National Identity

The national identity of Lithuanian Karaims or their self-consciousness of being one of Turkic nations has been very strong and vigorous through the ages. It manifests itself through a native language, national and religious traditions, folklore and professional creation. All these factors have remained vital up to the present time: on the one hand, as the expression of national self-consciousness and on the other – as its basis uniting the community.

Celebrating the 600th anniversary of the settling down of Karaims and Tatars in Lithuania. Karaim youth in national costumes. Trakai, 1997

In the late 19th century and the early 20th century, under the new economic and political conditions of the world undergoing great changes it was no more enough to be the usual and authentic Karaim community, functioning for itself and in itself. That time gave rise to the emergence of the man’s new inner need to deeply perceive one’s own national “I” and to declare it in an active and open way. This new need emerged making an attempt to motivate one’s own (both of a separate individual and a group) identity among other people, because only then “others” disclosed themselves, and in order to maintain a national self-consciousness itself, which was as a guarantee of the survival of the nation.

This need for a national identification was satisfied first of all by an active public, cultural and educational activities in the major Karaim centers in the early 20th century, such as Trakai, Vilnius, Panevėžys, Luck, Halich, Eupatoria, Moscow. In Moscow was published the magazine “Karaimskaja žiznj” (“The Karaim Life, 1911-1912, in Russian), in Vilnius – “Karaimskoje slovo” (“The Karaim Word”, 1913-1914, in Russian) and “Myśl karaimska” (“The Karaim Thought”, 1924-1939, in Polish, in 1946-1947 continued in Poland), in Luck – “Karaj avazy” (“The Voice of Karaim”, 1931-1938, in Karaim), in Panevėžys “Onarmach” (“Prosperity”, 1934-1939, in Karaim). The authors of the articles analyzed the situation, history and cultural heritage of their communities as well as published the Karaim poetry, prose, many scientific articles and the reports from the everyday life. The Karaim art amateur groups, clubs, public societies and libraries played a great role, too.

A scene from Karaim theatre amateur play. Trakai, December 1990

Today we estimate the activities of that period as particularly valuable due to their unique results. That period fixed on paper and in the people’s consciousness all the complex of things, which serve as a basis for the public activities of the present day Karaim community and which, on the whole, revived its spirit and opened a much deeper and better grounded context of perceiving the Karaim nation and its culture. Unfortunately, the upswing at the beginning of the century lasted only until the sovietization of Lithuania. It was the time when any verbally expressed idea about a national self-consciousness was out of the question. In the long run, even the perception of the nation was exhausted. The public life of the Karaim community came to life again only in 1988. It was associated with the changing political atmosphere in this part of the world, and some time later – with the restoration of independence in Lithuania..

The scope of secular art, which emerged in the culture of Lithuanian Karaims in the early 20th century, performed a significant function of the manifesto of national self-consciousness even in the period of the national rebirth of Lithuanian and other nations of Lithuania since 1988. The changing religious consciousness that in the past was one of the strongest supports of the national self-consciousness now adapts itself to new life conditions of society and imports to the Karaim identification some modern shades.