The Karelians are a Finno-Ugric people, today inhabiting the Russian Republic of Karelia and eastern Finland. During the 20th century many Karelians have been forced to leave Karelia, their descendants now being integrated in the West as well as in remote ex-Soviet provinces in the East.



The Karelians were one of many Finnic tribes that in, or before, the first millennium are believed to have migrated northward from mid-Balticum — possibly in connection with the Slavic and Germanic migrations. These Finnic tribes were signified by slash and burn technique and a hunter-farmer culture. By the year 500 A.D. these tribes inhabited the area South and North of the Gulf of Finland, later identified as for instance Livonians, Ingrians, Karelians and Tavastians.

Karelians were chiefly christianized from Novgorod, and are in Novgorod's medieval chronicles noted as "belonging to" Novgorod. Contacts with the Vikings are however also obvious, and a part of the Varangians in the Byzantine Empire are believed to have been Karelians. Since the Christianization, if not before, the Karelians have lived in the tension between East and West, between Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Catholicism, later Lutheranism. And then, in the 20th century, between Eastern Communism and Western Capitalism. The Karelians of Finland consider themselves as Finns by nationality and Karelians by heritage or as a subnational designation. The main cultural division among the Finns, that between the East Finnish and West Finnish dialects and culture, define Savonians and (Finnish) Karelians as East Finnish. Karelians who nowadays move to Finland from East Karelia consider themselves Karelians by nationality.

The border between East and West moved back and forth, but with few exceptions the population stayed. The first exception was the establishment of a Tver-Karelian population after a Swedish 17th century expansion; the second was in connection with the Russian expansion in World War II, when over 400,000 people were evacuated over Finland's new border from the Karelian Isthmus, Ladoga Karelia and, to a lesser degree, from the main part of East Karelia that had been occupied by Finland 19411944. Many of the evacuees have emigrated, mainly to Sweden, to Australia and to North America. A large share of the over 70,000 Finnish war children that were evacuated from Finland, chiefly to Sweden and Denmark, came from Karelian families that had lost their homes due to the Winter War. A fifth of these children remained abroad and many more re-emigrated later.


The Karelian language is very closely related to the Finnish language, and particularly by Finnish linguists seen as a dialect of Finnish, although the variety spoken in East Karelia is usually seen as a proper language. [1] (http://www.kotus.fi/verkkojulkaisut/julk129/karjalat_kartta1.shtml) The dialect spoken is the South Karelian Region of Finland is considered to be part of the South Eastern dialects of the Finnish language. The dialect spoken in the Karelian Isthmus before World War II and the Ingrian language are also seen as part of this dialect group although sometimes in Finland wrongly called Karelian dialect.[2] (http://www.internetix.ofw.fi/opinnot/opintojaksot/8kieletkirjallisuus/aidinkieli/murteet/kaakkois.html) The dialect that is spoken in North Karelia is considered to be one of the Savonian dialects.[3] (http://www.internetix.ofw.fi/opinnot/opintojaksot/8kieletkirjallisuus/aidinkieli/murteet/savolais.html)


Many Karelians are Russian Orthodox Christians, particularly in Russian Karelia. In Finland, some of them belong to Finnish Orthodox Church, most are however Lutherans.


Significant enclaves of Karelians exist in the Tver oblast of Russia, resettled after Russia's defeat in 1617 against Sweden — in order to escape the peril of forced conversion to Lutheranism in Swedish Karelia and because Russians promised tax deductions.


Karelian culture and language was a major inspiration for the Fennoman movement, and the unification of East Karelia (under Russian sovereignty) with independent Finland was a major political issue in 20th century Finland.

External links

pl:Karelowie fi:Karjalaiset


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