Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia

Karachay-Cherkessia is a federal subject (a republic) of Russia.

Karachayevo-Cherkesiya, in full Karachayevo-Cherkesskaya Respublika, also called Karachay-Cherkessia, republic, southwestern Russia.

It extends south from the foreland plains across the northern ranges and deep intervening valleys and gorges of the Greater Caucasus range as far as the crestline, which reaches 13,274 feet (4,046 metres) in Mount Dombay-Ulgen. Cherkessk is the administrative centre. The republic’s scenery is spectacular, with densely forested mountains rising through alpine meadows to rock and ice. Tourism is important.


Karachay-Cherkessia’s population is just under 480,000 people. The main ethnic groups in Karachay-Cherkessia are Karachay (41.0%), Russian (31.6%), Cherkess (11.9%), Abazin (7.8%), and Nogay (3.3%). Karachay-Cherkessia has three main languages: Russian, Karachay, and Cherkess. Like other republics in the North Caucuses, the region’s ethnic diversity has also lead to occasional ethnic tension and violence.
The Cherkess are ethnically and culturally related to the Kabarda and Adygey peoples and the Karachay to the Balkars. The republic is also home to Abazin and Nogay minorities. Ethnic tensions flare sporadically.
Many Karachay emigrated to the Ottoman Empire in the 1860-70s to avoid Russian oppression. The Karachay Autonomous Okrug was established in 1920. The Cherkess are a subgroup of the Circassians. They had come under Russian control in the 1550s for protection against the Crimean Tatars and some Turkic tribes. Relations with Russia deteriorated when many Russians settled in the region. Following the end of the Ottoman claim to the Caucasus in 1829 and the resulting uprisings, Russia completed its occupation of the territory in 1864. Subsequently, many Cherkess were deported to Turkey at this time. The Cherkess Autonomous Oblast was first established in 1922.


In the 20th, the divide-and-rule tactics of the Stalin era involved weakening resistance by splitting related groups and joining unrelated ones in shared administrative units. As part of this pattern, the Karachay-Cherkessia Autonomous Region was first created in 1922. Several further administrative adjustments and readjustments followed.

In 1943 the Karachay people were deported to Central Asia for alleged collaboration with the Nazis. They were allowed back in 1957 and the Karachay-Cherkess autonomous region recreated.

Although it has not experienced the levels of violence seen elsewhere in the North Caucasus, the republic lives in the shadow of the troubles which have plagued the region. Russian forces have mounted numerous security operations and reported foiling intended attacks by Islamist militants.

Crime, sometimes violent, and corruption further undermine stability. Inter-clan rivalries simmer and occasionally surface in angry outbursts. Poverty is widespread.

Karachay-Cherkessia gained republic status in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Soviet-era Communist leader Vladimir Khubiyev was re-appointed as president by Boris Yeltsin.

The republic is keen to develop its tourist industry and winter sports are particularly popular. The highest peak in the Caucasus, Mount Elbrus, lies on the border with Kabardino-Balkaria.

The fact that the Abazins (Abaza) lack all the privileges of a titular nation, which the Cherkess share in power with the much large group of Karachay, is a clear example of the arbitrary nature of the Soviet construction of double titular nationality republics and its consequences. Formal power-sharing notwithstanding, Russians have dominated political life in the new Karachay-Cherkess republic. This might change if the experience of neighboring Kabardino-Balkaria with a similar make up, can serve as a model for development.

The Karachay claim full rehabilitation after the deportations. More radical Karachay movements insist on territorial expansion and autonomy or even separate Karachai Republic, in accordance with the situation prior to the deportations. Cossacks have voiced claims of seceding from the republic to join the Kuban Cossacks in the neighboring Krasnodor district.

Still, a poll held in 1993 resulted in 78.6 percent wanting to preserve the Karachai-Cherkess republic as an undivided unit, so it seems that most people fear the consequences of claims made by the radical groups. The Karachai urban centre Karachaevsk, has been selected by the Confederation of Repressed Peoples as the location or their main office.

Special laws and agreements: The republic agreed to a division of responsibilities by a treaty with the Russian Federation in 1995.

Karachai-Cherkessia adopted a program on the coordination of legislative, economic, environmental and legal activities with the Republics of Adygea and Kabardino-Balkaria in May 1998.

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