from the ancient times to joining Russia

by I. M. Miziyev

Mingi-Tau (Elbrus), 1994, no. 1 (Jan–Feb), pp. 7–104, 206–213
Nalchik: Mingi-Tau Publishing, 1994

Translated from Russian on request of "As-Alan" by P. B. Ivanov, footnotes by P. B. Ivanov
Edited by Ph.D H-M. Hubey
Moscow, 1997



Geography and territory of Karachai-Balkarians
Balkarians and Karachais belong to the Turk nationalities living the most high in the mountains. They occupy the canyons and foothills of Central Caucasus along the rivers Kuban, Zelenchuk, Malka, Baksan, Chegem, Cherek and their tributaries. Nearly all “five-thousanders” (the highest peaks) of Caucasus are situated on the territory of Balkaria and Karachai, such as Mingi-tau, Dikh-tau, Koshtan-tau, Gulcha and others. The largest glaciers and nйvй fields can be found there too: Azau, Terskol, Itkol, Cheget and others. The territory of Balkaria and Karachai abounds in mountain-masses, woods, fertile valleys and Alpine meadows.

General description of the Karachai-Balkarian people

Balkarians and Karachais are among the most ancient nationalities of Caucasus. The roots of their history and culture are intimately intertwined with the history and culture of many Caucasian peoples, as well as numerous Turk nationalities, from Jakutia to Turkey, from Azerbaijan to Tatarstan, from the Kumik and Nogai to the Altai and Hakass. In the former Soviet Union, Turk peoples were second in number, after the Slavic nationalities; there are more than 200 million Turk-speaking people in the whole world. In the Alpine ravines of Caucasus, Karachai-Balkarians live side by side with the people speaking in other languages, such as Kartvelian, Adyg, Ossetian and others. Since XIV–XV centuries, Balkarians and Karachais gradually became territorially isolated, otherwise remaining the same people. The nearest neighbors call Balkarians “As” (Ossetians), “Balkar” (Kabardins), “Az” or “Ovs” (Swanes); for instance, Megrelians call Karachais “Alan”. The word “alan” is used by Balkarians to address each other.

Economy and culture-economic relations

Since the ancient times, Balkarians and Karachais have been engaged in Alpine, distant-pasture or “yailag” cattle rearing. In the summer, they drive their cattle to the mountain pastures called “zhailik”. The common term “yailag cattle breeding” originates from this word.

Sheep breeding generally dominates at Balkarians and Karachais; however, cattle and horse cultivation was very important too. The possession of huge amounts of cattle, several times more than the neighbors could have, provided all the life means to Balkarians and Karachais. The products of cattle breeding dressed, fed and shoed the people; also, it went to the all-Caucasus markets, getting exchanged on all the necessary goods: fabrics, crockery, salt and others.

Highly developed mining industry supplied Balkarians and Karachais with copper, lead, coal, niter and other raw materials. Since arable lands were scarce in Balkaria and Karachai, agriculture did not play as important role as cattle breeding in their economy.

Nevertheless, every spot of land was carefully cultivated, cleared of stones and watered with the use of ingeniously designed irrigation systems. The mountain slopes furrowed by the vast terrace fields of the old Karachai-Balkarian peasants can be seen in many places up to now.

Balkarians and Karachais had most friendly culture-economic relations with all the neighboring peoples. These contacts frequently resulted in numerous mixed marriages and inter-ethnic kinship.
Culture, education, science

The historic and cultural heritage of the Karachai-Balkarian people has absorbed many features of the culture of Caucasian peoples and all the Turk world. This has been reflected in mythology, epic and other folklore genres, as well as in the earliest religions, mentioning the highest mountains, the seas and boundless spaces of Eurasian steppes. The common Turk deities like Tenhri (Teiri), Umai and others occupy the central place in the religious cults. The influence of such ecumenical religions as Christianity and Islam can be seen in the deepest roots of the culture, manifesting themselves in the various customs, rites, popular games and common notions existing among Karachai-Balkarians until now. In the ancient times, the ancestors of Balkarians and Karachais had a runic writing, judging by the inscriptions left by Caucasian Bulgarians and now found in great numbers on the territory of Karachai and Balkaria in the relics of VII–XII centuries.
In the very beginning of XVIII century, Balkarians and Karachais had already adopted Arabian writing, as it is fixed in the so-called “Kholam inscription” dated by 1715 and found in aul Kholam, the inscription of 1709, and others. Now Balkarians and Karachais use Russian alphabet. Among the peoples of the former USSR, Balkarians and Karachais occupied the first place in the number of people with higher education per thousand of population.

Old sources about Balkarians and Karachais

The modern name of Balkarians ascends to the name of ancient Caucasian Bulgarians, which were placed by ancient Armenian sources “in the land of Bulgarians, in Caucasian mountains”. The Arabian author of X century Ibn-Rusteh wrote about the tribes Taulu-as, i. e. “Mountain Asses”, living in the most faraway regions of Georgia. This name corresponds to the geographical self-nomination of Karachais and Balkarians “Taulu”, i. e. “Mountaineers”.

Many eminent scientists of the past and of XX century, such as Menandres of Byzanth, G. A. Kokiyev and others, called one of the greatest trade roads along the river Kum past Elbrus through Karachai to Kolkhida (Georgia) owned by the Romans, “Khoruchon”, past the name of Karachai. An analysis of all the materials available lead Acad. P. Butkov to the conclusion that Balkarian already lived on the territory of modern Balkaria in X century.

In 1395/96, world conqueror Timur and his biographers called Balkarians and Karachais “Asses” and were in fierce struggle against them. Until now, Balkarians and Karachais are called “Asses” by their immediate neighbors, Ossetians.

In 1404, arch-bishop Iohannes Galonifontibus called Karachais “Kara-Cherkess”; under the same name they were mentioned by the traveler of 1643 Archangello Lamberti.
So, from the earliest times up to XIV century, Balkarians and Karachais were referred to in the written documents as Asses, Bulgarians, Kara-Cherkess, Taulu-Asses…
In the Georgian documents of XIV century and later, Balkarians and Balkaria were referred to as “Basians” and “Basiania” respectively. The earliest mentioning of this name was found on the gold “Tskhovati cross”. On this cross, it is said how one eristavi Risia Kvenipneveli got in captivity in Basiania and was ransomed therefrom on the means of Spass church of village Tskhovati in Ksan canyon. Basians and the life of Basians were described in detail in a treatise by the historian and geographer of Georgia Prince Vakhushti in l745. Georgian “Basiani” was derived from the name of Khazar tribe “Basa”, with the addition of the plurality indicator “-ani”.

In January and February 1629, Terek voivode I. A. Dashkov sent two letters to Moscow, informing about the silver deposits in the land where “Balkarians” live. Since then the name of Balkarian people often appears in Russian official documents. In 1639, Russian mission consisting of Pavel Zakhariev, Fedot Elchin and Fiodor Bazhenov sets off for Georgia. For 15 days, they stayed at Karachai princes Krimshaukhalov in aul El-Zhurtu near modern Tirnihauz. Balkarian “kabaks” (settlements) are mentioned in 1643, in the “otpiska” (official message) of Terek voivode M. P. Volynsky. And in 1651, Moscow envoys N. S. Tolochanov and A. I. Iyevlev, on their way to Georgia, stayed at Balkarian princes Aidabolov in Upper Balkaria for two weeks. Information about Balkarians and Karachais can be found in the documents of European and Russian scientists and travelers of 1662, 1711, 1743, 1747, 1753, l760, 1778, 1779, 1793–94, 1807–08 years. In 1828, Acad. Kupfer called Karachais “Cherkess”; under that name they had been commonly known since as early as 1636 or 1692 in the travel notes by Georgian and European authors. In such texts, Balkarians and Karachais were often called “mountain Cherkess”.



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