Volga Tatars are a Turkic people of Russia most of whom occupy the west central portion of the Ural Mountains. Today, the term Tatars is usually used to describe the Volga Tatars only; historically, the Russians applied it to a large number of peoples speaking one or another of the Turkic languages. During the 2002 census, the Volga Tatars were officially divided into common Tatars, Astrakhan Tatars, and Keräşen Tatars.
During the 11th-16th centuries, numerous Turkic tribes lived in what is now Russia and Kazakhstan. The present territory of Tatarstan was inhabited by the Volga Bulgars, a people whose origins are uncertain, but who scholars consider to have been Turkic. The Bulgars settled on the Volga River in the 8th century and converted to Islam in 922 during the missionary work of Ahmad ibn Fadlan. On the Volga, the Bulgars mingled with Scythian and Finno-Ugric speaking peoples. After the Mongol_invasion_of_Europe from 1241, Volga Bulgaria was defeated, ruined, and incorporated into the Golden Horde.
Much of the population survived, and there was a certain degree of mixing between it and the Kipchak Tatars of the Horde during the ensuing period. The group as a whole accepted the language of the Kipchaks and the ethnonym "Tatars" (although the name Bulgars persisted in some places), while the invaders eventually converted to Islam. Two centuries later, as the Horde disintegrated, the area became the territory of the Kazan khanate, which was ultimately conquered by Russia in 1552. There is some debate among scholars as to the extent of that mixing and the share of each group as progenitors of the modern Kazan Tatars. It is widely accepted that demographically, most of the population was directly descended from the Bulgars. Nevertheless, some emphasize the contribution of the Kipchaks on the basis of the ethnonym and the language, and consider that the modern Tatar ethnogenesis was only completed upon their arrival. Others prefer to stress the Bulgar heritage, sometimes to degree of equating modern Kazan Tatars with Bulgars. They argue that although the Volga Bulgars did not keep their language and their name, their old culture and religion -Islam- have been preserved. According to scholars who espouse this view, there was very little mixing with Mongol and Turkic aliens after the conquest of Volga Bulgaria, especially in the northern regions that ultimately became Tatarstan. Some people even advocate the change of the ethnonym from "Tatars" to "Bulgars" - a movement known as Bulgarism.
Kazan Tatars number nearly 7 million, mostly in Russia and the republics of the former Soviet Union. While the bulk of the population is found in Tatarstan (nearly 2 million) and neighbouring regions, significant numbers of Kazan Tatars live in Central Asia, Siberia, and the Caucasus. Outside of Tatarstan, urban Tatars usually speak Russian as their first language (in cities such as Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Nizhniy Novgorod, Ufa, and cities of the Ural and western Siberia).
See also: Tatar language
There are 3 dialects: Eastern, Central, Western.
The Western dialect (Misher) is spoken mostly by the Mishärs, the Middle dialect is spoken by Tatarstan and Astrakhan Tatars ("Volga Bulgarians"), and the Eastern (Siberian) dialect is spoken by some groups of Tatars in Russia's Tyumen Oblast, i.e. autochthon Siberian Tatars. This latter, which was isolated from other dialects, and believed to be an independent language. The Bashkir language, for example, is better understood by Kazan Tatars, than is the Eastern dialect of the Siberian Tatars.
Middle Tatar is the base of literary for the Kazan Tatar Language. The Middle dialect also has subdivisions. Middle dialect as well as Bashkir is a language of Bolgar-Kypchak group, whereas Western and ester form dialect continuum, merging with Kypchak-Nogai group languages.
Places where Volga Tatars live include: