Chuvash - History and Cultural Relations

The reconstruction of the early history of the Chuvash is incomplete. Because the "Chuvash" ethnonym does not appear in Russian historical sources until the sixteenth century, the relation of the Chuvash to the other Bulgaro-Turkic tribes is difficult to determine. The following is known about the Bulgaro-Turks.

The ancient Turkic Language Family split into Common Turkic and Bulgaro-Turkic at the beginning of our era. Bulgaro-Turkic tribes moved westward from their Inner Asian home. Byzantine sources from A.D. 465 mention the Ogur, Onogur, Saragur, Utigur, and Kutrigur tribes, and from 481 on the "Bolgar" ethnonym appears. In the fifth and sixth centuries these tribes settled on the lowland between the Dnieper and Don rivers. In 630 a group of these people moved to the lower Danube under the guidance of Asparuch. Between 670 and 680 the majority of the people were under the control of the Kazars, who founded their state on the Caspian Sea. According to recent studies, Kazars also spoke a Bulgaro-Turkic dialect. At the end of the ninth century some Bulgar tribes migrated north to the Volga, Kama, and Viatka rivers and founded the Volga Bulgar Empire. This state, named Magna Bulgaria (Great Bulgaria), existed for two and one-half centuries and was prosperous, according to Arabic sources. Its capital, Bolgari, was a major cultural and commercial center. In 1230 Mongols invaded Magna Bulgaria, gaining control in 1241. According to Volga-Bulgarian inscriptions, two groups remained from their population until the fifteenth century. Both of them spoke Bulgaro-Turkic dialects but they were not direct ancestors of the Chuvash. An inscription dated 1307 is unquestionably in the Chuvash language and can be regarded as the first written evidence of the Chuvash dialect differentiated from other Bulgaro-Turkic dialects.

In the fifteenth century the Golden Horde disintegrated. The Kazan Khanate was organized, and the Volga Bulgar population, who spoke two non-Chuvash dialects, was absorbed into the Kipchak population. The Chuvash population preserved its language but was much influenced by the Kipchaks.

In 1551 the Chuvash people joined forces with the Russians and helped them besiege Kazan. From 1552—the taking of Kazan—the Chuvash have lived in the Kazan Province of the Russian Empire. After initial prosperity, living conditions deteriorated as Russian and Chuvash feudal oppression increased, and the burden of the agricultural population was increased by the tax paid to the Russian Orthodox church. The Chuvash participated in numerous peasant uprisings led by Stepan Razin (1670-1671) and Yemelian Pugachov (1773-1775). The life of the serfs of the Volga region in the eighteenth century was especially difficult, as landowners sent non-Russian villagers to the Russian imperial public works projects as unpaid workers. Thousands of Chuvash were impressed into the shipyards at Azov, Voronezh, and Olonec. Many worked in construction, in St. Petersburg to transform it into the imperial capital and in Kazan to erect an admiralty. In different parts of the country, Chuvash peasants had to work building fortresses, and later they were forced to haul barges transporting salt from Perm to Nizhni Novgorod. At this time, entire Chuvash villages migrated to more distant territories hoping to avoid forced labor. In the nineteenth century capitalism developed in Chuvashia, and in the 1890s, 10 percent of the peasantry were kulaks, 55 percent middle class, and 2 percent poor. The kulaks opened factories; by 1913 more than 400 factories were in operation in Chuvashia. After the 1917 Revolution, local soviets formed in Chuvashia. In 1920 the Chuvash Autonomous Region was established, and in 1925 it became the Chuvash Autonomous Republic. In the post-Soviet era, it is the Chuvash Republic.

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