- Ethnic group. The Karachay are a Turkic ethnic group of some 190,000 inhabiting the North Caucasus. They form a plurality in Karachayevo-Cherkessiya, the ethnic republic that they share with the Circassian Cherkess. Karachays are closely related to the Balkars; both groups speak dialects of the same language, which is part of the Kypchak branch of the Turkic language family. Karachay are predominantly Muslim, often identifying less strongly with Islam than their Caucasian counterparts.As one of the punished peoples, the Karachay were deported en masse during World War II to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan; tens of thousands died on the journey or shortly thereafter. They were rehabilitated and returned to their reconstituted homeland in 1957. Today, ethnic identification remains tepid, crosscut by clan affiliation; however, Russophobia, a by-product of the deportation and exile, is a staple of the Karachay national identity. While the collectivization and deportation disrupted traditional social structures, the Karachay continue to recognize three principal societal stratifications: the largely extinct Bii (barons), the subaltern Uzden (yeomen), and the Kul (serfs); the latter group gained political dominance under Soviet rule. Since 1991, the Karachay nationalist movement Jamagat (Karachay: “Renaissance”) has advocated a separate Karachay republic; however, demographic superiority due to high birthrates and Russian emigration has sapped support for such plans in recent years.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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