Finnish Tatars

The Finnish Tatars are an ethnic, cultural and religious minority in Finland, who number approximately 600-700. The first generation came from Russia as merchants in late 1800s and early 1900s. The community today consists of their descendants. Tatars have integrated successfully into Finnish society, while maintaining their own identity.[1][2]

Finnish Tatars
Imaami Enver Yildirimin saarnapuhe rukoustilaisuudessa Järvenpään moskeijassa.jpg
Imam Enver Yildirim and Finnish Tatars during a prayer service at the Järvenpää mosque in 1989.
Regions with significant populations
 Finland600-700 (year 2020)[1]
Tatar (Mishar Tatar), Finnish, Swedish
Sunni Islam
Related ethnic groups
Mishar Tatars and other Volga Tatars


The first Muslims in FinlandEdit

Before the migration wave of Tatars, many Islamic Turkic peoples were already on Finnish territory during the Russian reign as regular soldiers. Information about these soldiers can be traced back to at least 1836. It is believed that they were mostly Kazan Tatars and Bashkirs, some of whom were also in Cossack units, The Great Northern War, Russo-Swedish War (1741–1743) and Russo-Swedish War (1788–1790).[3][4]

Migration of Tatar merchantsEdit

The shop of Finnish Tatar Ymär Abdrahim in Helsinki, 1920s

The migration of Tatars to Finland happened in late 1800s and early 1900s. They were mostly Mishar Tatars, who originated from neighboring villages in Nizhny Novgorod Governorate, Sergachsky District, Russia. Many of them were from Aktuk.[2][5] A few other Turkic peoples came as well, such as Bashkirs and Kazakhs, but they blended in quickly.[6] At their home villages, Mishars worked as farmers, but eventually they became merchants, due to lack of income. They usually sold fabrics, furs, clothes and soap.[7] Their trips reached Saint Petersburg at first, and eventually, Finland.[8]

Finland (until 1917, Grand Duchy of Finland) therefore in the beginning was just a new territory to do business in. Already in early 1880s, Tatar merchants were seen in the country, many dozens at once. Their trips had become regular especially after the Riihimäki-Saint Petersburg railway completing years before. In 1891, the railroads already reached for example to Oulu and Kemi. At first, they returned back to their homes after earning enough, but after it became evident that the business conditions were better on Finnish soil, they started to settle in the country permanently. The relatively good reception of the Finns also helped. Many Tatars settled in Viipuri (Vyborg) at first, but after it was lost to Soviet Union, they moved mainly to Helsinki, Turku and Tampere, where some fellow Tatars had already settled.[6][9]

Finnish Tatar women at a carpet shop in Helsinki, 1989

Soon, they transitioned into selling in halls. For example in Viipuri halls, they sold cotton products, silk fabrics, carpets and furs. Terijoki municipality (Zelenogorsk) as well was an important place for business before it also was lost to Soviet Union. In Tampere, fabric was often the main product being sold. Many of them also set up their own shops.[6][10]

Migration of Tatar familiesEdit

Many Tatars who had settled into Finland started to arrange their family members to the country after the 1917 Russian revolution.[6] This however, was mostly possible only after 1921, because the border of Russia and Finland was closed until the Treaty of Tartu. The relatives of these Tatar merchants had to plead for a visa from the delegations of Moscow or Saint Petersburg. They also got help for example from professor Yrjö Jahnsson, who had connections that assisted them in the migration.[11] The migration was mainly possible until 1929. After that, some who came, came illegally or for big ransom.[12]

Tatars from EstoniaEdit

By the 1920s, approximately 200-300 Tatars were living in Tallinn, Narva, Jõhvi and Rakverne. Many of them traveled to Finland with motorboat pickups in 1943. They reported themselves as political refugees in the country, and some tried to get into the Finnish military. Due to uncertain conditions and fear of deportation, many of them, and even some Finnish Tatars moved to Sweden. Before these migrants, there is information about only one Tatar in the country, a tanner named Ibrahim Umarkajeff.[13]

In 1949, they established an association in Sweden, which was at first called Turk-Islam Föreningen i Sverige för Religion och Kultur, and later Islam Församlingen i Sverige. The community maintained a cemetery in the southside of Sweden. The members of the community started to decrease during 1960 and 1970s.[13]

Finnish citizenshipEdit

While Tatars in Finland started to apply for a Finnish citizenship soon after the country's independence in 1917, still in 1939, as many as half of the community stayed in the country with Nansen passports. One reason for this was that the Finnish government demanded them to prove that they had been in the country for at least five years without leaving, and that they can provide for themselves and their families. These things got easier to prove after the second world war. The first citizenship was granted to a Tatar named Sadik Ainetdin in 1919.[14]

Religious formationEdit

The first registered Tatar and at the same time the first Islamic formation in Finland was founded in 1915. It was called "Helsingin musulmaanien hyväntekeväisyysseura" ("The Charity Club of Helsinki Moslem's"). During that time, terms like Moslem and Mohammedan were used, rather than Muslim or Islamic. An actual congregation they founded in 1925, after the Finnish laws had approved of given practices in 1922. Finland therefore became the first western country that gave Muslims official recognition. The congregation was at first named "Suomen muhamettilainen seurakunta" ("The Finnish Mohammedan Congregation") and later, from 1963 forwards, The Finnish-Islamic Congregation. They didn't get the right to wed their community members until 1932 however, because the authorities believed that it would lead to polygamy, even though it was not practiced among the Tatars.[15]

Elsewhere in Finland there were also religious formations, such as The Tampere Islamic Congregation, founded in 1942. During the same year, a wooden mosque was built in Järvenpää by the community members.[16]

The first pilgrimage to Mecca done by the community happened in 1920s.[17]

Cultural formationEdit

In order to conserve and develop their culture in Finland, Tatars have established their own cultural associations. For example in 1935, they established a Helsinki-based "Suomen turkkilaisten seura" (The Society of Finnish Turks) and "Tampereen Turkkilainen Yhdistys" (The Tampere Turkish Society), and two years later, "Turun Turkkilais-Tataarilainen Yhdistys" (The Turku Turko-Tatar Association).[18] These formations have mainly focused on organizing their own cultural events and publishing.[19]

The Tatar associations and their own congregation both have also arranged language teaching to their children. In Helsinki, they had their own school, "Turkkilainen kansakoulu" (Turkish Volksschule), which was shut down in 1969 after lack of students.[20]

Identity in FinlandEdit

Even though the Tatar community in Finland has always been a very close one, consisting mainly of people who's roots lead to the same places, there has been conflict between them when it comes to their identity, especially in the early 1900s. The conflict has focused on between them wanting to identify either as "Turks" or "Tatars". Political objectives have played a part as well.[21] (Note: there is no distinction in the Finnish language between the words Turk/Turkish and Turkic.[22])

In the earlier days, the ones who were on the "Tatar side" of the argument, were people who dreamed of independence. This desire was momentarily represented by the short-lived Idel Ural State. The interest among the Finnish Tatar community for this mostly started with the political leaders of Idel-Ural who visited Finland, and also with some Turkologists at local universities. Tatar activists Ymär Daher and Hasan Kanykoff were known as some of the most outspoken on this issue. The ones who were in favor of identifying as Turks, thought the ambitions of achieving any kind of independence would be impossible and hopeless. They rather were inspired by the then-new Republic of Turkey and the nationalism of Kemal Atatürk. They often wanted to call themselves "the northern Turks / the Turks of north". Some of them even acquired Turkey's citizenship. These people were mainly the second generation of Finnish Tatars. The first one had usually defined themselves by their religion (The first generation refers to the merchants who moved to Finland, and the second generation their children who were either born in Finland or brought there).[23][21][24][25]

One big reason also that made this Turkishness preferable to many, was that the term Tatar was thought of as a Russian epithet with a negative connotation. In addition, Pan-Turkism had been popular during that time.[21][25][26]

This Turkish mindedness had an effect on the names of their cultural formations, their own personal names, and language. The associations usually used the word Turkish instead of Tatar (The Tampere Turkish Society).[27] When they described their language to others, they often called it "Turkish language".[28] One very noticeable way it affected their names, was how the letter Ä, which was common with Mishars, was replaced with Turkish E (Ahsän -> Ahsen). Mostly due to this they also switched from Arabic alphabet to Latin alphabet, which Turkey had started using before.[29] However, the timing of the Tatar-migration also had an effect on their names; approximately during the independence of Finland, they removed the Russian suffixes out of their surnames (example: -off). This way, they avoided being seen as Russians[30] (negative Finnish epithet: "ryssä"[31]). Tatars have modified their names in Finland in other ways, and the spelling as a whole has been diverse.[29][28][32]

Later on, many Finnish Tatars, especially the third and fourth generation have found connection to their Tatar roots once again. This connection has been strengthened mainly due to the desire to not be confused with actual Turks of Turkey, and also by having the possibility to travel to the home villages of their ancestors and to the heavily Tatar-populated Kazan.[33][34]

Tatars during Finnish warsEdit

Monument for the Tatar soldiers at the Helsinki Islamic Cemetery.

In total, 156 members of the Finnish Tatar community took part in the Winter War and the Continuation War on the side of Finland. Ten of them died while serving. In addition, 13 were wounded, 7 of them permanently.[35] 21 Tatar women operated at the Lotta Svärd organization.[36]

In 1987, the names of the fallen Tatar soldiers were carved on a memory plate, which was placed on their congregation's main building wall. They have also been honored at the Islamic cemetery in Helsinki.[36]

The reception of Tatars in FinlandEdit

The Tatar merchants who came to Finland were at times accused of trading without permissions and avoiding paying taxes. The reception among the community in general however was thought of at least better than in Russia, which is believed to be the main reason for settling in the country.[37]

One more serious attack towards the community has been committed in Finland; in early 1990s, a firebomb was thrown into a Tatar home in Tampere. Otherwise, at least on the basis of individual interviews, the community has not experienced any serious discrimination, other than sometimes being called names at school.[38]

Political refugees among the communityEdit

After the failed pursuits of independence in 1918, many leading figures of Idel-Ural state began to arrive to Finland. Their names were as follows; Yusuf Akçura, Ayaz Ishaki, Musa Carullah Bigi, Zeki Velidi (Togan), Sadri Maksudi (Arsal), Alimcan Idris, Abdullah Battal (Taymas), and the former imam of Saint Petersburg, Lutfi Ishaki. Idris and Battal stayed in the country for longer, due to operating as teachers and cultural influencers among the community, but the others shortly continued elsewhere, such as Germany, France or Turkey.[39] Some of them however returned to Finland later, for example Ayaz Ishaki, for whom the Tatar community of Tampere organized a three-day celebration in February 1937.[40] Ishaki in return organized a 20-year memory celebration of Idel-Ural state in Warsaw in 1938, where seven Finnish Tatars were present.[41]

Academic interest towards Tatars in FinlandEdit

Tatars have been a subject of interest for many Finnish linguists. Such people have been for example Mathias Alexander Castren, August Ahlqvist and Gustaf John Ramstedt, of which the last one even gave "Idel-Uralic names" to his children. These linguists made exploration trips to Kazan many times, and also made some observations towards the tribe the Finnish Tatars originate from, the Mishars. Martti Räsänen for example studied their wedding habits.[42]



Tatars also in Finland are according to old tradition Sunni Muslims.[43] They for the most part practice the religion at their own congregation, The Finnish-Islamic Congregation, which has its so called main building in Fredrikinkatu, Helsinki.[44] The congregation also owns a wooden mosque in Järvenpää.[45] The Tatars in Tampere have their separate congregation, which has its space in Hämeenkatu.[46][47] The congregations accept only Tatars as their members.[48]

In Finland, Tatars are known as an Islamic minority who keeps a low profile. They usually don't speak publicly about timely topics regarding Islam in the country.[49]


The native language of Finnish Tatars is the Tatar language, more specifically, its western, in other words, Mishar dialect.[50] It differs for example from the dialect of the Kazan Tatars.[51] The language of the community in Finland also differs from the language of Tatars in Russia by them speaking with a Finnish accent.[52]

The Tatars in Finland at first wrote with the Arabic alphabet. From 1930s forwards, they started to transition to the Latin alphabet. Reasons for this were mainly the Turkish mindedness that saturated the community at that time (Turkey had begun using the Latin alphabet in 1928[53]), and at the same time the similar movement called the Yanalif movement, which was happening in Soviet Union among the Tatars. By 1950s, the publications of Finnish Tatars had mostly switched to the Latin alphabet. Before this, during the transition period, both were still used. In the teaching of the community's children, they changed to the Latin alphabet during 1960s.[54][55] The Tatars in Russia use the Cyrillic alphabet nowadays.[56]

Example of Finnish Tatar language in the Latin alphabetEdit

"Finlandiyä tatarlarınıñ törki cämiyäte 1800 nçe yıllarnın ahırında oyışkan. Ul vakıtta Tübän Novgorod guberniyäse Sergaç öyäzeneñ avıllarınnan tatar säüdägärläreneñ törkeme Finlandiyägä kilgän. Finlandiyä ul zaman Rusiyä kulastında bulgan." - Kadriye Bedretdin, 2021.[57]


The community has maintained its musical tradition at their own cultural events, where a local Tatar ensemble, Başkarma has been popular.[58] The music choices are often old Tatar folk songs, that originated from the first generation of Tatars who came to the country. Tatar musicians from Russia have also visited the community.[59]


The cuisine tradition of Finnish Tatars consists mainly of different types of soups, meat based foods, sweet and savory dough based foods, pies, pilaf and porridges.[60] The most known Tatar food in Finland is the spicy pastry called Peremech (Pärämäts in Finnish), which's commercial version was developed in Tampere.[61]


The community in Finland has organized their own theater plays. Active period has been at least the first half of 1900s. During that time, the plays were often presented at Tampereen Teatteri (The Tampere Theater), to where at best, over 300 Finnish Tatars were invited. Due to the lack of Tatar language plays, the same ones were often repeated.[62]


In relation to the size of the community, the publishing among the Tatars has been abundant. Given activity can be divided as such: history, memoirs, biographies, poetry, proverbs, music, religious literature, Tatar language textbooks, children's books and magazines.[63]

Finnish Tatar Zinnetullah Ahsen Böre funded the first Finnish language Quran.[64]


Tatars have been represented in different professional sports in Finland, especially in ice hockey. Already the first generation encouraged their children to take part in sports at their new environment. Sports had been an important part of their every summer Sabatuy -celebrations at their home villages.[58][59]

Finnish Tatar establishmentsEdit

Some of the following most likely don't exist anymore, but due to lack of information, only the formation year is mentioned. They are written mostly in Finnish and Tatar.

  • Helsingin musulmaanien hyväntekeväisyysseura (1915)[15]
  • Suomen muhamettilainen seurakunta (1925, later The Finnish-Islamic Congregation, Finlandiya Islam Cemaatı)[15]
  • Suomalais-turkkilaisen kansakoulun kannatusyhdistys (Fin-Türk halkmektebin himaye cemiyeti, 1930)[65]
  • Suomen turkkilaisten seura (Finlandiya Türkleri Bırlıgı, 1935)[65]
  • Tampereen Turkkilainen Yhdistys (Tampere Türkleri Bırlıgı, 1935)[65]
  • Tampereen Islamilainen Yhdistys (1935)[65]
  • Tampereen Islamilainen Seurakunta (1943, Tampere Islam Mahallesı)[65]
  • Turun Turkkilais-Tataarilainen Yhdistys (1938, later. Turun turkkilainen yhdistys)[65]
  • Jalkapalloseura Altın Orda (Golden Orda)[65]
  • Urheiluseura Yolduz (Yolduz = Star, 1945)[65]
  • Turkkilaisen kansakoulun kannatusyhdistys (1948, Türk Halk Mektebi Himaye Kurumu)[65]
  • Abdulla Tukain kulttuuriseura (1968)[65]

Some notable Finnish TatarsEdit

See alsoEdit


  • Asikainen, Johannes: Tataareja, kasakoita, vai muslimeja?. Tampere: Tampereen Yliopisto, 2017. Trepo
  • Bedretdin, Kadriye (reporter): Tugan Tel - Kirjoituksia Suomen Tataareista. Helsinki: Suomen Itämainen Seura, 2011. ISBN 978-951-9380-78-0.
  • Baibulat, Muazzez: Tampereen Islamilainen Seurakunta: juuret ja historia. Jyväskylä: Gummerus Kirjapaino Oy, 2004. ISBN 952-91-6753-9.
  • Halikov, A. H.: Tataarit, keitä te olette?. Suom. Lauri Kotiniemi. Abdulla Tukain kulttuuriseura, 1991. ISBN 952-90-3114-9.
  • Leitzinger, Antero: Mishäärit - Suomen vanha islamilainen yhteisö. (Sisältää Hasan Hamidullan "Yañaparin historian", suomentanut ja kommentoinnut Fazile Nasretdin). Helsinki: Kirja-Leitzinger, 1996. ISBN 952-9752-08-3.
  • Suikkanen, Mikko: Yksityinen susi - Zinnetullah Ahsen Bören (1886-1945) eletty ja koettu elämä. Historian pro gradu -tutkielma. Tampere: Tampereen yliopisto, 2012. Trepo.


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External linksEdit