On their social life

In Karachay-Balkar society, tribal relations and tribal lineage have a very important place. Traditionally, relatives do not allow a girl to marry from one family into another one for seven generations. For this reason, every Karachay-Balkar must know his/her forebears through seven descendants.

The Karachay-Balkars use the word tukum to allude to tribe or descent. Old and pure-blooded families have tribal names registered as tukum at. The name-giver of a tribe is usually a great-grandfather who lived some seven-eight generations earlier, but sometimes a grandchild who lived a few generations later changed the name. In this way, the originally related tribe may ramify into new related tribes, the newer branches being called atavul. The atavul tribes have a common ancestor (Tavkul 1993: 119). Sometimes some tukum tribal organizations unite in a large tribal group called Kavum. The larger clans known in the Karachay country include Adurhay, Budyan, Navruz, Shadibek and Tram.1

In the old Turkic societies, the genealogical history of clans is not finite, closed, but revised again and again. For economic, political or military reasons some clans unite and then the history of the clan’s descent is rewritten. In this way, the strength and economic-political significance of the original founders, the name-giving tribes is reinforced with the might of the joining clans (Krader 1966: 156). Such tribal organization typical of old Turkic societies can be observed among the Karachays.

When alien tribes also joined a clan, the Karnash tukum or ‘brother tribes’ came about. An example is the joining of the Silpagar and Kappush tribes to the Navruz clan whose ancestors had acknowledged Navruz and claimed to descend from him. The forefather who gave his name to the Silpagars, Silpagar was appointed grandson of Navruz, schematically: Navruz → Zhigitchi → Endrevuk → Silpagar. Equally for the Kappushs tribe, Kappush was declared to be another grandson of Navruz: Navruz → Zhigitchi → Nukkol → Kappush (Karačaevcy 1978: 234).

Admittedly, not all tribes of the Navruz clan derive from Navruz, but some had come to Karachay country from other Caucasian tribes. There is an Aji tribe among both the Abkhazes and the Kabards, but they also joined the Navruz clan from outside. From the Mingrel area of Georgia came the Gola tribe of Mingrel origin who were given shelter by the lord of the Karachays Kirimshavhal and eventually joined the Navruz clan (Habičlanı 1990: 4).

The Tambiy tribe of the Budyan clan also arrived at the clan from the Kabards. Though of Kabard lineage, they reckon with their genealogical history as Budyan→Tavbatir→Tambiy. Another tribe that joined the Karachays later was the Semen tribe who integrated in the Tram clan (Aliev 1927: 58).

The Bitda and Hasan tribes of the Shadibek clan both trace their origin to Shadibek. Legend has it that Hubiy of Mingrel origin married Bitda’s daughter from whom the Karachay Hubiy tribe issued, who joined the Shadibek clan later. Some researchers presume that the Hubiy tribe is to be traced to the Kizilbek tribe of the Abkhazes (Aliev 1927: 57). Among the Mingrels there is a Hobiya tribe. In the 19th century Douglas W. Freshfield paid a visit to the Svans and mentioned a tribe called Hubiyani (Freshfield 1896: 215).

It has been passed down by word of mouth that the two sons Hubiy and Hudtiy of Batirik, son of Shadibek arrived in the Caucasus from the Crimea at the time of prince Karcha. Hudtiy settled in Mingrelia behind the mountains, while Hubiy became assimilated to the Karachays. Though the Bitda tribe also trace their origin to Shadibek, they are also said to have come to the Karachays from outside. The tribe of the Hasans is also said to be of Crimean origin.

The Tohchuk tribe moving to the Karachays from the Kabards were later incorporated in the Sadibek clan, too. Several Tohchuk tribes are known among the Karachays, differentiated by genealogy. The Tohchuks tracing their descent to Kertibiy arrived in Karachay country together with Tambiyek after the legendary clash between Karcha, the leader of the Karachays, and prince Kaziy of the Kabards in the 16th century. The Tohchuks living in the village of Tashköpür claim they originate from Shavluhtolh, son of Genarduka, who had come to Karachay country from Besleney in the mid-19th century. In the late 18th century Hasan, the son of Dohsuk of the Kabard Kaytuk tribe, resettled in Karachay country and founded another tribe. This Tohchuk tribe was also known by the name Hasans in the 19th century. The sons of the Kabard Hasan are Tohchuks, and the Tohchuks coming from the Crimea are claimed by legend to be of different lineage each.

Those of identical origin regard each other as tukum yuvuk ‘tribal relative’ and do not marry even as distant relatives as those removed by more than seven generations. Those who issue from an identical atavul are the close kinfolk. Atavul kinship has a salient role in the Karachay-Balkar tradition.

In the land of the Karachay-Balkars each tribe (tukum) lived at a distinct place in the village established in a valley. The burial grounds of the tribes are marked off from one another, as are the cemeteries of the atavuls within a tribe (Tavkul 1993: 121).

Under time-honoured Karachay-Balkar traditions, strangers coming from outside were admitted in a ceremony by which they were inaugurated as members of the tribe. An outsider asking for admission touched the breast of the oldest and most deeply respected woman of the tribe and passed under sticks held by two male members of the tribe. From then on, the admitted person was regarded as tayak karnash, who could bear the name of the tribe and use the tribe’s tamga (Karačaevcy 1978: 215).

1 They unite the following tribes: Adurhay clan: Laypan, Orus, Batcha, Teke, Sidak, Erikgen, Bajchora, Tulpar, Kulcha, Dola, Choma and Bolat tribes; Budyan clan: Akbay, Bayramuk, Botash, Dekkush, Elkan, Chotcha, Bolur, Djanköz, Toturkul and Tambiy tribes; Navruz clan: Batdi, Bayramkul, Adji, Silpagar, Gola, Kochhar, Kappush, Gappo, Koban, Mamchu and Sozaruk tribes; Shadibek clan: Bitda, Hasan, Hubiy and Tohchuk tribes, Tram clan: Albot, Djanibek, Bostan, Korkmaz and Semen tribes.