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The Karatas

The self-designation is khkhiridi and their language is called khkhirlhi matshtshi. Karata belongs to the Andi subgroup of the northwest Dagestan languages (the Avar-Ando-Dido languages) in the Caucasian language family, they live in Russian Federation (6,4 th. p.). Two dialects (Karata, Tokita) and four subdialects (Anchikh, Archi, Ratsitl and Rachabalda) are distinguishable. The Karata and Tokita dialects differ both in regard to phonetics and morphology, but they are mutually comprehensible. The Karatas do not have their own written language, the need is served by Avar which is widely known. The ancient vocabulary of the Karatas is fairly well preserved. There is a notable Avar and Russian influence especially in the vocabulary relating to everyday life and social-political terminology.
The Karatas inhabit ten villages in the Akhvakh and Khazavyurt districts of Dagestan. Nine of them lie on the left bank of the Andi-Koisu river: Karata, Rachabalda, Archo, Anchikh, Mashtada, Tshabakoro, Ratsitl and Tokita. The only Karata village located in the Khazavyurt district is Siukh. Their neighbours to the east and north are the Andis, to the west the Avars, and to the south the Akhvakhs and Bagulals.
Anthropologically the Karata belong to the Caucasus type of the Balkano-Caucasian race, characterized by fair pigmentation, a big head and high stature. Some characteristics of the Caspian type have been noted.
The first and the last census that counted the Karatas separately was carried out in 1926. After this they were counted as Avars. In academic publications since World War II there have been some cursory remarks about their number, but these are usually very approximate estimates.
Denominationally the Karatas are Muslim (Sunnite). The first Islamic missionaries arrived on the banks of the Andi-Koisu in the 8th century but Islam became established only in the 16th century. In the 8th and 9th centuries Christianity was introduced into the northwestern part of Avaria and Karata with the help of Georgian and Kakhetian rulers in the west. Christianity lost ground after the campaigns of Timur (Tamerlane) and the disintegration of Georgia in the 13th and 14th centuries.
Ethnologically the Karatas and the Avars are very similar. This is evident in both the material culture and folk traditions. There are some local differences, but they are minimal.
The economic activity of the Karatas has always been dependant on natural conditions. The availability of good pastures in summer and winter, gave rise to the importance of seasonal stock farming. Sheep were kept, and in villages, cattle and horses also for work and transport purposes. Since there was a shortage of cultivable land and natural conditions were unfavourable, agriculture was only of secondary importance. A part of the problem was solved with irrigated terraced farming. Wheat, rye, flax, and later potatoes and vegetables, were grown. The prevailing type of economy was barter. Household handicrafts occupied an important place and were highly developed. People tried to improve their financial situation by doing odd jobs in other districts and towns of Avaria. The annexation of Dagestan to Russia gave the economy a boost as it laid a new basis for trade and finance. However, there was no rapid economic development, which might be attributed to the relative isolation of the area. On the other hand, the annexation did introduce colonialism which advocated the interests of central authorities, not the needs of local people.
Today, the key issues for the survival of the Karatas are: the vitality and preservation of their language; the preservation of material ethnic culture against the advance of European urban culture (clothing, furniture, household appliances, housing); the preservation of folk traditions against encroaching Soviet traditions. The most important of these is the preservation of the language, as this is the only thing that distinguishes the Karatas and the Avars. Today, Karata is only spoken at home. For communication outside the home and for administrative purposes the Karatas use Avar. The result is widespread bilingualism. The Soviet-style educational system adopted by the Avars helps the advance of other languages (primary education in Avar, secondary education in Russian). The Karata tongue is not taught at schools. At the same time, the Soviet educational system serves as a tool for centralized ideology and propaganda; it is dismissive of local national peculiarities and opposes free thought.
The encroachment of European urban culture is linked to the growth of towns, the loss of territorial isolation and the influx of mass-produced goods. Domestic handicrafts are dying out or acquiring the status of arts. The Soviet variant of the urbanization process continues and is to be seen as a furtherance of colonial policies.

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