franca in Golden Horde–ruled lands.Kazakhs are remnants of...

-speaking refugee
A refugee is a person who outside her country of origin or habitual residence because she has suffered persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or because she is a member of a persecuted 'social group'. Such a person may be referred to as an 'asylum seeker' until...


The development of the Tatar group and its identity after Bulgaria’s 1878 Liberation was determined by political factors. On the one hand, the host country changed. Having settled in the Ottoman Empire, the Tatars, who had not changed their ethnic and ecological environment, suddenly found themselves in another political organism - Bulgaria, a state that differed greatly from its predecessor. This came as another ethnopsychological shock to the Tatars and prompted a new wave of emigration. Even those who remained in Bulgaria - about 18,000 people most of them in the areas with Turkish populations in Northeastern Bulgaria found it hard to achieve a balance, and many of them eventually emigrated to Turkey.

The second factor of ethnic changes was the nascent Crimean Tatar national "renaissance" and differentiation in the late 19th and early 20th century. Notably, the national idea of the Tatars developed at a time when the majority of them were beyond the boundaries of their historical homeland. Since the national idea was immature among the Crimean Tatars, they were susceptible to assimilation which, in the Bulgarian conditions, was effected not by the nation-state but by another ethnic group - Bulgarian Turks.

Other factors also accounted for the specificity of each period in the history of the Tatars in Bulgaria. In the post-Liberation period
History of Independent Bulgaria
The Treaty of San Stefano of March 3, 1878 provided for a self-governing Bulgarian state, which comprised the geographical regions of Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia. Based on that date Bulgarians celebrate Bulgaria's national day each year...

 (1878-1912/1918), there were generally no major changes in the Tatar group - there was no large-scale emigration, and the process of ethnic consolidation continued.

The period from the Treaty of Neuilly
Treaty of Neuilly
The Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine, dealing with Bulgaria for its role as one of the Central Powers in World War I, was signed on 27 November 1919 at Neuilly-sur-Seine, France....

 to the Treaty of Craiova
Treaty of Craiova
The Treaty of Craiova was signed on 7 September 1940 between the Kingdom of Bulgaria and the Kingdom of Romania. Under the terms of this treaty, Romania returned the southern part of Dobruja to Bulgaria and agreed to participate in organizing a population exchange...

 (1919–1940) saw a number of radical changes. Southern Dobruja
Dobruja is a historical region shared by Bulgaria and Romania, located between the lower Danube river and the Black Sea, including the Danube Delta, Romanian coast and the northernmost part of the Bulgarian coast...

, home to two-thirds of Bulgaria’s Tatar population, was annexed to Romania. The Tatars found themselves in a state with large Tatar populations around Medgidia
-History:Archaeological findings show that Dobruja was inhabited since the Neolithic period. Starting with 46 BC the region was administered by the Roman Empire. A castrum was built in the Carasu Valley, becoming the cradle of the settlement....

, Mangalia
Mangalia , is a city and a port on the coast of the Black Sea in the south-east of Constanţa County, Romania.The municipality of Mangalia also administers several summer time seaside resorts: Cap Aurora, Jupiter, Neptun, Olimp, Saturn, Venus.-History:...

 and Köstence (Constanţa
Constanța is the oldest extant city in Romania, founded around 600 BC. The city is located in the Dobruja region of Romania, on the Black Sea coast. It is the capital of Constanța County and the largest city in the region....

). On the other hand, the start of this period coincided with a short-lived Tatar nation-state in the Crimea and the constitution of the Turkish secular state. Modern Tatar nationalism embraced Pan-Turkism
Pan-Turkism is a nationalist movement that emerged in 1880s among the Turkic intellectuals of the Russian Empire, with the aim of cultural and political unification of all Turkic peoples.-Name:...

 arid turned to Ankara
Ankara is the capital of Turkey and the country's second largest city after Istanbul. The city has a mean elevation of , and as of 2010 the metropolitan area in the entire Ankara Province had a population of 4.4 million....

 for support as a result of Kemalist propaganda. This period saw large-scale Tatar emigration to Turkey and the establishment of a circle around the magazine "Emel" (1929-1930 in Dobrich
Dobrich is a town in northeastern Bulgaria, the administrative centre of Dobrich Province. With 91,030 inhabitants, as of February 2011, Dobrich is the ninth most populated town in Bulgaria, being the centre of the historical region of Southern Dobruja...

), which used Pan-Turkic slogans as a cover for the promulgation
Promulgation is the act of formally proclaiming or declaring a new statutory or administrative law after its enactment. In some jurisdictions this additional step is necessary before the law can take effect....

 of Turkish policies. Arguably, this was the beginning of the political Turkification
Turkification is a term used to describe a process of cultural or political change in which something or someone who is not a Turk becomes one, voluntarily or involuntarily...

 of Tatars (Antonov, 1995).

The general tendencies remained the same in the next period (1940 to the early 1950s), except that Bulgaria recovered Southern Dobruja, whose Tatar population had decreased by half.

In the communist period, collectivization and industrialization destroyed the traditional lifestyle of the Tatars too. The natural but slow assimilation
Cultural assimilation
Cultural assimilation is a socio-political response to demographic multi-ethnicity that supports or promotes the assimilation of ethnic minorities into the dominant culture. The term assimilation is often used with regard to immigrants and various ethnic groups who have settled in a new land. New...

 into the Turkish community endogamy
Endogamy is the practice of marrying within a specific ethnic group, class, or social group, rejecting others on such basis as being unsuitable for marriage or other close personal relationships. A Greek Orthodox Christian endogamist, for example, would require that a marriage be only with another...

 was no longer possible considering the small number of the Tatar population - was intensified by modernization. There was also a socioeconomic factor the desire to take advantage of the privileges which the communist authorities granted to the Turkish community.

The communist regime pursued inconsistent policies towards the Tatars. It originally adopted Moscow’s attitude to the Crimean Tatars, officially ignoring their presence in Bulgaria (they were last mentioned in the 1956 census, before reappearing as late as 1992).

In 1962, the Politburo of the Bulgarian Communist Party
Bulgarian Communist Party
The Bulgarian Communist Party was the communist and Marxist-Leninist ruling party of the People's Republic of Bulgaria from 1946 until 1990 when the country ceased to be a communist state...

’s Central Committee proposed taking action against the Turkification
Turkification is a term used to describe a process of cultural or political change in which something or someone who is not a Turk becomes one, voluntarily or involuntarily...

 of Gypsies, Tatars and Bulgarian Muslims
Islam in Bulgaria
Islam is the largest minority religion in Bulgaria. According to the 2001 Census, the total number of Muslims in the country stood at 577,139, corresponding to 10 % of the population...

. The measures included study of the ethnic origins of Bulgaria’s Tatars. This attested to a new policy: accentuating the community's ethnocultural specificity in an effort to highlight and restore the distinction (blurred as a result of Turkification
Turkification is a term used to describe a process of cultural or political change in which something or someone who is not a Turk becomes one, voluntarily or involuntarily...

) between Tatars and Turks.

The reforms in the 1990s have led to a restoration of Islamic Turkic names and the creation of conditions for normal contacts with relatives in Turkey, as well as for independent cultural and educational activities. There have been signs of a rebirth of Tatar identity.


In the last census
A census is the procedure of systematically acquiring and recording information about the members of a given population. It is a regularly occurring and official count of a particular population. The term is used mostly in connection with national population and housing censuses; other common...

 (December 1992), 4,515 people (2,045 urban
Urban area
An urban area is characterized by higher population density and vast human features in comparison to areas surrounding it. Urban areas may be cities, towns or conurbations, but the term is not commonly extended to rural settlements such as villages and hamlets.Urban areas are created and further...

 arid 2,470 rural
Rural areas or the country or countryside are areas that are not urbanized, though when large areas are described, country towns and smaller cities will be included. They have a low population density, and typically much of the land is devoted to agriculture...

 residents (4)) identified as Tatars. The ethnonym plays a main role in Tatar self-identification

We are called Tatar, but we don’t know when we came [to those lands] (5).

The Crimean Tatars (Qirim Tatarlari, Tatarlar), against the background of the impressive popularity of the term as an ethnicon in Eurasia
Eurasia is a continent or supercontinent comprising the traditional continents of Europe and Asia ; covering about 52,990,000 km2 or about 10.6% of the Earth's surface located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres...

, were the first to adopt it as an ethnonym after Genghis Khan
Genghis Khan
Genghis Khan , born Temujin and occasionally known by his temple name Taizu , was the founder and Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, which became the largest contiguous empire in history after his death....

 wiped out the original Tatars.

Due to the specificity of the Crimean Tatar ethnic genesis, other ethnonyms arc also in use; they have now lost their concrete ethnic content and are, rather, a memory, perception, pejorative name, a supplementary term and, very rarely, a group indicator: Nogay
The Nogai people are a Turkic ethnic group in Southern Russia: northern Dagestan and Stavropol Krai, as well as in Karachay-Cherkessia and the Astrakhan Oblast; undefined number live in Chechnya...

, Tat
Tats are an Iranian people, presently living within Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia ....

, Kazan
Kazan is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia. With a population of 1,143,546 , it is the eighth most populous city in Russia. Kazan lies at the confluence of the Volga and Kazanka Rivers in European Russia. In April 2009, the Russian Patent Office granted Kazan the...

, Kipchak, Laz
Laz people
The Laz are an ethnic group native to the Black Sea coastal regions of Turkey and Georgia...

, Kazakh
The Kazakhs are a Turkic people of the northern parts of Central Asia ....

. They are used as a modifier of the general ethnonym, for instance, Nogay Tarari. Informants have the most clear perception of the Nogay as a separate group of a distinct type of people (prominent cheekbones and inure Mongolian
Mongols ) are a Central-East Asian ethnic group that lives mainly in the countries of Mongolia, China, and Russia. In China, ethnic Mongols can be found mainly in the central north region of China such as Inner Mongolia...

), dialect ("truer Tatar"), livelihood (horse-breeding), and even character. In fact, the most differentiated group are the Tats, the informants know who they are and they themselves identify as such. Their distinction is based on their dialect. Informants claim that there are Kazan Tatars in Bulgaria, they are "fatter". They have only heard about Kipchaks. Laz
Laz people
The Laz are an ethnic group native to the Black Sea coastal regions of Turkey and Georgia...

Tatars are a Turkic speaking ethnic group , numbering roughly 7 million.The majority of Tatars live in the Russian Federation, with a population of around 5.5 million, about 2 million of which in the republic of Tatarstan.Significant minority populations are found in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan,...

 reportedly speak a language similar to Turkish. The Kazakhs are perceived as a "tribe" related to the "Don Kazakhs" (Cossacks), which, however. is Muslim
A Muslim, also spelled Moslem, is an adherent of Islam, a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion based on the Quran, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God as revealed to prophet Muhammad. "Muslim" is the Arabic term for "submitter" .Muslims believe that God is one and incomparable...

. The more prosaic version is that "Kazakh" is a "nickname": "We call a "Kazakh" someone who is headstrong, stubborn".

Apart from the ethnic terms, Tatars are also divided into subgroups distiriguished by territorial origin: Kerisler (from Kerch
Kerch is a city on the Kerch Peninsula of eastern Crimea, an important industrial, transport and tourist centre of Ukraine. Kerch, founded 2600 years ago, is considered as one of the most ancient cities in Ukraine.-Ancient times:...

), Shongarlar (from Chongar),

Orlular (from Or; Russian Perekop
Perekop is a village located at the Perekop Isthmus connecting Crimean peninsula to the Ukrainian mainland. It is known for the Fortress Or Qapi that served as the gateway to Crimea...

) There is also a subdivision of Tatars identified by a personal name - "Sora Tatari", from the name of the tribal chief and Tatar epic hero Chora Batyr (Tasheva. 1975. pp. 2–73).

The pejorative term Tatar Sengenesi ("Tatar Gypsy") refers to a particular group of Tatars in Bulgaria (for example, a family from the village of Golyamo Vranovo, Rousse
Ruse is the fifth-largest city in Bulgaria. Ruse is situated in the northeastern part of the country, on the right bank of the Danube, opposite the Romanian city of Giurgiu, from the capital Sofia and from the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast...

 district), which probably came from Karachai.

As regards the ethnonym as a marker of ethnicity, there are traces of internal ethnic differentiation among the Tatars as part of - and, at the same time, in opposition to their collective identity.

The Turks and the Bulgarians have come to use the popular term "Tatar" as a stereotype
A stereotype is a popular belief about specific social groups or types of individuals. The concepts of "stereotype" and "prejudice" are often confused with many other different meanings...

 (6) rather than an ethnonym
An ethnonym is the name applied to a given ethnic group. Ethnonyms can be divided into two categories: exonyms and autonyms or endonyms .As an example, the ethnonym for...

. The influence of folklore and, later, of historical texts, is indicative in this respect. In Bulgarian folklore, "the Tatars" are a symbol of the strange and the unknown, and have pejorative connotations (Antonov.1995). Unlike those who do not know any Tatars in real life, those who do have a positive attitude to them. The negative attitude is associated with the etlinonym of the Tatars, and not with the other markers of their group identity.


The Crimean Tatar ethnos originated on the territory of the Crimean peninsula and inland steppes in the 14th and 15th century. The main ethnic components that were successively incorporated into the new ethnos were the ancient indigenous populations (for example -Bat-Bayan's protobulgarians), the Kumans and, finally, the Kipchakized Mongol clans. Due to the slave trade and the military campaigns for the capture of slaves, economic mainstays of the Crimean khanate
Crimean Khanate
Crimean Khanate, or Khanate of Crimea , was a state ruled by Crimean Tatars from 1441 to 1783. Its native name was . Its khans were the patrilineal descendants of Toqa Temür, the thirteenth son of Jochi and grandson of Genghis Khan...

 - other ethnoses also contributed to the Tatar genotype.

The Tatars in Bulgaria were formed as a group with a common identity as a result of the ethnic consolidation of the immigrants: Crimean Tatars proper, Nogay. Karachai and the distinct group of the Tats. Their consolidation was based on the close languages, common destiny and political idea of belonging to the former Crimean khanate and respective ethno-social formations.

The Tatars associate their common descent with the idea of a homeland: "we are all from the Crimea", "the Crimea is the homeland of our ancestors" - as well as with their knowledge about its history and the destiny of their own people.

The Tatars stress their specific anthropological type. They regard it as a main marker of Tatar identity’, second only to the language. For example, Tatars from Golyamo Vranovo say that those from Vetovo
Vetovo is a town in northeastern Bulgaria, part of Ruse Province. It is the administrative centre of Vetovo Municipality, which lies in the eastern part of the area, and ranks third in population in the province after Ruse and Byala. The town is located 40 kilometres away from the provincial...

 are "truer Tatars" not only because their language is "purer", but also because they have "larger heads and slit eyes. The Tatars also differ from the others in that most of them are "dark-eyed", with a "broad, flat face". Their neighbours likewise regard the specific appearance as a main distinctive feature of the Tatars. They talk of a "Tatar face".


Crimean Tatar is a Kipchak language from the Western Turkic language group which, however, has been strongly influenced by Oguz
Oghuz languages
The Oghuz languages, a major branch of the Turkic language family, are spoken by more than 110 million people in an area spanning from the Balkans to China.-Linguistic features:...

 through Ottoman Turkish
Ottoman Turkish language
The Ottoman Turkish language or Ottoman language is the variety of the Turkish language that was used for administrative and literary purposes in the Ottoman Empire. It borrows extensively from Arabic and Persian, and was written in a variant of the Perso-Arabic script...

. The Tatars in Bulgaria speak various local dialects developed in a foreign linguistic environment. This process is very complicated and has continued to the present day, On the one hand, the idiolects of speakers of the main dialects are modifying and tending to become standardized, with a particular dialect prevailing in a particular population centre but strongly influenced by other dialects (Boev, 1971, p. 81).

Along with the standardization of the Kipchak dialects of refugees, there was a process of Oghuzation too. This process can be traced back to the pre-emmgration Oghuz tradition in the literary Crimean Tatar language (Boev, 1971, p. 94). After the Tatars settled in the Bulgarian lands, the influence of Ottoman Turkish on the vernacular intensified. The Tatar language was at a sadvantage the official language was Ottoman Turkish, and did not develop a literary variant (Boev, 1964, pp. 81–2).

After the Liberation, the process intensified to the point of linguistic assimilation, mainly because Tatars and Turks
Turkic peoples
The Turkic peoples are peoples residing in northern, central and western Asia, southern Siberia and northwestern China and parts of eastern Europe. They speak languages belonging to the Turkic language family. They share, to varying degrees, certain cultural traits and historical backgrounds...

 communicated in Turkish
Turkish language
Turkish is a language spoken as a native language by over 83 million people worldwide, making it the most commonly spoken of the Turkic languages. Its speakers are located predominantly in Turkey and Northern Cyprus with smaller groups in Iraq, Greece, Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo,...

 and, later, because most children were sent to Turkish rather than Tatar schools (Boev, 1964, p. 2 Boev, 1971, p. 109). In 1910, 546 Tatars from Southern Dobruja
Southern Dobruja
Southern Dobruja is an area of north-eastern Bulgaria comprising the administrative districts named for its two principal cities of Dobrich and Silistra...

 cited Turkish as their native language.

The choice of Turkish in the past few years has also been largely determined by the fact that the Tatars do not have access to Crimean Tatar literature and read the available Turkish books. The boom of Turkish satellite television has also affected the Tatar language. For a considerable section of the Tatar community. Tatar remains a means of communication among elderly people only. Children understand but do not speak the language.

The Tatars started learning Bulgarian even before the Liberation (Kanitz, 1932. p. 141). When Southern Dobruja was under Romanian rule, the Tatars went to Romanian schools and, according to Bulgarian sources, learnt Romanian very quickly. Bulgarian was spoken by the males in their social contacts and at work. Today, even the most elderly Tatar women understand Bulgarian. The Tatars in contemporary Bulgaria are trilingual, but there is a strong tendency towards the replacement of Tatar by Turkish.

The Tatars regard the Tatar language as a distinctive feature of their collective identity and ethnic differentiation from the others: "We don’t speak either pure Turkish or [pure] Bulgarian - we are Tatars". The main marker of Tatarlik " Tatar ethnicity " is the Tatar language. This is also illustrated by a Tatar proverb.

A Tatar who does not speak Tatar with Tatars is not worthy of his mother’s milk (7).

The Tatars qualify the loss of the Tatar language as a loss of ethnicity: "Where the Tatars were a minority they have been assimilated. The Young no longer speak Tatar, yet in the past some Turkish women who married Tatars would eventually forget Turkish"; "The Tatars have now mixed [...] The language is also mixed"; "We have mixed. We speak almost Turkish [only]. Few Tatars have remained".

Informants say that intermarriage leads to ethnic assimilation because that is thc easiest way to lose the Tatar language. Still, there are people of Tatar origins who neither speak nor understand Tatar, yet have the self-awareness of "true Tatars" - probably in combination with a prioritized Turkish self-awareness. There is an interesting form of maintaining the lexical stock of Tatar dialecs and of demonstrating Tatar ethnicity: when they meet, Tatars from different population centres will "test" each other on typical Tatar words. Bulgarians or Turks who speak Tatar also test the Tatars and declare themselves truer Tatars if the latter fail to give the right answer. This indicates that non-Tatars also regard language as an important ethnic marker of the Tatar community.


The Tatars are Sunni Muslim
A Muslim, also spelled Moslem, is an adherent of Islam, a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion based on the Quran, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God as revealed to prophet Muhammad. "Muslim" is the Arabic term for "submitter" .Muslims believe that God is one and incomparable...

s. For them religion is an important, but not a main ethnic marker because it is identical to that of the Turks. Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

 is seen as a basis of the community of all Muslims. Informants from the Tatar, as well as from other groups, tend to regard religion in general as a consolidating factor: "Tatars, Turks, Bulgarians - all are children of God".

The Tatars consider themselves good Muslims. The better educated and younger Tatars regard the Turks as fanatics and themselves as moderates - which they believe is an advantage. Respondents distinguish the two communities by the Islam-based segregation of women in the case of the Turks and the absence of such discrimination among the Tatars, as well as by the attitude to the Christians and the Alevites. The Tatars are tolerant towards the Alevites (Shias) while the Turks (who are Sunni) are not.

The other communities do not consider religion as a main distinctive feature of Tatar identity either, but rather as something that associates the Tatars with the Turks: "(they are) Muslims like the Turks". The Tatar Muslim community (where it is large enough) has its own institutional and ritual practices independent of the Turks. The Tatars celebrate religious holidays in their own esoteric circle and worship God in their own mosques. The Tatars built mosques of their own even right after they settled on Bulgarian territory, and this institution has survived in the population centres with larger Tatar communities. The "Tatar mosque
Tatar mosque
Tatar mosque — is the typical mosque architecture in Tatarstan and other Volga Tatar-populated areas of Russia. Occasionally found in other regions of Russia, modern Tatar religious architecture was developed in the late 18th century and gained popularity in the 19th century Idel-Ural.- History...

" (for instance, in Vetovo) is a natural centre not only of religious, but also of socio-political life, a place for social contacts and internal demonstrationof ethnicity. A map of the Crimea, the Tatar national flag arid photos of prominent Tatars usually hang on the walls; there are books too.


The special status of the first Tatar settlers in the Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 led to the emergence of a professional community designated as "Tatars" messengers and guides of strangers - which was eventually dissociated from the Tatar ethnicity. This is a classical case of the adoption of an ethnonym as a name of a profession.

Contemporary Tatars do not distinguish themselves from the other communities on the basis of occupation, but memories of the traditional livelihood have survived in their self-perception: "The Tatars used to be horse-breeders, they produced riders"; "They loved horses, they used to decorate them - with tassels".

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the traditional occupation of Tatars in the countryside was agriculture and in the towns, small-scale trade and various crafts: cartage, candle-making, furriery, butchery, coffee-making, bow production, barbering.

According to Bulgarian sources, Tatar carters were famous for their skills. Some Turkish carters would even claim that they were Tatars. This stereotyping from the recent past has undoubtedly influenced contemporary attitudes to the Tatars.


Informants say that "the old flag of the Tatars was a horse tail’’. The modern one is the golden mark of the Ghirais on a blue-green background. It can occasionally be seen on badges and streamers. Tatar leaders have a tape of the "national anthem" too.

The now "traditional" Tatar festivals have come to play the role of symbols. From 1990 to 1996, such festivals were held in Onogur (Dobrič district), Čerkovna (Silistra district) Vetovo (Ruse district). Kăpinovo, Jovkovo and Topola
Topola is a town and municipality situated in the Šumadija region of Serbia. It was the place where Karađorđe, a Serbian revolutionary, was chosen as the leader of the First Serbian Uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1804. The local St...

 (Dobrič district). There were three ours of folk ensembles from Northern Dobruja which identified as "Tatar", but most of their performances were in Turkish. The festivals are seen as a distinct demonstration and symbol of Tatar identity. The poem 'I am Tatar', which every younger Tatar knows by heart, is often recited.

Traditional Culture

The original Tatar cultural tradition was lost in the course of modernization, but elements of the Islamic tradition have survived. The Tatars know and remember, but do not practice their traditional culture. Informants remember typical Tatar elements in the design of houses and cos tumes (Tatar women did not wear veils) which, however, were abandoned in the process of modernization.

Today Tatars cite traditional food as a marker of their identity: "The Turks adopted Tatar food too, but they can’t prepare it and don’t like it"; or the proverb "The right of the Tatar is meat and rakia". Tatar legends also associate ethnicity with food. Here is how a story explains the death of entire Tatar villages after the settlenient: "they fell sick because they weren’t used to the food. They were used to meat, but the Turks ate tarhana
Tarhana , trahanas or khondros , tarkhīneh, tarkhāneh, tarkhwāneh , trahana , трахана/тархана , kishk , or kushuk are names for a dried food based on a fermented mixture of grain and yoghurt or fermented milk, usually made into a thick...

 [dried ground dough] only - Tatars can’t do without meat". There are special customs for preparing certain dishes, which are therefore seen as traditional Tatar fare.

Most informants believe that the Tatar holidays and customs are original. A smaller part do not think that they are very different from the Turkish, since both are Muslim. The process of extinction of traditional culture has intensified: "We came here long ago, nor are we pure Tatar families only - so that’s how Tatar customs have become of secondary importance and are thus eventually forgotten

Informants cite the following unique Tatar holidays: Nawrez, the Tatar first day of spring and, in the past, New Year; Tepres, the Tatar St. Sophia’s Day and, in some villages, St. George’s Day; and Qidirlez, the Tatar St George’s Day. They always cite Tatar elements in other rituals - noting, for instance, that "the Turks don’t have that".


Contemporary Tatars know little about their history in terms of events, dates and specific figures and phenomena. They have not had any particular historical education. The Tatar community does not have its own educational institutions. The earliest signs of a Tatar presence in history are believed to be the uprising of Ivailo and the figure of Chaka: "There was a Bulgarian tsar who was a Tatar - Chaka; that’s what I’ve been telling them, but they won’t believe me". The name of this "Bulgarian tsar" is also cited as Chakatai and Isai.

This example illustrates the Tatar awareness of the historical contribution of their ethnic. One informant elevates this to Tatar universalism: "There are Tatars everywhere. The Turks are Tatars too. There are [Tatars] in China too [...] Do you know who invented the trousers? The Tatars". Such cases are rare. For most Tatars, the milestone event in their history is the emigration from the Crimea. They recount the reasons for the emigration (wars, dynastic feuds), the quest for suitable places for settlement (they had to be fertile, to be like the Crimea) the problems of adjustment (other hostile people, strange trees, other seasons). The memories of emigration to Turkey and the performance of Tatar folk ensembles also play an important role in preserving the Tatar ethnicity.

That is how the main points of reference in Tatar ethnic history have been formed. Knowledge of history is an element of the general attainments of the Tatar intellectual elite, whereas the ordinary people have only a vague idea of their past.

Value System

This marker is directly associated with the notion of the ethnic character or mentality. The Tatars have a clear concept of character traits which they believe arc typical of their identity: "There is a difference between Turks and Tatars. A big difference. Our folks - men, women - will get together, sit down, but here the men will sit apart from the women [...] And our Tatars are very hospitable, you know. It’s in them. If you are stranded in a village, you’ll never have to spend the night in the Street [...] We don’t care if somebody’s Bulgarian or Turkish - no we don't. We’re a democracy, I tell you". "The Tatars will always help each other. For example, relatives, friends, neighbours will pool efforts [...] Everybody helps in the building of a house - both men and women. The women-folk of Turks don’t go out at all". "The Tatar is cunning and clever, he won’t give in to blackmail and manipulation. He builds networks [...] When two Tatars meet, they become sort of family". "The Tatars will soon make up after a quarrel. When Turks quarrel, they won’t speak to each other for years".

Those statements of informants convey the general idea of a "Tatar character". The main character traits are associated with tolerance in relations among individuals, the genders and ethnic communities, cleverness, hospitality, mutual help. The following positive traits are also believed to be typically Tatar: quick adoption of new developments; diligence; moderateness; ersistence; friendliness; patience; courage.

The community’s value system is based not only on the accentuation of the positive, but also on the admission of negative character traits. The Tatars sometimes say they are fickle. Tatars will not keep their word, they are easily carried away and make big promises which they don’t keep: "I’ve broken my word". In addition, the Tatar is maybas - literally, "greasy head", i.e. headstrong. Menmenlik is another bad quality" - demonstrative individualism which takes the form of self-congraltilation. The more critical also say that Tatars tend to be vindictive, malicious and miserly.

The quoted statements show that the Tatars are capable of self-observation and self-analysis as an ethnic group. Their self-perception is stereotyped hut not lop-sided. The group’s self-portrait specifies the distinction from the others, the own value system and the individual’s emotional bond with the community.

The specificity or the Bulgarian attiude to the tatar identity is nest manifested in comparisons with the Turks. The Tatars are always said to be superior: they are better educated, cleverer, more accomplished and hospitable, and work harder. By contrast, the Turks tend to see the Tatars as bad and aggressive. In general, Bulgarian society hardly knows anything about the Tatars. Yet those who do, appreciate the Tatar specificity and identity for what they are worth. The main reason why the general public is not familiar with the Tatars is that the latter have for years deliberately and naturally gravitated towards the Turkish community. Having no high culture and institutions maintaining the Tatar identity, the Tatar ethnic cohlmunity has been reproducing in a traditional environment.

A cultural-educational association of Tatars in Bulgaria, Asabay (Kinship), based In Silistra and chaired by Ziya Ismail, was set up in 1993. In 1996, Ismail was replaced by Alkin Hassan, and the headquarters moved to Dobrich. The association has not undertaken any considerable projects to date and remains but a symbol of the Tatar presence in Bulgarian public life.

The Tatars are perceived as part of Bulgarian society. They regard the Crimea as their "ancestral homeland", but Bulgaria as their own native country.

Despite the demographic crisis and very real threat of gradual and natural extinction of the Tatar community, the past six or seven years have seen a sort of renaissance of Tatar identity. This renaissance might contributc to the survival of the Tatar ethnic group in Bulgaria.

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