Lipka Tatars Explained

The Lipka Tatars (also known as Lithuanian Tatars, Belarusian Tatars, Lipkowie, Lipcani or Muślimi) are a group of Tatars living on the lands of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania since the 14th century. They followed Sunni branch of Islam and their origins can be traced back to the descendant states of the Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan - the White Horde, the Golden Horde, the Crimean Khanate and Kazan Khanate. In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth they initially served as a noble military caste but later they became urban-dwellers known for their crafts, horses and gardening skills. Throughout centuries they resisted assimilation and kept their traditional lifestyle. There are still small groups of Lipka Tatars living in today's Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine and Poland.

Towards the end of the 14th century, these Tatars were granted asylum and given noble status and land in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania by Vytautas the Great and settled in the lands of present-day Belarus and Lithuania. From the very beginning of their settlement in Lithuania they were known as the Lipkas. While maintaining their Islamic religion they united their fate with that of the mainly Christian Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. From the Battle of Grunwald onwards the Lipka Tatar light cavalry regiments participated in every significant military campaign.

Origin of the term 'Lipka'

The name Lipka is derived from the old Crimean Tatar name of Lithuania. The record of the name Lipka in Oriental sources permits us to infer an original Libķa/Lipķa, from which the Polish Lipka was formed, with possible contamination with the Polish lipka "small lime-tree"; this etymology was suggested by the Tatar author S. Tuhan-Baranowski. A less frequent Polish form, Łubka, is corroborated in Łubka/Łupka, the Crimean Tatar name of the Lipkas up to the end of the 19th century. The Crimean Tatar term Lipka Tatarłar meaning Lithuanian Tatars, later started to be used by the Polish-Lithuanian Tatars to describe themselves.

In religion and culture the Lipka Tatars differed from most other Islamic communities in respect of the treatment of their women, who always enjoyed a large degree of freedom, even during the years when the Lipkas were in the service of the Ottoman Empire. Co-education of male and female children was the norm, and Lipka women did not wear the veil - except at the marriage ceremony. While nominally Islamic, the customs and religious practices of the Lipka Tatars also accommodated many Christian elements adopted during their 600 years residence in Belarus, Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania while still maintaining the traditions and superstitions from their nomadic Mongol past, such as the sacrifice of bulls in their mosques during the main religious festivals.

The lower and middle Lipka Tatar nobles adopted the Ruthenian language and later the Belarusian language as their mother tongue. However, they used the Arabic alphabet to write in Belarusian until the 1930s. The upper nobility of Lipka Tatars spoke Polish.

Diplomatic correspondence between the Crimean Khanate and Poland from the early 16th century refers to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as the "land of the Poles and the Lipkas". By the 17th century the term Lipka Tatar began to appear in the official documents of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Lipkas in the past

According to some estimates, by 1591 there were about 200,000 Lipka Tatars living in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and about 400 mosques serving them. According to the Risāle-yi Tatar-i Leh (an account of the Lipka Tatars written for Süleyman the Magnificent by an anonymous Polish Muslim during a stay in Istanbul in 1557-8 on his way to Mecca) there were 100 Lipka Tatar settlements with mosques in Poland. The largest communities existed in the cities of Lida, Navahradak and Iwye. There has been a Lipka Tatar settlement in Minsk, today's capital of Belarus, known as Tatarskaya Slabada.

In the year 1672, the Tatar subjects rose up in open rebellion against the Commonwealth. This was the widely remembered Lipka Rebellion. Thanks to the efforts of King Jan III Sobieski, who was held in great esteem by the Tatar soldiers, many of the Lipkas seeking asylum and service in the Turkish army returned to his command and participated in the struggles with the Ottoman Empire up to the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699, including the Battle of Vienna (1683) that was to turn the tide of Islamic expansion into Europe and mark the beginning of the end for the Ottoman Empire.

Lipkas today

Today there are about 10,000-15,000 Lipka Tatars in the former areas of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The majority of descendants of Tatar families in Poland can trace their descent from the nobles of the early Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Lipka Tatars had settlements in north-east Poland, Belarus, Lithuania, south-east Latvia and Ukraine. Today most reside in Poland, Lithuania and Belarus. Most of the Lipka Tatars (80%) assimilated into the ranks of the nobility in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth while some lower noble Tatars assimilated to the Belarusian, Polish, Ukrainian and Lithuanian townsfolk and peasant populations.

Charles Bronson was a descendant of the Lipka Tatars of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which caused many people to think that he looked like a Chicano or Mexican-American who was a Mestizo (mixture of Spanish and Indian ancestry). Thus, due to his looks Bronson sometimes played characters who were Mexican or who were part-Indian.

A small but active community of Lipka Tatars exists in New York City. "The Islamic Center of Polish Tatars" in New York City until recently had its own mosque in Brooklyn (106 Powers Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211 USA).

After the annexation of eastern Poland into the Soviet Union following World War II, Poland was left with only 2 Tatar villages, Bohoniki and Kruszyniany. A significant number of the Tartars in the territories annexed to the USSR repatriated to Poland and clustered in cities such as Gdańsk, Białystok, Warsaw and Gorzów Wielkopolski totaling some 3,000 people. One of the neighborhoods of Gorzów Wielkopolski where relocated Tatar families resettled has come to be referred to as "the Tatar Hills", or in Polish "Górki Tatarskie".

In 1925 the Muslim Religion Association - Muzułmański Związek Religijny was formed in Poland in Białystok. 1n 1992, another organization, Związek Tatarów Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, with autonomous branches in Białystok and Gdańsk began operating.

In Poland, the Tatar population reached approximately 100,000 in 1630 but the 2002 census showed only 447 people declaring this ethnicity.[1]

Timeline

Famous Lipka Tatar descendants

Two distantly related members of the Abakanowicz family

See also

External links

Notes and References

  1. http://www.mswia.gov.pl/portal/pl/61/37/ Mniejszości narodowe i etniczne w Polsce
  2. Por. S. Dziadulewicz, Herbarz rodzin tatarskich, Wilno 1929, s. 365.