The Karachays are a Turkic people of the North Caucasus, mostly situated in the Russian Karachay–Cherkess Republic.
The Karachays (Къарачайлыла, Qaraçaylıla) are a Turkic people descended from the Kipchaks, and share their language with the Kumyks from Daghestan. In Turkic, "Karachay" means "Black River".
The Kipchaks (Cumans) came to the Caucasus in the 11th century CE. The state of Alania was established prior to the Mongol invasions and had its capital in Maghas, which some authors locate in Arkhyz, the mountains currently inhabited by the Karachay, while others place it in either what is now modern Ingushetia or North Ossetia. In the 14th century, Alania was destroyed by Timur and the decimated population dispersed into the mountains. Timur's incursion into the North Caucasus introduced the local nations to Islam.
In the nineteenth century Russia took over the area during the Russian conquest of the Caucasus. On October 20, 1828 the Battle of Khasauka took place, in which the Russian troops were under the command of General Georgy Emanuel. The day after the battle, as Russian troops were approaching the aul of Kart-Dzhurt, the Karachay elders met with the Russian leaders and an agreement was reached for the inclusion of the Karachay into the Russian Empire.
After the annexation, the self-government of Karachay was left intact, including its officials and courts. Interactions with neighboring Muslim peoples continued to take place based on both folk customs and Sharia law. In Karachay, soldiers were taken from Karachai Amanat, pledged an oath of loyalty, and were assigned arms.
From 1831 to 1860, the Karachays joined the anti-Russian struggles carried out by the Caucasian peoples. Between 1861 and 1880, to escape reprisals 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"; the Karachays were also allowed to form their own police force and establish a brigade that was to fight with the Wehrmacht. This relationship with Nazi Germany resulted, when the Russians regained control of the region in November 1943, with the Karachays being charged with collaboration with Nazi Germany and deported. The majority of the total population of about 80,000 were forcibly deported and resettled in Central Asia, mostly in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. In the first two years of the deportations, disease and famine caused the death of 35% of the population; of 28,000 children, 78%, or almost 22,000 perished.
Many Karachays migrated to Turkey after the Russian annexation of the Karachay nation in the early 19th century. Karachays were also forcibly displaced to the Central Asian states of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan during 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. Today, there are sizable Karachay communities in Turkey (centered on Afyonkarahisar), Uzbekistan, the United States, and Germany.
The Karachay nation, along with the Balkars and Nogays 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 are very proud of the symbol of their nation, Mount Elbrus, the highest twin-peaked mountain in Europe with an altitude 5,642 meters.
Like other peoples in the mountainous Caucasus, the relative isolation of the Karachay allowed them to develop their particular cultual practices, despite general accommodation with surrounding groups.
Karachay people live in communities that are divided into families and clans (tukums). A tukum is based on a family's lineage and there are roughly thirty-two Karachay tukums. Prominent tukums include: Aci, Batcha (Batca), Baychora, Bayrimuk (Bayramuk), Bostan, Catto (Jatto), Cosar (Çese), Duda, Hubey (Hubi), Karabash, Laypan, Lepshoq, Ozden (Uzden), Silpagar, Tebu, Teke, and Toturkul.
Karachay people are very independent, and have strong traditions and customs which dominate many aspects of their lives: e.g. weddings, funerals, and family pronouncements. They are fiercely loyal to both their immediate family and their "tukum". They will never offend a guest. Cowardice is the most serious shame for a male.
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 a closely related language, the Kumyk language. The majority of the Karachay people are followers of Islam.