Staunton, October 27 – The Lithuanian parliament has voted unanimously to declare 2021, the 700th anniversary of the appearance of Tatars in what is now the Republic of Lithuania, the Year of the History and Culture of the Lithuanian Tatars, a group that today numbers only 3,000 but one that played an enormous role in the history of Lithuania.
The parliament declared that “the Tatas have left a significant mark in the history of Lithuania, they took part in all wars and uprisings, and struggled for the freedom and independence of Lithuania. [And] the Lithuanian Tatar community made a significant contribution to the restoration of Lithuanian statehood” (business-gazeta.ru/article/444093).
Adas Jakubauskas, a historian who heads the Lithuanian Tatar Community, says that he and his group consider themselves to be “the descendants of those Tatars who settled in the Grand Principality of Lithuania in 1397,” but Polish historians date the history of the Tatars in the region to 1321 – and that is the anniversary being celebrated.
“Unfortunately,” the historian continues, this earlier “wave of Tatars completely assimilated: we know absolutely nothing about it … but those Tatars, the descendants of whom we are came in 1397 and recently we celebrated the 620th anniversary of the settlement of Tatars on the land of the Grand Principality.”
According to Jakubauskas, “our ancestor came to these lands as warriors; they were invited by the great prince.” And the immediately took part in its wars and struggles, something they have done ever since. At present, there are approximately 3,000 Lithuanian Tatars in the country. In addition, there are significant communities in Belarus, Poland, the US and elsewhere.
Earlier this year, Rokas Zubovas, a Lithuanian musician, visited Kazan. He is the grandson of the composer and painter Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis; and he shared something important about the Lithuanian Tatars. In the 19th century when the tsarist authorities prohibited the publication of Lithuanian language books, activists in Kazan went ahead and published them.
At that time, Zubovas related, Kazan University had courses on the Lithuanian language and published books in Lithuanian, including collections of songs and folkloric materials, which might otherwise have been lost. These books went back to Lithuania via “secret ways and were passed from hand to hand.”
For background on the Lithuanian Tatars and other Tatar groups in the surrounding countries, see Ingvar Svanberg and David Westerlund, eds., Muslim Tatar Minorities in the Baltic Sea Region (Leiden, 2016, 182 pp.).