Global Voices on Pluralism

The Deported Karachays in Kyrgyzstan: Experience of Integration

Publication Date: April 2018

Amantur Japarov

Lead Researcher in the Department of Ethnology at the Institute of History and Cultural Heritage at the National Academy of Sciences of the Kyrgyz Republic in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan was one of the Soviet republics of the former USSR which received people deported from the Northern Caucasus during the Second World War. Among them were the Karachays (къарачайлыла), whose origin is linked to ancient Alans, Turkic Kipchaks, a local Caucasian population. The forced relocation, the accusations of betraying the country’s interests and their legal status on the territories where they had been relocated hurt their feelings of dignity and left deep feelings of trauma. Lives of the deported Karachays must be considered as an inseparable part of Kyrgyzstan’s 20th – 21st century history. They not only enriched the ethno cultural mosaic, but also made a visible contribution to the development of the country.

The process of adaptation to a new geographic and social environment was accompanied by many difficulties and losses. This were due to such factors as economic hardships during the war period, the moral and psychological state of the deported, environmental differences, and the wariness of the local population due to a negative image which was artificially promoted. Nevertheless, they began to adapt to the new place of residence, which for many became the second homeland. Local Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Russians, Dungans, and others showed benevolence, tolerance, and hospitality towards them. In their turn, the Karachays strived to establish warm relationships with them and integrate into society. Their skills as livestock farmers, the similarities in their languages, their Islamic beliefs, and common features in their way of thinking and traditions had a positive impact on the Karachays’ integration with the Kyrgyz.

In the beginning of the second half of the 1950s, the deported Caucasians were granted official permission to return to their native land, and a predominant majority used this opportunity. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the republics gained independence and set up their own borders. Karachays who lived in the Northern Caucasus and the Karachays who lived in Kyrgyzstan found themselves in different countries. In such a new condition, in 1993, the International Association of Karachays “Ata-Djurt” was established to maintain links with the native land, preserve and promote ethnic traditions, and further integrate into the society in Kyrgyzstan. In 2015, in Kyrgyzstan, the number of the Karachays equalled 1722 people, all of whom are citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic. The sense of solidarity between the Karachays who live in different parts of the country remains important and must be considered as one of the core elements of their social organization.