Dargins - History and Cultural Relations

The Dargins are an indigenous people who have undergone the general economic, ethnic, and social processes that have affected Daghestan and the eastern Caucasus, as shown by archaeological finds in their territory dating from the Paleolithic through the Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Eneolithic periods up to medieval times. This evidence indicates social, economic, and cultural continuity with the northeastern Caucasian ethnic and cultural area (comprising speakers of the Nakh-Daghestanian languages) since the rise of early agriculture in the northeastern Caucasus. Cultural unity lasted until the third millennium B.C. ; its breakup created the separate groups that formed the basis for the development, in the first millennium A.D. , of the Daghestanian tribes, including the Dargins. The Dargi tribe arose in the coastal and foothill area north of Derbent as far as Makhachkala and including present Dargi territory. Toponymic evidence shows that the Dargins were the ancient inhabitants of the coastal and foothill area.

Like the other Daghestanian tribes, the Dargins were once part of Caucasian Albania and later came under Hunnic power and then that of the Khazar Khanate. Arab penetration of Daghestan began in the seventh century; the Dargins of Kaitag and Shandan were prominent in the resistance. Historical records of the sixth to seventh centuries (the writings of Balazuri, Ibn Rusta, Masudi, and others) contain the first written references to the Dargins, in mentions of "Kaitag" and "Zirekhgeran"; the latter name, which means "armor makers" in Persian, is identified with "Kubachi" ("armor makers" in Turkish) by all researchers. This was also the time when feudal relations began to develop among the Dargins; initially this involved unification of ethnic groups around a strong settlement or leader. In the twelfth to thirteenth centuries a major feudal center arose in Kaitag. In the eleventh to twelfth centuries Turkic tribes entered lowland Daghestan, continuing a process of displacement and Turkicization of the indigenous peoples. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries came the devastating invasions of the Mongols, in particular Tamerlane (Timur), who according to his chroniclers destroyed the indigenous infidels. During the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries Dargi territory, like all of Daghestan, became an arena for internal feudal wars as well as invasions by Turkey and Persia. These wars led to the downfall of Nadir Shah, in which the Dargins took part.

Russian-Daghestanian connections date from the sixteenth century, and Russian conquest of Daghestan began with the Persian campaign of Peter the Great. In 1813 the Gulistan Treaty made Daghestan, including Dargi territory, part of Russia. Although the Dargins were not in the imamate of Shamil, they participated in its struggle for independence. Suffering both social and colonial oppression, they frequently protested in speeches and joined rebellions. Particularly significant was the anticolonial rebellion of Daghestan in 1877, in which the Dargins were among the most active participants. They were among the first to enter the revolutionary struggle during the October Revolution and the civil war, and the mass uprising against Anton Ivanovich Denikin's white forces was initiated by the Dargins.

Language and Literacy. To judge from medieval archaeological evidence, use of Caucasian Albanian writing was widespread among the Dargins. It was replaced by Arabic writing when they converted to Islam. Attempts to adapt Arabic writing to the Daghestanian languages had begun by the fifteenth century, and in the eighteenth century ajam, a system of Daghestanian writing based on the Arabic script, had developed and was in fairly wide use. During Soviet times Dargi writing was reformed with a new system based on the Russian alphabet. A Dargi literary language evolved during the nineteenth century. Before the Revolution, education was organized around Arabic writing. All children received elementary education (in the mekteb ) involving basic literacy, the rules of religious services, and memorization of passages from the Quran. Boys received secondary education in the medresseh, learning catechism, Arabic grammar, logic, and Muslim law. Higher education was an individual matter, conducted under the guidance of clergymen who were respected teachers. The level of literacy in Arabic was high (over 10 percent), but this literacy had little practical social or cultural value since it had little to do with everyday life or the contemporary European culture. Few Dargins were literate in Russian because there were almost no Russian schools. At the beginning of the twentieth century the Dargi Okrug, with a population of over 80,000, had two schools with seventy-six students, most of them from the families of colonial administrators and the well-to-do ("Dargintsy" 1960, 483). In Soviet times, with the new writing system, illiteracy has been nearly eliminated and instruction in the schools is in Russian (with some study of the native language). The Dargi literary language is the vehicle of newspaper and magazine publishing, an original and translated artistic literature, and a Dargi theater. At last count, 97.5 percent of the Dargins and 98.9 percent of those living in Daghestan consider Dargi their native language. But the literary language is not in everyday use, which makes the development of a unified Dargi language problematic in the foreseeable future.

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