Old Chuvash men
Total population
c. 1.5 million[1]
Regions with significant populations
 Russia 1,435,872
 United States900
Orthodox Christianity
Vattisen Yaly
Sunni Islam
Related ethnic groups
Volga Tatars, Mari, Besermyan

The Chuvash people (UK: /ˈvɑːʃ/ CHOO-vahsh,[18] US: /ʊˈvɑːʃ/ chuu-VAHSH;[19] Chuvash: чӑваш [tɕəˈʋaʃ]; çăvaş), plural: чӑвашсем, çăvaşsem; Russian: чува́ши [tɕʊˈvaʂɨ]) are a Turkic ethnic group, a branch of the Onogurs, native to an area stretching from the Idel-Ural (Volga-Ural) region to Siberia. Most of them live in Chuvashia and the surrounding areas, although Chuvash communities occur throughout the Russian Federation. They speak Chuvash, a unique Turkic language that diverged from other languages in the family more than a millennium ago. Among the Chuvash believers, the majority are Eastern Orthodox Christians.


There is no universally accepted etymology of the word Chuvash, but there are three main theories. The popular theory accepted by Chuvash people suggests that Chuvash is a Shaz-Turkic adaptation of Lir-Turkic Suvar (Sabir people), an ethnonym of people that are widely considered to be the ancestors of modern Chuvash people.[20] Compare Lir-Turkic Chuvash: huran to Shaz-Turkic Tatar: qazan (‘cauldron’).[21]

One theory suggests that the word Chuvash may be derived from Common Turkic jăvaš ('friendly', 'peaceful'), as opposed to şarmăs ('warlike'). Another theory is that the word is derived from 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.[22]


Main article: Chuvash language

The Chuvash language is a member of the Turkic language family and is the only Oghur Turkic language that survives. It's spoken in Chuvashia and nearby regions along the middle course of the Volga River, in the central part of European Russia. Chuvash is the sole living representative of Volga Bulgar language.[23][24][25][26] It is considered to share a linguistic connection with the Khazar language in Oghuric languages, which itself constitutes a significantly divergent principal group.[27][28]

Since the surviving literary records for the non-Chuvash members of Oghuric are scant, the exact position of Chuvash within the Oghuric family cannot be determined. Oghuric languages are so divergent that they were not easily recognized as Turkic.[29] Some scholars suggest Hunnish had strong ties with Bulgar and to modern Chuvash[30] and refer to this extended grouping as separate Hunno-Bulgar languages.[31][32]

Italian historian and philologist Igor de Rachewiltz noted a significant distinction of the Chuvash language from other Turkic languages. According to him, the Chuvash language does not share certain common characteristics with Turkic languages to such a degree that some scholars consider it an independent Onoguric (Bulgharic) family similar to Uralic and Turkic languages. Turkic classification of Chuvash was seen as a compromise solution for the classification purposes.[33]

Chuvash language is agglutinative in the structure of grammar, phonetically it is synharmonic. In this respect, it's almost no different from other Turkic and Uralic languages. Oghuric family is distinguished from the rest of the Turkic family by sound changes and it has a special place. Distinct character of Chuvash and its relation with Finnic languages formerly led some scholars to think Chuvash is a Uralic language.[34] Conversely, other scholars were regard it as an Oghuric language significantly influenced by Finnic languages.[35]

Tatar language and the neighboring Mari language influenced the Chuvash language.[35][36] Russian loans are also notable. Chuvash language has two to three dialects.[37][38] Phenotypically, there is no particular differences among the Chuvash, as more Caucasoid or more Mongoloid phenotypes can be found among all subgroups.[39][40]

The subdivision of the Chuvash people are as below:


Main article: History of Chuvashia


There are two rival schools of thought on the origin of the Chuvash people. One is that they originated from a mixing between the Suar and Sabir tribes of Volga Bulgaria and also, according to some research, mixing with Volga Finns.[41] The other is that Chuvash may have descendant from the Khazars, based on linguistic and ancestral connections.[42][43][44]

The closest ancestors of the Chuvash people seem to be the Volga Bulgars. Throughout history, they have experienced significant 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.[29]

Ancestors of Chuvash people, the Sabirs are believed to have come from Western Siberia, they lived there at least the end of the third millennium BC.[45][46][47] They were skilled in warfare, used siege machinery,[48] had a large army (including women[49]) and were boatbuilders.

They were also referred to as Huns, a title applied to various Eurasian nomadic tribes in the Pontic-Caspian Steppe during late antiquity. Sabirs led incursions into Transcaucasia in the late-400s/early-500s, but quickly began serving as soldiers and mercenaries during the Byzantine-Sasanian Wars on both sides. Their alliance with the Byzantines laid the basis for the later Khazar-Byzantine alliance.[50]

Early History

In the early first century AD the Bulgars started moving west through Zhetysu and the steppes of modern-day Kazakhstan, reaching the North Caucasus in the 2nd to 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.

Sabirs who were a tribe within the Khazar Khanate, subsequently undertook a migration to the Volga-Kama region along with other Oghuric tribes, ultimately founded the Volga Bulgaria, which eventually became extremely wealthy: its capital then being the 4th-largest city in the world.

Shortly after that, another state founded by Sabirs in Caucasus known as Suar Principality was forced to become a vassal state of Khazaria. About half a century later, the Suars took part in the Arab–Khazar wars of 732–737. The adoption of Islam in the early tenth century in Volga Bulgaria led to most of its people embracing that religion.[51]

Chuvash diaspora in Volga Federal District

After the Mongols destroyed Volga Bulgaria in 1236, the Golden Horde kept control of the region until its slow dissolution from c. 1438. The Kazan Khanate then became the new authority of the region and of the Chuvash. The modern name "Chuvash" began to appear in records starting from the sixteenth century from Russian and other foreign sources.[52]

In 1552, the Russians conquered the Kazan Khanate and its territories. The Chuvash, required to pay yasak, gradually became dispossessed of much of their land. Many Chuvash who traditionally engaged in agriculture were forced to become bonded laborers in the timber industry or to work in barges due to growing poverty.[53] The subsequent centuries saw the Christianization and Russification of the Chuvash. During this period, most Chuvash converted to Orthodox Christianity, but the Tsars never achieved their complete Russification.[52][need quotation to verify]

After conversion, Russian Historian Vasily Nikitich Tatishchev personally visited the lands of Volga Bulgaria and wrote his travel in 1768 claim that Bulgars also migrated to Bashkortostan and North of Kazan (i.e. modern-day Chuvashia).

Down the Volga River, the Chuvash, the ancient Bulgars, filled the entire county of Kazan and Simbirsk. Now, after receiving baptism, very few of them remain, because many, not wanting to be baptized, moved to the Bashkirs and settled in other counties.

— V. N. Tatishchev. "Russian History". Part I. Chapter 22.[54]

Modern History The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw the revival of Chuvash culture and the publication of many educational, literary, and linguistic works, along with the establishment of schools and other programs. The Chuvash language began to be used in local schools, and a special written script for the Chuvash language was created in 1871.[52]

On June 24, 1920, the Bolshevik government of the RSFSR established the Chuvash Autonomous Region; it became the Chuvash Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic on April 21, 1925. Around this time Chuvash nationalism grew, but the Soviet authorities attempted to suppress nationalist movements by re-drawing the borders of the republic, leaving many Chuvash living in neighboring republics or in Russian districts. During most of the Soviet period of 1917–1991, the Chuvash were subjected to Russification campaigns and propaganda.[55]

The Chuvash language vanished from educational and public use. In 1989, another Chuvash cultural revival began[56] - partly in response to these changes. Soon the Chuvash language once again came into use in educational, public, and political life.[52] As of 2005, schools in the Chuvash Republic and in areas outside that have large Chuvash populations teach the Chuvash language and culture. Chuvash people around Russia also have media available to them in their local communities.[52][need quotation to verify]


A group of Chuvash children with their traditional dress (Anat jenchi - Middle Low Chuvash)

Physical anthropologists using the racial frameworks of the early 20th century saw the Chuvash as a mixed Finno-Ugric and Turkic people.[57][29] An autosomal analysis (2015) detected an indication of Oghur and possibly Bulgar ancestry in modern Chuvash. These Oghur and Bulgar tribes brought the Chuvash language with them.[58] Another study found some Finno-Ugric components in Chuvash people.[59] In 2017 a full genome study found Chuvash largely show a Finno-Ugric genetic component despite having a common Turkic component with Bashkir and Tatar peoples. This study supported elite domination hypothesis among Volga Turkic populations.[60]

A genomic research found that Chuvashes have a linear relationship between Northeastern Europe and Western Siberia.[61] Volga-Ural Turkic peoples (including Chuvashes, Tatars, and Bashkirs) displayed membership in the k5 cluster, which contained the Uralic populations. However, most of the time, the Volga Turkic peoples showed a higher combined presence of the “eastern components” k6 and k8 than did their geographic neighbors.[58] In comparison with their neighbors, Chuvash has a foremost in the sharply increased frequency of haplogroups E and J which led geneticists to see the uniqueness of the gene pool. These haplogroups are typical to Near East and Caucasus.[62]


They speak the Chuvash language and have some pre-Christian traditions. The Chuvash have specific patterns used in embroidery, which is found in their traditional clothing.[63] Many people also use the Russian and Tatar language, Spoken in Chuvashia and nearby regions along the middle course of the Volga River, in the central part of European Russia.


Baptized Chuvash people, 1870

Most Chuvash people are Eastern Orthodox Christians and belong to the Russian Orthodox Church while a minority are Sunni Muslims or practitioners of Vattisen Yaly. After the Russian subjugation of the Chuvash in the 16th century, a campaign of Christianization began. However, most Chuvash did not convert until the mid-19th century.[64] The Chuvash retain some pre-Christian and pre-Islamic shamanism traditions in their cultural activities.[64][52]

A minority of Chuvash may have been exposed to Islam as early as the Volga Bulgaria era but most of those Chuvash likely converted during the Golden Horde period.[53] An inscription dated at 1307 indicates that some Chuvash were converted to Islam, and religious terms occur in Chuvash in the form of Tatar loanwords.[65] However, sources do not specify the practices of the Chuvash during this period. Some Chuvash who converted to Christianity following the Russian conquest converted to Islam during the 19th and early 20th century.[53]

Parallel pray in the shrines called keremet and sacrifice geese there. One of the main shrines is located in the town of Bilyarsk. Vattisen Yaly is a contemporary revival of the ethnic religion of the Chuvash people.

See also


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