Karachays - Orientation

Identification and Location. The Karachays inhabit the northern Caucasus in the Karachay-Cherkess Autonomous Oblast (AO) of the Stravropolski Krai, in the following districts ( raions ) : Karachay, Malo-Karachay, Zelenchuk, Ust'-Jegutin, and Prikuban. In 1990 the Karachay-Cherkess AO became an autonomous republic, the Karachay-Cherkess ASSR. Contemporary Karachay occupies three ecological zones. The first is the high mountain zone, Great Karachay, containing one of the major peaks of the Caucasus, Mount Elbruz (5,133 meters), rich alpine pastures, and the source of one of the major rivers of the western Caucasus, the Kuban. The second zone, the Little Karachay, is comprised of low mountains and hills, with a mild climate and land suitable for cultivation. The third zone consists of plains with a dry climate and winter pastures.

Demography. There were 55,000 Karachays listed in the 1926 census; this had increased to 125,800 by 1979.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Karachay language belongs to the Kipchak (Qïpchaq) or Northwestern Group of the Turkic languages. Specialists have noted numerous borrowings from the Ossetian language. In the past, when their language lacked a writing system, the Karachays used Arabic (also the language of instruction in the Muslim schools), whereas Russian was used for business purposes. (The first Russian school was opened in 1879.) A Karachay alphabet with Latin characters was devised in 1924 but was replaced in 1939 with a Cyrillic-based script. There is some discussion at present (1992) of returning to a Latin-based alphabet.

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