Balkar shepherd wearing a traditional Caucasian chokha
Total population
c. 135,000
Regions with significant populations
 Russia 125,044
 Kazakhstan1,798 (2009)
Karachay-Balkar (Balkar dialect), Kabardian, Russian
Predominantly Sunni Islam
Related ethnic groups
Karachays, Kumyks, Circassians, North Caucasian peoples

Balkars (Karachay-Balkar: Малкъарлыла, romanized: Malqarlıla or Таулула, romanized: Tawlula, lit. 'Mountaineers')[2] are a Turkic ethnic group in the North Caucasus region, one of the titular populations of Kabardino-Balkaria.

Their Karachay-Balkar language is of the Ponto-Caspian subgroup of the Northwestern (Kipchak) group of Turkic languages.


The modern Balkars identify as a Turkic people, who share their language with the Karachays from Karachay-Cherkessia and have strong lingual similarities with Kumyks from Dagestan.

Sometimes Balkars and Karachays are referred to as a single ethnicity.[3]


The ethnogenesis of the Balkars resulted, in part, from:

While acknowledging contributions by Bulgars and Kipchaks (among many others), Tavkul (2015) locates the ethnogenesis of Balkars-Karachays and other peoples of the Caucasus inside the Caucasus, not outside.[4]

During the 14th century, Alania was destroyed by Timur. Many of the Alans, Cumans, and Kipchaks migrated westward into Europe. Timur's incursion into the North Caucasus introduced the remainder to Islam.

Most Balkars adopted Islam in the eighteenth century due to contact with the Kumyks,[5] Circassians, Nogais, and Crimean Tatars.[6][7] The Balkars are considered deeply religious. The Sufi Qadiriya order has a strong presence in the region.[7]

In the 19th century, Russia annexed the area during the Russian conquest of the Caucasus. On October 20, 1828 the Battle of Khasauka [ru] took place, in which the Russian troops were under the command of General Georgi Emmanuel. The day after the battle, as Russian troops were approaching the aul of Kart-Dzhurt [ru], the Karachay-Balkar elders met with the Russian leaders and an agreement was reached for the inclusion of the Karachay-Balkar into the Russian Empire.


Main article: Deportation of the Balkars

In 1944, the Soviet government forcibly deported almost the entire Balkar population to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Omsk Oblast in Siberia. Starting on 8 March 1944 and finishing the following day, the NKVD loaded 37,713 Balkars onto 14 train echelons bound for Central Asia and Siberia. The Stalin regime placed the exiled Balkars under special settlement restrictions identical to those that it had imposed upon the deported Russian-Germans, Kalmyks, Karachais, Chechens and Ingush. By October 1946 the Balkar population had been reduced to 32,817 due to deaths from malnutrition and disease. The Balkars remained confined by the special settlement restrictions until 28 April 1956. Only in 1957, however, could they return to their mountainous homeland in the Caucasus. During 1957 and 1958, 34,749 Balkars returned home.[8]

Language and literacy

See also: Karachay-Balkar language

In the Cyrillic alphabet as used by the Balkars there are eight vowels and twenty-seven consonants. In the past the official written languages were Arabic for religious services and Turkish for business matters. From 1920 on Balkar has been the language of instruction in primary schools; subsequent instruction is carried out in Russian. Until 1928 Arabic letters were used to write the Balkar language; after 1937 Cyrillic was used. Ninety-six percent of the population is bilingual in Balkar and Russian. Organs of mass culture, secondary school texts, newspapers, and magazines in both Balkar and Russian continue to increase in number. In the 2015 number of bilingual population had increased by 1,3 percent so 97,3 are now speaking both Balkar and Russian which is due to the globalisation of urban areas and the impact of the Russian education. Children are more likely to be taught in Russian.

An example of a Balkar author is Kaisyn Kuliev who is emphasising the love towards the Balkarya land and Balkar traditions.

Notable Balkars

See also


  1. ^ "Russian Census of 2021". (in Russian)
  2. ^ Peter B. Golden (2010). Turks and Khazars: Origins, Institutions, and Interactions in Pre-Mongol Eurasia. p. 33.
  3. ^ Процесс и этапы формирования карачаево-балкарского этноса и развитие этнической и религиозной идентичности. Джантуева Ф.Р., 2010
  4. ^ Sipos, János; Tavkul, Ufuk (2015). Karachay-Balkar folksongs (PDF). Translated by Pokoly, Judit. Budapest: L'Harmattan. pp. 41–45.
  5. ^ Народы Центрального Кавказа и Дагестана: этнополитические аспекты взаимоотношений (XVI-XVIII вв.), Р.М. Бегеулов, 2005
  6. ^ Akiner, Shirin (1986). Islamic Peoples Of The Soviet Union. Routledge. p. 227. ISBN 978-1-136-14266-6.
  7. ^ a b Bennigsen, Alexandre; Wimbush, S. Enders (1986). Muslims of the Soviet Empire: A Guide. Indiana University Press. p. 203. ISBN 978-0-253-33958-4.
  8. ^ N. F. Bugai, ed., Iosif Stalin - Lavrentiiu Berii: "Ikh nado deportirovat;": Dokumenty, fakty, kommentarii (Moscow: "Druzhba narodov," 1992). Doc. 64, pp. 279–280.