Chuvash people

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Total population
up to 2 million
Regions with significant populations
 Russia 1,637,0942
 Kazakhstan 22,3053
 Ukraine 10,5934
 Uzbekistan 10,0745
 Turkmenistan 2,2816
 Belarus 2,2427
 Moldova 1,2048
 Kyrgyzstan 8489
 Georgia 54210
 Latvia 53411
 Azerbaijan 48912
 Estonia 35713
Russian (as second language)
Orthodox Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Volga Tatars, Volga Bulgars
Chuvash diaspora in Volga Federal District

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.


There is no universally accepted etymology of the word Chuvash, but there are three main theories that try to explain it:

  • Suvar, according to one theory, "Chuvash" is a Shaz-Turkic adaptation of Lir-Turkic Suvar, an ethnonym of people that are widely considered to be the ancestors of modern Chuvashes. Compare Lir-Turkic Chuvash: huran to Shaz-Turkic Tatar: qazan (cauldron).
  • Jăvaš, another theory suggests that the word "Chuvash" may be derived from Common Turkic jăvaš ("friendly", "peaceful") as opposed to şarmăs ("warlike").
  • Tabghach (Tuoba in Chinese) an old Xianbei clan and founders of the Northern Wei dynasty in China. The name Tabghach was also 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. See Gerard Clauson, Studies in Turkic and Mongolic Linguistics. Routledge, 2002, p. 23.


There are rival schools of thought on the origin of Chuvash people. One is that they originated from a mixing between the Turkic Suar and Sabir tribes of Volga Bulgaria with local Mari tribes and also the Uralic14 population of the Volga Basin. Another is that the Chuvash are a remainder of the pre-Volga Bulgar population of the Volga region, merged with Scythians, Volga Bulgars and Mari.


Chuvash people are divided into two main groups: Virjal or Turi (Chuvash: вирьял, тури; upper) and Anatri (Chuvash: анатри; lower). The latter also have their own subgroups: Anat jenci (Chuvash: анат енчи; mid-lower) and Hirti (Chuvash: хирти; steppe).


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.15 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 Suvar Duchy in modern-day Daghestan) and came into contact with various Iranian peoples. There is also reason to believe that they were the central element of the Hun Empire under Attila.

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 Khazar-Arab Wars of 732-737.


They speak the Chuvash language and have some pre-Christian traditions. In addition to the Chuvash language,16 many Chuvash people also use the Russian and Tatar languages.


Chuvash people took great care of preserving their beliefs, their god being Tura. To prevent an onslaught of Orthodox Christianity and Islam, they separated themselves from other surrounding ethnic groups, which brought on several centuries of endogamy. 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.


See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ 2002 Russian Census (Russian)
  3. ^ 1989 Soviet Census in Kazakh SSR (Russian)
  4. ^ 2001 Ukrainian Census (Russian)
  5. ^ Atlas of Uzbekistan's Ethnic Minorities (Russian)
  6. ^ 1989 Soviet Census in Turkmen SSR (Russian)
  7. ^ 1999 Belarusian Census (Russian)
  8. ^ 1989 Soviet Census in Moldavian SSR (Russian)
  9. ^ 1999 Kyrgyzstani Census (Russian)
  10. ^ 1989 Soviet Census in Georgian SSR (Russian)
  11. ^ [1] (Latvian)
  12. ^ 1989 Soviet Census in Azerbaijan SSR (Russian)
  13. ^ 2011 Estonian Census (English)
  14. ^ Orion M. Graf, Stephen M. Johnson, John Mitchell, Stephen Wilcox, Gregory Livshit and Michael H. Crawford (2012). "Analysis of Chuvash mtDNA points to Finno-Ugric origin.". "Earlier genetic research using autosomal DNA markers indicated a Finno-Ugric origin for the Chuvash. This study examines uniparental mitochondrial DNA markers to better elucidate their origins. Results from this study maintain that the Chuvash are not related to Altaic or Mongolian populations along their maternal line, thus supporting the “Elite” hypothesis that their language was imposed by a conquering group —leaving Chuvash mtDNA largely of Eurasian origin. Their maternal markers appear to most closely resemble Finno-Ugric speakers rather than Turkic speakers." 
  15. ^ History of Chuvash people (English)
  16. ^ Эктор Алос-и-Фонт. Оценка языковой политики в Чувашии

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