Nations of Dagestan

Mikhail Nokhov Gymnasium # 1 Khasavyurt

Land of dreams and myths Dagestan is situated in the North-East of the Caucasus mountain range. It borders the Caspian Sea in the East, the Chechen Republic and Stavropol Territory in the West, the Kalmukya Republic in the North, and Azerbaijan and Georgia in the South. The republic measures 50.300 square km and had 37.5 inhabitants per square km in 1989. 28 percent Avar, 16 percent Dargin, 13 percent Kumyk, 11 percent Lezgi, 9 percent Russian, 5 percent Lak, 4 percent Tabasaran, 4 percent Azeri, 2 percent Nogai and others (1989). Rural population: Avar 69 percent, Dargin 69 percent, Kumyk 54 percent, Lezgi 52 percent, Lak 34 percent, Tabasaran 63 percent, Nogai 81 percent and Rutul 69 percent (1989).

It is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in the world, counting 36 ethnic groups and 80-odd nationalities. Dagestan was the center for Islam in the North Caucasus and the capital, Makhachkala, is the seat of the Muslim spiritual board of Dagestan and the North Caucasus. The Dagestan landscape changes from high mountains in the South to flat steppe land in the North. Because there is no easily accessible pass over the Caucasian mountains, the coastal plain of Dagestan, bordering the Caspian Sea, is an important North-South passage. The mountainous areas are still extremely isolated, notably in winter.

Dagestan is the largest republic in the region with almost two million people. It is a highly multiethnic republic with 10 groups sharing power. Many of the smaller peoples have been assimilated by bigger ones. This has happened mainly through lack of official recognition in terms of official registration as well as in terms of language. Dagestan still has a strong Islamic identity of the more conservative kind and the clan structure is still functioning and is the foundation for today's ethnic structure. Birth rates are high - the population has doubled in the last 30 years - and there is an increasing pressure on land.

The capital of Dagestan Makhachkala. The population in Makhachkala is about 400 000.It is seaport and main industrial and cultural centre of the country. Makhachkala is situated between the Tarki mountainside and Caspian sea. Climate is transitive from sea to continental. Winter is soft; average temperature of January-1C. Summer is very warm , dry; average temperature of July +24 C.

Makhachkala, Petrovskoye in the past, was founded by Peter I in summer 1722. In 1857 it was renamed as Port- Petrovsk and in 1921 it was again renamed in Makhachkala to honor one of the local revolutionaries. Since then it became the official capital of the Dagestan Republic. Makhachkala has a number of industries, different universities , cinemas, theatres and museums. Makhachkala is the largest railway junction in Dagestan on a turnover of goods. Makhachkala is the main seaport on Caspian sea, where the new seaport of the International value now is under construction. In a city boundaries the international airport is constructed.

The Avars

The self-name is the Maarulal. The Language is the Avarian. The Avars (577 thousand persons were in 1996; the Iberian-Caucasian language group) are settled in the central and western Dagestan, in the basin of the Sulak river inflows. The Andian (the Andians, the Akhvakhs, the Bagulals, the Botlikhs, the Godoberins, the Karatins, the Tindals, the Chimalals) and the Didoian (the Bezhtins, the Ginukhs, the Gunzibins, the Khvarshins, the Tsezy - Didoians) nationalities and the Archins are related with them by origin, culture and language

They occupy basins of the rivers Andijskoe and Avarian Koysu and the Kara-Koysu riverhead. Traditional occupations are: cattle breeding and agriculture. Crafts: cloth weaving, pileless carpets and carpet products (the Khunzakh, the Chirkey, the Urma), pattern knitting (the Tlyrata, the Bezhta, theTsumada), manufacture of felt, felt cloaks (the Andians), processing of a leather, wood and stone engraving (the Sogratl, the Rugudja, the Gidatl, the Charoda), blacksmith's craft, copper embossing, weapon, jeweler crafts (the Gotsatl, the Ichichaly, the Gamsutl, the Chokh, the Sogratl), gold sewing (the Chokh, the Khunzakh), a wood peening (the Unzukul). Diversified economy present by: cattle breeding, field husbandry, gardening. Most of the Avars are employed in the industry.

During the Soviet times the Avars preserved an Islamic and the Sufi way of life. In some places the sheiks and the theologians as bearers of the Islamic traditions has survived prosecutions. Privately many settlements had a mosque. Now mosques actively are under construction, the Arabian literacy is distributed. The main Muslim holidays - the End of Fasting and the Sacrifices are widely celebrated. The Prophets birthday also is popular among the Avars. The Saints cult is also widespread. Some elements of pre-monotheistic beliefs still exist: belief in demons, observance of agricultural and family ceremonialism.

The Dargins

The Dargins are considered to be an indigenous people of the Caucasus, that lived relatively isolated from foreign influence until the beginning of the great Arab conquests in the 8th c., when they were exposed to Islam for the first time. From the 14th c., they were controlled politically by the Kaytaks, who are now considered a sub-group of Dargins. Although introduced to Islam in the 8th c., the Dargins remained primarily animist until the 15th c., when Muslim influence became stronger, with Persian traders coming in from the south, and the Golden Horde increasingly pressing from the north.

In the 16th c., the Ottoman Turks occupied the area, and also helped to consolidate Islam. By the 19th c., all but a few of the Dargins had been converted to Islam. The Dargins refused to participate in programs to relocate them out of the highlands and into lowland towns and collective farms. Thus, the majority of the Dargins still maintain a traditional lifestyle.

The Kumyks

The Kumyks live in the Republic of Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia and North-Ossetia. The Kumyks are divided into three traditional groups: The northern Kumyks (Khasavyurt dialect), the central Kumyks (Buynaksk dialect) and the southern Kumyks (Kaytak dialect). Language: Kumyk (3 main dialects + more), mutually intelligible with Azeri/Azerbaijanian Religion:Sunni-muslims, a few Shia Muslims

The Kumyks probably originated from a mixing of the indigenous Caucasus peoples with Turkic-speaking people, that started with the 5th c. migrations of Turkic and Mongolian people heading west across the steppes of Central Asia. Between the 11th and 13th c., the Kumyks strengthened their sense of ethnic identity and moved into the lowlands of the steppes in the North Caucasus. The rate of urbanization is high among the Kumyks, but still, they have maintained a strong sense of ethnic identity. The vast majority of them use Kumyk as their first language, and Kumyk is actually also being adopted by large numbers of individuals of neighboring groups, especially Dargins and Avars.

The Lezgins

The Lezgins live in Dagestan. Neighboring ethnic groups are: the Tsakhurs, the Rutuls, the Aguls, the Tabasarans and the Azerbaijanians. There are three sub-groups, all with distinctive dialects: the Kurin, the Kuba, and the Akhty (Sumar). Before the Russian revolution, also the Aguls, Rutuls and Tabasarans were counted as Lezgins Language: Lezgin (three main dialects). Most Lezgins are bilingual with Azeri as second language. Religion: Sunni-Muslims, also Shia Muslim minority concentrated in one region.

The Lezgin ethnic group probably resulted from a merger of the Akhty, the Alty and Dokus Para federations, and some clans from among the Rutuls. Although they were first introduced to Islam perhaps as early as the 8th c., the Lezgins remained primarily animist until the15th c., when Muslim influence became stronger, with Persian traders coming in from the south, and the Golden Horde increasingly pressing from the north. In the 16th c., the Ottoman Turks occupied the area, and also helped to consolidate Islam. By the 19th c., the Lezgins had all been converted to Islam, and they have since then been very devout in their faith.

The Laks

They live in Lak, Kuli and New Lak regions of Dagestan and Stavropolsky Krai. Neighboring ethnic groups are the Avars and the Dargins. language: Lak (5 main dialects), closely related to Dargin, belongs to Nakhsko-dagestanian group The Laks are one of the indigenous groups of the Caucasus, probably descendants of the Gumik tribe. They were first introduced to Islam through Arab traders in the 8th c., but the majority kept their traditional beliefs. More Muslim influence came with Persian traders in the 15th c., and with Mongol invasions in the 16th and 17th c.

The Laks were slower than most other Dagestani peoples in adopting Islam, however, and not until the mid-1800s they had been thoroughly converted, religiously and culturally. Coming late, they still developed a very strong and devout faith. The Laks had their own semi-independent principality, known as the Shamkhalat, on the Southern border of the Golden Horde from the 14th c. They expanded to the northeast in the 15th c., and came to control a large amount of Kumyk land. In the beginning of the 19th c., the Laks fought to resist the increasing Russian influence, but to no avail. In 1865, Russia abolished the Shamkhalat and brought Lak territory under direct Russian administrative control

The Rutuls

The Rutuls live in 20 villages of the Rutul District on the upper reaches of the River Samur in South Dagestan (19,5 th. p.) The region inhabited by the Rutuls is not ethnically homogeneous. Interlaced with Rutul villages are settlements of Laks, Azerbaijani and Lezgi people. Two Rutul villages, Shin and Kainar, are situated in Azerbaijan. The biggest Rutul villages, Rutul, Borch, Khnov, Luchek, Ikhrek, Amsar and Mjukhrek, are on the banks of the Rivers Samur, Ahty-Chai and Kara-Samur

Like everywhere in the Caucasus, the climate is severe - cold winter, cool, foggy and windy in summer. In winter all communication with the outer world is broken off. There are numerous pastures on the mountain slopes as well as occasional forests. Neighbours are the Laks to the north, the Dargwas to the north-east, the Lezginst to the east, the Azerbaijanis to the south and the Tsakhurs to the west. The self-designation is mjukhadar meaning 'an inhabitant of the Mjukhad village'. Among the Lezgins and Azerbaijan the village is known as Rutul, hence the internationally recognized name for the people. The Rutul language has numerous dialects, and belongs to the Lezgian -Samur subgroup of the Dagestan languages. At present the majority of the Rutuls recognize their ethnic unity, although the inhabitants of some bigger and older villages still apply to themselves their village names. The Rutuls have no written language.

The Aguls

The self-name is the Aguls; the Agular is the nation in Russia. They are indigenous population of Dagestan. The Aguls live in the central part of southeastern Dagestan - in the Agul, the Kurakh and the Derbent areas - in remote gorges or in cities. A total number of the Aguls is 18.7 thousand people. The traditional occupations are agriculture and cattle breeding. The crafts are wood-working, stone processing, carpet weaving, patten knitting and manufacture of leather. By religion the Aguls are the Moslems-Sunni.

Rather large sizes of the Middle Age monuments on the Agul area and huge quantity of the deserted terraces in vicinities of these settlements testify to intensive agricultural development of the given area and various kinds of craft manufacture. "The day of the first plough" was the most important point of the ploughing. In different districts this day fell on different calendar day. The Entry into the field was accompanied by a number of archaic ceremonies, celebrations etc. The celebrations lasted for two days. Only after that the home-folks could start the field works.

The Tabasarans

In the foothills of northeast Dagestan and in the mountains of the Darvag, Rubas, Chirah-Chai and Karchag-Su rivers, there is a people whose self-designation is Tabasaran (tab - 'top', saran -- 'district'. The Tabasaran language belongs to the southeast group of Dagestan languages (the Lezgi-Samur languages). Administratively, the Tabasarans do not inhabit a single defined territory but are spread through the Tabasaran (centre, Khuchni) and Khiv (centre, Khiv) districts of Dagestan. In the former, there are 98 Tabasaran settlements, in the latter, 25

Most Tabasarans, however, still live in their ancient region where the people are united by a common economy and language. Nevertheless, Tabasaran rural life is not without problems. The development of agriculture and gardening, as well as the onslaught of Soviet ideology, caused many changes in the domestic situation and mentality. An increase in crop capacity has diversified and enlarged the food supply, living standards have risen, all of which have facilitated the use of manufactured goods in households. Food is vegetative (grain, beans, wild-growing grasses) and meat-and-milk. The basic daily dish is khinkal with meat and without meat. The basic drink is airan.

The Andians

The Andians call themselves the Andal, the Andny, the G'vanal. They live in Russia. The Andians have 25 thousand persons of population. The Andians is the aboriginal population of Dagestan; they are related with the Andian nations. The Andians speak the Andian language. There are 7 patois, which are united in 2 dialects - the Upper Andian and Lower Andian. The writing is based on the Russian writing. The Avarian, Russian and Chechen languages are common among the Andians. The Religion is the Islam of the Sunni kind.

The traditional occupations of the Upper Andians were agriculture and the Alpine cattle breeding and the Lower Andians - the specialized gardening. Traditional family is not large. Traditional settlements are dense. Village of Andy, as other settlements, has traditional medieval city topography. The Andians wear the Avarian type of clothes. The products of agriculture and cattle breeding, vegetables and fruits are the basis of the Andians nutrition. Dishes basically are local and the Caucasian. Traditional entertainment is a horse gallop. The most significant events are weddings, the First Furrow Celebration, the End of the Fasting. The Andians have kept belief in magic and different spirits. Folklore is bilingual (the Andian and the Avarian).

The Nogai

The Nogai, often called the Caucasian Mongols, are a Turkic people and an important ethnic group in the Dagestan region who speak the Turkic Nogai language. They are related to the Crimean Tatars. Caucasian Mongols is the Mongol horde that controlled the Caucasus, when the Mongol arrived in the region. The Nogai are descendants of Kipchaks who mingled with their Mongol conquerors and formed the Nogai Horde. Most Nogai are Sunni Muslims. The name Nogai is derived from Nogai Khan, a general of the Golden Horde. Kipchaks are an ancient Turkic people, first mentioned in the historical chronicles of Central Asia in the 1st millennium BC.

Their language was also known as Kipchak. Nogai Khan aka Kara Nogay (died 1299) was a Khan of the Golden Horde and a great-grandson of Genghis Khan. The Nogai separated from the Golden Horde in the fourteenth century. Until the sixteenth century their nomadic pastures were located easy of the Volga when they came under territorial pressure from Kalmyks and Russians. They came under the rule of the Crimean Tatars, and in the eighteenth century were finally pressured into the Caucasus region by Kuban Cossacks. Some of their summer pasturelands are located in Kalmykia. They mostly live in Nogai region in the north of Dagestan.