Balkarians and Karachais as described by the travelers and scientists of XVIII century
A 1711 year, going from Taman through Cherkess lands, French traveler Henri de La Motrais reached a wide river “Kara Kuban”, also called by the guides “Great River”, i. e. “Ullu-kam”, which coincides with the Karachai name of Kuban at its source. By the words of the traveler, the local inhabitants in Tatar language, baked bread in ashes, ate horse-flesh, drank koumiss and airan. It is quite clear, that Karachais tare meant in this description. In 1736 and 1743, Kizliar noble man Alexey Tuzov visited Upper Chegem. Near to settlement, in one of the caves to which a rock ladder “Bitikle” lead, he saw “8 books kept in the chests, written on parchment, in Greek language”. One of them appeared a Gospel of XV century. Their remainders were later mentioned by Yu. Klaprot. The communities of “Chegem”, “Karachai”, “Malkar” and others were also mentioned in the documents of 1747, 1753, 1757, 1760.

In 1779–1783, Jacob Reineggs, who identified Digors with Bulgarians-Utigors, traveled in Caucasus and found the “Orubiy” community in the Baksan canyon. In 1793–1794, Balkarians were mentioned in the notes of academician P. S. Pallas and Yan Pototsky.

In 1773, academician I. Gьldenstedt left a detailed description of settlements, customs, customs, economy and household of Balkaria. In 1802, academician Yu. Klaprot described them too. The works of these academicians have not lost their value as original sources of information on the history, culture and economy of Balkaria and Karachai until now.

The interesting information about Balkarians and Karachais was left by Hungarian traveler Janos Karoi Besse. In 1829, he was invited by the general Emanuel to accompany him in his expedition on Elbrus. From his observations, Besse concluded about a close kinship of Digors, Balkarians, Karachais and Hungarians. He wrote, that “no other nation is so resembling Hungarians as Karachais and Digors”. In this respect, his observations completely coincide with the genealogical legends of Balkarians, Karachais and Digors about their originating from the same kin, from brothers and cousins Basiat, Badinat and Karachai princess Krimshaukhalov.
In 1745, leading historian and geographer of Georgia prince Vakhushti described the boundaries of Basiani (Balkaria) as follows: in the East, it was bounded by a mountain separating it from Digoria; in the South, it bordered on Svanetia; in the North, it adjoined Cherkessia; in the West, it was bounded by a mountain laying between Svanetia and Caucasus (he said “Caucasus” referring to almost all the mountains of Central Caucasus). Basiani, he wrote, was a country well regulated, with settlements and “population more noble than other ovs; there are landlords and serfs”. The main river of Basiani, he continues, flows down to Cherkessia, and then into river Terek. Thus, along with describing the boundaries of Balkaria, Vakhushti fixed the fact that river Terek and its tributaries, leaving the mountains, merge on the territory of Kabarda. The same circumstance was mentioned in 1837–1839, by Adyg scientist Khan-Girey, who stressed that river Terek passed the land of Adyg-Kabardins “on its leaving the mountains…”

(These boundaries are also confirmed by Kabardin archeological monuments, found exclusively in the plain and foothills. A. P. Ermolov built the Caucasian line of defense exactly along this line: Kamennomost, Baksan, Nalchik, Urukh and further).

By the data available, Russian-Balkarian relations established since the 50s of XVI century. Thus, in the documents of 1558, 1586, 1587 and 1588, Kabardin and Georgian embassies in Moscow are repeatedly mentioned to include interpreters, tolmachs (“tilmanch” means interpreter in Karachai-Balkarian), like “Kabardin Cherkess”, “Georgian Cherkess”, “Mountain Cherkess”, which could be identified, according to the sources, with the representatives of the “Five mountain peoples”, i. e. the inhabitants of Balkaria and Karachai. In the literature on Caucasus science, it has been established since long ago that by the names “Mountain Cherkess”, “Mountain Tatars” refers to Balkarians and Karachais.

Our conclusion that Russian-Karachai-Balkarian relations have their roots yet in XVI century is also confirmed by the fact that, already in 1590, the full title of Russian Tsar included the words: “…the sovereign of Iverian lands of Kartalin and Georgian kings and Kabardin lands of Cherkess and Mountain princes…”

In 1558, the staff of the embassy of Temrьk Idarovs’s children Saltan and Mamctrьk included some Bulgaryi-murza, who is not known neither among the children of Temrьk, nor in the genealogical books of Kabardin princes. Moreover, he was received in Moscow in a rather peculiar way. While Saltan was baptized and awarded an estate and other honors, Bulgaryi-murza was told that the same honors would be given to him too if he behaved as Tsar expected. Such attitude to this murza suggests the thought that it was not a representative of Kabardin princes, but rather one of Balkarian princes, of the Balkarukov family.

Russia, Balkaria and Karachai begin to intensively seek for mutually advantageous contacts in the period of energetic activity of Crimean khan in Caucasus. An invaluable testimony of such activity is provided by an inscription on a boundary stone plate dated by 1709. It says: “A territorial controversy occurred between Kabardins, Crimeans and Five mountain peoples. The Five mountain peoples are: Balkar, Bezengi, Kholam, Chegem, Baksan. Mountain peoples elected Aslanbek Katukov, Kabardins elected Zhabagi Kazaniyev, Crimeans elected Bayan Sarsanov, and they have made a Tцre (council—aut.) and decided: from the Tatar-tup country to Terek, therefrom to the Koban plain, therefrom to the pass of Lesken ridge, therefrom to the Narechie hill, therefrom to Zhambash and to Malka. The upper part belongs to the Five mountain communities. From Tash-Kalasi (stanitsa Vorontsovskaya—aut.) to Tatar-tup are the Crimean possessions. From Tash-Kalasi downwards are the possessions of Russians…”

The further development of Russian-Balkarian relations resulted in that Balkarians, the neighbors of Digorians, together with the representatives of 47 Digorian settlements, adopted the citizenship of Russia in 1781. It is interesting to note that Digorians did not adopt Russian citizenship together with the rest of Ossetians in 1774, but rather with their close relatives Balkarians. Probably, the consanguinity of Digorians and Karachai-Balkarians has played its role; Digorians often asked Balkarian Tцre for the solution of their important problems.

However, not all the Balkarians became Russian citizens then. That is why some Balkarian canyon, as the free areas, provided refuge for many Kabardin and other groups not agreeing with the policy of Tsarist Russia in Northern Caucasus, during the massacres of A. P. Ermolov, the commander of the Caucasian line. General Ermolov strictly forbade the disobedient rebels to escape and to settle in Balkaria and Karachai, which were not controlled by Russia. In order to subdue these countries and defeat the groups escaping from Ermolov, many settlements in Balkaria and Karachai were burned to ashes, after having been ruthlessly ransacked. Ermolov noted that he had many times to climb on his fours to make his way through the rocks in the upper reaches of rivers Chegem, Baksan and Kuban. All this did not allow Russia to conduct an active colonial policy, since Crimean khan could strengthen his influence in free Balkaria and Karachai. Finally, the intensive propaganda of Russian force and power produced its effect: on January 11, 1827, a Balkarian-Digorian delegation arrived to Stavropol, one representative from every prince family. This mission asked to give them the citizenship of Russia. In January 1827, the commander-in-chief of Tsar troops in Northern Caucasus general Emanuel year accepted the oath of Balkarian and Digorian taubis, reporting about it to Tsar Nicolas I.

By that time, Karachais, assured in the inaccessibility of their canyons and the support if Crimean khans, were a serious danger for the Russian troops on Kuban, being a mass of rebellious tribes. Therefore, the main attention of Emanuel was directed there. On October 20, 1828, he undertook a special military campaign against Karachai. The 12-hour desperate battle of Karachais (from 7 AM till 7 PM) finished with the victory of Russian army. General Emanuel made an urgent report to Nicolas I, saying: “the Phermopiles of Northern Caucasus have been seized by our troops, and the Karachai stronghold for all the rebellious tribes at the soles of Elbrus has been destroyed”.

By the data of Emanuel, Russian army has lost in this battle 1 senior officer, 3 corporals and 32 privates killed, and colonel Verzilin, 3 senior officers, 30 corporals and 103 men wounded.

On October 21, in the central aul of Karachai Kart-Jurt, the Supreme Ruler of Karachai Oli (vali) Islam Krimshaukhalov and the representatives of three leading Karachai kins have signed the oath of fidelity to Russia. Thus the process of the assimilation of Balkaria and Karachai by Russia has completed.

From the history of the social structure of Karachai-Balkarian society

An important place in the history of economic and cultural development, as well as the relations with the neighboring peoples and countries, is occupied by the social organization of the people studied. In some cases, as in the case of Karachais and Balkarians, the lack of written sources about that important aspect of life makes mainly the judgment by the data of archeology, ethnography, folklore and other adjacent scientific disciplines possible.

The archeological and ethnographic study of Karachai-Balkarian settlements allows to conclude that monogenic (one-family) settlements existing in the antiquity and in the Middle Ages gradually extended and transformed into polygenic (many-family) settlements, so that the transition from the kinship principle of settlement to the communal settlement of the neighborhood type was observed.

Simultaneously, there was the transition from small one-hearth dwellings to large many-hearth dwellings, and the inverse transition from large many-room houses to smaller dwellings could be observed later, indicating the process of setting apart small individual families.

The remainders of burials also tell about the transition from the individual to collective burials, with the inverse transition to separate burials observed later.

The emergence of on-surface burial constructions (mausoleums) named after particular princes and ancestors, indicates the formation of feudal relations and pronounced social stratification. The significant development of feudal relations is also indicated by Karachai-Balkarian towers, fortresses and castles named after their owners: Abayev, Balkarukov, Shakmanov, Shchiakhanov and others. The early fortifications of the communal phase gradually descended to the settlements in the plain. Like in the other regions of Caucasus, this indicates that feudal relations strongly penetrated the common life of the society.
Karachai-Balkarian society had a rather strict hierarchical structure: the princes (taubi) stood on the topmost level, free peasants (uzden) occupied a lower level, independent peasants (kara-kishi) were just below them, followed by bond peasants (chagar) and the people deprived of any property at all (kukla, karauash). Those born from a marriage with a peasant woman were called “chanka”.

Tцre, the national institute of self-government

We have mentioned the Tцre institute many times already. It was an original people’s forum, or court, regulating all the life and activity in Balkaria and Karachai. It consisted of democratically elected representatives of all the estates. In the head of Tцre, there was an elected most authoritative prince. Similar Tцres were and in every individual Balkarian community, and the Supreme Tцre supervised the whole Balkaria. Subordinated to the head of this Tцre, the Supreme Ruler, Oli (Vali), there were messengers informing the whole Balkaria about decisions made. Also, there was a military detachment, consisting of separate groups of warriors, brought in by each princes. Warriors assembled in the places called Basiat kosh. There they were had military training, trick riding and so on. Special detachments guarded the boundaries of Balkaria and went to fight for the native land by the order of Oli.

Tцre considered all the criminal and civil issues, pronounced the punishment, legalized new customs and rites. Thus, Tцre was a state institution, as well as an organ of law and self-government in Balkaria. The representatives of Karachai and Digoria used to come to Balkarian Tцre for discussing their most important problems.

The name of the Tцre institute came from the ancient Turk word “tцr” meaning “law”, “custom”. The word “tцr” also means “honor” in Karachai-Balkarian.

On the sessions of Tцre, the sentences for various wrongdoing were pronounced. Those convicted were quite often subject to one of the most shameful punishments, when the guilty person was tied to the “stone of shame”, “Nalat tash”, which was usually mounted in the most crowded place of aul, and each passer-by expressed his contempt to the condemned. Such stones were known in Upper Balkaria, in aul Mukhol, in Upper Chegem, in medieval settlement Kris-kam in the Baksan canyon. The photo of one of the “stones of shame” of Upper Chegem is exhibited in the exposition of Nalchik museum of local lore.

The social institutes of the common law

Various social institutes occupied an important place in the general system of common law at Balkarians and Karachais. Kinship relations were of special value among them. Foster-brotherhood was quite usual between the people not tied by actual consanguinity. Such people gave their children to their adopted brothers from the early age, so that they were brought up in their houses.

In the house of adopted brother, such children were treated as foster-brothers drinking the milk of the same mother. The mother was called “Emchek ana” (“milk mother”), and the son was called “Emchek ulan” (“milk son”). The whole institute was called by the common Turk word “Atalik”, i. e. “Fatherhood”. Ibn-Fadlan, scientist and traveler of the 20s of X century, noted the existence of such institute at Volga Bulgarians. The name of this institute became widely known in the languages of many peoples. Many Kabardin and Balkarian princes and peasants gave their children to the families of their friends in Balkaria or Kabarda, thus strengthening the friendship and mutual respect of the two peoples.
One more as beautiful institute of social relations was the habit of “kunakship”, taking its name from the common Turk word “konak”, “guest”. Kunakship, or hospitality, has been an integral part of the spiritual wealth of the peoples of Caucasus since long ago. The guest was considered as a person almost sacred, he was given all the best the owner of the house had. This feature of Caucasians was noted by many European scientists and travelers of XIII–XIX centuries. One could recall the example of Balkarian prince Pulad (Bolat), who dared to refuse to Timur himself demanding to give away the guest, Golden-Horde emir Uturku. The literature on Caucasus is replete with such examples.
Such social terms, widely known in the ethnography of Caucasian peoples, as “atalik”, “kunakship”, “uzden”, as well as the names of clothes, weapons and many others, illustrate the significant influence of Karachai-Balkarian ethnosocial culture on the neighboring peoples.



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