The Karachay-Balkar

As pressure from invading Kipchaks and other Altaic nomads during the 10th to 14th centuries forced the Alans to head south towards the Caucasus highlands, some tribes inevitably became separated from the centralised Alan authority. While the bulk of Alans established themselves in the strategically all-important central trans-Caucasus region, roughly corresponding to today’s North and South Ossetia, the fortunes of tribes further to the west was not so good. As they became disconnected from their eastern contingent, they became subservient to the Kipchak Turks who were, at the time, raiding Circassian country in the western and central North Caucasus plains. Eventually, the Circassians reasserted themselves over the Altaic invaders, driving them deeper, further and higher up the slopes of North Caucasus mountains – into areas where the Alans had previously fled in order to escape them. With the Turkic nomads now themselves on the retreat, the Alans quickly absorbed the remnants of the once great Kipchak Horde along with their Turkic dialect, losing their own Iranic tongue in the process. These Turkified Alans are still to be found high up in the mountains of eastern Circassia. They continue to call themselves “Alan” but are better known to outsiders by the labels “Karachay” and “Balkar.”

Although, the Alanic language of their ancestors is now completely unknown to the Karachay-Balkar, an ethnic Alanic consciousness remains strong nevertheless – as do many aspects of Alanic culture, cuisine and tradition which the Karachay-Balkar continue to share with their Ossetian cousins. The fact that the Ossetians are now a predominately non-Muslim people while the Karachay-Balkar have since embraced Islam has further distanced the two kindred groups. However, it was only thanks to their complete mountain isolation from the Ossetians that the western Alans succumbed to the pressures of Turkification. And only thanks to the Christianisation, ethnic-cleansing and genocidal policies the Russians adopted against their unwilling Muslim subjects that the Ossetians lost their Muslim majority.