Karachays - History and Cultural Relations

Various points of view exist in contemporary scholarship regarding the origin of the Karachays. Some think that the primary role was played by the Kipchaks or Polovtsians—groups which, under pressure from the Mongols in the thirteenth century, went into the mountains of the central Caucasus, where the Iranian-speaking Alans were living. Groups of Alans, assimilated by the Turkic Polovtsians, constituted the nucleus of the Karachay people. In the opinion of other scholars it was earlier Turkic-language groups that took part in the formation of the Karachay ethnic group: Hunns, Bulgars, and Khazars, who were living in the northern Caucasus in the ninth to twelfth centuries. The historical territory of the Karachays is located on the upper reaches of the Kuban: the settlements of Kart-Jürt, Uchkulan, Jazlïk, Khurzuk, and Duut. In the nineteenth century the Karachays began to migrate to lands on the middle course of the Kuban and its tributaries, such as the Teberdï River in Little Karachay. In the 1920s Karachays with little or no land began to settle on lands that had been assigned to them after the October Revolution. These are the settlements of Uchkeken, Tereze, El-Tarkach, Kichi-Balïk, Kumïsh, Sarï-Tüz, and others, a total of over twenty. In 1943 the Karachays were deported to regions of Central Asia and Kazakhstan, and their autonomous oblast was liquidated, not to be reestablished until 1957 as the Karachay-Cherkess Autonomous Oblast. After the return to the northern Caucasus, part of the Karachay community remained in Central Asia and Kazakhstan.

The deportations, many believe, dealt a serious blow to Karachay ethnic identity, weakening the transmission of language and culture. Another tragic consequence of this event was the destruction of Karachay graves and sacred sites by those who resettled the territory during the time of exile. With the rise of nationalism in the early 1990s, the deportations, as an event experienced by all strata of society, have considerable resonance as a rallying point for the Karachays.

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