Karakalpaks - Orientation

Identification. Karakalpaks speak a Central Turkic language, live primarily in the Turanian (Aral Sea) Basin of Central Asia, and are by tradition Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school. "Karakalpak" means "black hat" and identifies the former Soviet republic (ASSR) of the people of the same name.

Location. The Karakalpak Republic is an amalgamation of the old Khivan Khanate (1811-1920) and the Khorezm People's Republic of the early 1930s, makes up the eastern third of the Uzbek Republic, and is located between 41° and 46° N and 55° and 62° E. The Karakalpak people are heavily concentrated in Uzbekistan (98 percent), with most (93 percent) being located in the delta country of the Amu Darya (Oxus River). Their homeland includes sections of both the Kyzyl Kum (Red Desert) and Kara Kum (Black Desert). The region is extremely arid, rarely receiving more than 12.5 centimeters of precipitation per year, over half of which falls from February to May. Diversion of rivers for irrigation, both within Karakalpakia and upstream, have radically depleted the water that reaches the Aral Sea, which has lost 40 percent of its surface area since 1960. Nukus is the capital of the republic.

Demography. In 1990 the Karakalpak population was estimated at 380,000. Of this, 350,000 lived in the Karakalpak ASSR, 16,000 resided in other parts of Uzbekistan (the provinces of Bukhara, Tashkent, Fergana, and Samarkand), 3,000 in Turkmenistan (Tashauz Province), 2,500 in Russia (mainly Moscow), and 2,000 in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Beyond the Soviet border, there were at least 3,000 in Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Within the republic, population density averaged 7.9 persons per square kilometer and population was growing at 3.4 percent per year. Some 52 percent of the republic's inhabitants and 70 percent of the Karakalpaks were rural. In 1979, 62.6 percent of the republic's population was nearly evenly split between Uzbeks and Karakalpaks, followed by Kazakhs (26.9 percent), Turkmen (5.4 percent), Russians (2.3 percent), and others (Dagestanis, Tatars, Ukrainians, and Koreans). The Central Asian groups (Uzbeks, Karakalpaks, Kazakhs, and Turkmene) are more than 60 percent rural, whereas nonnatives are more than 80 percent urban.

Linguistic Affiliation. The national language is Karakalpak, which belongs to the Kipchak or Kipchak-Nogay Linguistic Subgroup of the Central Turkic Group of the Altaic Language Family. It has two primary dialects: northeastern, closer to Kazakh, and southwestern, closer to Uzbek, and a number of peripheral subdialects, which are hybrids of Kazakh, Uzbek, and Turkmen. Nonliterary until 1930, the Karakalpak language was first unsuccessfully rendered into Arabic, next endowed with a Latin alphabet, and lastly (in 1940) provided with a Cyrillic script. The Soviet Karakalpaks were still semiliterary in 1990, and their written literature is insignificant. The oral traditions are richer and similar to Kazakh, Crimean Tatar, Uzbek, and Nogay epics. Karakalpak is the native tongue of 96 percent of the Karakalpak people. Russified Karakalpaks are a meager 0.5 percent of the population.

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