Balkars - History and Cultural Relations



The origins of the Balkar people have not yet been definitively established: various hypotheses have associated them with the Huns, the Khazars, the Bulgars, the Alans, the Zikhs, the Brukhs, the Kipchaks (Qïpchaqs, Polovtsians), the Vengrians, the Chekhs, the Mongol Tatars, the Crimean Tatars, and Turkicized Japhetic groups. Some contemporary scholars attribute their origin to a cultural conglomeration of northern Caucasian tribes with the Iranian-speaking Alans and with Turkish-speaking tribes, among which the most significant were probably the Black Bulgars and the Western Kipchaks. Elements of Balkar culture indicate a long association with the Near East, the Mediterranean, the rest of the Caucasus, and Russia. In the pre-Mongol period (before the thirteenth century) the Balkars were part of the Alan union of tribes, but after the Mongol invasion they retreated into the canyons of the central Caucasus.

According to native ethnogenetic traditions, the Balkars originally settled in the basin of the main Balkar canyon, where the hunter Malkar found success and called his companions Misaka and Basiat of Majar (or Madyar) to join him. The oldest written information about this canyon dates from the fourteenth century and can be found in a Georgian epigraph on a golden cross in the Cathedral of the Assumption in Tskhovati, South Ossetia: the text refers to the canyon in question as "Basianian." In more recent times, in Russian sources, the Balkar population is also referred to as "Basian" and "Balxar."

Legends and chronicles describe the irruption into the fastnesses of Tamerlane's men, who intended to ascend the heights of Mount. Elbrus. The Balkars are mentioned in west European and Turkish chronicles at the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Balkars together with the Kabardians mounted a resistance to the Crimean Gireys and maintained relations with Georgia and Russia. In 1827 the Balkars finally became Russian citizens, fixing their loyalty through the institution of amanat (with hostages). Since that time the Balkars have avoided the various tumultuous Russian-Caucasian events of the last century. Only a few persons from leading families took part on the side of the Russian armies in the Crimean War (1854-1856), the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878), and the Russo-Japanese War (1905). At the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries a small segment of the Balkars (Chegems and Basians) emigrated to Turkey and Syria. After the civil war and the establishment of Soviet power in 1920, the Balkars were integrated into the structure of the USSR and assigned their own national-territorial unit. In early 1944 the Balkars were subjected to a mass deportation to parts of Central Asia, especially Kazakhstan. At the beginning of 1957 the Balkar territory was reestablished and most Balkars returned to their native localities.

Language and Literacy. In the Cyrillic alphabet as used by the Karachay-Balkars there are eight vowels and twenty-seven consonants. In the past the official written languages were Arabic for religious services and Turkish for business matters. From 1920 on Balkar has been the language of instruction in primary schools; subsequent instruction is carried out in Russian. Until 1928 Arabic letters were used to write the Balkar language and after that (in 1937), Cyrillic. Ninety-six percent of the population is bilingual in Balkar and Russian. Organs of mass culture, secondary school texts, newspapers, and magazines in both Balkar and Russian continue to increase in number.

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