Balkars


Balkars
   Ethnic group. The Balkars are a Turkic ethnic group of some 108,000 inhabiting the North Caucasus. They are sometimes referred to as Malkars, though many self-identify as Taulu (“mountaineers” in Karachay-Balkar). They are one of two titular peoples of the Republic of Kabardino-Balkariya (KBR), which they share with the much larger, indigenous Caucasian ethnic group, the Kabardins.
   Balkars are closely related to the Karachays; both groups speak dialects of the same language (Karachay-Balkar), which is part of the Kypchak branch of the Turkic language family. They are thought to be descendents of the ancient Bulgars who migrated to Europe from Asia beginning in the 2nd century. The Balkars adopted Sunni Islam comparatively late, being animists until the 18th century. However, their attachment to Islam has proved greater than that of their Kabardin neighbors who originally proselytized the new faith to them. Under Joseph Stalin, along with their Karachay cousins and several other North Caucasian nationalities, the Balkars were subject to forced deportations to Siberia and Soviet Central Asia during World War II. Of the 37,000 originally deported, more than a quarter died in the first year. After their return from Central Asian exile, their numbers were greatly reduced. In 1991, the Balkar National Congress campaigned unsuccessfully for the creation of an autonomous Balkariya within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. However, the imposition of consociational, that is, ethnicity-based, representation, which guaranteed high-level Balkar representation in the republican government, effectively assuaged the desire to quit the KBR during the 1990s, though calls for an independent Balkariya were raised again in November 1996.
   Today, the potency of Balkar national identity is on the rise, but since the Balkars represent a mere 9 percent of the population in Kabardino-Balkariya, they have few political outlets for their national renaissance. Some intellectuals have instead embraced panTurkism. The Balkars are part of the Assembly of Turkic peoples, alongside the Azerbaijanis, Kumyks, and Nogays.
   In 2005, approximately 1,000 Balkars protested in the regional capital Nalchik against the designation of two Balkar-dominated villages, Khasanya and Belaya Rechka, as suburbs of the capital. The move—accompanied by the murder of the Balkar mayor of one of the villages—was seen as evidence of the Kabardins’ creeping monopoly on power in the republic. Chechen separatists have frequently lent their support to the Balkar national cause, though within the framework of a larger (non-Russian) Caucasian federation or caliphate. Some disaffected Balkars have gravitated toward violent and nonviolent Islamism in recent years.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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