Tatars (tä´tərz) or Tartars (tär´tərz), Turkic-speaking peoples living primarily in Russia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. They number about 10 million and are largely Sunni Muslims; there is also a large population of Crimean Tatar descent in Turkey. The name is derived from Tata or Dada, a Mongolian tribe that inhabited present NE Mongolia in the 5th cent. First used to describe the peoples that overran parts of Asia and Europe under Mongol leadership in the 13th cent., it was later extended to include almost any Asian nomadic invader. Before the 1920s Russians used the name Tatar to designate the Azerbaijani Turks and several tribes of the Caucasus.
The Tatar Empire
The original Tatars probably came from E central Asia or central Siberia; unlike the Mongols, they spoke a Turkic language and were possibly akin to the Cumans or Kipchaks and the Pechenegs. They were nomads, moving across the vast Asian and Russian steppes with their families and their herds of cattle and sheep. After the conquests of the Mongol Jenghiz Khan, the Mongol and Turkic elements merged, and the invaders became known in Europe as Tatars. The Mongol invasion led by Batu Khan into Hungary and Germany in 1241 is also known as the Tatar invasion.
After the wave of invasion receded eastward, the Tatars continued to dominate nearly all of Russia, the Ukraine, and Siberia. Because of the gorgeous tents of Batu Khan, his followers were known as the Golden Horde. The empire of the Golden Horde—also known as the Kipchak khanate—controlled most of Russia either directly or through exacting tribute from the Russian princes. The Golden Horde adopted Islam as its religion in the 14th cent.
Disintegration of the Empire
Internal divisions, the expansion of Moscow, the invasion by Timur, and the appearance of the Ottoman Turks contributed to the disintegration of the Tatar empire in the late 15th cent. The independent khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, Sibir, and Crimea emerged. In the 16th cent. Russia conquered the khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, and Sibir (Siberia); the khans of Crimea became (1478) vassals of the Ottoman Empire. Nevertheless Siberia long continued to be known as Tartary and the Crimean domains as Little Tartary. The Crimean Tatars continued to harass the Ukraine and Poland and to exact tribute from the czars of Russia; they raided Moscow in 1572.
The majority of the Tatars in Russia had by that time reached a relatively high degree of civilization. They were generally settled, were skillful in agriculture and crafts, and had great centers of Muslim learning. Only minorities, such as the Nogais, who were subject to the Crimean khans, remained nomadic. Tatar political leaders, administrators, and traders had a great influence on Russian history. Many Russian noble families were of partly Tatar origin. The social and military organization of the Muscovite state was influenced by the institutions of the Tatars, and many Russian customs are traceable to them.
In 1783 the last Tatar state, Crimea, was annexed to Russia. The Nogais were gradually pushed eastward into the Caucasus by the Russian settlers. The Crimean Tatars themselves—except for the large numbers that emigrated to Turkey at the time of the Russian conquest of Crimea and after the Crimean War—remained in the Crimea until World War II and formed the basis of the Crimean Autonomous SSR, founded in 1921. It was dissolved in 1945, and all Crimean Tatars (about 200,000 in 1939) were exiled to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan for alleged collaboration with the Germans. In 1956 they regained civil rights and since the late 1980s many have returned to Crimea; their numbers there now exceed prewar levels. Following the disintegration of the USSR, leaders of Tatarstan began to press the Russian government for increased powers. In a 1992 referendum, over 61% of the voters supported a "sovereign" Tatarstan.
See B. S. Izhbolden, Essays on Tatar History (1963).