DWA 278:Oil and Politics in the Caspian Basin
Occidental College
Professor Walter Comins-Richmond




 

Ethnic Groups of the Northwest Caucasus

Abazas

Subgroups: Tapana, Ashkharawa (two different dialect groups).

Religion:Sunni-muslims
Language: Abaza (2 dialects); also Kabard-Cherkess language.
Language Family: North Caucasian: Abkhaz-adygian group
Homeland: The lion's share of the population lives in Karachayevo-Cherkessiya.

Diaspora:
Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon.

History:The Abazas are very close to, and often included in, the group of Circassian peoples (together with Cherkess, Adygey and Kabards). They are also very close to the Abkhaz, and both these groups call themselves "Apswa". The Abazas are aboriginals of the Caucasus, and until the 14.century lived on the Black Sea coast in the area between the rivers Tuapse and Bsybyu. From the 14.-17.century they migrated to the rivers of Laba, Urup, the Big and the Little Zelenchuk, Kuban, and Teberda in present-day Karachay-Cherkessia - their present location. Here they came into contact with Islam, to which the majority was converted during the 18th c. There was still a Christian population in the Ashkharsk group up to the 19th c.
The territory of Karachayevo-Cherkessiya was annexed by Russia in the first half of the 19th century, but Russian, Ukrainian and Cossack settlements had begun already in the 16th c. The Abazas were outnumbered already in the 18th c., and there were frequent smaller conflicts over land rights and cultural differences. During the Russo-Turkish wars in 1828-29, the Abazas along with the other Circassians fought against the Russians. The Abazas, living on the open steppes, were especially vulnerable to exterminatory attacks by the Russians. During the Shamil revolt from 1834 to 1858, the Abazas were split, as the Tapanta sided with the Russians, while the Ashkawara supported Shamil. In the 1840s and -50s, the Abazas still didn't have a defined territory, Abaza villages were to be found along many rivers. After the Caucasus wars of 1817-1864, 30-45,000 Abazas emigrated to Turkey. Also in the 1860s many Abazas were moved/deported from the mountains to the plains, where bigger villages were established artficially. By the end of the 19th c., the Abazas had been drastically reduces in numbers.
From the very beginning, Soviet policy was committed to the Russification of Abaza culture, but government attempts to assimilate the Abazas have not been successful. They are still committed Sunni Muslims, continue to function in traditional economic ways, speak their native language, and remain loyal to their family traditions.


Adygey

Subgroups: Strong sub-groups until deportations and oppression by the Russians in the 2nd half of the 19th c. Ethnographers still count ten Adygey sub-groups.
The Adygey are themselves a sub-group of the Circassian peoples, together with Kabards and Cherkess and Abazas.
Religion: Sunni-muslims.
Language: Adyge(y) (several dialects), similar to Cherkess. Closely related to Kabard.
Language Family: North Caucasian: Abkhaz-adygian group
Homeland: Population in the North-Western part of the Caucasus, a Western branch of the Circassians. Mainly live in the republic of Adygeya. Some also in neighbouring districts of Krasnodar kray.

Diaspora:
Turkey and other countries in the Middle East.

History:
Just like other Circassian peoples like the Kabards and the Cherkess, the Adygey are descendants of the aboriginal population of the North-Western parts of the Caucasus.
From the beginning of the 16th c., the Crimean Khans several times invaded the Adygey territory and subordinated the Adygey to their influence. This was also how the Adygey came in contact with Islam, and by the early 19th c. they had converted.
In the period until 1800, the Adygey were weakened by eternal elite rivalry, that also pulled the Russians into the area through alliances with various princes. In the 1820s, troops of the Russian tsar started to act more systematically to conquer the territory. The Adygey were united by the new struggle for independence, and their unity was further strengthened by islamism, which became an ideological basis of their fight for freedom. In the 1840s, the Adygey had military success and controlled the coastline on the Black Sea. It was not until 1864 that the Russians took control over the last of the Adygey villages. Adygey were given the choice of either leaving the mountains and resettle on the plains, or flee to Turkey. Many Adygey left for the countries of the Middle East.
During the Civil war, many Adygey fought with the Mensheviks against the Red Army, and from both sides there were many incidents of mass executions, burning of villages etc.
In 1922, Adygeya was established as an autonomous region in the Krasnodar district. It shifted several times between various administrative units until it again was placed under Krasnodar in 1937. In 1991, the regions status was upgraded to Republic.
According to the 1989 census, the region had the highest percentage of ethnic Russians (68%) of all the North Caucasian national territories. The titular nationality constituted only 22.1% of the population. The Kuban Cossacks, who for more than 200 years lived in close proximity to the Adygey, have had peaceful relations with the Adygey population. The Adygey share with the Kabards and Cherkess a mutually understandable Caucasian language, and all three groups often refer to themselves as "Adygey".

Balkars

Subgroups: Balkars, Bizingiyevs, Kholams, Chegems, Urusbiyevs (based on geographical location).

Religion: Sunni muslims
Language: Karachay-balkar
Language Family: Turkic 
Homeland: Kabardino-Balkaria, on the Northern slopes of the Caucasus mountains.

Diaspora:
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan.

History:
Historical ethnologists searching for Balkar origins suspect that they are descendants of a complex fusion of Hunni, Karachay, Kypchak, Khazar, Bulgarian, Alan and Caucasic peoples. Linguistic roots are both Persian and Turkic.
Until the mid-18th c., the Balkars were pastoral nomads who followed an animist religion. But then Crimean Tatars and Nogay introduced Islam among them. Because of ethnic tensions, the Balkars gradually migrated to higher altitudes in the mountains. During the years of the Shamil revolt in Dagestan (1834-58), conversion to Islam accelerated.
In 1827, Balkariya became the first North-Caucasian area to be conquested by the Russians. Due to large-scale immigration of ethnic Russians, more and more pastoral land was converted to agriculture, and the Balkars former nomadic lifestyle changed more and more towards farming and stock raising.
In 1921 the Balkar District was established under Soviet power. In 1922, it became part of the Kabardino-Balkar Autonomous province, that in 1936 was made an autonomous republic.
In 1943/44, many Balkars were deported and scattered throughout Kazakhstan and Central Asia, accused for having cooperated with the Germans. This caused a severe population decline. For a period the Balkars weren't even recognized as a separate people.
In 1957 - after Stalin - they were permitted to return. There are still a few Balkars scattered around Central Asia, but the majority now live in the Kabardino Balkar autonomous republic.
Today, the ethnic identity is growing stronger, but there is hardly any political outlet for it, as the Balkars constitute only 9% of the population in Kabardino-Balkariya. Because of that demographic reality, many Balkar leaders are opting for Pan-Turkic nationalism. In 1991, they joined the Assembly of Turkic peoples, which consisted of Azerbaijanis, Kumyks, Nogay and Balkars.


Cherkess

Tribal loyalties are strong among the Cherkess. The most prominent of the Cherkess sub-groups are: Abadzekh, Besleney, Bzhedukh, Gatyukay, Yererukoy, Kemgoy, Kheak, Nadkhokuadzh, Shapsug and Temirgoy.
The Cherkess are themselves a sub-group of the Circassian peoples, together with Adygey and Kabards and Abazas.

Religion: Sunni Muslims
Language: Cherkess (similar to Adyge), closely related to Kabard.
Language Family: North Caucasian: Abkhaz-adygian group
Homeland: Karachay-Cherkessiya, North West Caucasus.

Diaspora: North Africa, Middle East.

History:
Most likely, the Cherkess are descended from a cluster of Caucasian tribes who called themselves Adygey. They originated in the Kuban basin, adopted Christianity in the 12th c. They were pressed eastward by the invasion of the Mongol Golden Horde in the 13th c. Some of the Adygey mixed with local Alan peoples (from whom the Ossetians developed), and eventually became known as the Kabards. Those Adygey that stayed in the west, became known as the Cherkess. Early in the 16th c., the Cherkess came in contact with the Ottomans through the Crimean Khanate, and by the early 1800s they had converted to Sunni Islam.
During the mid-19th c., when the Shamil Revot against Russia spread throughout the Caucasus, the Cherkess maintained neutrality. But still, after the Russians had established firm control over the region in the 1860s, there was a mass exodus of Cherkess and other Circassians to Turkey.
The early Soviet period brought many changes to the Cherkess and the other Circassian peoples, as the region became heavily industrialised, and due to Bolshevik campaigns against Islam. Before the Bolshevik Revolution, the Cherkess were generally lumped together with the Adygey and the Kabards as a Circassian people, but in the 1920s, the Circassians were redefined by the Soviets into two ethnic groups, the Cherkess and the Kabards. Late in the 1930s, Soviet authorities again redrew the ethnic lines subdividing the Circassians, now creating three groups - Adygey in the west, Cherkess in the middle and Kabards in the east.
The Cherkess were subjected to a seemingly endless round of administrative manipulations designed to keep them separate from other Circassian peoples and at the same time always in a minority position within administrative borders. It started in 1922, with the establishment of a Cherkess AO that was almost immediately merged with the Adygey AO. In 1928, the Cherkess AO was reestablished, and later the Cherkess were combined with the ethnically distinct Karachay in the Karachay- Cherkess AO. The administrative borders thus separated the Cherkess from the other Circassians, the Kabards and the Adygey.
Karachay-Cherkessia was occupied by the Germans from 1943 to -44, and when the Red Army recaptured the area, Stalin decided that the Turkic peoples had been disloyal. Many Karachay were deported, accused of collaborating with the Germans. The Cherkess population was never deported.
The situation of titular nationalities in the Northern Caucasus has been complicated by the sharing of territory by more than one titular nationality (Karachay and Cherkess). They are currently in the process of negotiating their separation. Inter-ethnic relations in the republic have been relatively peaceful. Perhaps as a consequenc of this, representaitives of the non-Russian nationalities have devoted much attention to the development of national culture. As in Kabardino-Balkaria, the most prominent movement for nationality in Karachaevo-Cherkessia is that of a formerly deported group - the Karachay.


Cossacks

Subgroups: Before the 1917 revolution, there were 11 different Cossack "Hosts" (voysko); the Amur-, Astrakhan-, Don-, Transbaykal-, Kuban-, Orenburg-, Semireche-, Siberian, Terek-, Ural- and Ussuri-Cossacks. A similar status was also held by the Irkutsk and Yenisey cavalry regiments.

Religion:Russian Orthodox. Some Old Believers among the Don-, Ural- and Siberian Cossacks
Language: Russian. Many bilinguals.
Language Family: Indoeuropean: Slavic group
Homeland: Cossacks were not counted as a separate ethnic group in the 1989 census.
They are present throughout the Caucasus, Krasnodar Krai, Stavropol Krai, and many other southern Russian regions.

Diaspora: Ukraine

History:
The Cossacks were a unique phenomenon in world history. They consisted of several bands of free warriors of different ethnic origins, who roamed the vast expanse of the steppe north of the Black and Caspian seas. For centuries, they survived by constant warfare against the Tatars and the Turks, and later on behalf of whoever paid them. For two centuries, they made war at the will of the tsar, who dismantled their society and turned them into ordinary soldiers.

As the Golden Horde was beginning to break up in the late 14th c., Russia and Lithuania was expanding into Ukraine. They were frequently raided by Mongol and Tatar Hordes, and found that the best way to protect themselves against such raids was to hire other Tatars for their defense. The first Tatars in Russian service were the Ryazan Cossacks. Others were soon to follow. Emigrant Tatars provided Russia with soliders for border defense, paid by the state.
From the mid-15th century non-Tatar Cossacks appeared: As Slavic peasants began to migrate into Tatar lands, they also banded together in military colonies to defend themselves against Tatar raids. They copied Tatar organisation, weapons, style of warfare and the habit of piracy and began to call themselves Cossacks. Their frequent raiding made agriculture impossible, so they lived by fishing, hunting and piracy.
All of these Cossack communities were formed along the rivers that flow into the Black and Caspian seas; the Dniester, Dniepr, Don, Donets, Volga and Yaik, and they developed into separate "hosts" (voysko).
From the late 1500s to around 1700, the Russian tsars used Cossacks to escort envoys and caravans, raid the Tatars and recapture Russians that had been taken by them and to protect borders - without ever taking responsibility for their actions. They were dealt with through the Muscovite Foreign Office. The Russians feared that they might change sides, and accept employment with Russia's enemies, so the Russians did not dare to encroach on them to much. However, as Peter the Great sent the Don Cossacks against Azov, the Turkish threat was removed, allowing the tsar to make greater demands on the Cossacks and exert greater control. As Russia expanded into Don territory, Peter's increasing demands on the Cossacks led to uprisings among several Cossack hosts.
In the late 16th c., several other Cossack groups evolved out of the various original Cossack communities of the Don area. Among them were the Greben Cossacks and the Terek Cossacks in the south (with elements of North Caucasian culture), and later the Transbaykal Cossacks and the Amur-Ussuri Cossacks in Siberia.
The Zaporozhe Cossacks, living along the Dnieper river in Ukraine, were not derived from the Don Cossacks. Their Zaparoche Sich became a strong power in the 16th and early 17th c., and the Zaporozhe pirates even threatened Constantinople. The Zaporozhes also served as mercenaries for whoever paid them, and both the Zaporozhe and the Don Cossacks were involved, for instance, in the "time-of-troubles" in Russian history (1605-13), when they fought on behalf of "False-Dmitri" who claimed the Russian throne. At other times they forght against each other.
In the mid-17th c., a rebellion broke out among the Zaporozhe Cossacks against Polish rule in Ukraine, which dramatically improved their position in Ukraine, but eventually led to the Russian acquisition of eastern Ukraine. In 1653, the Russian tsar recognised the Ukrainian Cossacks as a "free people" not bound to Poland, and the year after, the Cossacks gave their loyalty to the tsar.
The Zaporozhe Cossacks remained fairly independent until the end of the 17th c., but grew closer and closer to the tsar. The tsar began to dismantle their regiments, and in 1699, he abolished registation altogether. After Cossack Hetman Ivan Mazepa persuaded the Zaporozhe Cossacks to join the Swedes against Russia, tsar Peter punished them by burning their Sich to the ground. Among new Cossack groups that then appeared in Ukraine were the Transdanubian Cossacks, the Black Sea Cossacks and the Kuban Cossacks.
Gradually, the various Cossack groups became simply a warrior class within Russian society. They were frequently uprooted by the government and sent to colonize new land. When the government ran out of Cossacks, it simply extended Cossack status to other segments of the population (immigrants, orphans, exiles, as well as Kalmyk and Bashkir tribesmen). By the end of the 18th c., Cossacks had a status similar to the minor Russian nobility.
Total loyalty to the tsar became a tradition among the Cossacks, but the revolution in 1917 divided them into those who still supported the tsar, those who supported the revolution, and a few who attempted to set up a Cossack state. After the revolution, the Cossacks lost their special status. They protested collectivisation, only to be mercilessly crushed by Stalin, who simply had a great many of them murdered. Several "Cossack" regiments were re-created in 1936, with hardly any connection traditional Cossack formation. These regiments fought unsuccessfully in World War II.

Starting with Gorbachov's Glasnost and Perestroyka policies of the late 1980s, and the burst of Russian nationalism that followed, there has been a revival of Cossack identity. Descendants of Cossacks started demanding tax-exemptions as reparation for what the Soviet state had done to them in the inter-war years. Other Cossack groups have appeared in places like Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Siberia and the Baltics to protect ethnic Russians against persecution by local ethnic groups, and to promote order.

Kabards

Subgroups: Kabard society has a strong hierarchical division, and strong traditions of a separate nobility. The Kabards are themselves a sub-group of the Circassian peoples, together with Adygey and Cherkess and Abazas.

Religion: Sunni-muslims
Language: Kabard (Greater Kabard, Mozdok, Beslan and Kuban dialects). Closely related to Cherkess, Adyge ++
Language Family: North Caucasian: Abkhaz-adygian group
Homeland: the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, Krasnodar krai, Stavropol krai, North-Ossetia

Diaspora: South East Asia, Western Europe, North America.

History:
Most likely, the Kabards are descended from a cluster of Caucasian tribes who called themselves Adygey. They originated in the Kuban basin, adopted Christianity in the 12th c. They were pressed eastward by the invasion of the Mongol Golden Horde in the 13th c. Some of the Adygey mixed with local Alan peoples (from whom the Ossetians developed), and eventually became known as the Kabards. By the 15th c., the region on the left bank of the Terek river became known as Greater Kabardia, while the region on the right bank was known as little Kabardia. Those living in the westernmost parts became known as the Cherkess.
Early in the 16th c., the Kabards came in contact with th Ottomans through the Crimean Khanate, and by the early 1800s they had converted to Sunni Islam.
In 1739, the Treaty of Belgrade established Kabardia as a neutral state, a buffer zone, between the Ottomans and Russia. In 1774, Kabardia became Russian territory through the Treaty of Kucuk Kainavci. During the mid-19th c., when the Shamil Revot against Russia spread throughout the Caucasus, the Kabards maintained neutrality. But still, after the Russians had established firm control over the region in the 1860s, there was a mass exodus of Kabards to Turkey.
The early Soviet period brought many changes to the Kabards and the other Circassian peoples, as the region became heavily industrialised, and due to Bolshevik campaigns against Islam.
Before the Bolshevik Revolution, the Kabards were generally lumped together with the Adygey and the Cherkess as a Circassian people, but in the 1920s, the Circassians were redefined by the Soviets into two ethnic groups, the Cherkess and the Kabards. Late in the 1930s, Soviet authorities again redrew the ethnic lines subdividing the Circassians, now creating three groups - Adygey in the west, Cherkess in the middle and Kabards in the east. In 1921, the autonomous territory of Kabardino-Balkaria was created, and in 1936 it was upgraded to an autonomous republic. The administrative borders thus separated the Kabards from the other Circassians, the Cherkess and the Adygey.
Kabardino-Balkaria was occupied by the Germans from 1943 to -44, and when the Red Army recaptured the area, many Balkars were deported, accused of collaborating with the Germans. The Kabard population was never deported.

The Kabards did not develop serious anti-Russian hostility in the 18th and 19th c. Their Muslim loyalty was much weaker than that of other groups in the Caucasus, and they have not developed a strong sense of pan-Islamic identity. Their national identity, however, is fairly strong compared to neighboring peoples.

Karachay

Subgroups: Numerous tribal affiliations until the 1943 deportation.

Religion: Sunni-muslims of the Hanafi school, trad. animist beliefs.
Language: Karachay-Balkar
Language Family: Turkic
Homeland: The Republic of Karachayevo-Cherkessiya.
Located in the north-western part of the North Caucasus highlands. In the east separated from the Balkars and the Kabards by Mt. Elbrus, in the north and west they border with the Cherkess, Nogay and Abaza, in the south with the Abkhazians and Svanetians.


Diaspora: Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Siberia, USA


History:
The Karachay are closely related to the Balkars, and also to Nogay and Kumyk.
Descendants of local Caucasian tribes settled since the Bronze Age and in-migrated tribes (the Alans, Bulgarians, Kypchaks), traditionally transhumant people.
After the Mongolian invasion Karachay ancestors were driven to canyons in the North Caucasus. In the 16-18th c., they resisted Crimean khans and had contacts with Dagestan, Transcaucasia, Greater Kabardia, and Russia.
The Karachay came under Russia's control in 1828 and many left for Turkey after the land reform of the 1870s which gave the Karachay land to tsarist officials. The Soviet administrative policy separated culturally and linguistically related peoples to prevent any resistance in the North Caucasus. Administrative units after the Revolution: Karachayevo Okrug (1920), Karachayevo-Cherkessiya AO (1922); Karachayevo Oblast (1926) had 55,000 Karachais and was liquidated in 1943 in connection with Stalin's deportations of the Karachay to Central Asia and Kazakhstan (tens of thousands died).
After the return of Karachay to their historical homeland in 1957, the Karachayevo-Cherkessiya AO was re-established. In 1991, the Karachay were completely rehabilitated and the AO assumed the status of autonomous republic. Karachay identify themselves according to the clan/canyon where they live (four clan groups) rather than with the whole ethnic group. Strong anti-Russian and anti-Soviet sentiment.
Karachay have perceived themselves as victims of prejudicial treatment, particularly with respect to entrance to universities and employment. They have been unable to assume socially or politically sensitive positions. The directors of many Karachay schools have been Russians. The Karachay have announced their desire to secure their separate autonomy and to secure "complete rehabilitation". The Karachay-Cherkess Supreme Soviet supported the Karachay demands and potentially conflicting territorial claims appear to have been resolved peacefully.


Nogay

Subgroups: The tribe identities are very strong among the Nogay - stronger than the Nogay identity. There are 4 major tribes - Bujak, Edisan, Jambulak and Edishkul, and 5 minor tribes - Mansur, Kypchak, Karamurza, Tokhtam and Novruz.
The Nogay can also be subdivided according to regional dialect-differences, with three dominant groups: Ak (sometimes referred to as "White Nogay"), Kara ("Black Nogay") and Archikulak.

Religion:Sunni-muslims
Language: Nogay (3 dominant dialects + a variety of others)
Language Family: Turkic
Homeland: Dagestan, the republic of Chechnya, Stavropol kray, Karachayevo-Cherkessia.

Diaspora: Turkey, Romania, Ukraine (Crimea).

History:
The Nogay first emerged as an ethnic group in the late 13th c., as descendants of the Golden Horde, specifically linked to a certain Emir Nogay. He was a Mongol general, controlling a vast area including the steppes west of the Caspian Sea. After he died in 1300, his region disintegrated, but the Nogay sense of ethnic identity survived.
In the 16th c., when tsar Ivan IV conquered Astrakhan and Kazan, the Nogay Horde split in two. One group was called the Great Horde and lived in the Lower Volga region, whereas the Little Horde occupied lands further South-West. The Hordes reunited under Crimean Tatar rule in 1634, as the Great Horde was driven southward by the Kalmyks.
During the 1860s, when significant Russian expansion into Nogay territory began, many Nogay emigrated to Turkey, Crimea and Romania. By the late 19th and early 20th c., the Nogay were being assimilated by surrounding Russians, Circassians, Kumyks, and Crimean and Astrakhan Tatars.
In the 1950s and -60s, the Nogay economy and way of life changed as state cooperative enterprises and collective farms became the norm, at the expence of their traditional semi-nomadism.
The Nogay have not been so deeply affected by the forces of ethnic nationalism in recent years as many other ethnic groups in the former Soviet Union, primarily because their identities as members of sub-groups are stronger than their Nogay identity.