Territory - 12,5 thousand sq. km. Population (for January, 1, 1998) - 785,8 thousand persons.
Population density (for January, 1, 1998) - 62,9 persons on 1 sq. km.
Kabardino-Balkaria covers 12.500 square km. Rural population: Kabard 55 percent, Balkar 41 percent.
Most likely, the Kabards are descended from a cluster of Caucasian tribes who called themselves Adygea. They originated in the Kuban basin, adopted Christianity in the 12th century. They were pressed eastward by the invasion of the Mongol Golden Horde in the 13th century. Some of the Adygeis mixed with local Alan peoples (from whom the Ossetians developed), and eventually became known as the Kabards. By the 15th century, the region on the left bank of the Terek river became known as Greater Kabardia, while the region on the right bank was known as little Kabardia. Those living in the westernmost parts became known as the Cherkess. Early in the 16th century, the Kabards came in contact with the Ottomans through the Crimean Khanate, and by the early 1800s they had converted to Sunni Islam.
In 1739, the Treaty of Belgrade established Kabardia as a neutral state, a buffer zone, between the Ottomans and Russia. In 1774, Kabardia became Russian territory through the Treaty of Kucuk Kainarca. During the mid-19th century, when the Shamil Revolt against Russia spread throughout the Caucasus, the Kabards maintained neutrality. But still, after the Russians had established firm control over the region in the 1860s, there was a mass exodus of Kabards to Turkey.
The early Soviet period brought many changes to the Kabards and the other Circassian peoples, as the region became heavily industrialised, and due to Bolshevik campaigns against Islam. Before the Bolshevik Revolution, the Kabards were generally lumped together with the Adygea and the Cherkess as a Circassian people, but in the 1920s, the Circassians were redefined by the Soviets into two ethnic groups, the Cherkess and the Kabards. Late in the 1930s, Soviet authorities again redrew the ethnic lines subdividing the Circassians, now creating three groups - Adygeis in the west, Cherkess in the middle and Kabards in the east. In 1921, the autonomous territory of Kabardino-Balkaria was created, and in 1936 it was upgraded to an autonomous republic. The administrative borders thus separated the Kabards from the other Circassians, the Cherkess and the Adygea. Kabardino-Balkaria was occupied by the Germans from 1943 to -44, and when the Red Army recaptured the area, many Balkars were deported, accused of collaborating with the Germans. The Kabard population was never deported.
Kabards make up half of the republic's population, but since the titular peoples have a higher growth rate than the Russians, the number of Kabards in 1994 might exceed 50 per cent. The Balkars fear that this will worsen their political opportunities. This, together with anxieties due to a lack of rehabilitation after their return from deportation, has been a major incitement for the Balkar national movements and political parties, who wish to regain their pre-deportation territorial districts and transform the republic into a federation. This could lead to territorial conflict. Both have published maps which lay claim to disputed areas and arouse strong negative sentiments. The Russian parliament passed a law in March 1994 promising financial support to cultural, but not territorial, rehabilitation of the Balkar. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the deportations, the President of the republic has offered the re-establishment of former Balkar territorial districts.
The primary claim of the Kabard national movements and political parties is an increase of political rights. For many years the Kabard had to share all political posts and political influence with the Balkar on a one-to-one basis, although they are more than four times as many. In addition to this they claim more political independence from Moscow in order to be able to redress the strong Russification of their culture since colonization.
The Russians in Kabardino-Balkaria are mainly urban and the number of Cossacks is insignificant. As the second largest group in the republic, Russians have significant political influence even though they are rather successfully kept from leading political posts. This has been possible because the rivalry between the more radical parts of the two titular nationalities has usually resulted in political compromises. The prudent policies of government and parliament have given rise to accusations of conservatism and being against economic reforms. But fear for the consequences of land privatisation is as evident here as elsewhere in the North Caucasus. If a further radicalization of political life in the republic can be avoided, the Russians might stay - unlike in many of the other republics.