Thursday, September 15, 2016

Turkic Peoples of North Caucasus May Again Have Common Language – and It Won’t Be Russian

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 15 – Kumyk, which served as a lingua franca for the many Turkic peoples of the North Caucasus prior to the coming of Soviet power, is now in a position to reclaim that status given the similarities of the languages spoken by these groups, the rapid growth of the Kumyks, and Kumyk exploitation of the Internet, according to Ramazan Alpaut.

            That has enormous consequences, of which two are especially important. On the one hand, it means that these peoples will feel under less pressure to learn and use Russian, the linqua franca Moscow favors even though it links the North Caucasians together, and at the same time greater attachment to their common Turkic roots and to Turkey and the Turkic world.

            And on the other, it sets the stage for heightened competition and potentially conflict with other nations in the region, especially since the two bi-national republics, Karachayevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria, include two Circassian groups, the Cherkess and the Kabardins, and two Turkic ones, the Karachays and the Balkars.

            The Kumyks, who have one of the highest birthrates in the region and number an estimated 700,000, are proud of their language because, being mutually intelligible for other Turkic peoples, have used in the past. They believe that it should become a recognized regional language in the North Caucasus (

            Prior to 1917, Kumyk was used by the Kabardinian elite and was even taught to future officers of the Russian Empire who were serving in the Caucasus and Central Asia. After1917, the short-lived Mountaineers Republic and the Union of the Unified Mountaineers of North Caucasus and Daghestan made Kumyk its official language.

            But it is the “unique” middle position of Kumyk among Turkic languages, Alpaut points out, that encourages the Kumyks most. “Kumyks can communicate both with Turks and with Kazakhs,” he continues, “while the latter need special training for talking with Turks or Azerbaijanis.”

            The Turkic languages closest to Kumyk are Crimean Tatar, Balkar, Nogay and Azerbaijani, he says. “The public organizations of these peoples actively conduct joint projects both in the regions” and beyond, including in Moscow.  Their language contacts have been reinforced by intermarriage and various economic cooperation efforts.

            Unfortunately, the Soviet authorities tried to divide up these peoples. “The Kumyks, the Crimean Tatars, the Balkars and the Nogays all speak mutually intelligible language, but each has its own literary language” which the Soviets tried to differentiate as much as possible.  That not only divided this Turkic community but undermined the languages of each.

             The Turkic peoples of the North Caucasus taken together currently number approximately 1.5 million, and given their rapid growth, they will soon total two million.  That is a large enough “market” to support media in a single language, and a single language will be cheaper because only one rather than four or five dictionaries and textbooks will be required.

            Because their language is at the center of these groups, the Kumyks have taken the lead in promoting this idea via the Moscow Kumyk organization QUMUQLAR which has its own page on V Kontakte and is now working to have a similar page on Facebook.  That is no easy task given that it is the work of unpaid amateurs rather than well-paid officials.

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