2021 – The Year of Lithuanian Tatar History and Culture
The Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, taking into consideration that 2021 marks 700 years since the alliance between the Grand Duke of Lithuania Gediminas and Tatars as well as the battles alongside against Teutonic Order will be commemorated, appreciating the great footprint Tatars left in Lithuanian history, participating in all the battles and revolts, fighting for the freedom and independence of Lithuania,
emphasizing the great contribution of Lithuanian Tatars community towards restitution of Lithuanian independence, to history and culture, to life dedication in Lithuania and becoming an important part of its history,
willing to mark 700 years anniversary of Lithuanian Tatar history and culture, inviting Lithuanian society to get to know their past, history and culture on the 14th of October 2020 the Seimas announced that 2021 will be the year of Lithuanian Tatar history and culture.
It is common to assume that Tatars from Golden Horde, Crimean Khanate and Nogai Steppe came to the Grand Duchy of Lithuanian 625 years ago. Newcomers from Golden Horde were mentioned in the embassy’s instructions on the 8th of July 1397. Nevertheless, the troops of Tatars have already participated in the war campaigns during Gediminas ruling. As an example, battles against Teutonic Order in 1320. Moreover, in the end of the 14th century the settlement processes intensified due to initiatives by the Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas. Tatar settlements and villages are the result of Vytautas internal and foreign policy.
Lithuanian Tatars have never lost the connection with their relatives in the East. There is a lot of information about the Tatar trips to Istanbul, Crimea, Balkans, and Mecca. The representatives of this ethnic group served honourably and represented the interests of the host country. Thanks to their knowledge of the Turkic language, Lithuanian Tatars could often be seen working as translators in the State Chancellery, or as envoys in the embassies of the Ottoman Empire and the Crimean Khanate. The most famous are Timurchin from the Yushensky family (1475), Chamza from the Charaburds (1480), Lehush from the Chazbejevich family (1506), Sobolis (1571). 1492 and 1501 King Alexander appointed Tatar Bairash as a messenger to the Crimean Khanate. In 1668 Tatar Ibrahim worked at the embassy in Istanbul. In 1716 King August II sent Rittmeister Tatar Stepan Sulkevich to the Crimean khan Kaplan Girey.
Tatars served in the army of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, took part in the Battle of Grunwald (1410), in the military marches of the Republic of the Two Nations, in T. Kosciuszko (1794), 1831 and 1863 uprisings, in 1918 and 1990 fights for Lithuanian independence.
However, Lithuanian Tatars were not indifferent to the fate of their tribesmen either. It is worth mentioning many prominent names of Lithuanian Tatars, who fought for the independence of Crimea, Azerbaijan and Tatarstan in 1918–1920. These are Matvejus Sulkevičius, Aleksandras Akhmatovičius, Iskanderas Talkovskis, Džemilis Aleksandrovičius, brothers Leon and Olgerdas Kričinskiai and others.
Lithuanian Tatar culture is distinguished by the original tradition of mosque architecture, colourful folklore, characterized by interesting customs and religious rites and celebrations, manifestations of the peculiarities of this culture can be found in the surviving written monuments. Lithuanian Tatar culture was and still is closely related to the Islamic religion. They were protected from complete assimilation by the internal connections of the community, which were strengthened by the perception of the society and the Tatars themselves that their ethnic origin and religion were “different”. This separation prevented foreign influences from penetrating intensively into the organization, traditions, and customs of the Tatar religious life. In addition, the close ties of origin and kinship, the priority of collective interests in relations with government and society, protected the Tatars from complete assimilation. Last but not least, the tradition of manuscripts played a role in this process, helping to preserve not only the historical memory of past centuries, but also the customs and traditions of Muslim families. Relying on historical sources, it is believed that since the middle of the 16th century, most Lithuanian Tatars have not spoken Turkic. It was during this period that the first Tatar manuscripts appeared. When the need to explain the most important religious dogmas aroused, the Tatars began to translate their religious literature into Ruthenian, and later from the 17th century into Polish. In addition to Slavic texts, there are many texts in Arabic and Turkic. One of the features of these manuscripts is that the texts in the Slavic languages are written in Arabic script.
For centuries, writing has been the only source of Lithuanian Tatar religious culture. It was the writers who took an active part in the process of cultural synchronization, as they not only translated religious literature important to Lithuanian Tatars, but also included in written books polemical texts of different ideological trends, or texts of applied value, such as various Arabic-Turkish, Turkish-Polish and Russian- Turkish dictionaries.
One of the special features of Lithuanian Tatar culture is that narrow ethnic rites are always closely intertwined with inter-Islamic ones. We cannot imagine their culture without sharing the alms of Muslim rites such as reading the Quran and prayers. These rites form the
basis during naming, during weddings, during funerals, at the commemoration of the day of the dead, and etc.
Currently, Lithuanian Tatars live in three countries – Belarus, Lithuania and Poland.
In independent Lithuania, the tradition of periodically organized international conferences, dedicated to the research of Lithuanian Tatar history, culture, writing and religion, was born.
– 610th Anniversary of the Settlement of Tatars and Karaims in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (the 13th–15th of September 2007, Vilnius University);
– Turks’ History and Culture in Lithuania. Dedicated to the 615th Anniversary of the Settlement of Tatars and Karaims in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (the 29th–31st of May 2013, Vilnius University);
– Manuscripts of Lithuanian Tatars – National Treasure, dedicated to the 100th Anniversary of the Discovery of Ivan Lutskevich’s Kitab (the 19th–20th of May 2015, Vilnius University);
– Tatars-Muslims in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania: Past, Present and Future. Commemorating the 620th Anniversary of Tatars’ History, Religion and Culture in Belarus, Lithuania and Poland (the 29th–30th of June 2017, Vilnius University, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, Tatar Community of Vilnius County);
– History and culture Interfaces. Conference is Dedicated to Celebrate the 50 years of monography “Belarussian Texts Written in Arabic Scripts”, written by the professor of Vilnius University A. Antonovich (the 1st–2nd of June 2018, Vilnius Tatar Community of Vilnius County together with Vilnius University);
– International Scientific Conference “Development of Turkish – Lithuanian Relations” (the 26th–31st of May 2019, Vilnius University together with Ankara Folk Culture Research Organization).
– Workshop “Cultural Heritage of Lithuanian Turkic Nations: Oriental Material in the Funds of Vilnius University “ (the 19th–22nd of May 2016, Faculty of History of Vilnius University, Tübingen University, Tatar Community of Vilnius County).
During the conferences, the discussed issues included topics that explore the relations between the two Turkic nations of Lithuania and the great Eastern world. Papers, presented in 2007, 2013 and 2017 conferences, became a part of the collections of articles. They also provided a solid basis for targeted and consistent research in this area.