‘In Iran the Tatars are being turkmenized. Most part of Tatars have lost their national identity’

Our compatriots in Persia: four stages of migration, the forced turkmenization, a contribution to the culture and the economy of the sate and a lack of Tatar studies

‘In Iran the Tatars are being turkmenized. Most part of Tatars have lost their national identity’ Photo: Timur Rakhmatullin

The Tatars, due to various geopolitical and historical reasons, have spread around the world. Many of them turned out to be in Iran. About how Tatars happened to be in the Islamic Republic, whether they feel that there is a pressure from Shiite Persians and how soon they found a common language with the Turkmens — in an interview of Realnoe Vremya with the Professor of Islamic Azad University (Gorgan, Iran) Arazmuhammad Sarly. As a Turkmen by his origin, the doctor of Sciences is one of the rare researchers in Tatar studies in the country.

Promised land

Arazmuhammad-efendi, how did the Tatars happened to be in Iran?

The presence of Tatars in the history of Iran has always been tangible. The references to them date back to the period of the Mongol invasion. The ruling Mongol dynasty the Ilkhanids has always been associated with the Tatars. Although it was Mongolian, but they were called Tatars, like all Mongols who came. And still in the Eastern parts of Iran, especially in Khorasan, there are a lot of people with a strong Mongoloid anthropological type. And the surname Tatari is very common. It was the first wave of Tatars on the territory of contemporary Iran.

The second phase of the spread of Tatars in Iran falls on the XVI century and is connected with the conquest of the Tatar khanates by Ivan the Terrible. Since that time, a large outflow of migrants to Central Asia began. People moved to Bukhara, Urgench, Dashkhovuz en masse. However, there they did not stay there for a long time and migrated further to the North of Iran, to the Caspian littoral areas, in the wooded foothills of the Alborz mountain range (Elburs). Then the question arises: 'Why did the Tatars from European Russia, Ural and Siberia, not staying long in Central Asia, Karakum, not settled in the steppe areas, preferring wooded plateau?'. My version is following: the Tatars used to live in forest areas, their household way of life for centuries had been forming in such conditions. Because of this, they didn't stay in the steppes, deserts, solonchaks and were looking for the conditions that were usual to them.

'People moved to Bukhara, Urgench, Dashkhovuz en masse. However, there they did not stay for a long time and migrated further to the North of Iran.' Photo: buharadervish.ru

Also, there was a third wave of immigrants. It happened after the XVI century, when there was the forcible baptism, severe pressure on the Tatars inside the Rus state. And this third stream of settlers came by sea and stayed on the coast of the Caspian Sea. They settled in villages Gomeshpede, Khodzhanepes and others that today are considered to be Tatar. Most likely, they came through Astrakhan. This group best of all preserved their cultural traits peculiar to the Tartars, they preserved their genealogies-shezhere, which can trace to the origin. I have studied them and found quite an interesting information. They refer themselves to a common ancestor – Anna-Ali Atamyzu. He had six sons, who formed the six clans. The name of each clan starts with 'Ali'. Along with the second wave, they formed two groups of Tatars living in the province of Golestan.

There was the fourth wave — after the October revolution, the establishment of the Soviet power and the Stalinist repressions in the USSR. The process took place from 1917 to the 1930-s. The Iranian border was crossed by the representatives of the Muslim peoples, primarily Central Asian and non-Muslim. The Tatars of the Middle Volga region migrated for religious reasons, class reasons, as there were many representatives of the merchant class, wealthy people. They joined the descendants of migrants of the third wave.

In Northern Iran, they assimilated with the Turkmens, learnt the Turkmen language and culture. The Tatars did not separated themselves from the Turkmens. They didn't have inter-ethnic conflicts, what is quite remarkable. The Tatars and Turkmens had a mutual understanding, a high level of trust, cultural closeness. In general, the migrated Tatars preferred to live in the same villages as the Turkmen. The Tatars very quickly integrated into the local society, harmoniously integrating in the tribal structure of the Turkmen. <…>

Besides, among the Turkmens it was prestigious to marry a Tatar woman. This was especially popular among those who was engaged in trade and traveled for business purposes to Astrakhan. They tried to marry a local girl. One of the Turkmen religious leaders Osman-akhund — a religious reformer, who was influenced by the ideas of jadidism, was married to a Tatar woman. It was at the turn of XIX-XX centuries. Probably, the wife and her relatives influenced the formation of his views. For him, the wife was a kind of connecting link between the Muslims of Russia and Iran.

Let's go back to those two groups of Tatars who lived in the province of Golestan. Let's call them conditionally coastal and mountain Tatars. Coastal Tatars were actively engaged in trade. Among them there were many educated and wealthy people. They had closer contacts with other countries, including the peoples of the Volga region. And the Tatars of the Alborz foothills were exclusively engaged in agriculture, their status was lower than of the coastal Tatars.

In the foothills of Alborz there are three villages that have Tatars names — Verkhny Tatar, Nizhny Tatar and Sredny Tatar. Verkhny Tatar became a city, a district center, its status increased, as well as its economic opportunities. That time this peripheral position, the backwardness of the Tatars in the foothills was overcome.

Nevertheless, the coastal Tatars are considered to be the most intelligent, educated part of the population. A lot of prominent figures of culture are the natives of this part of the Tatars.

In Iran, the process of 'turkmenization' of the Tatars continues. And most part of Tatars have lost their national identity, having dissolved in the Turkmen environment. Although a hundred years ago, the Tatars felt themselves as a separate nation. My wife and I often went to the villages and studied. I noticed that the Tatars had even separate cemeteries, though they lived together with other peoples. In one of the villages we managed to find a man who considers himself a Tatar, not a Turkmen. He was a very old man, a chief aqsaqal in the village. He said to me: 'We, real Tatars, do not consider ourselves Turkmens, although we live among them. And we feel ourselves a separate nation'. But he can be called the exception. In general, they have assimilated.

Even a grandmother of my wife Hamida Niyazi was an Astrakhan Tatar. My uncle's wife also comes from Tatar environment. Almost every Turkmen in Northern Iran has some kinship with the Tatars

However, many Turkmen in Iran are aware of their Tatar roots. Even a grandmother of my wife Hamida Niyazi was an Astrakhan Tatar. My uncle's wife also comes from Tatar environment. Almost every Turkmen in Northern Iran has some kinship with the Tatars.

In general, for a long time no one studied the subject matter of Tatars among the Turkmen in Iran. There was no scientific work about it. This situation prevailed until the moment when the Golestan province was visited by the Tatarstan delegation in December of 2013 under the leadership of Kim Minnullin, the director of the Institute of Language, Literature and Arts of Tatarstan Academy of Sciences. During the preparation for the arrival of this delegation, the Organization of Islamic Culture and Relations of Iran turned to me as to a historian-turkologist for advice. They wanted me to find the traces of the Tatars in Iran. I replied that there are a lot of them. There is a whole city with the same name, there are villages. There are entire families that retain their Tatar identity. The delegation was shown all settlements and villages, acquainted with the people. They communicated with Urazmukhammed Magfuri — a descendant of the Tatar ishan from Yutazinsky district. This ancestor is mentioned in the writings of Shihabetdin Marjani. This man has preserved his genealogical tree. By the way, Sofia Gubaidulina is his relative.

In Gorgan city we are publishing the cultural and educational magazine for the Turkmen 'Paragy' ('Faragi'). It is in two languages — Turkmen and Farsi. I am the head of the edition, and my wife Hamide Niyazi is a chief editor. In the spring of 2016 we devoted an edition to Ğabdulla Tuqay. <…>

In Gorgan city we are publishing the cultural and educational magazine for the Turkmen 'Paragy' ('Faragi'). It is in two languages — Turkmen and Farsi. I head the edition, and my wife Hamide Niyazi is a chief editor. In the spring of 2016 we devoted an edition to Ğabdulla Tuqay.

Tatar — festive

After all, the Tatars and the Turkmens are Sunnis. And in Iran, Shia is the religion of the state. Is there some sort of religious or political pressure on the Tatars and Turkmens in the country?

Of course, there are certain differences in the beliefs of Sunnis and Shiites. But there are no contradictions or conflicts between them, at least in the IRI. Sunnis enjoy full religious freedom. As a rule, the Sunnis have a separate religious institutions — mosques, madrasahs, theological schools, publishing houses, producing Islamic literature. We get a license to publish books in Tehran, the capital does not interfere in the process of publishing books. No problems or restrictions exist.

Have there been preserved some elements among the Tatar descendants of the immigrants: Sabantuy, chak-chak, belish, echpochmak, national costumes, ornament?

The level of assimilation was high enough. And the specific features of the Tatars remained a little. But the Tatars influenced the culture of Turkmens of Iran very much. For example, right now among women there is very popular 'chartak', it is also called a Tatar shawl. It with fringes, it came from the Tatars. Many holiday treats are called there — Tatar treats. There is a special bread 'Tatar churek' — it is a wedding treat. Many things associated with holidays, wealth are perceived as something festive, and have Tatar origin.

This question has not been really studied yet. There is no any thesis on that theme. This is just the beginning. Moreover, due to the high assimilation, the Tatars do not have their own public associations, which also affects. But we began to work in this direction.

I will also add that the famous artist Aneh Mohammad Tatari lives in Iran. His exhibitions are held in many countries of Europe. He works in an interesting manner: the plots of his paintings derives from the traditional patterns of Turkmen carpets. And the technique goes back to the traditions of Turkmen carpet weaving. That way the Tatar descendant re-transmits the culture of the peoples of Iran throughout the world. And due to such people, I think, the attitude to the country is changing for the better.

'The famous artist Aneh Mohammad Tatari lives in Iran. His exhibitions are held in many countries of Europe. He works in an interesting manner: the plot of his paintings derives from the traditional patterns of Turkmen carpets.' Photo: galerienicolasflamel.fr

Unstudied issue: the help of RT scientists is needed

So, how many Tatars and the descendants of those immigrants live in Iran now?

We have no accurate information about the number of Tatars. First, the official population census held every five years does not consider the ethnicity of the citizens. Therefore, there is no clear information on the number of certain ethnic groups. Secondly, the descendants of the Tatars do not quite clearly separate themselves from the Turkmens, moreover, there was the process of assimilation. This issue needs field studies, then at least the approximate number of Tatars will be known.

I should note that the Persians as the ethnic majority of Iran almost do not differenciate between the Tatars and Turkmen, and perceive them as one people. Although for the Tatars and Turkmens it is obvious that they belong to different ethnic groups, live in different localities. The local authorities also do not make differentiation between them and the Tatars are considered as part of the Turkmen ethnic group. <…>

On this question it is possible and even necessary to write a doctoral thesis, not one but to carry out meticulous research. This requires active scientific exchange between Tatarstan and Iran. We want the delegations from Kazan visited us regularly, engaged in field research, studied the subject. For my part, I am ready to provide any assistance to Tatarstan colleagues.

By Timur Rakhmatullin