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Volga Bulgaria - 732-1236

Volga Bulgaria is a state that existed between the 7th and 13th centuries around the confluence of the Volga and Kama Rivers. The historical fate of the Tatar People, its culture, arising and development of Kazan - the capital of Tatarstan - are intertwining with the history of Volga Bulgaria, Golden Horde, Kazan Khanate, and the Russian State. Today, the Republics of Tatarstan and Chuvashia in Russia are considered to be descendants of Volga Bulgaria in terms of territory and ethnicity.

Volga Bulgaria was the feudal state formed on the verge of IX-X centuries in the Middle Volga region. The main population was bulgars - immigrants from the Azov region, who conquered the native Finno-Ugrians and Turkish-speaking tribes. The largest towns - Bolgar and Buljar - surpassed London, Paris, Kiev, Novgorod and Vladimir of that time in area and population.

Since the middle of the VIIIth century the Turkic-speaking Bolgar tribes penetrated into the Middle Volga region. The most well-known among them are the Barandgars, the Bolgars, the Bersula, the Suvar and others, who came from the regions of the north-western pre-Caucasus as a result of the Arabian-Khazar wars of the 732-735. Nearer to the Xth century came the second wave of the Bolgar migration to the Middle Volga and the Kama region from the southern steppes.

At the same time constant immigration of the Ural-Kama and South Ural population, including the Ugrian (Madjar) tribes, was taking place. In VIIIth - Xth centuries the basis of the culture of the new people - the Volga Bulgarians - is being laid as a result of the interaction of the Turkic-speaking Bolgar tribes and the Finno-Ugrian population.

Bulgars were pagans. In 922 the Embassy from Baghdad came to Bulgaria and the congress of Bulgarian tribes adopted Islam as the state religion. The ancient Turkish written language was substituted by the Arabic one. (In 1928 the Arabic alphabet was substituted by the Latin one; in 1938 the contemporary Tatar alphabet on the basis of Cyrillic alphabet was adopted).

In the Xth century the early-feudal state of the Volga Bulgaria was formed in the Middle Volga region. During the period of its formation Bulgaria was in the state of vassalage with the Khazar khanate and occupied a small territory in the region of Kama and Volga confluence.

The apogeee of Volga Bulgaria corresponds to the preiod from the XIth to the beginning of the XIII century. The basic territory of the state significantly grew. Volga Bulgaria exported to Middle Asia, China, Vizantium, Russia the fur, timber, leather footwear, arms and other handmade goods. The capital of Volga Bulgaria town Bolgar in X-XIV centuries was built of stone and brick. Already the public water supply was here. Nowadays remained the ruins of "The Black Chamber" Mosque, Minor Minaret, Khan's Tomb, Northern Mausoleum, Cathedral Mosque.

Bulgars had their own scientists and poets. Jakub ibn-Nogman who wrote "The History of Bulgaria" lived in the first half of XII century. The scholar Burchan ibn-Bulgari wrote the book on rhetoric and medicine. The poem by Kul-Gali "Tale about Yusuf" (XIII century) was well known far from Bulgaria and greatly influenced the development of Bulgarian and Tatar literature. The flourish of the Bulgarian trade was much due to the location of the state on the most important intercontinental trade route - the Volga-Baltic route as well as to the high level of the craft and farming development.

In 1223-1240 Bulgaria recklessly resisted to the Mongol hordes which strove to conquer the state. The unequal struggle resulted in the conquest of Bulgaria, the havoc of its economy and culture, the destruction of the cities. In 1223, after defeating Russian and Kipchak armies at the Battle of Kalka, a Mongol army under the generals Subutai and Jebe was sent to subdue Volga Bulgaria. At that point in history Genghis Khan's troops were seen as invincible. However in 1223, the Bulgars defeated the Mongols. An army led by the Bulgar iltbr (king) Ghabdulla Chelbir and including the armies of Mordvin princes or inzors Puresh and Purgaz defeated Genghis Khan's forces in 1223 near Samara Bend, one of the first defeats of the Mongols.

The Mongols returned in 1229 under the command of Kukday and Bubede. This force defeated Bulgar frontier-guards at the Ural River and began the occupation of the upper Ural valley. A few years later, in 1232, the Mongol cavalry subjugated the southeastern part of the Bashkiria, and occupied southern portions of Volga Bulgaria itself.

Following the failure of the various Bulgar lords to unite in common defense, the Mongols struck again in 1236. Mongol forces led by Batu Khan besieged and seized Bilr, Bolghar, Suar, Cktaw, and other cities and castles of Volga Bulgaria. The inhabitants were killed or sold into slavery. Volga Bulgaria became a part of the Ulus Jochi, later known as the Golden Horde. It was divided into different "duchies"; later each of them became a vassal of the Golden Horde and received some autonomy.

The surviving agricultural population was forced to leave steppe lands. The majority settled along the Kama river and in adjacent areas further north. The area around Kazan, which was settled by Mari people some years before, became the new center of Bolgar culture and the nucleus of Kazan Tatars population. Kazan and alli became new major political and trade centers. Some cities such as Bolghar and Cktaw were rebuilt, but they were primarily trading centers and the population was not, for the most part, Bolgar.

After the Mongols left Volga Bulgaria to conquer the Russians, the Bulgars rebelled, led by the nobility. The Mongols then returned and put down the rebellions. According to some historians, over 80% of the country's population was killed during the invasion. The remaining population mostly relocated to the northern areas (territories of modern Chuvashia and Tatarstan). Some autonomous duchies appeared in those areas. The steppe areas of Volga Bulgaria were settled by nomadic Kipchaks and Mongols, and the agricultural development suffered a severe decline.

The devastated Volga Bulgaria was included into the Golden Horde. Over time, the cities of Volga Bulgaria were rebuilt and became trade and craft centers of the Golden Horde. Some Bulgarians, primarily masters and craftsmen, were forcibly moved to Sarai and other southern cities of the Golden Horde. Volga Bulgaria remained a center of agriculture and handicraft.

In the middle of the 14th century some duchies of Volga Bulgaria became more independent and even coined their own money. The duchies were sometimes ruled by Bulgar nobles. In 1420s, the Kasan Duchy (Kazan Ulus) under the Ghiasetdin's leadership became practically independent from the Golden Horde. In 1440s, all lands with Volga Bulgar population were included into the Khanate of Kazan, which was ruled by Mongol dynasties. The Khanate also included Mari and Chuvash lands, while the rulers of the territories of Bashkirs, Udmurts, and Mordvins were considered vassals of Kazan. These were the peoples that traditionally had been under the economic and cultural influence of Volga Bulgaria.

The population of Volga Bulgaria was mostly Muslim. Under the influence of Bulgarian culture, more and more nomadic Mongols and Kipchaks were converted to Islam. On the other hand, the language used by Muslims of the Golden Horde transformed into the Kipchak language, adopted by all Muslim Volga Bulgars. As a result of a later mixing of the Kipchak and Bolgar languages, the literary language of the Golden Horde became what is now called the Old Tatar language, and eventually evolved into the modern Tatar language. Some of Bulgaria's non-Islamic population kept the Bolgar language, which was influenced by the Mari language, a language commonly used in the territories they relocated to. This led to the development of the modern Chuvash language.

Some historians hypothesize that during the rule of the Mongols, the ethnic makeup of the population of Volga Bulgaria did not change, remaining largely Bolgar and partly Finnic. Alternately, some hypothesize that some Kipchaks and Russians were forcibly relocated to Bulgaria's land. Undoubtedly, some Bulgars were forcibly relocated to the territory of modern Astrakhan Oblast, the population of which was previously nomadic.

Volga Bulgaria's Muslim community preferred to call themselves Muslims (Mselmannar), but used the word Bolghar to distinguish themselves from nomadic Moslem Kipchaks. They did not call themselves Tatars until the 19th century. Russian sources also originally distinguished Volga Bulgars from nomadic Tatars, but later the word "Tatar" became synonymous with "Turkic Muslim". To distinguish between themselves, they started to use names of the khanates: the population of Khanate of Kazan called themselves the people of Kazan (Qazanli); this name was also used by the steppe Tatars and by the Russians.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:25:01 ZULU