Karakalpaks - History and Cultural Relations

The Karakalpak people are the culmination of 2,700 years of ethnic mixing of indigenous Iranians of the Mediterranean Caucasoid race (Sacs) with invading Altaic-speaking peoples of Mongoloid extraction, among them Huns and Oguz Turks. The latter, including the Pechenegs, who themselves had mixed with Bashkirs and Ugrians (of Magyar lineage), reached western Central Asia in A.D. 500. In the eleventh century a faction of Karakalpaks joined the Seljuks in the latter's invasions south and west, but the majority remained behind in the Aral Sea Basin. It was these Karakalpaks to whom the twelfth-century Russian chronicles alluded as "Chernyye klobuki" (Black Hats). The western Pecheneg-Karakalpaks entered into an alliance with the Kievan princes against marauding Kipchak (Polovtsian/Cuman) tribes. In gratitude, the Kievan princes rewarded the Chernyye klobuki for their bravery in battle with appanages along the Dnieper River. The Black Hats ranged from the Dnieper to the Aral Sea. They did not use "Karakalpak" as their self-name until after 1500. The Kipchaks, despite their adversarial relationship with the Karakalpaks and, indeed, with most of the Trans-Uralian steppe dwellers, Turkicized these peoples between the years 1000 and 1300. In the 1200s Karakalpakia became part of the Golden Horde, and, as the latter weakened during the next two centuries, the Karakalpaks became more closely allied with the Nogay Horde. During the 1500s, while living in the delta regions of the Syr Darya (Jaxartes River), the Karakalpaks began to be alluded to by name and became virtually independent, albeit not united: each tribe was governed by its own leaders ( bijs and batyrs ) . Independence was short-lived: over the next 200 years, the tribes became subjects of the Bukharans, Kazakhs, and Dzungarians, the last of whom caused the Karakalpaks to migrate in two directions. One group went up the Syr Darya to the Fergana Basin ("upper Karakalpaks"), and a second moved closer to the Aral Sea ("lower Karakalpaks"). After 1750 the lower Karakalpaks again migrated, this time to the Amu Darya Delta, which in 1811 became part of the Khivan Khanate. Over the next seventy years, the Karakalpaks revolted against Khivan rule several times. In 1873 the right-bank Karakalpaks were annexed by Russia; those on the left bank remained subjects of Khiva. After the Bolshevik Revolution (1917), the struggle for Karakalpak autonomy was tortuous both in design and jurisdiction; however, on 5 December 1936, Karakalpakia was recognized as an ASSR within Uzbekistan.

The Karakalpaks are a distinct minority in their own republic. Uzbeks prevail in the south, Kazakhs in the east and west. The republic is the most Muslim and the most Turkic of all former Soviet administrative units. The Russian population is less than 3 percent of the total and their influence is hardly felt, except for decisions emanating from Moscow. In this regard, economic decisions pertaining to the expansion of irrigation for growing a nonfood, cotton, have resulted in considerable environmental degradation and have stimulated the formation of an environmentalist movement. Karakalpaks almost never intermarry with Russians, who, according to one mythical tradition, have a common genealogical origin with the Karakalpaks.

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