Karachai-Cherkess Autonomous Oblast

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Karachai-Cherkess Autonomous Oblast


(Karachai-Cherkessia), part of Stavropol’ Krai, RSFSR. Established on Jan. 12, 1922, it has an area of 14, 100 sq km and a population of 352, 000 (1972). It comprises seven raions, three cities, and eight urban-type settlements. Cherkessk is the oblast’s center.

Natural features. The oblast is situated on the northern slope of the Greater Caucasus, west and north of El’brus, and extends from the summit of the Glavnyi, or Vodorazdel’nyi, Range in the south to the foothills of the Caucasus in the north. The highest peaks of the Glavnyi Range are Pshish (3, 790 m), Dombai-Ul’gen (4, 046 m), and Gvandra (3, 984 m). To the north lies the Bokovoi Range, in which is found the highest point in the oblast, El’brus (5, 642 m; along the border with the Kabarda-Balkar ASSR). The main passes are Klukhori and Marukha. The northern part of the region is occupied by cuesta ridges, of which the highest is the Skalistyi Range (Mount Bermamyt, 2, 643 m). In the extreme north elevations are less than 500 m.

The climate changes with altitude zones. In January and February the average temperature ranges from — 5°C in the north (in the foothills) to - 10°C or lower in the south (at high altitudes); in July and August temperatures range from 21°C in the north to 8°C or lower in the south. The frost-free season ranges from 182 days in the north to 75–50 days or less in the south. Annual precipitation ranges from 550 mm (less than 500 mm in the basin of the upper reaches of the Kuban’) to 2, 500 mm or more. There is contemporay glaciation on El’brus and on the summits and crest of the Glavnyi Range. The main rivers—the Kuban’ and its tributaries, the Teberda, the Bol’shoi Zelenchuk and Malyi Zelenchuk, the Urup, and the Bol’shaia Laba—have mixed feeding, including glacial water; high-water occurs in spring and summer. The rivers are used for hydroelectric power and irrigation.

In the north the soil is chernozem. Toward the south, as elevation increases, the chernozems give way to mountain-forest brown soil and mountain-meadow soil. The steppe vegetation of the foothills is replaced by forest steppe with meadow steppe and meadows along the crests of the cuesta ridges. In the mountains further south the steppe gives way to broadleaf forests (beech, white beech, and oak), and in the upper reaches of river valleys the steppe gives way to coniferous forests (pine, spruce, and fir) and subalpine and alpine meadows. The area covered by forests totals 344, 000 hectares. The forests and high-mountain areas are inhabited by brown bears, lynx, wildcats, stone and pine marten, wild boars, red and roe deer, chamois, and turs. Birds include snow cocks and black grouse; squirrels and raccoons have become acclimatized. Alpine flora and fauna are preserved and studied at the Teberda Preserve and part of the Caucasus Preserve (in the western part of the oblast).

Population. The oblast is inhabited by Karachai (28.2 percent, 1970 census), Cherkess (9 percent), Russians (47.1 percent), Abazas (6.6 percent), Nogai (3.2 percent), Ukrainians, Ossets, and Greeks. Population density averages 25 per sq km (1972). The northern portion of the oblast is the most densely settled (in Adyge-Khabl’ Raion, up to 54 per sq km), and the southern region is the least populated (in Karachaevsk Raion, seven per sq km). About 119, 000 persons, or 34 percent of the population, are urban dwellers. Cherkessk (73, 000 inhabitants in 1972), Karachaevsk, and Teberda are the principal cities.

Historical survey. The ancestors of the Karachai and Cherkess peoples have inhabited the territory of present-day Karachai-Cherkess Autonomous Oblast from time immemorial, as is shown by archaeological finds at the Stone Age sites of Kardonik, Ovechka, and Iavora. Relics dating from the fifth to the 13th century (Rim-gora, Adiiukhskoe Gorodishche) attest to the disintegration of the primitive communal system and to the emergence of feudal relations. In the 9th and 10th centuries the area was part of the early feudal state of Alania, which maintained political and economic ties with Byzantium, the Khazars, and the Georgians. By the tenth century the formation of the Adyg-Cherkess nationality had been completed, and in the 13th and 14th centuries the Karachai people evolved. The inhabitants engaged in livestock raising and farming. Between the 14th and 16th centuries the Abazas migrated to the area from Abkhazia, followed in the 17th century by the Nogai, who came from the Azov and Volga regions. The region suffered incursions by the Crimean-Turkish feudal lords from the 15th to the 18th century. The mountain people sought protection against these raids through an alliance with the Russian state. Missions were sent to Moscow in 1552, 1555, and 1557, resulting in a political alliance with Russia. In 1790 the Russian army, aided by bands of mountaineers, routed the Turkish corps of Batal Pasha near present-day Cherkessk.

Karachai-Cherkessia was incorporated into Russia in the first half of the 19th century, and the region’s inclusion in the mainstream of Russia’s development broke the isolation of the natural economy and led to the disintegration of the commune. At the same time, the oppression of the toiling masses increased: the peasants were deprived of the best land; the mountaineers were subjected to requisitions and fines; privileges were enjoyed solely by the local feudal lords; and Russian civil servants staffed the administrative apparatus and courts. Cossack stanitsy (villages) were founded in Karachai-Cherkessia between 1858 and 1861. Along with the auly (mountain villages) of Karachai and Cher-kessia, the stanitsy became part of Batalpashinsk District, and later, of the Kuban’ Region. Serfdom was abolished in 1868. In the postreform period, mines, quarries, and small enterprises of the food industry were opened. Despite the colonial policy of the tsarist government, ties between the workers who had migrated from Russia and the indigenous people expanded and were strengthened, exerting a positive influence on the economy, life, and culture of the peoples of Karachai and Cherkessia. The working people were drawn into the revolutionary struggle of the Russian working class and peasantry. During the Revolution of 1905–07 a Social Democratic circle was organized in the stanitsa of Batalpashinskaia, and there were peasant uprisings in Dzheguta, Khurzuk, Teberda, and other auly.

Soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies, as well as organs of the bourgeois Provisional Government, called citizens’ committees, arose after the February Revolution of 1917. The October Revolution of 1917 liberated the peoples of Karachai and Cherkessia from social and national oppression. In February 1918, the working people established Soviet power, and the Executive Committee of the Soviets of Batalpashinskaia District was formed. The region was controlled by White Guards from the fall of 1918 through March 1920, when Soviet power was reestablished as a result of the victory of the Red Army in the Northern Caucasus. Revolutionary committees and a district committee of the RCP (Bolshevik) were formed. The decrees of the Soviet government were carried out, and the land confiscated from the landlords was distributed among the toiling peasantry. The Karachai-Cherkess Autonomous Oblast was established by a resolution of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee on Jan. 12, 1922. In 1926, Karachai-Cherkessia was divided into the Karachai Autonomous Oblast and the Cherkess National Okrug, which became an autonomous oblast in 1928.

In the course of the prewar five-year plans (1929^40), the region’s economic and cultural backwardness was overcome, local industry was created, and agriculture was collectivized; collectivization was completed in Cherkessia in 1934, and in Karachai in 1938. Land-use regulations led to the migration of peasants from the mountains and the foundation of new auly. A cultural revolution took place: the Karachai and Cherkess acquired alphabets for their native languages, and mountain women became equal members of society. A national working class and intelligentsia developed.

During the Great Patriotic War (1941-45) the peoples of Karachai and Cherkessia fought at the front and took part in the partisan struggle in the Caucasus, Byelorussia, and the Ukraine. About 15, 000 persons were awarded orders and medals and 14 received the title Hero of the Soviet Union. In 1942 battles with the fascist German aggressors were fought in Karachai and Cherkessia, and the oblast was occupied from August 1942 to January 1943. In late 1943 and early 1944, the Leninist national policy was violated; the Karachai Autonomous Oblast was abolished and the Karachai resettled in various parts of Kazakhstan and Middle Asia. On Jan. 9, 1957, the united Karachai-Cherkess Autonomous Oblast was established. In 1957, Karachai-Cherkessia was awarded the Order of Lenin for its achievements insocialist construction. Its economic and cultural development has been promoted by the continuous unselfish aid of the peoples of the entire Soviet Union. In 1971 there were 16 Heroes of Socialist Labor in the oblast, and 14, 914 workers had been awarded orders and medals of the USSR. The oblast received the Order of Friendship of Peoples on Dec. 29, 1972, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the USSR.


Economy. Karachai-Cherkessia is an industrial and agricultural region. Between 1922 and 1940, the gross industrial output increased 55 times over and between 1940 and 1971, 18 times over. The leading branches of industry are chemicals and petrochemicals (31.6 percent of the gross industrial output in 1971), food processing (19.7 percent), and light industry (9 percent). Machine-building and metalworking (including electrical engineering), building-materials, wood-products, coal, and ore-mining industries are developing. Power is obtained primarily from hydroelectric power plants on the Kuban’ River, linked by high-voltage electrical transmission lines to the united power grid of the Northern Caucasus economic region. In 1971, 884, 000, 000 kW-hr of electric power were produced, as compared with 4, 200, 000 kW-hr in 1940. Karachai-Cherkessia is rich in minerals. Coal (194, 000 tons in 1971), lead, zinc, copper, minium, limestone, andesite, granite, and marble are extracted.

Industry is found primarily in Cherkessk (65 percent of the gross output). The largest enterprises are plants producing industrial rubber articles, low-voltage equipment, refrigeration machinery, chemicals, and reinforced-concrete structural components; furniture, footwear, and clothing factories; and a meatpacking combine and dairy. The Erken-Shakhar Sugar Refinery, one of the largest in the country, is located in Adyge-Khabl’ Raion. In Zelenchuk Raion there is a furniture combine, the Elektroizolit Plant in the stanitsa of Kardonikskaia, and a creamery. Urup Raion has the Kurdzhinovo Sawmill and a logging and timber distribution establishment, and Malokara-chaievsk Raion has the Pervomaiskii Creamery. In Karachaevsk there are plants producing instruments and reinforced-concrete structural components. Between 1966 and 1970, 13 large-scale enterprises were put into operation, including the Urup mine of the copper ore-dressing combine.

There are 12 kolkhozes and 28 sovkhozes in the oblast (as of early 1972). Agricultural land constitutes about 50 percent of the total area, or 698, 300 hectares (ha), of which 26.5 percent was arable land, 24.6 percent hayfields, and 48.1 percent pasture (1971 data). Livestock raising accounts for 60 percent of the gross output, and crop cultivation, 40 percent (1971). The total area under cultivation is 203, 000 ha (1971). The chief crops are cereals (64, 800 ha), predominantly wheat and corn (about 70 percent). Industrial crops, covering 19, 000 ha, are also important, with sunflowers accounting for 38 percent of the planted area and sugar beets for 61 percent. Karachai-Cherkessia provides about half of all the potatoes grown in Stavropol’ Krai; truck farming is developing. There are 83, 600 ha under feed crops, including silage corn, green fodder, and annual and perennial grasses. Winter wheat, corn, sunflowers, and sugar beets are cultivated chiefly in the northern part of the oblast, and potatoes are grown everywhere. The water of the Kuban’ and other rivers, brought in by the Kuban’-Kalaus Irrigation and Water Supply System, is used for irrigation. There are more than 8, 000 ha of irrigated land.

Livestock is raised for meat and dairy products, and fine-wool and medium-wool sheep are raised. In 1971 there were 248, 000 head of cattle (94, 000 cows), 661,000 sheep and goats, and 48, 000 hogs; in 1940 livestock numbered 198, 000 head of cattle (71,000 cows), 450, 000 sheep and goats, and 31,000 hogs. There is some horse breeding, and poultry raising and beekeeping are well developed. A resort and tourist industry is growing at Teberda, Dombai, and Arkhyz.

The Nevinnomyssk-Dzheguta railroad line passes through the oblast for a distance of 50 km. There are 3, 783 km (1971) of roads, of which 1, 922 km are paved. The Sukhumi Military Road crosses Karachai-Cherkessia. Air routes link the oblast with a number of cities of the Northern Caucasus.

Regional variations. In the northern part of the oblast, leading industries include chemicals, machine building and metal working, light industry, and food processing. In agriculture the chief crops are cereals, and there is sheep herding, cattle raising, dairying, and poultry farming. The main industries in the southern part are mining, woodworking, and food processing. Livestock raising is important, including cattle raising, dairy farming, sheep herding, hog breeding, and beekeeping; the principal crops are cereals.


Public health. As of Jan. 1, 1972, there were 41 hospitals with 3, 200 beds (8.9 beds per 1,000 inhabitants), and 561 doctors (one per 628 inhabitants). The mountain health resort of Teberda and the climatic therapy area of Arkhyz are located in the oblast. There are sanatoriums and houses of rest. Donbaiskaia Poliana, a well-known training center for mountain touring and climbing in the USSR, is located along the upper reaches of the Teberda River. A popular tourist route passes through the valley of the Kuban’ to its confluence with the Teberda, on to the Klukhori Pass (where the Severnyi Priiut tourist center is located), and then along the valley of the Kodori River to Sukhumi. Over 60 tourist and mountaineering routes branch out from the Kuban’ Valley; Teberda is the starting point for most mountain touring and climbing routes. The Dombai-Ul’gen wall, with an elevation of about 1, 500 m, is widely known among mountaineers. There are mountaineering camps and tourist centers.

Education and cultural affairs. Prior to the October Revolution of 1917, there were 47 schools, primarily elementary, with 2, 700 pupils in Karachai-Cherkessia. There were no higher educational institutions. In 1971, 9, 300 children were enrolled in 106 preschool institutions. In the 1971-72 school year, there were 84, 800 pupils in 209 general-education schools of all types, 5, 800 students in six special secondary schools, and 2, 600 students in five vocational and technical schools. Higher education is provided by a pedagogical institute (2, 100 students) in Karachaevsk and by the general technical department of the Stavropol’ Polytechnic Institute in Cherkessk.

The oblast has research institutes of economics, history, language, and literature; an experimental agricultural station; and an astrophysical observatory of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. As of Jan. 1, 1972, there were 178 public libraries with about 1, 500, 000 copies of books and journals, 204 clubs, and 199 film projectors. Cherkessk has a museum of local lore, a drama theater, and a palace of pioneers and schoolchildren.

Press and radio. Oblast newspapers include Leninni bairagy (Lenin’s Banner), published in the Karachai-Balkar language since 1924; Lenin nur (Leninist Ray), published in Kabarda-Cherkess since 1924; Lenin ioly (Leninist Path), published in Nogai since 1938; Leninskoe znamia (Leninist Banner), published in Russian since 1918; and Kommunizm alashara (The Light of Communism), published in Abaza since 1938. The oblast radio broadcasts over one station in Karachai-Balkar, Kabarda-Cherkess, Abaza, Nogai, and Russian; broadcasts from Moscow are transmitted.

Literature. The literature of the four indigenous peoples of Karachai-Cherkessia—the Karachai, Cherkess, Abazas, and Nogai—developed in the Soviet period. Prior to the October Revolution, these peoples had no written languages. In the 19th and early 20th century attempts were made to create written languages and to write school textbooks in the native languages. Prominent members in this movement were Islam Teberdichi (I. Akbaev) among the Karachai, Shora Nogmov (1801–44) and Umar Bersei among the Adygeian peoples, and Umar Mikerov and Tatlustan Tabulov among the Abazas. The most important works of oral folklore were the Narty Epic, found among the Cherkess, Karachai, and Abazas, and the epic poems of the Nogai.

In the 1920’s, with the creation of written languages, the first poems, essays, and short stories appeared. They portrayed the hard life of the working people before the revolution and the protest of the popular masses against exploitation, celebrated the proletarian revolution, and expressed the people’s love for the Communist Party and its leader, V. I. Lenin. The literature of this period drew its inspiration from the rich heritage of folklore and from Russian classical and Soviet literature. The most important Karachai literary works were those of the poet A. Urtenov (1907-55), the author of New Songs (1927), Sparks of Freedom (1929), and Verses and Poems (1934); the poet I. Karaketov (1900–42), who wrote New Poems (1924) and Revolutionary Songs (1931); and the poet D. Baikulov (1902–2). Other noteworthy works included the collection of poems Zuli (1929) by the Abaza writer T. Tabulov (1879–1956) and the play Fatimat (1932) by the Nogai writer Kh. Bulatukov (1907–37). Prose fiction emerged in the 1930’s, represented by the works of several Cherkess writers. Kh. Abukov (1900–37), who wrote the novel On the Banks of the Zelenchuk (1930, with V. Chernyshov); M. Dyshekov (1902–37), the author of the novel The Glow (1934); and I. Amirokov (born 1909), whose collection of novellas The Young Brigade Leader appeared in 1935. Also significant was the novel The Black Trunk (1935–36) by the Karachai writer Kh. Appaev (1904–38). National folklore was compiled and published by T. Tabulov and the Nogai writer A.-Kh. Dzhanibekov (1879–1955).

The struggle of the Soviet people against German fascism was depicted in the novella of the Nogai writer F. Abdulzhalilov (born 1913) entitled Family of the Strong (1950) and in several narrative poems, notably The Road of the Bold by the Cherkess poet Kh. Gashokov (born 1913) and Zalikhat (1959) by the Karachai poet Kh. Bairamukova (born 1917).

The literature of Karachai-Cherkessia has been developed intensively in the postwar era. Writers are striving to create a chronicle of the life of the people. Among the novels that have been published are Rapid Current (1959) and Fine Is the Collective’s Field (1966) by F. Abdulzhalilov; Azamat by I. Tabulov (1917–59); The Mountains Awaken (1962) and Father’s Son (1970) by Kh. Zhirov(born 1912); the trilogy Amanat( 1959–63) by O. Khubiev (born 1918); The Karchi Family (1962) and Cholpan (1970) by Kh. Bairamukova; Kazma (vols. 1–2, 1962–65) by Ts. Tsekov; and Bekbolat (1970) by S. Kapaev (born 1927). Prominent poets include Kh. Bairamukova (Spring Noon, 1966; Smoke of the Hearth, 1968), O. Khubiev (The Oath, 1963), Kh. Gashokov, and A. Khanfenov (Humaneness, 1963).


Architecture and art. The earliest relics of the art of Karachai-Cherkessia are bronze decorations and ceramics with relief and carved designs found in burial mounds of the third and second millennia B.C. and metal articles and ceramics dating from the 11th to the fifth century B.C. Surviving monuments of the Alani culture include tombs and underground crypts; the ruins of fortified towns, notably the site of Nizhne-Arkhyzskoe on the Bol’-shoi Zelenchuk River (tenth to 12th centuries); and Christian cruciform-domed churches in the Byzantine style of the tenth and 11th centuries, such as Mount Shoana, near the Kosta Khetagurov settlement, and the Sentinskii Church near the settlement of Nizhniaia Teberda, in which are found remains of frescoes. In the upper Kuban’ Region, the remains of dolmenlike above-ground crypts of the eighth to the 12th century (on some of which are reliefs depicting feasts, dances, and the hunt) and stone statues of warriors (tenth to 12th centuries) have been discovered. The 18th- and 19th-century indigenous dwellings of the Karachai were frame structures with heavy gabled earthen roofs; the Cherkess built houses of clay-coated wattle with reed or straw gabled roofs.

Cities and new settlements appeared in Karachai-Cherkessia in the Soviet period; a general plan has been developed for Cherkessk (1956), and many schools, hospitals, cultural institutions, and modern apartment houses have been built, often with glass-enclosed verandas and with tiled or iron roofs. The fine arts have developed, represented by the graphic artists Ia. G. Kritskii and A. M. Grechkin and by the painters I. G. Akov and M. Kh. Chomaev.

Folk art, gold embroidery, wood carving, and mat weaving with chee swamp grass were well developed in the folk art of the Karachai and Cherkess. In Soviet times the Karachai have excelled in the making of richly decorated felts, and jewelry-making is widely practiced among the Cherkess.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.