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Karachay patriarchs in the 19th century
Total population
300,000 (est.)
Regions with significant populations
 Russia 218,403[1] (2010)
 Kazakhstan 995[2] (2009)
 Ukraine 190[3] (2001)
 Turkey 50,000[4] (2010)
 Kyrgyzstan 2,400 (est.)[5]
 Uzbekistan 500
Karachay, Russian in Karachay–Cherkess Republic
Sunni Islam
Related ethnic groups
Balkars, other Turkic peoples

The Karachays (Karachay-Balkar: къарачайлыла, аланла - alanla[6]) are Turkic speaking people of the North Caucasus, mostly situated in the Russian Karachay-Cherkess Republic.


The Karachays (Къарачайлыла, Qaraçaylıla) are a Turkic people descending from the Kipchaks. Their Turkic language is the same as the Kumyks from Daghestan. The name "Karachay" in Turkic means "Black River".

The Kipchaks (Cumans) came to the area of the Caucasus in 11th century AD. The state of Alania was established in the Middle Ages and had its capital in Maghas, which some authors locate in Arkhyz, the mountains currently inhabited by the Karachay, while others place it in modern Ingushetia or North Ossetia. In the 14th century, Alania was destroyed by Timur and the decimated population dispersed in the mountains. Timur's intervention in the North Caucasus introduced the local nations to Islam.

In 1828 the Russian army invaded the Karachay's region. On October 20, 1828 the Battle of Hasaukinskoe took place, a bloody battle which the king's troops (under the personal command of General Emanuel and equipped with artillery) managed to win. Emanuel's troops killed or injured 163 people. The Karachay elders had taken steps to prevent the massacre of their villages. The day after the battle, when troops were approaching Dzhurtu, the Russians met with a delegation of elders. As a result of negotiations, an agreement was reached for the inclusion of the Karachay into the Russian Empire. Accession of the Karachay to the empire was considered a very important achievement of the king's generals.[7]

After this annexation, the internal self-government of Karachay was left intact, including its officials and courts. Proceedings with the neighboring Muslim people continued to take place based on folk customs and Sharia law. In Karachay, soldiers were even assigned arms, but were taken from Karachai Amanat and pledged an oath of loyalty.

In 1831–1860, the Karachays joined the bloody anti-Russian struggles carried out by the Caucasian peoples. In 1861–1880, to escape repression by the Russian army, large numbers of Karachays migrated to Turkey.

In 1942 the Germans permitted the establishment of a Karachay National Committee to administer their "autonomous region" and the Karachays were allowed to form their own police force and recruit soldiers for a brigade that was to fight with the Wehrmacht.[8] This rather warm welcome by the Germans resulted, in November 1943, in the Karachays being charged with collaboration with Nazi Germany. Most of a total population of about 80,000 people were forcibly deported and resettled in Central Asia, namely in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. In the first two years of deportation, disease and famine caused the death of 35% of the population. Of the 28,000 children, 22,000 (around 78%) perished.

Karachay elders, who were eyewitnesses to these events, described the times as follows; "Our exile to Central Asia was terrible. The war, the expulsion, the violence and the hunger but, the Karachai were proud and preferred to die rather than to beg, and thus disgrace themselves and their clan". At the same time, many of the Karachay fought in the Red Army against the Nazis.


The Karachay nation, along with its brother nation, the Balkars, occupy the valleys and foothills of the Central Caucasus in the river valleys of the Kuban, Big Zelenchuk River, Malka, Baksan, Cherek and others.

The Karachays and Balkars are very proud of the symbol of their nations, Mount Elbrus, the highest twin-peaked mountain in Europe with an altitude 5,642 meters.

Language and religion

The Karachay dialect of the Karachay-Balkar language comes from the northwestern branch of Turkic languages. The Kumyks, who live in northeast Dagestan, speak the same language, the Kumyk language. Most of the Karachay people follow Islam.


Czarist Russian annexation of the Karachay nation led to mass migration to Turkey in the early 20th century. Karachays were also displaced en masse to the then Soviet-controlled Central Asian states of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan after Joseph Stalin's relocation campaign in 1944. Since the Nikita Khrushchev era in the Soviet Union, many Karachays have been repatriated to their homeland from Central Asia. Karachays residing in Turkey have also migrated to numerous Western countries in search of economic opportunity. Today, there are sizable Karachay communities in Turkey (centered around Afyonkarahisar), Uzbekistan, United States of America, and Germany.

Character of the nation

The Karachay's isolated lifestyle among the Caucasus Mountains was one of the reasons for the establishment of the Karachay's unique character.

Karachay people live in communities that are divided into clans and families (Uidegi, Ataul, Tukum and Tiire). A tukum is a family's clan-based lineage and there are roughly 32 Karachay tukums. Prominent tukums include: Aci, Batcha (Batca), Baychora, Bayrimuk (Bayramuk), Bostan, Catto, Cosar (Çese), Duda, Hubey (Hubi), Karabash, Laypan, Lepshoq, Ozden, Silpagar, Teke, Toturkul, among others.

Karachay people are very independent in their behavior and adherence to their freedom. They have strong historically developed traditions and customs which regulate their lives: the wedding, the funeral, the pronouncement of family decisions, etc. They are fiercely loyal to their immediate family, as well, as to their "tukum" or clan. They will never offend a guest. Cowardice is the most serious shame for a male.


"The Karachay is a neutral nation, which lives at the root of Elbrus, and excelling by its loyalty, goodliness and bravery." - Leo Tolstoy, Russian novelist and philosopher, Omnibus Edition (anniversary edition), Moscow, Volume 46, page 184.

"The people of the right flank, knowing militancy Karachai and tempered nature, are afraid to touch them and live peacefully with them." - I. Zabudsky, Military Statistical Review of Russian Empire, Stavropol Province. P-Pb, 1851, t.16, ch.1, s.132

"According to their traditions, the Karachays will never offend women — there is no doubt of that." — Kosta Khetagurov, Collection of Works, Moscow, 1974, Volume III, p. 144.


See also

External links

  • An online Karachay networking site.
  • Ulu Cami: A Karachay Mosque serving Muslim Community in Northern Jersey (English)(Turkish)
  • American Karachay Benevolent Association
  • I. Miziev. The history of Karachays from ancient times.


Template:Turkic peoples

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