Friday, February 28, 2020

The Urums – Greeks who Speak Crimean Tatar – May be Next Russian Target for Ethnic Engineering

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 22 – General de Gaulle said it was hard to govern France because that country had more than 200 kinds of cheese, but the leaders of the post-Soviet states face an even greater challenge because they must deal not only with the relatively limited number of large nations but also with smaller groups that have arisen from a complicated history of ethnogenesis.

            In few places outside of the North Caucasus are the number of such groups in a relatively small territory concentrated to the degree they are in southeastern Ukraine, including Russian-occupied Crimea. And among them is one group, the Urums, who seldom get much attention but who represent a kind of living fossil of ethnic development.

            Some 70,000 people there identify as Urums, although only just over 4,000 speak their national language. But for all but a few experts, this community remains unknown and rarely discussed. Yandex’s “Tatars and Tatarstan” page has now opened a window on these people (

            The Urums, the page says, “are ordinary Greeks even though they have adopted Crimean Tatar as their language.” They are the descendants of the Greeks who settled the region in antiquity and maintained their language and Orthodox faith for centuries. But when the Crimean khanate arose, they shifted to Crimean Tatar but retained their Orthodoxy.

            That linguistic shift continued with the arrival of the Ottomans in 1475, but in that political system, they also retained their identity. Their self-designator “Urum” is a Turkic version of “rum” or “Roman” and marked them off as Christians rather than Muslims. When Russia came, the Urums changed their last names to Russian ones but retained Greek first names.

            Now, the Yandex page says, the Urums are again changing, shifting from Crimean Tatar to Russian. It notes that some have emigrated to Greece but most are still either in Crimea or the Donbass where it is entirely possible they are going to be targeted by the Russians as candidates for ethnic engineering intended to reduce the number of Crimean Tatar speakers.

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