The Tatar of Turkmenistan
The Tatar are a group of Turkic people with sizable colonies in virtually every republic of the former Soviet Union. Although most of them live around the Volga region, others inhabit many of the Central Asian republics, including Turkmenistan. The Tatar speak a language which is also called Tatar. However, in some urban areas, more than 30% of them claim Russian as their mother tongue.
The physical appearance of the Tatar ranges from blue-eyed blondes to those with more Mongoloid features. In general, they have oval faces with little facial hair. They are mostly peasants and merchants, who have completely lost their previous tribal and clan structure.
The Tatar have maintained a strong urban civilization since the tenth century. It survived both the Mongol invasion in the 1200's and the Russian conquest in the 1500's. In the nineteenth century, Tatar cities ranked among the greatest cultural centers of the Islamic world.
What are their lives like?
Most Tatar in Turkmenistan live in urban areas, but they still remain more rural than the Russian Tatar. Many of them seek work outside their native region, following a tradition of mobility that was established before 1917. In the cities, their lives are no different from contemporary Russians; however, in rural areas some still cling to pre-Revolutionary traditions. For example, as many as three generations may live in the same house.
The Tatar's social structure remains strongly patriarchal. The father is the legal head of the household, and his word is final in family matters. Being in charge of the family income, he determines how it is spent. He also performs the harder, more physical labor, while the women usually cook meals, carry water, wash clothes, and tend to the livestock.
The younger generation of Tatar wear contemporary city-style clothes. However, the older collective farm members wear traditional dress. Many Tatar will identify themselves as Muslims before they will identify themselves as Tatar. Unlike devout Muslims, however, 25% of the Tatar will eat pork. Soviet researchers have also reported that very few Tatar observe the prescribed Islamic fasts.
What are their beliefs?
While most Tatar are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafite branch, in Turkmenistan, 15% are classified as non-religious. The Muslims follow the five "pillars" of the Islamic faith. (l) Each day they recite the shahadah, affirming that "there is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet." (2) Salat, or daily prayers, are said five times a day, facing Mecca. (3) Zakat, or almsgiving, is considered an important duty. (4) Sawm, or fasting, is expected, especially during the holy month of Ramadan. (5) Hajj, or a pilgrimage, to Mecca is to be attempted at least once in a person's lifetime.
Men pray in the mosque under a prayer leader, when possible. Women usually pray at home, but if they do worship at the mosque, they are separated from the men. Despite their belief in monotheism (one god), many Tatar also honor saints and holy places. Some beliefs in supernatural powers, such as the "evil eye," still persist from pre-Islamic days.
The Tatar view of Christianity has been marred by the attempts of the Russian Orthodox Church to convert them through force and tax incentives. During the nineteenth century, their mosques were frequently burned or destroyed. The few who were "converted" by these measures returned to their Islamic faith as soon as the repression stopped, or the taxes were removed.
Turkmenistan is a young republic. Having freed itself from Communist Russia, it must now create its own government and national identity. The citizens of Turkmenistan desperately need God's wisdom as they make choices concerning the future of their nation.
There are twelve Christian denominations represented in Turkmenistan, and some evangelistic resources are available for reaching the Tatar. Prayer is the key to seeing the Christians there respond to the challenge of taking the Gospel to their countrymen.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to the missions agency that is targeting the Tatar of Turkmenistan.
- Pray for effectiveness of the Jesus film among the Tatar, with many conversions resulting.
- Pray that God will reveal Himself to the Tatar through dreams and visions.
- Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Tatar bound.
- Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
- Pray that God will encourage the Christians living in Turkmenistan to work together to see the Tatar won to Christ.
- Ask the Lord to save key leaders among the Tatar who will boldly declare the Gospel.
- Ask the Lord to bring forth a triumphant Tatar church for the glory of His name!
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
- People name: Tatar
- Country: Turkmenistan
- Their language: Tatar
- Largest religion:
- Christians: 1.5%
- Church members: 685
- Scriptures in their own language: New Testament
- Jesus Film in their own language: Available
- Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
- Mission agencies working among this people: 1
- Persons who have heard the Gospel: 19,400 (43%)
- Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 26,300 (57%)
- Country: Turkmenistan
- Major peoples in size order:
- Major religions:
- Number of denominations: 12
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Bethany World Prayer Center
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