A typically thorough and illuminating post at Poemas del río Wang discusses the complex ethnic and religious makeup of the Crimea following the Russian takeover:
After the late 18th-century Russian conquest, for virtually all the ethnic groups, be they Jews, Armenians or Gypsies, there were two classifications: Tatar and non-Tatar: “ours” and “newcomer”. As a result of five hundred years of Tatar rule, even the ethnic groups which, due to their religion or occupation, maintained their identity, adopted the Tatar language in place of their mother tongue. The Crimean Armenians and Karaim Jews, with the section of the Silk Road from the Crimea to Poland in their hands, spoke Tatar even in late 17th-century Lemberg, and used Armenian or Hebrew only as a liturgical language. The small group of the latter that survives in Galician Halich, which we will write about, even today carve their gravestones in Hebrew characters, but in the Tatar language. And both groups distinguish themselves from the Armenian-speaking Armenians and Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews who moved into the Crimea after the Russian conquest.
The first “Tatar” group of Crimean Gypsies, the Gurbets (who called themselves Turkmens) according to their own traditions arrived in the Crimea together with the Tatars as professional horse traders. They retained this profession until the revolution of 1917. They took their horses around to the fairs, not only in the peninsula, but in the whole steppe of Novorossiya, and the fortune of their wealthiest members was estimated at twenty thousand silver rubles. The other, more or less nomadic groups of the “Tatar” Gypsies were also organized primarily by crafts: the Demerdzhis were itinerant blacksmiths, the Elekchis sieve-makers and basket-weavers, the Dauldzhis the professional musicians of Tatar weddings and Ramadan celebrations. Although all of them declared themselves Sunni Muslims, the Tatars looked upon them with suspicion, because they also practiced a number of Shia customs, referring to their Iranian origins. Some of their groups allegedly used the confession “There is no god, but Allah, and Muhammad is His prophet” with the addition of “and Ali, the God-like”; and in the holy month of the Shiite martyrs they roamed the villages with flags and drums, mourning Hassan and Hussein.
After the Russian conquest, an influx of the non-Tatar Gypsies, called “Lakhins”, which is to say Poles, started from the other regions of the empire, primarily from Moldova and Bessarabia. By profession, they were primarily Ayudzhi, bear-leaders, wandering entertainers, who, in addition to the village circus, earned their meagre bread by cartomancy, chiromancy and other magic practices. They spoke Vlach, and declared themselves Muslims, but they did not go to mosque, celebrated their feasts according to pre-Islamic customs, and at the time of the 1831 census dictated their names in double, Muslim and non Muslim-form: “Mehmet, that is, Kili, Osman, that is, Arnaut, Hassan, who is also Murtaza…” Their nomadism was ended with the Tsar’s decree of 1809, which forced them to settle. After that time they learned the crafts of the earlier Gypsy groups, from which, however, they kept their distance until the very end.
There’s much more, including a grim section beginning “The question of who is Tatar and who not became really important in the 1940s,” and of course there are the usual magnificent illustrations. Don’t miss it, and may Studiolum and his fellow riverines of Wang live long and keep posting.