Another fine Tamerlane post that is par for the course: erudite, well-informed, adding considerable depth and richness to the discussion, and as always, interesting to read. Plus the obligatory minor error put in there just so Jomo can jump in and correct it.
The Mordvin are a Finnic-speaking population in the middle Volga region, neighbors of the European Turkic groups the Tatars, the Bashkirs, and the Chuvash. Further north are the Permian Finnic peoples like the Komi and the Mari. Just east of the Urals from the Permian Finns (making them Asiatic) are the Ob-Ugric peoples the Khanty and Mansi, whose languages are in the Ugric branch of the Uralic family, making them the closest linguistic relatives of Hungarian. Further east from the Khanty-Mansi region of Northwest Asia are the Samoyedic peoples, speaking another branch of Uralic, and one that is definitely Asiatic. (I love a rare chance to write “Northwest Asia”!)
The early Magyars, long before they migrated to the present location of Hungary, seem to have originated from that central Urals area, where the republic of Bashkortostan (or Bashkiria) is now; the present-day Bashkirs now speak a Turkic language very closely related to Tatar (their neighbor). Bashkiria spreads on both sides of the Urals so is, like Turkey and Russia, in both “Europe” and Asia.
But around AD 500 their ancestors there seem to have been a Uralic-speaking people; as late as the 1200s it still went by the name Magna Hungaria. A monk named Friar Julian traveled there and reportedly found people still speaking a Magyar dialect; unfortunately, just as he made his discovery the Mongols invaded and his research was cut short.
The nearby Volga-Kama area, which has been Tatar (Qypchaq Turkic) since the Mongol-established Altan Ordu (Golden Horde) in the late 13th century, had been Bulghar since the 800s or earlier. Here, “Bulghar” refers not to Balkan Slavs but to a branch of Turkic-speaking peoples; their form of Turkic, called r-Turkic because it uses r where other Turkic languages use z, is now represented only by Chuvash. But the Volga Bulghar kingdom was thriving in the 9th century when the Arab traveler Ibn Fadlan (whom we met in the film The 13th Warrior) visited there, and he also was the first author to record the existence of the Magyars, who entered Pannonia (present-day Hungary) some years later.
The Magyars, during their years on the Pontic Steppe, had become associated with some Turkic tribes in the tribal confederation known as On Ogur (Ten Arrows). Seven of the tribes were Magyar, and the other three were Turkic. From the Turks, the early Magyars took into their language a lot of loanwords, including many terms relating to agriculture. The Turks who taught the Magyars their culture were evidently speakers of the r-Turkic branch; compare Turkish yaz- ‘write’ and Hungarian ír ‘write’. Turkish öküz ‘ox’ and Hungarian ökör ‘ox’.
In fact, the Magyars were simply assumed to have been Turks, until comparative linguistics established that their language belonged to the Uralic family, related to Finnish and Estonian. In the 1760s, a Hungarian Jesuit scholar named János Sajnovits traveled to Lapland in Norway for some astronomical observations and, listening to the local Sami (Lappish) people, noted similarities between their language and his. A systematic comparison of the two established that they were related, so Sajnovits is the discoverer of the Uralic language family. But when he published his findings, the Hungarians at first rejected his conclusions, because they preferred to be connected to the proud, conquering race of Turks rather than a primitive little tribe beyond the Arctic Circle.
The Székely ethnic group, inhabiting Transylvania, came over with the Magyars from the steppes and settled there; although they speak Hungarian and are assimilated into Hungarian culture, they have always been considered a different ethnic group. They are thought to be descended from a Turkish tribe that was allied with the Magyars back in the steppe days. Until the 19th century, they still wrote with the runic characters used for Old Turkic in the 7th-century Orkhon Inscriptions in Mongolia, the record of one of the earliest Turkish kingdoms.
So, you see, the Hungarians are of a strongly Asiatic background but yet are now considered as European as anyone else. But not the Turks, whose presence in Europe predates even the Magyars. Why? Probably religious bigotry. The prejudice against Muslims is deeply ingrained in the European Christian (or post-Christian) psyche, and it’s still often repeated that “those people” are “not like us” (the eternal refrain of the bigot).