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 very 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 Russian Revolution, 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 1030's.
What Are Their Lives Like?
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 animal breeding 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 30% of the Bashkir live in colonies that are locataed 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?
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?
Christian radio and television broadcasts are severely lacking in their area. Other Christian resources, such as Bibles and literature, are also needed.
Although the Bashkirs are not as zealous as other Muslims, any form of Islam is difficult to penetrate. This stronghold can only be broken down through intercession.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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