National Groups in Russia around 1900

  By Arda, 2006; Revised
In 1897 Russia’s population of 125 million consisted of about 170 ethnic groups. Russians or ‘East Slavs‘ made up slightly less than half the total, but compared to the 28 million Ukrainians and Belarusians, the Russians consisted of a clear pluralty. Historically the regime tended to favour them over non-Russians, as it favoured Orthodoxy over other religions, nobles over non-nobles, and officials over everybody else.
The seven million West Slavic poles were another matter. Roman Catholicism had a tradition of conflict with Russia. Painful memories of a national independence struggle and the recent industrial development had created a national consciousness that continued to ensure that a potential crisis of Russo-Polish relations would be a by-product of any other crisis in the empire.
Almost two million Germans were concentrated in the South, along the Volga, and in the Baltic provinces of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. They had been enticed there in the 18th century and had held sway for centuries, filling a disproportionate share of elite positions in the bureaucracy and the military. In the later 19th century they faced new "Russianizing" pressures in the Baltic region that had long been their preserve.
The four million Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians responded to their double subjugation by Russia and Germany with furious cultural activity. The Baltic provinces had the highest literacy rates in the empire and, in the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, surpassed other areas that were in revolutionary turmoil.
In Transcaucasia there lived 2.5 million Georgians and Armenians. Both had ancient Christian traditions and distinctive non-Slavic languages; remarkably they adapted to Russian ways without sacrifice of their own culture. Transcaucasia was a region with a potential for conflict due to its location between various peoples: it was between the Armenians and Georgians, and the Russian; between all of these peoples and foreigners who owned most of its mineral wealth and between any or all of those aforementioned and the Azerbaijanis, the region’s third major nationality.
The Azerbaijanis were among the empire’s 12 million Turkic people whose conquest by Russia had started in the 16th century. In the latter part of the 19th century Russia expanded into Central Asia, which was inhabited by Kazakhs, Bashkirs, Turkomens, Uzbeks, Kalmuks and Kirghiz.
The range of lifestyles among the Turkic peoples was wide. Volga Tartars had coexisted peacefully for centuries with their Slavic neighbours and became settled agriculturalists. Most of the peoples of Central Asia were pastoral nomads, and all including the Kirghiz spoke a Turkic language. All were Muslims, although some Turkic intellectuals were drawn to secularism, nationalism or both. National consciousness for most though, began and ended with Islam.
The Inorodtsy peoples of other stock, lived mainly in the far North or Eastern Siberia. They were few in numbers and were economically and culturally primitive. Yakuts, Samoeds, Alets and Eskimos were classified as Inorodtsy.
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