Introduction / History The Bashkirs are a Turkic people who primarily live in the Ural Mountains of Bashkiria, Russia. Some also live in the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Their origin is still somewhat unclear.
Today, the Bashkirs make up only a fraction of the people groups which live in Bashkiria. Unfortunately, this sometimes causes ethnic conflicts.
The Bashkirs are closely related to the Russian Tatars. The only distinction is that their languages differ in dialect. The Bashkirs speak Bashkir; however, even today, many have declared Tatar as their native language.
In the past, the Bashkirs were nomadic shepherds. They lived in clans and had never really considered themselves much more than a tribe. In fact, before the Soviet Revolution in 1917, a Bashkirian culture did not even exist. They simply thought of themselves as Tatars, a nearby Turkic people who had influenced them greatly. They have only been classified as Bashkirs since the 1030s.
What are their lives like? In the past, villages were divided into "patrilineal" (male-dominated) tribes. The Bashkirs ran their affairs, regulated disputes, and sought help within these tribal clan structures. This strong tribal structure allowed them to successfully hold off Russian occupation in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However, near the end of the eighteenth century, they were defeated.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, there was a great influx of Tatars, Russians, and other groups into Bashkirian territory. The newcomers began buying or seizing the pastoral land, severely damaging the economy of the Bashkirs. Suddenly, the Bashkirs, who had lived for generations as shepherds, were forced to give up their nomadic way of life. They turned to agriculture for survival, and today, most of them still live as farmers. Some, however, have moved into the cities to find industrial work.
Much of the tribe's social significance has been lost. Today, the village itself is regarded as the key to their social structure. Some of the Bashkir groups have lost all memory of their tribal clan origin. Nevertheless, the sense of kinship and loyalty to kinsmen is still expressed.
The Bashkirs usually live in peasant communities. Their houses are made of logs or sun-dried bricks, and have dirt floors. Most of them rely on farming and some livestock production for their livelihood. Horses and sheep are usually raised, along with some cattle and goats. The sheep are raised for their wool, skins, and meat. They enjoy a fermented drink, called koumiss, that is made from horses' milk.
Bashkir marriage ceremonies usually take place in their homes. However, a mullah (Muslim leader) usually participates in the marriage agreement. Young newlyweds live with the husband's parents until they are ready to form their own family. Although polygyny (the practice of having more than one wife at a time) was outlawed during the Soviet rule of Russia, today, some polygyny exists. A man may have more than one wife if he has a high social status, or if his first wife needs help in fulfilling her responsibilities.
The only national schools that are available to the Bashkir children are those within their national boundaries. Similarly, the only printing press in their language is located within their region. Unfortunately, over nearly one-third of the Bashkir live in colonies that are located outside this territory. There, they are dominated by Russian schools, newspapers, and cultural practices. While the rural dwellers have managed to preserve their national identity, those living in the urban colonies have been absorbed into the Russian way of life.
Although using "folk remedies" is still common, Soviet-style medicines and clinics are used to cure more serious illnesses. Health services are free of charge, which has led to improved health among the Bashkirs. Today, people are living longer and fewer babies are dying than in previous times.
What are their beliefs? The Bashkirs are almost entirely Muslim. In the eighteenth century, the Orthodox Church attempted to convert them to Christianity, but today, few are Christians. Those who converted to Christianity are now organized into a tiny minority known as the Nagaibaks.
Islam is not as deeply rooted among the Bashkir people as it is among the Tatars. However, Ufa, Bashkiria's capital, has been the center of religious life for European Russian Muslims since the eighteenth century. It is the seat of the "Muslim Spiritual Board for European Russia and Siberia." There are over one hundred mosques in Bashkiria alone.
What are their needs? The Bashkirs know very little about their own history. They are a people who lack security in who they are. They need to know that this security can only be found through Jesus Christ!
Although the Bashkirs are not as zealous as other Muslims, any form of Islam is difficult to influence. This stronghold can only be broken down through intercession.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord to send forth laborers into the harvest fields of Kazakhstan, the Ukraine, and Russia.
* Pray that God will raise faithful intercessors who will stand in the gap for the Bashkirs.
* Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number Bashkir Christians.
* Pray that God will raise loving Russian Christians to reach out to their Muslim neighbors.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of these Muslims towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to raise strong local churches among the Bashkirs.