Crimean Tatar Introduction
By Naoki Watanabe
Crimean Tatars are a Sunni Muslim and Turkic ethnicity indigenous to Crimea and actively trying to reassert their culture there. The people are often called “Tatar” and this leads to confusion with the actual ethnic group known as the Tatars (or Volga Tatars), who live in Tatarstan, and while related to Crimean Tatars (as they’re both Sunni Muslim and Turkic), are different as Tatars speak a language from the Uralo-Caspian branch of the Kypchak group of Turkic languages while Crimean Tatars speak a language from the Ponto-Caspian group and because Crimean Tatars have had more influences from Turks and Ukrainians while Tatars have had more interactions with the peoples of the Volga—such as the Udmurts, Mari, Erzyans, and Mokshans (the term “Tatar” or “Tartar” has also been used to denote several other ethnic groups incorrectly such as the Kalmyks and Manchus; Crimean Tatars and their language have also been erroneously referred to as “Crimean Turkish”).
Although Crimea has been controlled by numerous powers throughout its long history, the Crimean Tatars were the ones who succeeded in giving the region its current common name (“Crimea” comes from the word Qırım) and have influenced many topographic names (e.g. the name of Crimea’s most famous city, Yalta, is taken directly from Crimean). Their culture and language has been influenced by several groups in different ways which has led to variations in both which can be seen in the three sub-ethnicities: the Tats, (who make up 55% of Crimeans and whose dialect is the language’s standard), the Yalıboyu (who make up 30% of the population and speak a heavily Turkish-influenced dialect), and the Noğay (who make up 15% of the population and speak a more explicitly Kypchak language). The Crimean Tatar language has about 450,000 speakers and is considered endangered.
Crimean Tatar is unique amongst the Turkic languages because it’s been seen as both a member of the Kypchak group of Turkic languages (which includes Kazakh, Tatar, and Bashkir), and the Oghuz group (which includes Turkish, Gagauz, and Turkmen). Although Crimean Tatar is nowadays usually seen as a Kypchak language, it has had heavy influences from Oghuz languages (especially Turkish), which are most prominent in the Yalıboyu dialect. An example of this is in the words for “goodbye” which are “Sağlıqnen qalıñız” (said by person leaving) and “Sağlıqnen barıñız” (said by person staying) in the Tat dialect, but are “Oşçakal” (said by the person leaving) and “Küle küle” (said by the person staying) in the Yalıboyu dialect (in Turkish, the words for “goodbye” are “Hoşçakal” and “Güle güle”).
There are three alphabets for the language: an Arabic one that is no longer in use, a Latin one almost identical to that of Turkish (with the addition of the letters “Qq” and “Ññ”), and a Cyrillic one preferred by the Russian government currently controlling Crimea. The language’s grammar is almost identical to that of Turkish and shares features like a flexible word order (an example being in the sentence “Menim vaqtım yoq”—“I don’t have time” which can also be rendered as “Yoq vaqtım”, although this is slightly rude) and using the word “bar” (equivalent to Turkish “var”) to indicate possession. This can be seen in the sentences “Deñizde dalar bar.” (Crimean Tatar) and “Denizde adalar var.” (Turkish) which mean “There are islands in the sea.” (“Deñizde” means “at sea” and “adalar” means “islands or archipelago”).
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