Bessermans speak the Udmurt language, but in terms of self-identity and culture they form a separate ethnic group. Some scholars have considered Bessermans as an udmurtified Turkic people.
Bessermans refer to themselves as ‘besser’, ‘besseran’, ‘besserm’an’.
Bessermans live in northwestern Udmurtia and in the border regions of Kirov Oblast among ethnic Udmurt, Tatar and Russian population in 41 settlements where they form a majority. There are 10 purely Besserman villages.
According to the 2010 census there were 2201 Bessermans which is approximately 800 less than 8 years before. Of those, 651 lived in cities and 1550 in the countryside. In 2002, there were 3122 Bessermans in Russia. In 1926 the Besserman population was 10 034. During the interim years Bessermans were not considered a separate people and were counted as Udmurts.
Language and belief
Bessermans speak a dialect of the Udmurt language. Their phonetics and vocabulary has Turkic influences. Bessermans are generally Orthodox, but have also preserved elements of Islam and indigenous beliefs.
Russian chroniclers of 13th-15th centuries have written about Bessermans living at the downstream of Volga and Kama rivers. Written sources from the 17th century confirm the presence of Bessermans at the Cheptsa river, however they are often referred to as Chuvash. It is possible that a Turkic-speaking ethnic group that is related to Chuvash people has assimilated with Bessermans. It has also been thought that Bessermans originate from southern Udmurtia from where they fled in fear of Mongols and Tatars to the forests of Vyatka, settling down in northern Udmurtia and preserving their southern dialect.
In 1992, the presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Udmurt Republic adopted a decree about the “Restoration of the historical name of Bessermans”.