The Crimean Tatars are not the stuff your dentist scrapes off of your teeth

Now that the whole world is paying attention to Crimea for the first time in about 160 years, it’s becoming apparent that a disturbing number of people still think that the proper name for the Turkic inhabitants of Crimea is “Tartars.” CNN-International, which you would think should know better, was calling them Tartars all day Saturday, which prompted some internet crank to tweet this:

But print media was doing it too.Take National Geographic, which ought to know better:

Russian forces are also conveniently located in Crimea, where a largely Russian populace (59 percent; Crimea was a part of Russia until 1954)—has so far welcomed the Russian forces. Twelve percent of Crimea’s population, however, is made up Crimean Tartars, who once ruled the peninsula.

The Independent:

The last reference was to the Crimean Tartars, who are vehemently opposed to joining Moscow.

The Journal of Turkish Weekly, which really ought to know better, particularly since they use “Tatar” in the headline and later in the same piece:

Crimean Tartars, who make up 13 percent of the Crimea population, are also against a decision voted on by the Parliament on Thursday, to hold a referendum on May 25 to decide the future of Crimea’s status.

The Asheville Citizen Times got it wrong right there in the headline: “Tartars of Crimea say they stand with Ukraine.”

Here’s Eli Lake at The Daily Beast:

Zissels said he was more worried for the Muslim majority Tartar community in Crimea than he was for the 17,000 Jews who are estimated to live there.

Even Michael Collins Dunn of the Middle East Institute got into this act, which is kind of distressing:

Most of the reporting of the crisis in the Crimea has focused on ethnic Russians battling ethnic Ukrainians, but there is another ethnicity that ruled Crimea before either country: The Crimean Tartars.

The Tatars were a nomadic confederation in Central Asia and the Gobi region that eventually broke apart, but several tribal groups retaining the name were incorporated into the Mongolian armies that came west and conquered almost everything in their path. Europeans, who were quickly disabused of the notion that the Mongols had been sent by God to help fight the Muslims, heard the name “Tatar” and mangled it into “Tartar,” like “Tartarus,” as in the Greek name for Hell. The Mongols sure must have seemed to a 13th century Eastern European like they were bringing the end of the world with them, so “Tartar” caught on as their name because those Europeans figured that they were the army of Satan. But we know better today, right? I mean, here’s tartar the way we use the word today:

Apologies if this grosses anybody out

There’s steak tartare, which the French named after the tartar sauce that accompanies it. It used to be widely believed that this dish was named after the “Tartars.” European travelers observed Tatar horsemen slipping thin cuts of meat under their saddles before a ride, and assumed that the meat was meant to be eaten after it had been tenderized by a hard day of riding. Actually the slices were put there to soothe sores on the horse’s back, and were thrown out at the end of the day (if you think about it, meat left under a horse’s saddle all day would be pretty damn disgusting). Here’s that:

Oddly enough, this is way more disgusting to me than the bad teeth above

And here’s tartar sauce, which used to be the accompaniment for steak tartare (in fact the dish gets its name from the sauce, not from the Tatars), but now gets mostly used with fish:

Now this I find kind of nice

But the people, and I can’t stress this enough, are Tatars. It seems vaguely offensive to continue to refer to these folks by a name that’s not only wrong, but once suggested that they were Hellspawn and now suggests that they’re the product of poor brushing and flossing. But maybe that’s just me.

(You have to specify “Crimean Tatars,” by the way, or else you risk confusing or conflating them with any of the several other Tatar peoples, especially the Volga Tatars, who come from the Ural Mountains region of Russia and vastly outnumber all other Tatar peoples.)

Folks, Josef Stalin cared enough to get this right in 1944, when he was about to forcibly deport the Crimean Tatars away from their ancestral home and kill around 100,000 of them, give or take, in the process (people who know how to read Cyrillic can check the memo’s Russian title, “О крымских татарах,” not “О крымских тартарах”). I know you don’t want to be less sensitive than Stalin, right? If I might be serious for a moment, what the Soviets did to the Crimean Tatars, based on trumped up charges that they’d collaborated with occupying Nazi forces, was a crime against humanity by any reasonable definition of that term, one that killed 46% of the entire Crimean Tatar population within the first year and a half after the deportation was ordered. Now these folks, who were only recently (as of the late 1980s) allowed to return to their ancestral homeland, are facing the possibility of a new Russian takeover, and unsurprisingly the idea does not fill them with happy thoughts.

So please, “Tatars,” not “Tartars.” Do it for the Tatars. Or do it for your dentist, who’s also probably very tired of this crap but for different reasons. Or do it for socially maladjusted people like me who want things to be The Way They Should Be. Or do it for Stalin, I guess, if that’s the kind of thing you’re into. Just Do It.

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