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THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA

20 August 2017
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Lithuania has an amazing 700-year history as an international melting pot. This has been especially evident since 1323, the year Grand Duke Gediminas founded Vilnius as Lithuania’s capital city and immediately decided to invite merchants, craftsmen, bankers, farmers, and soldiers from all Europe to come to the new capital, guaranteeing all freedom of beliefs and good working conditions. Vilnius became international, though with less of German or Scandinavian influence, as one could expect, rather influenced by Italy and Mediterranean ideas – greatly different from the other two Baltic capitals where Hanseatic influence became dominant.

VilNews will over some time this autumn publish articles about impacts of foreign nations and cultures here. We also welcome you, dear readers, to share with us information you may have about ‘foreign footprints in Lithuania’.

Karaims – Turkic tribe that found a new home in Lithuania


Karaim house in Trakai, 30 km from Vilnius.

The Karaims represent the smallest ethnic group in Lithuania, inextricably linked with the Crimean victories of Grand Duke Vytautas who brought 380 Karaim families to his castle in Trakai back in the 1390s.  

During the 600 years that they have lived in Lithuania, this small Turkic people have preserved a strong national consciousness. A rather inward-looking community life, firm moral principles based on the teachings of the Karaim religion, and steadfast adherence to tradition - all these things have contributed to the survival of the people, of their basic characteristics, such as language, customs, and rituals, and thus, of their national identity. What also helped the Karaims of Lithuania survive under difficult conditions was the tolerance and respect for them expressed during all those centuries not only in the everyday contacts between people but also in the official state documents of various periods.

An exceptional period in the history of Lithuanian Karaims was the Soviet occupation, which thoroughly shook up the accustomed foundations of Karaim community life. The consequences of that time, which are still felt today, make it much more difficult for people to "return to their roots," to the rhythms of their national life.

Many world scholars are interested in the cultural heritage that Lithuanian Karaims have preserved to the present day. The still living Karaim language, which belongs to the West Kipchak subgroup of the Turkic family of languages, receives the most attention. It is being studied from several angles - as a language that has preserved rare old forms and words that have disappeared from other languages of the Turkic family and also as one that has borrowed and in its own way adapted some features of vocabulary and syntax from neighbouring languages (Lithuanian, Russian, and Polish).

During the times of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Karaims suffered severely during the Chmielnicki Uprising of 1648 and the wars between Russia and Poland in the years 1654-1667, when many towns were plundered and burnt, including Trakai, where in 1680 only 30 families were left. Catholic missionaries made serious attempts to convert the local Karaims to Christianity, but ultimately were largely unsuccessful. The local Karaim communities still exist in Lithuania (where they live mostly in Panevėžys and Trakai regions) and Poland. The 1979 census in the USSR showed 3,300 Karaims. Lithuanian Karaim Culture Community was founded in 1988.

According to the Lithuanian Karaims website the Statistics Department of Lithuania carried out an ethno-statistic research "Karaim in Lithuania" in 1997. It was decided to question all adult Karaims and mixed families, where one of the members is a Karaim. During the survey, for the beginning of 1997, there were 257 Karaim nationality people, 32 of which were children under 16.

From linguistic and ethnogenetic point of view they belong to the oldest Turkish tribes - Kipchaks. This ethnonym (Kipchak) for the first time was mentioned in historical chronicles of Central Asia in the 1 st millennium BC. Anthropologically ancient Kipchaks were very close to Siberia inhabitants Dinlins, who lived on both sides of the Sajan Mountains - in Tuva and northern part of Gob.

Description: http://daugenis.mch.mii.lt/karaimai/photo_3.GIF
Karaim priests,Khadji Seraya
Khan Shapshal together with
Simon Firkovich, 1930

In 5th cent. BC Kipchaks lived in the West of Mongolia, in 3 rd cent. BC they were conquered by Huns. Since 6 - 8 cent., when the first nomadic Turkish empires were founded, Kipchak's fate is closely connected with the history and migration of the Middle Asia tribes.

In Middle Ages Kipchaks started to play an important role in the Eastern Europe. European historians and linguists call them Kumans; Russian scientists call them Polovtsy. In Turkish literature they are known as Kipchaks.

Following after Turkish oguzes, who were the biggest Turkish tribe, in 10 th cent. Kipchaks crossed the Volga and settled in steppes near the Black Sea and Northern Caucasus. Huge territories occupied by Kipchaks from the West of Tian- Shan to the Danube, in 11-15 th cent. were called Dest-e-Kipchak (Kipchak's steppes). They did not have an integral state; khans guided the union of different tribes.

Khasar's kaganate, spread over southern territories of contemporary Russia, in 9 th cent.being at its blossom, was famous for its religious tolerance. Karaim missionaries reached the kaganate in 8 - 10 cent. passed their faith to some Turkish tribes (Khasars, Kipchaks-Kumans, and others), living in the southern steppes of Russia and Crimea. Common language and religion united these tribes as a nation for a long time; the name of religion became ethnonym. Contemporary Lithuanian Karaims are the descendants of those tribes.

 

Description: http://daugenis.mch.mii.lt/karaimai/photo_6.GIF
Karaim Kenesa in Trakai

Description: http://daugenis.mch.mii.lt/karaimai/photo_2.GIF
The Karaims coming to Trakai
 - as if 600 years ago, 1997

The Karaims of Crimea, Galich-Luck area, Lithuania and Poland who have common origin, past, religion, language (with dialects), spiritual and factual culture, make the same nation.

The history of Karaims is connected with Lithuania since 1397-1398. According to the tradition, The Great Duke of Lithuania Vytautas, after one of the marches to the Golden Horde steppes, had to bring from Crimea several hundreds of Karaims and settle them in the Great Duchy of Lithuania. Vytautas could bring Karaims after he had beaten one of the hordes not far from Azov. Transference of several hundreds Karaim families and several thousands of Tatars was not done once. It was connected with the state policy of The Great Duchy - to inhabit the empty areas, to build towns and castles, to develop trade and economic life.

Initially, Karaims were settled in Trakai between two castles of The Great Duke, present Karaim Street. Later they were found living in Biržai, Naujamiestis, Pasvalys, Panevėžys, however, Trakai has always been the community's administrative and spiritual centre in Lithuania. Karaims themselves began to hold it not only a homeland, but as fatherland, too. Throughout the centuries their ethnic and cultural relations with the Karaims from Crimea and Galich-Luck areas were not interrupted either.

In order to get thorough information about Karaims' social, cultural, ethnic and religious situation, in 1997 The Statistics Department of Lithuania carried out the ethno-statistic research "Karaims in Lithuania". It was decided to question all adult Karaims and mixed families, where one of the members is a Karaim. During the survey, i.e beginning 1997 there were 257 Karaim nationality people, 32 among them were children under 16.

The change in the number of Karaims during the period of 40 years is shown:

  1959 1970 1979 1989 1997
Total number of Karaims 423 388 352 289 257
Compared to total resident population, % 0.02 0.01 0.01 0.01 0.01


Distribution of Karaims by age and sex:

  Karaimes Male Female
  total % total % total %
Total 257 100 132 100 125 100
of whom by age groups, years  
below 16 32 12.4 14 10.6 18 14.4
16-29 38 14.8 21 15.9 17 13.6
30-39 30 11.7 17 12.9 13 10.4
40-49 31 12.1 17 12.9 14 11.2
50-59 50 19.4 34 25.8 16 12.8
60 and above 76 29.6 29 21.9 47 37.6


According to the living place:

  Total of whom children below 16 years
Total 257 32
Vilnius 138 20
Trakai 65 9
Grigiškės (Trakai region) 6 1
Lentvaris (Trakai region) 4 1
Kaunas 4 -
Noreikiškės (Kaunas region) 4 -
Panevėžys 31 1
Naujamiestis (Panevėžys region) 2 -
Pasvalys 2 -
Šeduva (Radviliškis region) 1 -


There are many specific elements of Karaim cultural heritage, but especially the conscious following of national traditions makes the preservation of Karaim identity possible. And during the long course of time and despite various historical difficulties the main Karaim rites were kept up. Their power even today stimulates the youth's feelings of national identity.

Description: http://daugenis.mch.mii.lt/karaimai/pv4.gif 
At the engagement
ceremony the youth is
electing the leader of all
the wedding and handing
him over a thin withy red-
banded stick 'chybukh',
which is for symbol of
leader's power

Karaim' rites are related to the most important moments of human life - birth, marriage and death. Religious calendar and seasons circle give some special occasions as well (for example, young moon, harvest, sacrifice festivals, etc.). But even in the religious festivals it is more important for the Karaims to preserve their national customs. 

The most solemn rite observed by the Karaims up to these days, is the wedding (toj). For a birth another kind of festivities are dedicated. When a girl is born, in kenesa kutlamach (a blessing prayer and giving of a name) should be offered. When a boy is born, the occasion used to require much greater celebration. However, nowadays it is just limited to a short ceremony in kenesa (the name of the newborn is loudly announced and a special blessing is sung) and a little party at home.

Description: http://daugenis.mch.mii.lt/karaimai/pd1.gif 
Karaim girls in national costumes

When a person dies, he is usually buried as soon as possible. There are Karaim cemeteries in Trakai, Vilnius, and Panevėžys. When laying down the corps, his relatives sit by the closed coffin till the burial. At that time the elder men of the community recite the psalms. There is a custom to burn as many candles, as many family members are morning. The coffin inside is lined with flax. Karaims are buried with their faces to the South. During the burial ceremony the people are not allowed to visit other burial-grounds. If the kinsmen invite, guests return to the deceased person's house. The prayers for his soul are recited there once more. Such public prayer sahynč (remembrance) is held in the deceased person's home every day the whole week, also after thirty days and in a year after his death.

Description: http://daugenis.mch.mii.lt/karaimai/pp2.gif
The breaking of
bride's cake "Kielinlik"

One of the brightest and most solemn agricultural festivals Orach toju (Harvest festival) can't be held any more, because after the II World War Karaims lost their lands. During the last harvest festival in 1938 a harvest wreath was made, which up to these days hangs in Trakai kenesa. It only reminds us of the former close relations between Karaims and the holy nature.

KARAIM ORGANSIATIONS IN LITHUANIA

At present, two organisations of Lithuanian Karaims of having legal status and unifying all the Karaims of Lithuania are executing their activities:

1.     The Religious Community of Lithuanian Karaims - one of the nine state-recognised traditional religious communities, is legally a successor of the Karaim religious community that existed in Lithuania since the end of 14th century. Its governing structure consists of the General Meeting of the Community, the Spiritual Board and the Community Board. Traditionally, Chairman of the Community is the Highest Priest. The Community is a self-governing and independent body from the spiritual authorities and public powers of other countries.

2.     Lithuanian Karaims Culture Community - is executing its activities since the year of 1988. Its governing structure consists of the General Members' Meeting and the Board elected by the Meeting. The Board elects the President.

Contact e-mail address: lkkbpost@takas.lt

Both of these communities are non-profit organisations. Their members are not obliged to pay any membership fees. The Communities cannot suffice themselves and often they are supported by the State, other donors, and, sometimes, by the contributions of the members.

Category : Featured black / The world in Lithuania



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