The Lipka Tatars (also known as Polish–Lithuanian Tatars, Lipkowie, Lipcani or Muślimi) are a group of Tatars who originally settled in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania at the beginning of the 14th century. The first settlers tried to preserve their shamanistic religion and sought asylum amongst the non-Christian Lithuanians. Towards the end of the 14th century, another wave of Tatars – this time, Muslims, were invited into the Grand Duchy by Vytautas the Great. These Tatars first settled in Lithuania proper around Vilnius, Trakai, Hrodna and Kaunas and later spread to other parts of the Grand Duchy that later became part of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. These areas comprise parts of present-day Lithuania, Belarus and Poland. From the very beginning of their settlement in Lithuania they were known as the Lipka Tatars. While maintaining their 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 of Lithuania and Poland.
The Lipka Tatar origins can be traced back to the descendant states of the Golden Horde, the Crimean Khanate and Kazan Khanate. 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. While they remained very attached to their religion, over time however, they lost their original Tatar language, from the Kipchak languages group of the Turkic languages, and for the most part adopted Belarusian, Lithuanian and Polish. There are still small groups of Lipka Tatars living in today's Belarus, Lithuania and Poland, as well as their communities in United States.
Litas commemorative coin for the 600th anniversary of Karaims and Tatars in Lithuania (1397–1997)
The name Lipka is derived from the old Crimean Tatarname of Lithuania. The record of the name Lipka in Oriental sources permits us to infer an original Libķa/Lipķa, from which the Polish derivative Lipka was formed, with possible contamination from contact 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 traditionally 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.
Diplomatic correspondence between the Crimean Khanate and Poland from the early 16th century refers to Poland and Lithuania 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.
Lithuanian Tartars in the Napoleonic Army with Red and White banners of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
The migration of Tatars into the lands of Lithuania and Poland from Golden Horde began during the 14th century and lasted until the end of the 17th. There was a subsequent wave of Tatar immigrants from Russia after the October Revolution of 1917, although these consisted mostly of political and national activists.
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 John 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.
Beginning in the late 18th and throughout the 19th century the Lipkas became successively more and more polonized. The upper and middle classes in particular adopted Polish language and customs (although they kept Islam as their religion), while the lower ranks became Ruthenized. At the same time, the Tatars held the Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas (Wattad in Tatar, or "defender of Muslims in non Muslim lands"), who encouraged and supported their settlement in the late 14th and early 15th century, in great esteem, including him in many legends, prayers and their folklore. Throughout the 20th and since the 21st centuries, most Tatars no longer view religious identity as being as important as it once was, and the religious and linguistic subgroups have intermingled considerably; for example, the Tatar women in Poland do not practice veiling (wearing headscarf/hijab) or view it as a mandatory religious obligation, but rather an influence of Arab culture on Islamic customs. Many Polish Tatars, especially and mainly the youth, also drink alcohol.
1226: The Khanate of the White Horde was established as one of the successor states to the Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan. The first Khan, Orda was the second son of Jochi, the eldest son of Genghis Khan. The White Horde occupied the southern Siberian steppe from the east of the Urals and the Caspian Sea to Mongolia.
1380: Khan Tokhtamysh, the hereditary ruler of the White Horde, crossed west over the Urals and merged the White Horde with the Golden Horde whose first khan was Batu, the eldest son of Jochi. In 1382 the White and Golden Hordes sacked and burned Moscow. Tokhtamysh, allied with the great central Asian Tatar conqueror Tamerlane, reasserted Mongol power in Russia.
1397: After a series of disastrous military campaigns against his former protector, the great Tatar warlord Tamerlane, Tokhtamysh and the remnants of his clan were granted asylum and given estates and noble status in Grand Duchy of Lithuania by Vytautas the Great. The settlement of the Lipka Tatars in Lithuania in 1397 is recorded in the Chronicles of Jan Długosz.
Tatar mosque and graveyard in the Lukiškės suburb (1830), Vilnius. It was replaced by another, a more traditional one, in 1867
1397: The Italian city state of Genoa funded a joint expedition by the forces of Khan Tokhtamysh and Grand Duke Vytautas against Tamerlane. This campaign was notable for the fact that the Lipka Tatars and Lithuanian armies were armed with handguns, but no major victories were achieved.
15 July 1410: The Battle of Grunwald took place between the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania on one side (c. 39,000 troops), and the Teutonic Knights on the other (c. 27,000 troops). The Teutonic knights were defeated and never recovered their former influence. After the battle, rumours spread across Europe that the Germans had only been defeated thanks to the aid of tens of thousands of heathen Tatars, though it is likely there were no more than 1,000 Tatar horse archers at the battle, the core being the entourage of Jalal ad-Din, son of Khan Tokhtamysh. At the start of the battle, Jalal ad-Din led the Lipka Tatar and Lithuanian light cavalry on a suicide charge against the Teutonic Knights' artillery positions – the original "Charge of the Light Brigade". The Teutonic Knights' Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen responded by ordering his own heavy cavalry to pursue the Lipkas away from the field of battle, trampling through their own infantry in the process. The resulting destruction of the Teutonic Knights' line of battle was a major factor in their subsequent defeat. This incident forms one of the highlights of Aleksander Ford's 1960 film Krzyżacy (Knights of the Teutonic Order), based on the historical novel of the same name by Nobel laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz.
1528: The Polish (szlachta) and Lithuanian nobility's legal right to retribution on the grounds of the wounding or killing of a nobleman or a member of his family is extended to the Lipka Tatars.
1569: The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth is founded at the Union of Lublin. Companies of Lipka Tatar light cavalry for a long time constituted one of the foundations of the military power of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Lithuanian Tatars, from the very beginning of their residence in Lithuania were known as the Lipkas. They united their fate with that of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. From the Battle of Grunwald onwards they participated in every significant military campaign.
1591: The rule of the fervent Catholic Sigismund III (1587–1632) and the Counter-Reformation movement brought a number of restrictions to the liberties granted to non-Catholics in Poland, the Lipkas amongst others. This led to a diplomatic intervention by Sultan Murad III with the Polish king in 1591 on the question of freedom of religious observance for the Lipkas. This was undertaken at the request of Polish Muslims who had accompanied the Polish King's envoy to Istanbul.
1672: The Lipka Rebellion. As a reaction to restrictions on their religious freedoms and the erosion of their ancient rights and privileges, the Lipka Tatar regiments stationed in the Podolia region of south-east Poland abandoned the Commonwealth at the start of the late 17th century Polish–Ottoman Wars that were to last until the end of the 17th century with the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699. The Lipka Rebellion forms the background to the novel Pan Wolodyjowski, the final volume of the historical Trylogia by Henryk Sienkiewicz, the Nobel Prize winning author (1905) who was himself descended from Christianised Lipka Tatars. The 1969 film Pan Wolodyjowski, directed by Jerzy Hoffman and starring Daniel Olbrychski as Azja Tuhaj-bejowicz, still remains among the biggest box-office successes in the history of Polish cinema.
1674: After the famous Polish victory at Chocim, the Lipka Tatars who held the Podolia for Turkey from the stronghold of Bar were besieged by the armies of Jan Sobieski, and a deal was struck that the Lipkas would return to the Polish side subject to their ancient rights and privileges being restored.
1676: The Treaty of Zurawno that brought a temporary end to the Polish–Ottoman wars stipulated that the Lipka Tatars were to be given a free individual choice of whether they wanted to serve the Ottoman Empire or the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.
1677: The Sejm in March 1677 confirmed all the ancient Tatar rights and privileges. The Lipka Tatars were permitted to rebuild all their old mosques, to settle Christian labour on their estates and to buy up noble estates that had not previously belonged to Tatars. The Lipka Tatars were also freed from all taxation.
1679: As a reward for their return to the Commonwealth the Lipka Tatars were settled by King Jan Sobieski on Crown Estates in the provinces of Brest, Kobryn and Hrodna. The Tatars received land that had been cleared of the previous occupants, from 0.5 to 7.5 square kilometres per head, according to rank and length of service.
1683: Many of the Lipka Tatar rebels who returned to the service of the Commonwealth in 1674 were later to take part in the Vienna campaign of 1683. This included the 60 Polish Tatars in the light cavalry company of Samuel Mirza Krzeczowski, who was later to save the life of King Jan III Sobieski during the disastrous first day of the Battle of Parkany, a few weeks after the great victory of the Battle of Vienna that was to turn the tide of Islamic expansion into Europe and mark the beginning of the end for the Ottoman Empire. The Lipka Tatars who fought on the Polish side at the Battle of Vienna, on 12 September 1683, wore a sprig of straw in their helmets to distinguish themselves from the Tatars fighting under Kara Mustafa on the Turkish side. Lipkas visiting Vienna traditionally wear straw hats to commemorate their ancestors’ participation in the breaking of the Siege of Vienna.
1699: Some of the Kamieniec-based Lipka Tatars who had remained loyal to the Turkish Sultan were settled in Bessarabia along the borderlands between the Ottoman Empire and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth as well as in the environs of Chocim and Kamieniec-Podolski and in the town known as Lipkany. A further large scale emigration of Lipkas to Ottoman controlled lands took place early in the 18th century, after the victory won by King Augustus II over the Polish-born King Stanisław Leszczyński, whom the Lipkas had supported in his war against the Saxon King.
1775: The Polish Lipkas came back into favour during the reign of the last King, Stanislas Augustus (1765–95). In 1775 the Sejm reaffirmed the noble status of the Polish Lithuanian Tatars. After the Partitions of Poland, the Lipkas played their part in the various national uprisings, and also served alongside the Poles in the Napoleonic army.
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.
A number of the Polish Tatars emigrated to the US at the beginning of the 20th century and settled mostly in the north eastern states, although there is also an enclave in Florida. A small but active community of Lipka Tatars exists in New York City. "The Islamic Center of Polish Tatars" was built in 1928 in Brooklyn, New York City, and functioned until recently.
After the annexation of eastern Poland into the Soviet Union in 1939 and then following World War II, Poland was left with only 2 Tatar villages, Bohoniki and Kruszyniany. A significant number of the Tatars in the territories annexed by 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 (Polish: Muzułmański Związek Religijny) was formed in Białystok, Poland. In 1992, the Organization of Tatars of the Polish Republic (Polish: Związek Tatarów Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej) with autonomous branches in Białystok and Gdańsk, began operating.
In Poland, the 2011 census showed 1,916 people declaring Tatar ethnicity.
In November 2010, a monument to Poland's Tatar populace was unveiled in the port city of Gdańsk at a ceremony attended by President Bronislaw Komorowski, as well as Tatar representatives from across Poland and abroad. The monument is a symbol of the important role of Tatars in Polish history. "Tatars shed their blood in all national independence uprisings. Their blood seeped into the foundations of the reborn Polish Republic," President Komorowski said at the unveiling. The monument is the first of its kind to be erected in Europe.
^ abcHarvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, "Polish or Lithuanian Tartars", Harvard University Press, pg. 990
^ abcdSelim Mirza-Juszeński Chazbijewicz, "Szlachta tatarska w Rzeczypospolitej" (Tartar Nobility in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth), Verbum Nobile no 2 (1993), Sopot, Poland, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 January 2006. Retrieved 23 February 2006.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
^Olson, James (1994). An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of the Russian and Soviet Empires. p. 450. ISBN0-313-27497-5.
1 The Turkmen people living in Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Iran are not to be confused with the Turkmen/Turkoman minorities in the Levant (i.e. Iraq and Syria) as the latter minorities mostly adhere to a Ottoman-Turkish heritage and identity.
2 This list only includes traditional areas of Turkish settlement (i.e. Turks still living in the former Ottoman territories).