THE HUN-BULGARIAN STAGE OF THE FORMATION OF BALKARIANS AND KARACHAIS
Hun-Bulgarian tribes were the successors of Scythians by all the culture and consanguinity indications. The basic ethnic reference, the burial rite of Scythians and Huns, was strikingly uniform: the same barrows, burial frames of logs and thick timbers, burial blocks, sacrificial horses etc. The relics of Hun burials are well known on the whole space of the former Scythian territory: on the coast of the Black Sea, along Danube (so called Scythia Minor), in Northern Caucasus and other areas. Rather typical Hun monuments have been excavated on the territory of Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachai-Cherkessia too. Very interesting findings have been made by archeologists near village Kishpek in the valley of river Baksan, in the settlement Baital-Chapkan in Karachai etc.
Huns of Northern Caucasus
According to the early medieval authors, a powerful political union of Turk tribes headed by Huns existed in Northern Caucasus, especially in Seaside Daghestan. The reign of Huns strongly influenced all the aspects of historical, military and political development in Caucasus, Transcaucasus and Near East.
There is a commonly shared opinion in science that Huns were the Asian tribes known in III century BC by Chinese sources under the name “shiung-nu”. But there are no traces of forming an ethnocultural type of Huns in neither II not III millennium BC in Central-Asian steppes, where Huns suddenly appear in III century BC, already as a highly organized state ruled by a king and military leaders, with the well-formed administrative and military structures. And as long as no ethnic roots can be discovered, the assertion that Huns formed and developed as ethnos (nationality) in Central-Asian spaces does not sound quite plausible.
Most likely, Huns originated from the ancient pit-Afanasiev tribes, penetrating to the depths of Central Asia from between Volga and Ural. That is why they, later on, so often directed their military campaigns to these regions, i. e. to their ancient land of origin.
Otherwise, it would be difficult to scientifically justify that lightning leap of Huns in III century BC through all the Eurasian zone with its variegated population, so that, already in I century BC, they could dominate over all the Caspian lands, as Dionisios Periegetos says; even less justifiable would be their forming a state in Seaside Daghestan, spreading down to Danube, organizing there Attila’s power, crashing the Roman empire. All such questions provoke many doubts which do not allow to consider the abovementioned hypothesis of Central Asian origin of Huns justified. The history of early Huns and their origin requires further study.
There is very important for the history of Karachai-Balkarian people information about so-called “Caucasian Huns” of the Caspian lands. Yet in 60’s of III century, Caucasian Huns served in the Persian army, and in 90’s of the same century, Armenian sources write about Hun wars in Fore-Caucasus. Moreover, one of the Sasanid (Persian) inscriptions dated by 293 mentions the name of one of Turk khakans from Caucasus. In 363, Armenian, Roman and Persian authors write about the necessity of fortifying Caucasian passages, especially Derbent passage, against Hun hordes, making repeated raids and campaigns against Persians , Armenians and the peoples of Middle East. These events made Sasanid Iran to build Derbent fortifications, which Turks called “Temir-Kapu”, iron gates.
Thus, yet before the epoch preceding Huns’ invasion in Europe, they appear as mercenaries or hostile groups and stay in Northern Caucasus, creating their own state. Arabian and Persian authors mention town Varachan, or Belenjer, as the capital of this state, in the valley of river Sulak near village Upper Chir-Ьrt in Daghestan. Some later authors refer to this town, or country, Balanjar as the native land of Khazars. Indeed, there were the ancestors Khazars among the Hun tribes, calling themselves Basils (“Bas”, head; “il” or “el”, people—that is, the ruling people).
The written sources describe Huns as riders “merged with their horses”. By the words of Ancient writers and historians, they “gallop in all directions, without any order, with unexpected back raids…” and “fight with spears with sharp bone heads, and fight headlong with their swords in the hand-to-hand combat and, evading the blows, catch their enemies with the strong woven arkans”. In written sources, Huns get identified with Scythians and Kimmerians, and specifically compared the so-called “King Scythians”. Such an identification is supported by the fact that the ethnonym of Scythians “As-kishi”, or its stem “as” is retained in written sources, especially the old Georgian documents, in the Huns’ name as “ovs”, “os”. Huns were called so in V century, during their raids in Georgia in the time of king Vakhtang. The word “ovs” of the Georgian sources is actually a slightly deformed name of a Turk tribe “As”.
Huns in Europe. Attila’s reign
The invasion of Huns in South-Russian steppes and the spaces of Europe shook the whole world of numerous ancient ethnic formations of that region. In history, these events have been given a quite justified name of “the great migration of peoples”. Hun invasion was one of the factors of the disintegration of formerly powerful Roman empire, dominating over the whole world. In the descriptions of Hun campaigns of the end of IV century (375), history is often influenced by the views of an average Roman, who saw only “savage barbarians” in Huns. It should be noted, that the Roman empire of that time was already being torn in pieces by internal struggle.
The pre-European phase of Huns’ history is poorly studied, though it attracted attention of scientists during XVII–XIX centuries. Without doubt, Huns came to Europe from the East, from across the Don and Asov Sea, and their language was of the Turk group.
In the Danube steppes, on the territory of the former Scythia Minor, Huns created a new state headed by the legendary chief Attila, whose name is derived by scientists from the Turk word “ata”, father. In V century, Attila pursued a most active policy in Europe, subduing many European tribes and peoples to his power, so that nobody could contradict him in the solution of the complicated international problems of the time.
In the old age, Attila married a beautiful girl and died on the nuptial night. His sons did not follow the rules established by their father, and every one of them, supported by the peoples subject to him, claimed for supreme authority. This lead them to intestine wars and eventually to the decay of the great power built by their father, which made all the Europe shudder.
Hun descendants in Northern Caucasus
One of the authoritative representatives of Byzantine historical science Prokopios of Caesarea (V century) wrote that the shores of Asov Sea and Don were inhabited by tribes, which “were called Kimmerians in the old times, and now are called Utihurs”. Concerning the latter tribes, it should be said that one of Hun kings had two sons, Utihur and Kuturhur. After the death of their father, the tribes subject to them consolidated into two separate tribes, Authors and Kuturhurs, which became the two ethnic components of ancient Bulgarians. Many scientists share this opinion and consider Bulgarians as representatives of one of the branches of Huns, who, after the decay of Attila’s power, settled in Scythia Minor between Danube and Dniester under the rule of the favorite son of Attila, Irnik, mentioned in the Nominalia of Bulgarian Princes, in IX century.
Bulgarians were known not only in the steppes of the Western coast of the Black Sea, but also in Fore-Caucasus and near Volga. The earliest information about Caucasian Bulgarians (Bulkars) was met in the old Armenian texts. They say that Armenian king Vaharshak (reigned between 149 and 127 years BC) invited the tribes, “living on the northern slope at the foot of the Great Caucasian Mountain, in valleys, in deep long canyons, extending from the Southern Mountain up to the mouth of the Great Plain, and ordered them not to be engaged in robbery and stealing cattle and people…”
Under Arshak I (between 127–114 BC), the son of Vaharshak, continues the source, “great discord rose in the range of the great Caucasian mountain in the land of Bulgarians, so that many of them fell apart and came to our land and settled on the South from Koh, in the fertile and grain-producing places for a long time”. Where those Bulgarians lived, there is still a river called “Bulgar-chaie”, Bulgarian river.
Thus, Armenian sources, well informed about the neighbors of Armenia and ethnopolitical and geographical situation, assert that early Caucasian Bulgarians already lived in the mountains, canyons and foothills in II century BC And the highlands of Caucasus were referred to as “the land of Bulgarians”.
These data are supported by that, as noted above, Huns were organized in a strong political formation in Northern Caucasus already in III century, and, by the words of Procopios of Caesarea, Huns led by Bazuk (“Bazik”—stout, powerful) and Ambazuk (“Embazyk”—the most stout, powerful) held the Darial passage in Transcaucasus in V century. Also, by the words of the Syrian author of VI century Zacharius the Rhethor, Bulgarians lived the territory of the former Hun state to the north of Derbent, being actually the descendants of Huns.
Great Bulgaria, the reign of Kubrat
Bulgarian tribes lived in Northern Caucasus from II century BC This follows from the written documents, but, taking into account that various tribes get fixed in the written sources not in the very moment they appear on that territory but much later, when they take a significant part in some historical events, it should be suggested that Bulgarians lived in Caucasus much earlier.
From III to VI century, there existed a Hun state in North-Eastern Caucasus, in Seaside Daghestan, from which Khazar Kahanat originated, later including almost all the Turk tribes of Northern Caucasus and the South of Russia. In V–VI centuries, an old Bulgarian state called in the Byzantine texts the “Great Bulgaria” formed in North-Western Caucasus, and first of all along Kuban (Fig. 11). Thus, Northern Caucasus of III–VI centuries was controlled by two Turk state conglomerates: that of Huns in the North-East, and the Bulgarian state in the North-West of Fore-Caucasus.
In V–VI centuries, the whole steppe Eurasia was engaged in permanent wars between the two largest associations of Turk tribes, the Eastern Kahanat in the depths of Central and Middle Asia and the Western Kahanat on the West of Sir-Daria and Ural, up to Danube and Northern Caucasus.
But internecine wars for superiority were also waged between the major kins within each of Kahanat. In the West-Turk Kahanat, it were the Ashina and Dulo kins. Their fighting in 630–631 significantly weakened this power and enabled some tribes to get free from the dominance of the Kahanat. Bulgarians were among the first to seize this opportunity, and they behaved as an independent tribe union already in 582–584.
Their leader was a rather far-sighted prince Kubrat. He was baptized and educated in Byzanth, where he lived for many years and had close connections with the court of Konstantinopolis and, as a Bulgarian governor, pursued his own policy protecting Bulgarians against the increasing Khazar power. Konstantinopolis also needed a reliable buffer separating it from the Khazars on the Eastern boundaries.
In 635, Kubrat united all the Asov and Fore-Caucasian Bulgarian tribes in an integral Great Bulgaria. Overall government of Kubrat is dated by 584–642. The written sources, coming from Byzanth, where Kubrat was always received with warmth and hospitality, tell that he ruled for almost 60 years.
In the very beginning of VII century, powerful Khazar conglomerate overrode Bulgarians. After the death of Kubrat, his sons Batbai, Kotrag and Asparukh separated, each settling in his own land with the subject tribes: Asparukh lived on Danube, on the territory of the former Scythia Minor, where Attila once dominated; Kotrag went up-river along Don and then to Volga, to the territory where the ancient nomadic culture of pra-Turk tribes formed somewhere deep in millennia. The eldest son of Kubrat, Batbai (Batian, Basian) remained in the native fatherland and soon surrendered to Khazars (Fig. 12).
According to Khazars themselves, as well as the scientists, experts in Khazar history, and Byzantine and Oriental authors, Khazars and Bulgarians were practically the same people and spoke one language. Medieval texts say that there were four kins of Caucasian or Kuban Bulgarians: Kupi-Bulgarians, Duchi-Bulgarians, Oghondor-Bulgarians, Chdar-Bulgarians. Noting that ancient Turk tribes often called themselves by the names of the rivers, scientists see the reflection of this tradition in these names too. But the guesses do not usually go beyond that one should mean Kuban Bulgarians under Kupi-Bulgarians, and there is no convincing explanation for the remaining terms. We suppose that Oghondor-Bulgarians were some Turk tribes living on the river Orkhon and later assimilated by Bulgarians. Duchi-Bulgarians are read by some authors as Kuchi-Bulgarians. In this case their name means the Turk tribes living on rivers Ku (Swan) and Chu. It might be the tribes Ku-kishi and Chu-kishi, i. e. “people from Ku and Chu”.
Some authors relate the name of Bulgarian tribe “Utigor” to the ethnonym of Digorians, who, by the words of Oriental scientists Rashid ad-Din and Makhmud of Kashgar, were a branch of Oguz Turks. In the “tsocking” dialect of Karachai-Balkarians and Digor languages, the word Chdar would sound as Tsdar (or Star, Stur). But this word means “big” (as in the name of a Digor settlement “Stur-Digora”—Big Digora). So, the name Chdar-Bulgaria must means “Bulgaria Major”, which is equivalent to “Ullu Malkar”, i. e. Great Malkar (Great Balkaria).
Ethnotoponymic heritage of Hun-Bulgarians and Khazars
The name of one of the Hun branches and Bulgarian tribe Kuturgu has left its trace in Balkaria, in the name of one of the most old settlements of Chegem canyon, Gьdьrgь. The name of Huns Masaha has remained as the name of Misak, a legendary hero and the ancestor of some Balkarian patronymic divisions.
The name of Khazars has remained in Balkaria in the name of a medieval town discovered near village Billim and studied in the 1930s. The settlement, or town, was called “Khazar-kala” (the excavators spelled it as “Gatsar-kala”). Khazar king Joseph wrote in IX century, that, in the South of Khazaria near Georgia, in high mountains, lived Khazar tribes called “Basi” or “Bas”. The name of this tribe is reflected in the name of another legendary hero of Balkarians, Basiat, which later became the designation of the aristocratic social elite in Balkaria, basiat. Probably, the Georgian name of Balkarians, Basiani, originates from the same tribe of Bas. The very name of modern Bulgarians is a self-reference of Balkarians even now. The name “Balkar” is known to all the neighboring peoples, coming to the Russian documents of the beginning of XVII century from them. The word “Malkar” equivalent to the name “Balkar” refers to inhabitants of Cherek canyon only, for the inhabitants of other canyons. Besides, some linguists assert that the language of Bulgarians is of the “tsocking” type, like the Balkarian dialect of Cherek canyon.
The names of some branches and tribal groups of Bulgarians remain in the names of Karachai-Balkarian settlements: Chilmas, Bulungu, Hurzuk, Uchkulan, Bitturgu, Billim and many others.
The name of Bulgarian king Asparukh means in Karachai-Balkarian “Proud”, “Majestic” (derived from “ospar”). In Danubean Bulgaria, there are, for example, such hydronyms as Kam-chai (Kamchia), which means “river Kam”. A similar river name exists in Upper Chegem. In Bulgaria, there is a settlement called Karnovat, which corresponds to the name of an old Balkarian settlement in upper reaches of Cherek, Kurnaiat. The name of Karachai settlement Mara coincides with the name of a Bulgarian country. Also, the name of Bulgarian country “Karachala obasi” means “Karachai graves”. There are quite a lot of such facts.
Archeological indications to Bulgarians in Balkaria and Karachai
The main population of Khazar Kahanat in the South-Russian and Fore-Caucasian steppes was the Turk-speaking tribes of Bulgarians and Alans. Somewhere in the end of 30s of VIII century, Khazars moved their capital from Seaside Daghestan to Volga. Probably, they were driven to the ancient land of origin of pra-Turk tribes between Volga and Ural, beside the external pressure of Khazar-Arabian wars, by the “voice of blood”.
The largest archeological monument of Khazar Kahanat in Northern Caucasus is the well-known Bulgarian town of Humara on the right bank of Kuban near settlement Humara. This fortified town was surrounded by a strong stone wall, which was from 3.5 to 6 meters thick. The life was active on this site during VIII–X centuries, though some traces of settlements ascend there to the deep antiquity.
In Humara, archeologists have excavated many kinds of dwellings, from stone buildings to nomadic yurts and half-dugouts. Numerous types of old burials have been described, such as stone vaults, rock burials, ground-dug graves and others. It should be noted that many graves had the bottom covered with felt, which reminds the same burial tradition of nomads in Northern
Caucasus in III millennium BC
Near Humara, many runic inscriptions left by Turks have been found, which are phonetically close to “tsocking” dialect of Karachai-Balkarian.
All the findings known, as well as the data of written sources, speak that Humara was a largest military-political and culture-economic center of Caucasian Bulgarians and the Khazar Kahanat in general.
Numerous archeological traces of Bulgarians are known all around Humara. More than 10 Bulgarian settlements near Kislovodsk should be mentioned, as well as in the country Tagamtsik, in the head of Indish (in the area of Indish-bashi, Jashirin-kala etc.), on the river Ullu-kam (the source of Kuban) in Karachai.
As numerous Bulgarian antiquities are known in Balkaria, such as the settlements near villages Lower Chegem and Lashkuta, the burials near village Kashkha-tau, a settlement and graves near village Upper Chegem and others. Similar findings have been made near the so-called Elkhot gate, near village Arhudan on the territory of present Northern Ossetia, and near Maisky city on the territory of modern Kabarda.
The traces of Bulgarians in the traditional culture of Balkarians and Karachais
Judging by the constructions on the site of old town near Humara and other archeological sites, ancient Bulgarians were prominent masters of stone architecture. They skillfully cut stone, making huge stone blocks tightly fit to each other in the foundations of their buildings. This skill of ancient Bulgarians, reflected in the monuments of Balkaria and adjacent regions, has been in a quite full measure preserved at modern Balkarians, and especially in Cherek canyon. Maybe this is why other Balkarians call them “hunachi malkarlila”, that is, Balkarian masons.
Another specific feature of the material culture of Bulgarians was constructing frame dwellings of whole-tree logs. This peculiarity is exactly reproduced in Karachai, being just a distinctive feature of Karachais in modern ethnography of Caucasus, though frame buildings are occasionally met in Baksan and, less often, Chegem canyons adjacent to Karachai. Such dwellings are unknown in Eastern Caucasus.
A very important Bulgarian-Karachai parallel is that Asparukh Bulgarians called the place of their first settlement on Danube “Eski-Jurt”, i. e. old native land. This is exactly the name of the settlement founded by the legendary Karachai ancestor Karchi in the upper reaches of river Archiz.
The traditional culture of Karachais and Balkarians is replete with many such Bulgarian parallels. For instance, this refers to felt articles, the elements of the clothes (fur edging of caftans, wide dresses resembling kimono, shirts, rug shawls called just like in Karachai-Balkarian, “jauluk”), as well as women’s decorations (such as the earrings in the form of the question mark), and so on.
There is also much in common in the traditional food, like sour milk, airan etc.
Hun-Bulgarians and Khazars in the genealogical legends of Balkarians and Karachais
The legend about the origin of Balkarians tells how a hunter called Malkar, while hunting a deer, encountered an Alpine settlement of mountaineers “Taulu” situated in a beautiful mountain valley. Malkar lived in peace with them. Soon, some Miasma came to them from the Daghestan plains (the Huns’ ethnonym “Massaha” can be easily read in that name). Having perfidiously seized the sister of Malkar brothers, he brought all his tribe there. Then two brothers, Basiat and Badinat came to them from North-Caucasian steppes. Basiat stayed in Balkaria and became the ancestor of Balkarian princes, while Badinat went to the neighboring Digoria. This was how the “malkar el”, i. e. Balkarian society, finally formed.
This legend reflects quite scientifically explainable process of the formation of Balkarian people as a mixture of local tribes and Bulgarians, Huns and Khazars. The latter are reminded by the name of the legendary Basiat (“Basi” is Khazar for “tribe”, “at” is the Turk plural indicator).
Badinat, having gone to Digoria, married a Karachai princess of the Krimshaukhalov family, and seven sons were born from this marriage: Kubat, Tugan, Abisal, Kaban, Chegem, Karajai, Betui. They became the ancestors of the seven prince families of Digoria. So Balkarian, Karachai and Digorian princes appear to be relatives.
All the facts presented in this section, as well as other materials, leave no doubt that Hun-Bulgarian and Khazar tribes have contributed into the formation of Karachai-Balkarian people. One more, and very important, (third) stage of the genesis of Balkarians and Karachais is associated with that.