The Chuvash people (Chuvash: чăваш; Russian: чуваши) are a Turkic ethnic group, native to an area stretching from the Volga Region to Siberia. Most of them live in Republic of Chuvashia and surrounding areas, although Chuvash communities may be found throughout the Russian Federation.
|c. 1.5 million|
|Regions with significant populations|
Russian (as second language)
|† Orthodox Christianity|
|Related ethnic groups|
There is no universally accepted etymology of the word Chuvash, but there are two main theories that try to explain it:
- Another theory suggests that the word Chuvash may be derived from Common Turkic jăvaš (‘friendly’, ‘peaceful’), as opposed to şarmăs (‘warlike’).
- The Tabghach
- An early medieval Xianbei clan and founders of the Northern Wei dynasty in China. The Old Turkic name Tabghach (Tuoba in Mandarin) was used by some Inner Asian peoples to refer to China long after this dynasty. Gerard Clauson has shown that through regular sound changes, the clan name Tabghach may have transformed to the ethnonym Chuvash.
There are rival schools of thought on the origin of the Chuvash people. One is that they originated from a mixing between the Turkic Sabir tribes of Volga Bulgaria and also according to some researches with local Finno-Ugric populations. Another is that the Chuvash are a remainder of the pre-Volga Bulgar population of the Volga region, Volga Bulgars.
They have been subjected to much infusion and influence, not only from Russian and Turkic peoples, but also from neighboring Finnic tribes, with whom they were persistently and mistakenly identified for centuries, perhaps aided by the fact that the Chuvash language is a highly divergent form of Turkic, and was not easily recognized as such.
Subclades of Y-DNA haplogroups R1 and N are most common among the Chuvash. According to Rootsi et al. 2004, Tambets et al. 2004 (79 samples), and Trofimova 2005 (43 samples) the following distribution of haplogroups is obtained:
- I1: 7%
- I2a2: 0–2%
- I2a1: 0–2%
- J1: 0–2%
- J2a: 0–9%
- J2b: 0–5%
- Q: 0%
- R1b: 2–4%
- R1a: 28–32%
- N1c1: 18–19%
- N1c2: 9–10%
- E-M78: 0–14%
- C: 0–1%
A study sampling of unrelated 96 Chuvashes concluded:
"Earlier genetic research using autosomal DNA markers suggested a Finno-Ugric origin for the Chuvash. This study examines non-recombining DNA markers to better elucidate their origins. The majority of individuals in this sample exhibit haplogroups H (31%), U (22%), and K (11%), all representative of western and northern Europeans, but absent in Altaic or Mongolian populations. Multidimensional scaling (MDS) was used to examine distances between the Chuvash and 8 reference populations compiled from the literature. Mismatch analysis showed a unimodal distribution. Along with neutrality tests (Tajima's D (−1.43365) p < 0.05, Fu's FS (−25.50518) p < 0.001), the mismatch distribution is suggestive of an expanding population. These tests suggest that the Chuvash are not related to the Altai and Mongolia along their maternal line but supports the hypothesis that their language was imposed by a conquering group—leaving Chuvash mtDNA largely of Eurasian origin with a small amount of Central Asian gene flow. Their maternal markers appear to most closely resemble Finno-Ugric speakers rather than fellow Turkic speakers."
Later, the assertion H, U, and K are "absent in Altaic or Mongolian populations" turned into "virtually absent in Altaic or Mongolian populations." The MtDNA gene pool was found to be 89.1% Caucasoid, 9.1% East Asian and 1.8% unidentified.
According to autosomal analyses: "Present-day Chuvash speak an Altaic-Turkic language and are genetically related to Caucasians (Georgians), Mediterraneans, and Middle Easterners, and not only to Central or Northern Europeans; Chuvash contain little indications of Central Asian-Altaic gene flow. Thus, present-day Chuvash who speak an Altaic-Turkic language are probably more closely related to ancient Mesopotamian-Hittites and northern European populations than to central Asia-Altaic people."
Finally, an autosomal analysis detected an indication of Oghur and possibly Bulgar ancestry, from which the Chuvashes developed their language: "Chuvashes, the only extant Oghur speakers showed an older admixture date (9th century) than their Kipchak-speaking neighbors in the Volga region. According to historical sources, when the Onogur-Bolgar Empire (northern Black Sea steppes) fell apart in the 7th century, some of its remnants migrated northward along the right bank of the Volga river and established what later came to be known as Volga Bolgars, of which the first written knowledge appears in Muslim sources only around the end of the 9th century. Thus, the admixture signal for Chuvashes is close to the supposed arrival time of Oghur speakers in the Volga region."
Another study admitted substantial Finno-Ugric component in Chuvashes, unlike its complete absence in Bashkirs, but noted that some aspects of HLA in Tatars are close to Chuvashes and Bulgarians, declaring the suggestion of Bulgar descent.
"Bulgars left for the Balkans, while another subdivision moved to the mid-Volga region and made up the ethnic base of the Chuvash and Kazan Tatars. ... The Chuvash have a central European and some Mediterranean genetic background (probably coming from the Caucasus).... Chuvash and the fifth representing present day Bulgarians. From the data obtained in the present work, the genetic backgrounds of both populations are clearly different. ... It is possible that only a cultural and low genetic Bulgar inﬂuence was brought into the region without modifying the genetic background of the local population...The Chuvash relatedness to Caucasian (Georgians) and Middle Eastern people suggests that the Chuvash genetic pool has characteristics from ancient Middle Eastern, Caucasian, and Mesopotamian people. ... On the other hand, whether the Chuvash are a remnant of the Bulgar Hordes cannot be resolved with the data presented in this paper, and further studies are necessary."
Chuvash people are divided into two main groups:
The Turkic ancestors of the Chuvash people are believed to have come from central Siberia, where they lived in the Irtysh basin (between the Tian Shan and Altay) from at least the end of the third millennium BC. In the beginning of the first century AD, the Bulgars started moving west through Zhetysu and the steppes of modern-day Kazakhstan, reaching the North Caucasus in 2nd–3rd centuries AD. There they established several states (Old Bulgaria on the Black Sea coast and the Suar Duchy in modern-day Dagestan.
Old Bulgaria broke up in the second half of the 7th century after a series of successful Khazar invasions. Some of its population fled north, to the Volga-Kama region, where they established Volga Bulgaria, which eventually became extremely wealthy: its capital being the 4th largest city in the world. Shortly after that, the Suvar Duchy was forced to become a vassal state of Khazaria. About half a century later, the Suvars took part in the Arab–Khazar wars of 732–737.
Today Chuvash people are partially Orthodox Christians and belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. They retain some pre-Christian (or pagan) traditions in their cultural activities. A Pagan revival has taken place since the fall of the Soviet Union under the name Vattisen Yaly.
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