Introduction / History
The Karachay live in the Karachai-Cherkess districts and surrounding areas. They are a Turkic people who are ethnically, culturally, and linguistically related to the Balkar. They speak a dialect of Karachay-Balkar, which belongs to the Kypchak division of the Uralo-Altaic language family.
Some believe that the Karachay descended from the Kuban-Bulgar and Kypchak tribes. In the 1200's, these groups were pushed into the Caucasus Mountains by the Mongols. They eventually joined with the Alan tribe, who were also forced into the mountains. Together, these groups almagamated to form the Karachay.
In the 1800's, the Karachay migrated to areas around the Kuban River. In 1943, they were deported to Central Asia and Kazakstan, where some still remain. Most, however, have returned to the Kuban region, which has a very mild climate. Some of the land is suitable for cultivation, while part is dry with winter pastures.
What are their lives like?
Most of the Karachay rely on livestock breeding for their livelihood. In the summer, they take their cattle, goats, and sheep to mountain pastures. In the winter, they keep the animals in forested fields or valley pastures. Crops such as barley and corn are cultivated, and fruits, berries, and herbs are gathered from the forests. Some of the dishes enjoyed by the Karachay include fried cheese; pies stuffed with eggs, rice, or raisins; meat and cheese pies; and sausage. Dairy products are another important part of their diet. Sour cream, cheese, and butter are prepared at home.
The Karachay originally lived in pine houses made with sliding shutters. Today, their houses are built with large glass windows, wooden floors, and iron roofs. The homes usually have two stories and most have porches. In urban houses, gas stoves have replaced the open hearth.
Each family is led by a family council, which consists of the men of the oldest generation and the eldest woman. The senior woman plays a significant role in keeping the family pride and honor, as hospitality is important to Karachay social relations. From an early age, the children assist their parents with the household responsibilities. Boys help their fathers tend to the livestock and often live in camps with the older men. Girls help their mothers with the housework and learn how to embroider.
Rural Karachay women take pride in their long, thick hair, but always keep their heads covered with scarves when in public. Young girls keep their hair cut very short until they are about seven years old. They believe that this will cause their hair to grow back thick and strong.
Traditional forms of art include decorated felt, and gold stitching and weaving for clothing. Music is also a very important part of their lives. They have songs for work, songs for a hunt, and songs to accompany the beating of the felt.
What are their beliefs?
The Karachay are virtually all Muslim, and each village has its own mosque. However, many of their traditional pagan beliefs have been intermingled with Islam. The people believe in evil spirits, and pagan sacrifices and rituals are often performed. For example, sacrificial offerings are made when driving cattle to pasture, and special ceremonies are held to bring rain or sun. The people also worship a god known as the "guardian of the livestock."
Magical techniques and spells are used for healing, but the Muslim Koran is read to a dying person. For the mourning of the dead, women cry loudly, tear their clothes, and even scratch their faces; men let their beards grow for one year.
What are their needs?
The Karachay have the New Testament written in their language. These precious people need Christian broadcasts and other materials made available to them. Above all, they need Christians who will stand in the gap for them, interceding to the Father on their behalf.
* Ask the Lord to grant wisdom and favor to the missions agencies that may be working among the Karachay.
* Ask the Lord to send loving Christians to minister Life to their Muslim neighbors.
* Pray that the Holy Spirit will soften the hearts of governmental leaders toward the Gospel.
* Ask God to call forth teams of intercessors who will rise up and faithfully stand in the gap for the Karachay.
* Pray for the salvation of key Karachay leaders who will boldly proclaim the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Karachay.