A long standing presence in the Romanian collective memory, bearing a negative connotation owing to the fame of conquerors of their ancestors, Tatars are a homogeneous ethnic group living peacefully in the Dobrogea area for hundreds of years. Here they are mainly concerned with the preservation of their traditions and culture.
Short historical background
The Tatar group from the north-Pontic steppe started to become known in the 13th century. The victory of the Russian knezs in 1223 opened their way to Europe and stretched their rule up to the springs of the Danube.
The first documented mention concerning Tatar settlements in Dobrogea refers to a land allotment during the rule of Genghis Khan (13th century). During the 14th century, tribes of Tatars and Turks came together from Anatolia (Asia Minor); with this occasion they converted to Sunni Islam.
Then under the rule of Timur Lenk Khan, 100,000 Tatars settled in Dobrogea and in the Edirne and Filipopoli areas.
In 1525 more groups of Oguz Turks and Tatars arrived in Babadag. Ottoman chronicles mention four groups of Tatars on the territory of Romelia (in the Eastern Balkans) – to which Dobrogea belonged: the Aktav Tatars, the Tîrhala Tatars, the Ianbolu Tatars and the Bozapa or Bozata Tatars. These groups were included in the same registers as Oguz nomads and enjoyed the same privileges and held the same duties as these towards the Ottoman state.
Tatar belongs to the Turkish branch of Altaic languages. The setting up of the Ottoman administration in Dobrogea had as an effect the assimilation of the Tatar population, the Kapceac language of the Tatars being replaced by the Osman, which is a western Turkish language.
After accepting the suzerainty of the Sultan Mehmed II in 1457, the language of Crimean Tatars was osmanized as well, so that Tatars coming to Dobrogea from Crimea also developed their cultural life in the language of Osman Turks.
At the end of the 16th century foreign travelers called Dobrogea a “Tatar land”. In 1596, under the rule of one of the Khan’s brothers an additional 40,000 Tatars settled in the area between the sea and the Danube.
After the Tsar’s occupation of the Crimean Peninsula (1783), numerous Tatars from this place of origin of the once feared Golden Horde found refuge in the Dobrogea area. This process of emigration continued until Dobrogea united with Romania in 1878. Because of the frequent
Russian – Turkish wars, Tatars had to constantly seek refuge and left Dobrogea three times, but kept returning here.
After 1878, the situation of Tatars was generally similar to that of the Turks, meaning they were marginalized but were not assimilated.
Tatars within the Romanian state
A first evaluation of the size of the Tatar population in Dobrogea was done by the Ubcini scholar immediately after the Romanian Independence War. His results from 1879 are quite imprecise, since Tatars were included alongside Turks in the Muslim religious group. Nevertheless, at the time there were approx. 134,000 Muslims in the Romanian part of Dobrogea.
The first precise evaluation of the number of Tatars dates back to 1911, when 25,086 persons are registered, representing 7.3% of the province population.
Dobrogea’s unification with Romania meant that a new era began for the Tatars; modern public education, cultural and Islamic religious institutions were created according to the needs of this minority. Among these, the Muslim Seminary initially functioned in Babadag and was later transferred to Medgidia in 1901. Also, the “Emel” (The Ideal) magazine represented during the post war period a truly Renaissance school, disseminating among Tatars the generous ideas of he great Crimean humanist Ismail Gasprinski and of the national poet Tatar Mehmet Niyazi.
Connections with the land of origin – Crimea – never ceased to exist; even during World War II many Crimean Tatars found refuge in Romania. Stalin’s reprisals against Crimean Tatars had an impact on Dobrogea Tatars as well, some of them becoming victims of the communist regime.
On the other hand, with the passing of time, some of the Dobrogea Tatars (although not many) moved to other areas inside Romania. (Bucharest, Braşov, Jassy).
According to the results of the latest census (2002) , there are 24,137 Tatars in Romania (0.11% of the total population), almost the same as in the previous census of 1992, when 24,596 Tatars were registered (0,11% of the total population). Most ethnic Tatars live in the Dobrogea counties of Constanţa and Tulcea, while a small group lives in Bucharest.
Various representatives of the Tatar minority estimate that the real number of Tatars is almost double as that resulting from official censuses, placing it at around 55,000 persons.
Immediately after the 1989 revolution, the Turkish-Muslim Democratic Union of Romania was set up, proclaimed as an “ethno-confessional organization of the Turkish and Tatar population in Romania”. Shortly afterwards, however, this union divided into two organizations, namely the Turkish Democratic Union of Romania and the Democratic Union of Turkish-Muslim Tartars in Romania (DUTMTR). In 1994 the Turkish and Tatar Federation is also set up.
DUTMTR is an ethno-confessional organization aiming to promote “the preservation of the Tatar nation by reviving its specific spirituality” by strengthening the ties with Tatars from Crimea and elsewhere.
The Union is made up of 27 branches in the most important localities with Tatar population: Constanţa, Medgidia, Mangalia, Valu lui Traian, Bucureşti, Techirghiol, Murfatlar, Ovidiu, Braşov, Tulcea and others.
Over the years DUTMTR had several MPs; presently Aledin Amet is the Union’s representative in Parliament. Worth mentioning is the fact that in the local elections of 2004 DUTMTR obtained three mayor’s mandates.
Tatars in Romania consider themselves to be part of the Diaspora of Crimean Tartars. Consequently, appealed to Parliament, the Presidency and the Government of the Republic of Ukraine requesting the immediate addressing of the 1998 inter-ethnic problems in Ukraine, in accordance with international law.
At the last general election in the Ukraine, the Tatar population in this country joined the majority population in its fight for real democratization.
Dobrogea Tatars created their own culture by drawing on their history and traditions. National holidays such as the Nawrez and the Kıdırlez, as well as religious celebrations such as Kurban Bayrami and Ramazan Bayrami, largely spread throughout the Turkish World, are among the most important themes.
As far as religious life is concerned, Tatars are under the protection of the Mufti of the Muslim Denomination in Romania. In the 1990s local branches of the DUTMTR contributed to the building of several mosques in Constanţa, Eforie Nord, Ovidiu. In 1995 following the signing of a protocol between the Romanian and Turkish states the Muslim seminary of Medgidia was transformed into the Theological Muslim High School Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, also sponsored by the Ankara government.
Towards the end of the 1990s there were approx. 80 places of worship, among which one mosque, for the Muslim religious service.
Various artistic groups were set up in Valu lui Traian, Constanţa, Medgidia, Mangalia, Mihail Kogãlniceanu, in the wish to preserve the Tatar folklore traditions; the Festival of Turkish-Tartar National Dress, Dance and Songs reached its 10th edition in 2004. Representatives of the Tatar community take part constantly in the ProEtnica Festival in Sighişoara.
DUTMTR also contributed to the setting up of a network of pupils of Turkish and Tatar ethnic origin who study the Turkish language and Islamic religion intensively. A Tatar language training programme for teachers was also initiated. More recently, the Education Commission of the DUTMTR concerned itself with drafting a strategy to revive Tatar culture and traditions.
An important part of the Union’s activity is represented by organizing symposia dedicated to Tatar personalities such as Numan Çelebi Cihan, Ismail Gasprinski, Hamdi Giraybay, Necip Hacı Fazıl and his big brother Müstecep Ülküsal; other symposia marked the centenary of the Muslim Seminary of Medgidia, and periodical commemorations marked the passing away of the national Tatar poet Mehmet Niyazi.
The Tatar Union publishes books by classical and contemporary authors, as well as three monthly periodicals - “Karadeniz” (“Black Sea”), “Kadınlar Dünyası” (“The World of Women”) and “Caş” (“The Youngster”). In the field of linguistics, an important achievement was the publishing in 1996 of the “Tatar – Turkish – Romanian Dictionary”, containing 10,500 words, edited by Kerim Altay. Also, the Tatar language was the subject of a Bachelor of Arts dissertation in 1997 at the Faculty of Letters from “Ovidius” University of Constanţa by Ozgean Omer, senior mechanical engineer.
The Romanian Radio-Communications Society airs Tatar language broadcasts through its territorial studio in Constaţa and through Radio Vacanţa.
Prof.Sen.Eng. Ozgean Omer, Constanţa, Romania, The European Union