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Identification. The Udmurt are an ethnic group who live primarily in the Udmurt Republic in Russia. The republic was formed in 1934 from the former Votyak Autonomous Territory (1920-1934). Udmurt means "meadowman."

Location. The Udmurt Republic is situated between the Vyatka and Kama rivers, to the east of Moscow. On the north and east it is bounded by Kirov Oblast, on the south by Tatarstan and on the southeast by Bashkirstan. Its area is 42,000 square kilometers. The climate is continental.

There is an abundance of rivers and streams (Cepca, Kilmez, Vala, Iz, Pozim) in the region, and 40 percent of the area is covered by forest, mainly by evergreens.

Demography. In the 1979 census, 713,000 people in the USSR listed themselves as Udmurt. According to official data, the Udmurt population, which was 421,000 in 1897, had increased to 514,000 by 1926, to 606,000 by 1939, and to 704,000 by 1969. In 1959 the population of the Udmurt Republic was 1,337,000, and 89 percent of the Udmurt people spoke their native language, whereas in 1979 the republic's population was 1,494,000 and only 76 percent of the above-mentioned 713,000 Udmurt spoke the Udmurt language.

Linguistic Affiliation. Udmurt belongs to the Permian Branch of the Finno-Ugric Language Family and is a typically agglutinative language with a considerable number of inflectional and derivational suffixes. The Uralic ancestor language broke into divisions around 4000 b.c. The forebearers of the so-called Permian tribes (Komi-Syryenians, Komi-Permians and Udmurt) had lived together for about 2,500 years and only separated around the eighth and ninth centuries a.d., retaining strong relations after separation. This explains the similarity of the Permian languages, which share about 70 percent of their original vocabulary. Since becoming a separate language, Udmurt was influenced by the languages of the Chuvash and Tatars in the south and the Russians in the north. Present-day Udmurt has several minor and three major (Southern, Middle, and Northern) dialects. The literary language, which is in the process of establishment, is based on the Middle dialect, spoken mainly around Ivzevsk.

Language and Literature

Udmurt is written in the Cyrillic alphabet. From the fifteenth century on, Udmurt words appeared sporadically in Russian texts, especially in annuals. The first text written in the Udmurt language, a poem praising the czarina, appeared in 1767, and in 1775 a carefully printed Udmurt grammar was published in Russian in Kazan. From then until 1917 the Udmurt language grew and the number of printed Udmurt texts (religious publications, course books, etc.) reached over 200. After 1917, especially in the 1920s, this endeavor gained strength and provided the basis for establishing Udmurt literacy.

The father of Udmurt literature was the ethnologist, folklorist, and linguist Grigorij Verevsvcagin (1851-1930), who published his lullaby poem "Blue, Blue Little Dove" as a piece of folk poetry in 1889. Kedra Mitrej (1892-1949) founded Udmurt drama, with his Evs Terek in 1915; he was also the first to write Udmurt prose. After the Revolution he published a great number of significant writings in his native language. Well-known Udmurt poets include Gerd Kuzebaj (1898-1937) and Asvalcvi Oki (1898-1973). From the exciting and flourishing period of Udmurt literature that ended in 1938 two of the more talented prose writers were Mihail Konovalov (1905-1938) and Grigorij Medvedev (1904-1938). Between 1938 and 1956 artistic values could be expressed only at great personal risk. Despite these circumstances, Filipp Kedrov (1909-1944) and Pjotr Blinov (1913-1942) wrote significant and popular works that remain in print. Mihail Petrov (1905-1955) was the father of the classic Udmurt novel. At the same time, an outstanding man of letters, Ignatij Gavrilov (1912-1973), appeared on the literary scene, excelling in all genres but especially in drama. Two notable lyrical poets were Stepan Svirobokov (1912-1983) and Nikolai Baiterjakov (b. 1923); Their verse has its roots in Udmurt folklore. After the twentieth congress of the Russian Communist party (1956), Udmurt literature flourished again. Two representative figures from this era are Gennadij Krasilnikov (1928-1975), the pioneer of modern Udmurt prose, and Flor Vasil'ev (1934-1978), who removed the pathetic overtones of lyric poetry and brought it closer to everyday life.

History and Cultural Relations

Archaeological data indicate that the Udmurt have lived in the area of their present-day home since the ninth century AD. Most of their settlements are on the banks of the rivers, and clans or families build their kar-s (castles, towns, nests) relatively far from one another. Udmurt society still bears the mark of the ancient clan organization, and most Udmurt feel that they belong to one of the approximately seventy clans that have been recorded by historians. The word "kar" has a common Permian root, as shown by the current names of the Komi-Syryenian town Syktyvkar and the Komi-Permyak capital, Kudymkar. For a short period in the early 1930s even the Udmurt capital, Ivzevsk, was called Ivzkar ("town by the river Iz'").

Until the middle of the thirteenth century the Udmurt were mainly occupied with fishing, hunting, beekeeping, limited trade and industry, livestock farming, and military campaigns to expand their territory. Their settlements were destroyed by the Mongolian-Tatar invasion. Some Udmurt shared the fate of other groups, becoming subjects of the conquerors, whereas others launched attacks on the tax and tribute collectors of the Tatar administration from their hiding places in remote parts of the forest.

In 1552 the Moscow-centered Russian Empire overthrew the Tatars by joining forces with the small ethnic groups in the Volga region and occupying Kazan. The above-mentioned ethnic groupsin the view of Russian historianssupported Moscow voluntarily and sought inclusion in the Russian Empire in 1558. This interpretation is incorrect in every detail except that the groups were included in the empire. It was this steadily expanding Russian imperial state, often referred to as "the prison of nations," that later became a part of the Soviet Union, including the Udmurt and their territory.

The Udmurt region, owing to its geographical advantages (navigable rivers) and natural resources (timber and mineral wealth), came under central administration, and only the Russian Orthodox church was permitted by the czar to establish cloisters and church estates. The industrialization of the region began relatively early, in the first half of the eighteenth century. Ironworks, shipyards, and sawmills were established in Votkinsk and Ivzevsk; the first workers were the local "state serfs," but increasing numbers of Russian serfs then settled in Udmurtsk. Most were people who had escaped from estates in neighboring provinces. At the same time, the proselytizing of the Orthodox church grew stronger and stronger and paralleled Russification efforts of the court administration. In spite of industrialization and centralized control, the standard of living remained low, even in the early twentieth century. The growing population of the local towns was almost totally Russian (with a small number of cultural institutions), and the Udmurt villages, most of them without schools, became more and more isolated. Agriculture was rather underdeveloped, and the Udmurt people, not aware of modernization possibilities, firmly preserved their traditions. They accepted Russian Orthodoxy only superficially; the majority of Udmurt remained unconverted even during Revolutionary times. It was this large unconverted population that afforded the czarist government a pretext to initiate one of the most infamous antiminority campaigns, the so-called Multan case of 1892-1896. Thanks to Korolenko's efficient interference, the attention of European countries was drawn to the plight of Udmurt peasants charged with ritual murder, and the accused were acquitted.

By the first two decades of the twentieth century, small groups of Udmurt intellectuals had appeared, primarily teachers, priests, village notaries, and clerks, who took a leading role in forming an ethnic consciousness. What was later to become the Udmurt ASSR took shape with some genuine ethnic variety during the following fifteen years, although the hopes of a better life were soon destroyed. It took the Stalin regime only a few decades to accomplish all that the czarist policy had failed to achieve for centuries. Collectivization and the establishment of kolkhozy swept away the old villages, the towns lost their unique features, and the transformation of the Udmurt people into Soviet citizens progressed in schools and in the military. There were several purges of the old intelligentsia and the younger generations of modern thinkers. The Communist party, the local soviet, the police, the Komsomol, and the Pioneer Organization made their presences felt even in the most private corners of everyday life. These intrusions were reinforced by the continual propaganda of the mass media, delivered both in Udmurt and Russian. As with other ethnic groups, retention of their native language helped the Udmurt to survive, to adhere to traditions, to establish their literature, and to preserve their ethnic identity.


The Udmurt traditionally were agriculturalists; in 1897, 98.4 percent were peasant famers. The three-field rotation system and other systems, such as the more primitive slash-and-burn method, were then used. Under the Soviet system, farming was collectivized and mechanized with the main crops being rye, oats, wheat, barley, and buckwheat. Cattle raising and beekeeping were important secondary activities, and in suitable regions hunting, trapping, and fishing supplemented agricultural activities.

The region of the Udmurt is rich in iron, slate, copper, peat, sand, and other mineral resources. Industry, largely developed in the Soviet era, is concentrated on the production of steel and goods for local consumption.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kinship and social organization in general revolve around the extensive clan system, the council of clan elders in each village called the kenesh, and a system of mutual assistance known as veme. Little is known of traditional Udmurt marriage and family life, although it is likely that the large, perhaps extended, farm families became smaller and nuclear in form under Soviet control.

Socialization. Teachers of Udmurt ethnicity have been trained since the second half of the nineteenth century in the Kazan Ethnic Teacher Training Institute. Several course books had been published in the Udmurt language before 1917, but the systematic study and evaluation of these is still to be accomplished. After 1917 an attempt was made in elementary education to increase use of the Udmurt language, even in the teaching of science, but, because there were not enough qualified teachers, bilingualism (Udmurt and Russian) became the typical policy in the newly established schools. Later the Udmurt language was gradually and purposefully pushed into the background and today is used only in the lower grades and in the teaching of Udmurt language and literature. In addition to an Udmurt Teacher's College founded in 1934, the Udmurt State University was established in 1970. Both provide schools with teachers of Udmurt.

Sociopolitical Organization

The Udmurt are often regarded as a people who strongly resisted both czarist and Communist rule, as indicated by political resistance in the villages and by the continued vitality of traditional religious beliefs and practices. Prior to Soviet rule, villages were governed by a village council called the kenesh, composed of the clan elders of the village. Even in the kohlkozy, the kenesh remained influential and a major source of resistance to Soviet control.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefe and Practices. The Udmurt people's respect for their traditions is demonstrated by their long adherence to their ancient religion and mythology. In the villages, some information about their beliefs can still be collected, especially from elderly people. Their twofold, anthropomorphized mythology, which is based on nature, took its shape in Permian times; in later centuries it was enriched by only a few Muslim and Orthodox elements concerning certain persons, customs, and objects. Their supreme god is Inmar (corresponding to the Finnish Ilmarinen), and the personified evil is called Sajtan (which is a later loanword). Forests, waters, houses, and even barns have their own spirits, whose names include the word murt (man).

The most prominent person at feasts is the tuno (wise man) who, despite some slight differences, is much like a shaman. The secret locale for ritual sacrifices is a clearing in the forest, the keremet (or lud ). The clans and, later, the kindred families had their own lares and penates, a household sanctuary, and even an altar. Family and public holidays were regulated by strict rules in accord with the rhythm of everyday life activities and the seasons.

Arts. In Udmurt folklore, Turkish (especially Tatar) and then Slavic (primarily Russian) features were integrated into the original Finno-Ugrian (Permian) traditions. Two general types of folklore can be distinguished: the Southern quatrains with fixed rhythm, rhymes, and parallel structures, which bear the marks of Turkish influence, and the Northern songs, which are longer and freer in form and content. These, often improvised, have much in common with the music of other Finno-Ugrians. Folktales and legends are also popular, although the former have lost much of their Udmurt flavor and now differ only in minor ways from other typically European themes and motifs. The legends retain more references to both the Udmurt past and present. Classic historical legends recount wars between different clans and their leaders and between the Udmurt and neighboring ethnic groups (Cheremis and invading Tatars). There were also many legends about clashes with the Russians, but all traces of these were removed by the official cultural policy. There remain a great number of local legends, focusing on the past and the genesis of a settlement, a stream, a hill, or a rock. The tales and legends draw on Udmurt mythology, the vitality of which could not be blunted by Orthodoxy or the later Soviet regime. There are many individual motifs in the less well-known genres (proverbs, riddles, and dramatic customs).

The first Udmurt amateur theater companies were formed after the Revolution andespecially in villageswere essentially vehicles for popularizing new political ideas. The first permanent Udmurt theater with trained actors and directors was established in 1934.


Domokos, Péter (1975). Az Udmurt irodalom története (The history of Udmurt literature). Budapest.

Hajdú, Péter. (1975). Finno-Ugric Languages and Peoples. London: André Deutsch.

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Kappeler, A. (1982). "Russlands erste Nationalitäten." In Das Zarenreich und die Völker der Mittlerer Wolga vom 16. bis 19. Jahrhundert. Cologne and Vienna: Böhlau.

Khristoliubova, L. S., ed. (1986). Sovremennoe gorodskoe naselenie Udmurtii: Obraz zhizni i etnicheskie protsessy sbornik statei (The contemporary urban Udmurt population: The form of lives and ethnic process in the collective state). Ustinov: Naucho-Issledovatelskii Institut pri Sovete Ministrov Udmurtskoi SSR.

Lallukka, S. (1982). Suomalais-ugrilaiset kansat Neuvostoliiton Uusimpien väestön-laskentojen valossa (Finno-Ugric peoples in the postwar Soviet censuses). Helsinki.

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Of the 747,000 Udmurts (1989 census), formerly called Votiaks, approximately 497,000 live in the Udmurt Republic, north of Tatarstan, but many live in Bashkortostan. Their language belongs to the Finno-Ugric family and is mutually semiintelligible with Komi, further north. Most are Caucasian, with a remarkable number of redheads, but Asian features also occur.

Southern Udmurts were subjected to the Bolgar Empire from 1000 C.E. on, and later to the Kazan Khanate. After annexing the multinational Viatka Republic (1489), Moscow laid formal claim to all Udmurt lands but controlled only the north. The south was occupied after the destruction of Kazan (1552), yet massive uprisings continued up to 1615. Most Udmurts were forcibly baptized in the mid-1700s, but spectacular anti-animist trials flared as late as 18941896, and 7 percent of Udmurts declared themselves animist in the 1897 census. An Udmurt-language calendar started in 1904 and the first newspaper in 1913.

An Udmurt national congress convened in 1918. A Votiak Autonomous Oblast was formed in 1920 and upgraded to Udmurt Autonomous Republic in 1934. Native-language schooling developed rapidly, but as early as 1931 a trumped-up anti-Soviet "Finno-Ugric plot" decimated the elites. Udmurtia itself became the site of numerous slave labor camps. All Udmurt textbooks were ordered destroyed around 1970.

Udmurtia (population 1.6 million), on the borderline of forest and steppe, is dominated by its capital, Izhkar (Izhevsk in Russian; population 600,000), a major center of Soviet military industry. Russian immigration reduced the Udmurts from 52 percent of the Republic population in 1926 to 31 percent in 1989. Russian passersby chastised those few who dared to speak Udmurt in city streets.

Within the Republic 76 percent of Udmurts consider the ancestral language their main one. Liberalization enabled an Udmurt cultural society to form in 1989. Later called Demen (Together), it spawned an activist youth organization, Shundy (The sun). Udmurtia's Russian-dominated Supreme Soviet proclaimed Russian and Udmurt coequal state languages, but implementation has been limited. In 1991 an Udmurt National Congress established a permanent Udmurt Kenesh (Council). Udmurtlanguage schooling began to develop slowly.

See also: finns and karelians; nationalities policies, soviet; nationalities policies, tsarist


Lallukka, Seppo. (1982). The East Finnic Minorities in the Soviet Union: An Appraisal of Erosive Trends. Helsinki: Annales Academiae Scientarum Fennicae.

Taagepera, Rein. (1999). The Finno-Ugric Republics and the Russian State. London: Hurst.

Rein Taagepera

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Udmurt Republic

Udmurt Republic (ŏŏd´mŏŏrt, Rus. ŏŏdmōōrt´) or Udmurtia, constituent republic (1990 pop. 1,620,000), 16,255 sq mi (42,100 sq km), European Russia, in the forested foothills of the Urals, between the Kama and Vyatka rivers. Izhevsk (the capital), Sarapul, and Votkinsk are the chief cities. The terrain is mostly low and hilly, with wide river valleys. Railroads are the main form of transportation; but the Kama is navigable, and the Cheptsa and Kilmez rivers are used for lumber flotage. Although soil fertility is low, grain (especially rye), flax, hemp, sugar beets, peas, and potatoes are cultivated. The republic's extensive timber, peat, and oil shale resources are only partially exploited because of transportation difficulties. There are also deposits of quartz sand, clays, limestone, coal, and other minerals. The Udmurt Republic is an important part of the Urals industrial area; its growth was particularly spurred by the evacuation during World War II of many industries from W Russia to the less vulnerable Urals region. Engineering, steel milling, metallurgy, lumbering, machine building, and food and flax processing are important industries. The republic is one of the most heavily populated areas of the Urals. Udmurts (formerly known as Votyaks or Votiaks) make up around 30% of the population; Russians constitute some 60%, and there are Mari and Tatar minorities. The Udmurts, representing the eastern branch of the Finno-Ugrian nationalities, are related to the Mari and the Komi. They are known for their embroidery, weaving, and wood carving. Some Udmurts are Orthodox Christians; others belong to an ancestor-worshiping cult. The predecessors of the Udmurts inhabited the region between the Kama and the Vyatka in Neolithic times. They were controlled by the Bulgar state from the 8th to 13th cent. The S Udmurts were subject to the Kazan khanate from the 13th to the late 15th cent., while the northern territory constituted the Vyatka republic. The Russians gradually brought the Udmurts under their rule in the 16th cent., particularly after Czar Ivan IV's conquest of Kazan in 1552. The area became the Votyak Autonomous Region in 1920, the Udmurt Autonomous Region in 1932, and an autonomous republic in 1934. It was a signatory to the Mar. 31, 1992, treaty that created the Russian Federation (see Russia). The republic has a 200-member parliament.

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Udmurtiajosher, washer •moksha • tonsure • dishwasher •whitewasher • Portia • launcher •brochure, kosher, Scotia •fuchsia • pusher • penpusher •blusher, crusher, flusher, gusher, Prussia, rusher, Russia, usher •cruncher, luncher, puncher •cowpuncher • Udmurtia •inertia, Persia

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