How did the Karachay-Balkars get to Turkey?

At the end of the Russian-Caucasian war lasting for 270 years, large masses of the inhabitants of the Caucasus migrated to the Ottoman Empire. The exodus begun in 1859 affected Daghestanians, Chechens and Ossetians, but the migration to the Ottoman Empire in 1863−64 caused the greatest loss to the Adyghes, Ubihs and Abkhazes.

This exodus did not affect the Karachays living on the steep mountain slopes and deep valleys around the Elbrus.

To prevent the Karachays from raiding the Russian Empire’s areas from the forbidding mountains of the Caucasus, the Russians built defensive fortresses where the Kuban River reached the plain. That was how they put an end to the courages Karachay warriors called abreks raiding them from the Caucasian mountains.

Splitting the Karachay-Balkar people into two, the Russians attached the Karachays to the Kuban district and Balkars to the Terek District administratively in 1864.

When similarly to the rest of the Caucasian people the Karachays were supposed to relocate in the Ottoman Empire, they revolted. It took the Russians great efforts to suppress the revolt in 1873.

The Karachays who could not put up with suppression were forced to emigrate to the Ottoman Empire in 1885−86. In 1885 a group of 1500 Karachays submitted a petition to the Inner Ministry of the Ottoman Empire through their consul seated in Rostov with a detailed justification of their intention to emigrate.

The petition of the Immigration Department to the interior ministry dated 11 March 1885 concerning the Karachay group gathering in Rostov with the intention of emigrating to the Ottoman Empire reads as follows:

The humble servant of the exalted Interior Ministry is applying for the following:

A group of 1500 people consisting of Karachay and Cherkes families would like to immigrate to Adana county. That is why they are staying in the city of Rostov and have submitted a petition to our consulate. They are waiting for the permission from the Ministry of External Affairs that we mediated so that the Caucasian refugees shall not be deported to remote places and the mainland for settling. They are waiting for a reply to this matter.

24 Cemaziyelevvel 302 ve 27 Şubat 300

Bende Rıza

In May 1885 correspondence continued. The patience of the Karachays gathered in Rostov to move to the Ottoman Empire began to dissipate. Finally, the representative of the Karachays wrote a letter of petition to the Prime Minister’s office of the Ottoman Empire about their situation and asking for admission. The telegraph of 15 May 1885 arrived in Istanbul triggering off the following procedure.

In the Yıldız section of the Prime Ministerial Archives of the Ottoman period the official petitions to the Grand Vizier includes one numbered 770/2669 dated 19 Şaban 1302 (3 June 1885), to wit:

Rostov, to the Office of the Grand Vizier

Your humble servants the Karachays settled in the Caucasus have sold all our belongings in order that we might pursue our religion and future migrating with a passport to the area of the Exalted Porte. The consulate in Rostov is hindering our efforts to this end. Since we have sold our livestock and lands and all belongings indispensable for our subsistence and we are waiting in the streets, be so kind as to permit our immigration. This is what we are humbly asking for the love of Allah and the Prophet.

15 May 1885

Representing the Karachay inhabitants

Ümerâdan Tambiyev

Ümerâdan Haci Zekeriya Abayev

The first group of Karachay refugees arriving in the Ottoman Empire in 1886 were settled in newly founded villages around Tokat and Eskishehir: Arpaǰı Karachay and Chilehane belonging to Tokat and Yazilikaya and Ak­hisar belonging to Eskishehir.

Stampulçula Stampulga ketdile The emigrants arrived in Istanbul
Mında kalganlaga ne kıyınlıkla cetdile Those left behind suffered a great blow
Ol künlede bizge bolur bolgandı All happened that was to happen
Ak betleden kızıl nürle ongandı The red glow disappeared from the white faces.
Bizni elibiz kolan hudiyleden tolgandı Our village was filled with mottled devils
Ol künle maşharlanı künüdü Those days became the days of doom
Allay koturbaşnı ceti cahanim üyüdü The seven hells of those who were left alone,
Cılav boldu Teberdini ullu toyları The great feasts of Teberdi fell silent.
Mangıray kaldı Gata kıyınlını Poor Gata’s herds of sheep
Buv Ölgende koyları Go bleating in the valley of Buv Ölgen,
Teberdide kibik kara kozu soymayla No black lamb is killed in Teberdi any more,
Para almayın üy salkınlaga koymayla The houses do not give shelter for free.
Kemele kelelle bizni allıbızga çabhanlay Ships arrive almost flying to meet us,
Biz carlıla Stampuldan kalmay keterek Poor us, we didn’t want to stay in Istanbul,
Burun kibik Teberdini tabhanlay We wanted to find a place like Teberdi,
Oy igi sagan Teberdi kobannı tabared Wish to God we had found the river Teberdi.
Sıylı Şamda ötmek bla aşarga We would have eatern bread in the sacred city,
Carathan Allahdan buyruk tabared Almighty Allah would have ordered
Burun kibik tik künnümde That like in the old time, on top of the 
Ceti el bolub caşarga We should settle in seven villages.
Oy anam, anam eki eşiging şav bolsun Alas, mother, may your two gates perish.
Teberdi özeni şaytan avmaz tav bolsun The valley of Teberdi be a mountain 
deserted by the satan.
Mingenibiz keme bla maşina We have boarded ships and trains,
Biz barabız muhacirleni aşıra We are going to say farewell to the emigrants.
Oy Zulihatım, Zulihat Ah, my Zulihat, Zulihat,
Cılay kaldı Baraknı kızı Anisat She left Barak’s daughter Anisat weeping.
Oy anam, anam, seni eki eşiging  Alas, mother, mother, your two gates are closed,
Meni atam, izlegeningi tabhansa May my father find what he is looking for,
İçingden çıkgan eki balangı The two little children of your womb.
Gâvur koluna cuvuk cetmegen adamlaga  You have sent her to the land of gaurs, to an 
athansa alien land,
Oy anam, anam seni eki eşiging şav Alas, mother, mother, your two gates have 
bolgandı perished.
Cılay-cılay ol aruv sanlarım kuruyla My beautiful body is waning amidst tears,
Artımda kalgan carlı eki egeçim My two little sisters left behind
Oramlada it küçükleça uluyla Are whining in the streets like puppies,
Oy meni atamı eski üyünü eşikleri The gates of my father’s old house opened 
Kobanga açılıb on the Kuban river.
Kızdan aybat caşlarıng baralla  Young men fairer like lassies are walking 
cılab-cılab amidst tears,
Atçabhannı enişge çaçılıb Going astray under the Atçabhan.

Russia began to build the Trans-Siberian railway in 1891 and completed it in 1904, which lent it a great lead over China and Japan in the Far East. In the war of 1894−95 the Chinese defeated by the Japanese had to relinquish Port Arthur to the latter. This area had long been set an eye on by the tsarist government, wishing to annex it to Russia. Now they occupied Port Arthur and thus they had access to the Chinese Sea. Trying to put a halt to the advance of the Russians, the Japanese concluded an alliance with the British. Since the Russians did not want to withdraw, the Japanese declared war on them in 1904. On 3 January 1905 the Russians lost Port Arthur and the Japanese took 30 000 Russians of the tsar’s army as pows. Russia was beset with domestic disturbances and socialist demonstrations, forcing the tsarist government to end the war. The Japanese and Russians signed a peace treaty on 23 August 1905. The Russian casualties (dead or wounded or captive) amounted this time to 400 people.

For this encounter the Russians forcefully recruited people among the Caucasians, too. Karachay-Balkar youths were also included in the Russian army to spill their blood thousands of kms away from home in battles they had nothing to do with.

This event and the unrest in Russia urged a Karachay-Balkar group to emigrate to the Ottoman Empire.

The idea of moving to the Ottoman Empire and making pilgrimage to the Holy Land was disseminated among the Karachay-Balkars by those who had been in pilgrimage before and then started the “Let’s live in Islamic land” movement. The three pilgrims of the late 19th century returning through Istanbul where they had a glimpse of the mirage of the Ottoman Empire were the Bashchi Hadji from the Baykul family, Ishak from the Bolur family and Osman Hadji from the Gola family. Back in the Caucasus they immediately narrated what they had seen inspired in them the desire to emigrate.

In the early 20th century Ramazan efendi of the Kurgak family travelled to Istanbul to study the law of Islam. Turkish state officials promised support when the Karachay teacher held negotiations with them about the Karachays’ possible emigration from the Caucasus.

Despite the outbreak of the revolution in 1905, the Russian government allowed the Karachays to relocate in the Ottoman Empire. Avbekir of the Silpagar family, Ramazan efendi of the Kurgak family and Osman Haǰi of the Gola family distinguished themselves in preparing the Karachays around Teberdi for the emigration. Tuvgan Biy of the Karabaš family controlled the emigration of the population of Duvut and J̌azlik families.

The migrants set out in November at last. The first lap of the journey took them to the railways station Nevinka of the Russian Kozaks. After camping here for several days, they boarded cargo trains and travelled to the port of Novorossiysk on the Black Sea. Overcome by the cold of winter, the emigrants lived in dire circumstances. Some lived in felt yurts till the ships arrived which were supposed to take them to Istanbul. Typhoid fever and other diseases took their tithe among them, and most of the Karachays on the way left this world for good without setting an eye on Istanbul. The rest kept hoping while waiting for the ships on the shore of the Black Sea, singing laments like this:

İnşallah biz İstampulga keterbiz We hope to reach Istanbul. 
İnşallah Kara tengizden öterbiz We hope to cross the Black Sea. 
Biz İstampul’da zemzem kuyarbız  In Istanbul we’ll ladle the water of life in 
kumganga our vessel, 
Biz İstampul’da tüye soyarbız  In Istanbul our sacrificial animal will 
kurmanga be the camel.

In 1905 the Karachays left Novorossiysk for Istanbul aboard two ships. The group of 3479 people belonged to 368 families. They were followed by a group of 300 families in spring 1906 under the leadership of Ramazan efendi.

The two groups met in Istanbul in the first half of 1906 and went together to Konya where they lived in a refugee camp. The majority settled in Konya, a group went to Afyon and another to Ankara. Some of the latter group settled there but most of them went on to Eskişehir, where they found a real home.

As planned, out of the 400 Karachay large families who proceeded to Anatolia 212 remained in Bashhöyük near the village of Sarayönü belonging to Konya. Not much later another 46 families joined them. The Ottoman Empire built them houses and to support their start as self-subsistent farmers, gave them land and livestock.

The documents in the Istanbul archives of the Ottoman era reveal that the Karachays were not very happy to settle near Konya, some of them returned to their Caucasian home. Others asked permission to move on to join those who settled around Afyon and Eskishehir in 1886, and some simply fled there. As the appended archival document reveals, the Karachays could only be settled around Konya with force.

Today, the following Karachay villages are registered (county: village/district): Afyon: Doglat/Ichhisar, Ankara: Yaglipınar/Gölbashı, Eskishehir: Gök­che­yayla (Kilisa)/Han, Akhisar/Han, Yazilikaya/Han, Belpınar/Chifteler, Er­tugrul (Yakapinar)/Sivrihisar, Kayseri: Egisögüt/Pinarbashı, Konya: Bash­hüyük/Sarayönü, Sivas: Emirler/Yildizeli, Tokat: Chilehane/Resadiye and Sulusaray Arpadji/Karachay.

In addition to the listed places, Karachay-Balkars also live in Yalova in Chiftlikköy, Konya Eregli, Eskishehir Chifteler, and several districts of Mah­mu­diye, Tokat in Turhal, Afyon in Bolvadin, Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, Eski­shehir, Konya, Afyon, Tokat, Kayseri, Sivas province centres.

Picture 4. Three generation of Karachay women