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About Russia

Nations of Russia

The Chamalals

The Chamalals are a numerically small people, who occupy a few dozen villages in the Tsumada district of Dagestan (7,2 th. p.) and the Chechen Republic (2.1 th. p.). Their settlements are located on the left bank of the middle reaches of the Andi-Koisu river. The major Chamalal villages are Lower-Gaquar, Agual, Tsumada, Urukh, Gachitl, Quenkh, Gigatl and Gadăr. Their neighbours are mainly Ando-Dido peoples: Godoberis to the north, Avars, Bagulals and Tindis to the east and Avars to the south.
Their self-designation is chamalaldu, and they call their language chamalaldub mitchtch. The Chamalal language belongs to the Andi subgroup of the northwestern (Avar-Ando-Dido) group of Dagestan languages. In the genealogy of Dagestan languages, the closest to Chamalal are Bagulal and Tindi. An occasional influence from the Godoberi language is also discernible (in the Gigatl dialect). The Chamalal language is divided into two dialects -- the Gaquar dialect and the Gigatl dialect, with the former having the following subdialects: Upper-Gaquar, Lower-Gaquar, Quenkh and Gadăr.
The Chamalals have no written language, and use the Avar language instead. The Chamalal language has been little researched.
Islam reached the Chamalal villages in the 8th--9th centuries following Arab conquests. Sunnite Islam began to spread further only in the 13th-14th centuries, and then it took a couple of centuries more to firmly take root. In the 8th century, Christianity also made an attempt to advance into the Chamalal territories from Georgia, but it was forced to retreat before Islam.
Anthropologically the Chamalals are related to the Caucasian type of the Balkano-Caucasian race. Features characteristic of the Caspian types (Lezgians) are also observable.
Ethnoculturally the Chamalals resemble the Avars, in a spiritual as well as a material sense. Minor differences in folk costume and traditions must be regarded as variations from a common cultural source, not principal divergences.
Historically the Chamalals have had much in common with the Avars and have been politically and economically associated with Avaria. There is no universal agreement on the origin of the Chamalals. It is supposed that such a tiny people could emerge only in circumstances of a prolonged isolation, but other hypotheses see the main reason as being the endogamous arrangement of the society, or the polystructural political system established in the Andi-Koisu river basin.

Since the 8th century, Avaria has been under foreign rule. From the 8th to the 14th centuries, it was the Maisum representing the Arab regime, from the 15th to the 18th centuries the Turks and Iranians displayed an aggressive interest in Avaria, and in the 19th century it was the Russians. Their supremacy was maintained until very recently. The rulers of Kakhetia have also, on occasion, cast their eye on the mountain areas of northwestern Avaria, most notably during the period when Georgia was a great power (12th-15th centuries). In the 16th century, 16 Chamalal villages formed a separate political unit, a "free community", which concentrated on management of the political and economic life of the Chamalals.
The nature of the Chamalal economy has been determined by the development of seasonal livestock-breeding. The main domestic animals were sheep, and, to a smaller extent, cattle and goats. Large-scale land cultivation was of no great importance because of the shortage of arable land. Agriculture on irrigated terraced fields attained a degree of success. The main crops were wheat and rye, and later, potatoes and vegetables, with flax and hemp as industrial crops. The yield was small. There was not enough grain to last the year round, and therefore additional stocks had to be bastered from the inhabitants of the Avarian plains.
On January 20, 1920, the Soviet regime was established in Dagestan. However, the struggle for real power lasted until the late 1930s. The mountainous area in southern Dagestan became the centre of active anti-Soviet resistance, where the White Guards, and Islamic and nationalist forces gathered. The Soviet regime retaliated with military might and deportations.

Modern employment are animal industries, arable agriculture, truck farming, gardening, beekeeping. Daily food is khinkal with meat and garlic.
The Chamalals have created rich song and dancing folklore. Songs are performed in Avarian language.


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