Bashkir and Chuvash

  Category: Islamic Civilizations


Sure, there are Russian Orthodox Churches and street signs in the Russian language - but the omnipresent minarets of the Kul Sharif mosque are never out of sight and the people of this city will typically welcome you with the ancient Tatar phrase ra'khim itegez.

While the Volga and Kazanka rivers anchor the city firmly within Russia and through Russia to Europe, five times a day the 1000-year-old city's Muslims bow in prayer towards Central Asia, to Mecca.

Ra'khim itegez to Kazan, one of the most diverse cities on the face of the planet - home to Tatars, Tatarstanli, Germans, Assurs, Jews, Ukranians, Belarussians, Poles, Azeris, Russians, and Volgans. The Volgans are comprised of four distinct ethnic groups, two of which share similarities and differences that reflect the overall beauty and uniqueness of Kazan as a whole - the Chuvash and the Bashkirs.

The Chuvash are a Turkic people who are overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian but have many pagan, pre-Christian elements that affect their faith and their practice of it. Throughout Russia and Central Asia, the Chuvash number some 2 million with the majority living in the Chuvashia region, speaking the Chuvash language. In Kazan, they constitute the city's third-largest ethnic group and speak either Russian or Tatar.


Most historians believe the Chuvash are descendant from members of the Volga Bolgar's Sabir tribe who mixed with local Mari tribes - though others believe they are descendant from the Turkic population of Volga Bulgaria, mixed with Scythians, Bolgars, and Mari.

In contrast, the Bashkirs number some 1.4 million and are generally accepted to be the descendants of nomadic cattle breeders who ranged from the Volga river to the Ural mountains. Unlike the Chuvash, Orthodox Christians with small Athiest and Muslim minorities, the Bashkir's religious beliefs are almost exclusively Islamic.

While there is a Bashkir language, the 400,000 who live in and near the city of Kazan speak Tatar as a primary language, with most capable of functioning in Russian as well.


Historically, the Bashkirs were a bit of problem for other peoples in the region. They worshipped phallic idols and were so strong and independence that no one subdued them until the Mongols arrived in the 13th century. Eventually both the Chuvash and Bashkir lands were incorporated into the Khanate of Kazan. When it fell in 1552, both peoples voluntarily opted to accept Russia's leadership - however Russian fan foul of the Bashkirs in the 1670s, when the people rebelled. They rose up again in 1707 and 1735, posing a great difficulty for Russia each time. As the city of Kazan grew and developed over the last 10 centuries, these two distinct tribes became but a small part of its character.

The stories of the Chuvash and Bashkir people are among the thousands of stories in this city, itself roughly 1000 years and 200 days old. But when the call-to-prayer echoes from the minarets of the Kul Sharif mosque as bells ring from within Orthodox Churches across the city, their tale is present in the inescapable duality of Kazan, one of the world's greatest cities.