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Soviet Union


Descended from the Finno-Ugric tribes of the middle Volga area and the Bulgar tribes of the Kama and Volga rivers, the Chuvash were identifiable as a separate people by the tenth century A.D. Conquered by the Mongols in the thirteenth century, they became part of the Kazan' Horde. Since the mid-sixteenth century, they have been under Russian rule. After the revolutions of 1917 and the Civil War, the Soviet government established the Chuvash Autonomous Oblast within the Russian Republic. In 1925 the oblast became the Chuvash Autonomous Republic.

The Chuvash were originally Muslim but were forced to convert to Christianity by the Russians. Many reconverted to Islam in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the 1980s, some were Orthodox Christians, others Sunni Muslims.

In 1989 the Chuvash population was over 1.8 million. Slightly over half lived in the Chuvash Autonomous Republic within the Russian Republic, where they constituted over 67 percent of the population. Large concentrations of Chuvash also resided in the Tatar Autonomous Republic, the Bashkir Autonomous Republic, and other parts of the Russian Republic.

The Chuvash speak a unique language that includes a large number of Finno-Ugric and Slavic loanwords but that belongs to the Bulgar group of Turkic languages. Because no written Chuvash language had existed before the Russian conquest, it is the only Turkic language in the Soviet Union to have always used a Cyrillic alphabet. In 1989 about 76.5 percent of the Chuvash considered Chuvash as their first language.

In the 1980s, the Chuvash remained overwhelmingly rural and agricultural. In 1987 Cheboksary, the administrative center of the Chuvash Autonomous Republic, was the only city in the autonomous republic with over 100,000 people.

Data as of May 1989