Avars - Orientation

Identification and Location. The Avars are one of the most numerous indigenous peoples of the former Daghestan SSR. For the most part the Avars inhabit mountainous parts of central and northwestern Daghestan, its northern foothills, and parts of the plains to the north, situated roughly between 43°05′ and 41°43′ N at about 47°25′ E. Some of the Avars live compactly grouped in the north of the Azerbaijan SSR (Belokansky and Zakatal'sky districts), in Turkey and in other countries of the Near East. Physically the Avars resemble other indigenous Caucasian peoples. The geography of the Avar territory is characterized by ridges that run parallel to the main Caucasus chain, between which are high mountain plateaus (2,000 meters above sea level), wide basins, and valley flats with semiarid vegetation and a hot climate. These regions are relatively densely settled. The high mountain regions, however, have the typical indices of the alpine zone: a cold climate, wooded terrain, an economy oriented toward livestock rearing, and a low population density. Avar country includes the highest mountain in the republic (Mount Kazbek, 5,012 meters).

Demography. The Avars in the former USSR number 604,200, of which 495,700 dwell in the Daghestan SSR. At lower elevations in Avaria, the density is 35-39 persons per square kilometer; in high mountain country, it is 9.2 per square kilometer.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Avar language belongs to the Daghestanian Branch of the Northeast Caucasian Family. It is divided into two dialect groups: the Northern (Khunzakh and Salatav subdialects) and the Southern (Antsukh). The latter group is subdivided into five subdialects (Antsukh, Gidatlin, Batlukh, Andalal, and Keleb), each of which is divided in turn into more finely differentiated regional varieties. Some sources, however, list four major dialects; others claim that every valley possesses its own dialect. Avaria, in any case, is involved in so-called vertical polylingualism, where ethnic groups speak the languages of those living at lower elevations: many Andis speak Avar; many Avars speak Kumyk. The Avar literary language—Bolmats, or "language of the people, the host"—is based on the Northern dialect; Bolmats was also the lingua franca of many of the ethnic groups of southern Avaria and of all minor peoples of Daghestan. Bolmats is the language of literacy, used for literature, newspapers, magazines, radio programs, theatrical stagings, and teaching in primary schools. As of 1970, there were no less than fourteen district-level newspapers printed in Avar, as well as one on the republic level printed in Makhachkala. After the unification of Daghestan with Russia, the Russian language spread widely, becoming, during the Soviet period, the language of secondary schools and university education, science, record keeping, and international communication. Nevertheless, the Avars today rank among the least Russified and Sovietized of all Daghestanian groups (Bennigsen and Wimbush 1986).

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