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ABOUT RUSSIA / NATIONS / KHVARSHIS

About Russia

Nations of Russia

The Khvarshis

The Khvarshis live in Russia (2000 p.). The self-designation of the Khvarshis derives from the name of their largest village in the Avar language. Their self-designation huani has the same toponym (the Khvarshi = the Huani).
The Khvarshi language belongs to the Dido subgroup of the northwestern group of the Dagestan languages and is divided into two: the Khvarshi and the Inhokari dialects. The Inhokari dialect has in turn three vernaculars. Loan-words have been absorbed into the Khvarshi vocabulary throughout the centuries, from the Avar, Arab, Turkish and Georgian languages. In the 20th century Russian has exerted the strongest influence particularly in terms of political and technical vocabulary. The Khvarshi do not have a written language of their own, instead, they use that of the Avar. Avar has become the common language for communication and the mother tongue has been reduced to home usage within the Khvarshi community.
The Khvarshis live in villages in the eastern region of mountainous Dagestan on the right bank of the upper reaches of the River Andi-Koisu. Administratively, these five villages (Khvarshi, Inhokari, Kvantlyada, Santlyada and Khvainy) belong to the Khvarshi and Inhokari village Soviets in the Tsumada district in Dagestan. The neighbours of the Khvarshis are the Chamalals to the north, the Tindis to the northwest, the Avars to the east and west and the Didos to the south.
Anthropologically, the Khvarshis are most closely related to the Caucasian type of the Balcano-Caucasian race. Characteristic features of the Caspian type can also be detected. The Khvarshis are distinguished by having comparatively fairer hair and lighter eyes and skin than rest of the Dagestan peoples.
As concerns their ethnic culture, the Khvarshis are part of the Dagestan people, being closest to the Avars and other Ando-Dido peoples. The differences in their material culture are expressed only in minor details (the manner of wearing clothes, the specific parts of the tools). The only cultural element differentiating them from the rest of the Ando-Dido peoples is their language. Unlike the other Andi people Khvarshi culture also exhibits some Georgian influences with their roots in the 10th-12th centuries.
The Khvarshis are Muslims (Sunnites). The history of religion in the mountain regions of Dagestan is coloured by the simultaneous spread of two religions in the 9th to 13th centuries. Islam arrived with the invading Arabs from the south in the 8th century; the propagation of Christianity by energetic missionaries was supported by Georgian and Kakhetian rulers. Timur's military expedition in the 14th century set limits to the spread of Christianity and by the 16th century Islam had become the official religion of the Khvarshis. Religious affairs were presided over by a gadi, who was appointed by the Avar khan. Regardless of the influence of the new religions the Khvarshis maintained the pagan beliefs similarly to other primitive races, and these have survived, modified by Islam, to the present day.
The origin of the Khvarshis has been a cause of academic dispute for years. A mutual agreement has yet to be reached. The theory of territorial isolation was supported in the 1950s and 60s. This theory, however, does not explain the diversity of the Ando-Dido peoples as all the ethnic groupings in the Andi-Koisu river basin have always had close contacts and have always been noted for their economic and political co-operation. And anyway they have only been isolated from the plains regions not from each other. A new hypothesis was offered by M. Aglarov for whom the principal reason for the linguistic diversity lies in the political polystructure of the region.
Historically, the Khvarshis have been connected with Avaria - mentioned as Serir, in the works of ancient authors. Despite the austere conditions in the mountains the troops of several foreign armies have reached the territories of the Khvarshi: the Arabs in the 8th century, in the 12th and 13th centuries the Mongols and the Tatars, in the 16th and 17th centuries the Turks and the Persians and from the 18th century on, the Russians. In the 16th or 17th centuries the Khvarshi formed their own political unit, the Khvarshi free community. It consisted of six villages in the mountains of Kvala-Kir. Their dependence on the Avar khanate was only nominal. The life of the community was controlled by the community assembly (rukken), at the head of which stood the council of elders (dzhamat). The council of elders, in its turn, elected the executive organs. Social life was regulated by two codes: adat (common law) and Shariah (Islamic law). Stratification of the Khvarshi society and the development of feudal relations began in the 17th and 18th centuries but a level of classical feudalism was never reached. In 1806, Avaria and Dagestan were annexed to Russia. Real control was established by the tsarist government only in the 1870s, a year after the repression of the Muridi popular movement led by Shamil. From the 1880s on, the economy of Dagestan was totally subject to the colonial policies of the central government.
The mountain environment was conducive to the development of seasonal livestock breeding, also favoured by the local climate and the abundance of pastures. Sheep were the predominant animals but oxen and horses were also kept fur use as draught animals. The mountainous relief and scarcity of land made tillage difficult. Attemps were made to alleviate the situation by employing terrace agriculture. Potato growing and gardening had spread by the second half of the 19th century but still the harvest was scarce and additional supplies had to be obtained from the villages on the plain. Economic integration developed among the peoples of the Andi-Koisu river basin and the communities specialized in commercial production.
At the beginning of the 20th century the life of the Khvarshi people was disturbed by religious and nationalist movements which had emerged during World War I. Separatism and Pan-Islam became popular in Dagestan, though there was no movement for independence among the Khvarshis. During the years 1917/18 several centres of power were consolidated in Dagestan. The Dagestan National Committee or the Millicommittee was founded in Temir-Han-Shur in September, 1917 and the Mountaineers' Union in Tbilisi on May 11, 1918. The aim of these institutions was to liberate the peoples of the Caucasus and Dagestan from the sovereignty of Russia. One of the most important powers supporting the Empire was the army of Denikin, which in May, 1918, seized a number of centres of importance (Derbent, Hazavyurt, Port-Petrovsk) and defeated the Port-Petrovsk Bolshevist War-Revolution Committee that had been formed in December, 1917. In 1918--1919 the Caucasus was invaded by Turkish and English armies. The nationalist troops exhausted by battling the army of Denikin had to finally surrender to the Bolshevik 9th army in the spring of 1920. Soviet power was established in Dagestan by the autumn of 1920. After World War II the Soviet policy-makers shifted the emphasis of their activities and worked towards influencing the thinking and attitudes of the mountain peoples -- the results are evident in modern Khvarshi society. Most apparent are the changes in the material culture, due to the pressure of European urbanism. The changes have affected traditional dress, household implements, the way of building and traditional food. The changes in the non-material culture are not so easily detected. The disintegration of endogamy has given rise to mixed marriages, and the ever widening migration to the plains and foothills. The most important unit of social organization is a single family and the former strong clan (tuhum) has disappeared. The position of women has also changed in the Khvarshi society as they have now been assimilated into the social life outside home.
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