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ETHNONYMS: Ak Nogays (White Nogays), Noghaylar, Qara Nogays (Black Nogays)


Identification. The Nogays are a Turkic nationality living in the northern Caucasus foreland: in the Nogayskiy District (raion ), in parts of the Babayurtovskiy, Tarumovskiy, and Kizlyarskiy districts, and in the Daghestanian fishing villages of Glavsulak and Glavlopatin; in the Neftekumskiy, Mineralovodskiy (aul Kanglï), and Kochubeevskiy (aul Karamurzinskiy) districts of the Stavropol (Stavropol'skiy) Krai; in the Adïge-Khabl'skiy and Khabezskiy districts of the Karachay-Cherkess Autonomous Oblast (AO) (subordinate to the Stavropol Krai); and in the Shelkovskiy District of the Chechen and Ingush Republic. Nogays also live in cities such as Khasavyurt, Makhachkala, and Cherkessk. Official and scholarly publications sometimes include the Nogays as one of the "peoples of Daghestan" rather than describing them separately.

The Nogays of Stavropol are known in the literature as the "Ak Nogays" (White Nogays), a Soviet-era designation; the eastern Nogays were traditionally called the "Qara (Kara) Nogays" (Black Nogays), and the Nogays of the Kuban simply as the "Nogays."

Location. The steppeland between the Terek and Kuma rivers, known traditionally as the "Nogay steppe" (its western part is also known as the "Achikulak steppe"), is the most important area of compact settlement by the Nogays and covers an area of approximately 25,000 square kilometers located at approximately 43°75.5-45° N and 45°-46°40.5 E. Nogays living here are surrounded on all sides by Russians; their other neighbors include Kalmyks (Qalmïqs) to the north, Ukrainians and Turkmen (Trukhmen) to the northwest, and Chechens to the south. Other smaller areas of Nogay settlement are located at approximately 43°55.5-44° N and 46°80.5-47°90.5 E in Daghestan. Here there are Russians to the north and Kumyks (Qumïqs) to the south, in some areas, and in other areas all around them except where there are Avars to the southeast and southwest. Additional small areas of Nogay settlement are farther west, at approximately 44°20.5-45° N and 41°-42° E in the Karachay-Cherkess AO and the Stavropol Krai. Another village, Kanglï, is located at approximately 44°20.5 N and 43° E. The Nogays living in the Karachay-Cherkess AO and this part of the Stavropol Krai are surrounded on all sides by Russians and Ukrainians; two areas of settlement in the southeastern part of this location, nearer to Cherkassk, have Circassians (Cherkess) as southern neighbors. Those Nogays who lived along the lower Volga (the Nogays of Astrakhan) and in the Crimea had assimilated to the local population by early this century. Descendants of Nogay emigrants of the nineteenth century live in Romania, Turkey, and elsewhere.

The Nogay steppe has a marked continental climate. Annual rainfall here ranges from 20 to 34 centimeters. In Kizlyar, just south of the Nogay steppe, the mean mid-January temperature is 2.3° C, and in mid-July it is 24.3° C. Winters are generally cool, with regular freezing rain or wet snow. Occasional severe snowstorms with hurricane-intensity winds are accompanied by temperatures that can dip to 35° C and snowdrifts that can be as high as 2 meters; such winters threaten the survival of livestock. Summers are sunny and dry. Summer temperatures can rise to over 40° C, and occasionally there is no rainfall during an entire summer. In the spring and summer hot winds sometimes bring duststorms that are damaging to crops. In the northern part of the Nogay steppe there are 160 to 180 frost-free days, and in the south the number of frost-free days rises to 220.

Demography. The Nogay population has been increasing steadily even though Nogays living in proximity to Kumyks are considered assimilated to them. According to the preliminary results of the 1989 Soviet census, the Nogays number 75,564, an increase of 26.9 percent over the 1979 figure of 59,546. The 1979 figure itself was a 15.4 percent increase over the 1970 figure of 51,784. In 1970, 41.9 percent of the Nogays lived in the Daghestan ASSR, 43.3 percent in the Stavropol Krai, 10.7 percent in the Chechen-Ingush ASSR, 2.1 percent in the Karachay-Cherkess AO, and the remaining 2 percent elsewhere in the Caucasus or in Central Asia.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Nogays speak a Turkic language of the Northwestern or Kipchak Group of the Turkic languages. The language has been classified as belonging to the Aralo-Caspian or Kipchak-Nogay Subgroup, which also includes Karakalpak and Kazakh. Other Kipchak Turkic languages closely related to Nogay include Karachay-Balkar, Kirghiz, Kumyk, Crimean Tatar, and Kazan Tatar; many other Turkic languages are also mutually intelligible with Nogay. There was no separate Nogay literary language in the pre-Soviet period, although some Nogays knew the Arabic script. During this period the smaller Turkic peoples with no separate literary tradition were familiar with other Turkic languages written in the Arabic script, such as Ottoman Turkish, Azeri, Chagatay, and, later, Tatar and Kazakh. In 1928 two separate Nogay literary languages, Kara Nogay and the so-called Ak Nogay, were established using the Latin script. The Cyrillic alphabet was adopted in 1938 for a single Nogay literary language.

History and Cultural Relations

The greater territory that is home today to the Nogays has been inhabited by sedentary and nomadic peoples since prehistoric times. Prior to the Mongol invasions, the Nogay steppe was home to the Iranian Alans (also known as the As) and a series of Turkic groups, the last of which before the thirteenth century were the Kipchak Turks (also known as Polovtsians, Cumans, and Kanglï). Although elements of these groups can be found among the Nogays, the later arrival of various Turkic and Mongol tribes in the thirteenth century played a more important role in the later formation of this people. The Nogay Horde was formed in the wake of the disintegration of the Golden Horde in the second half of the fourteenth century, and later Nogay rulers (murzas ) of the sixteenth century claimed descent from Edigiü, leader of the Mangït tribe (d. 1419). The ethnonym of the Nogays is usually connected with the Golden Horde commander or tribal leader Nogay (d. 1299), although the Nogays' link to the Mangïts cannot be established satisfactorily on the basis of contemporary sources. The first references to the Nogay date from the fifteenth century, and from the sixteenth century on, various branches of the Nogay Horde controlled vast portions of the steppe region extending from the Crimea and the Black Sea littoral in the south to Kazan in the northern forest-steppe zone, and from the Prut River in the west to as far as the Irtïsh River in the east.

In the seventeenth century, the Great Horde of the Nogays, which had controlled the lower Volga region, migrated west and south under pressure from the recently arrived Kalmyk Mongols. The Nogays became subjects of Russia in the 1780s. Toward the middle of the nineteenth century, the Nogays consisted of the Kara (Tümen) Nogays, inhabiting most of the present-day Nogay steppe; the Jemboyluk, Yedisan, and Yedishkul Nogays of the western part of the Nogay steppe in the present-day Neftekumskiy District of the Stavropol Krai (also known as the "Achikulak Nogays"); the Aksay (Yakhsay), Kostek, and Tarki (Targu) Nogays of the plain between the Terek and Sulak rivers (also known as the "Kumyk Nogays"); the Beshtav-Kum (Beshtav, Kum, Kara murza) Nogays of the present-day Mineralovodskiy and Kochubeevskiy districts; and the Kuban Nogays along the Kuban (Kuban') and Maliy Zelenchuk rivers of the present-day Adïge-Khabl'skiy District of the Karachay-Cherkess AO. In the Astrakhan steppes lived the Astrakhan (Hajitarkhan) Nogays, divided into the Kundura (Karakash or Karaagash) and Yurt (Kara üyli) Nogays. Other groups included the Khazlar (Kaz) Nogays of recent Kalmyk Mongol origin who nomadized with the Jemboyluk; the Crimean Nogays; and the Bujak Nogays of Moldavia, Wallachia, and the Black Sea littoral. (Other classifications also include local territorial groups such as the Kasay, Kaspulat, Mansur, Novruz, Tokhtamïsh, and Ishterek.) Following the czarist period, the Nogays of the northern Caucasus and the adjacent steppe came under the short-lived United Mountain Republic in 1918, but it was soon incorporated into the USSR, at which time the first of the modern administrative units were formed.


Most Nogays were pastoral nomads until the early twentieth century; They traveled in groups later known as auls, consisting of as many as fifty wheeled carts, sometimes more. Some groups, called otars, were comprised of members of one family, but it is believed that most groups consisted of members of different families and tribes. They traveled together in winter, but dispersed in summer owing to the limited availability of water. The nomads had two kinds of shelter, the fixed round shelter (approximately 4 meters in diameter) on wheels called an otay and the larger terme, which could be disassembled for transport to the next pasturage. When setting up camp, the carts would be assembled in one inner and one outer circle, with the animals kept between the two circles.

The earliest reports of sedentary groups of Nogays (along the Kuban River) date from the end of the late seventeenth century to the early eighteenth. It is thought that the first settlements were winter quarters for nomads who traveled to other areas during the summer. After the Kuban Nogays, the next to settle were the Terek-Sulak Nogays and then the Yedishkul and Jemboyluk Nogays of the Achikulak steppe. The Kara Nogays, the largest group, were nomadic until the early twentieth century. The earliest homes were single-room structures made of mud and straw bricks, with no courtyards. Structures were eventually built to fence in animals. The process of sedentarization, completed in the twentieth century, has meant the creation of countless new planned settlements, often near transportation routes or sources of water. The Soviet period has also seen a rapid change in the styles of homes. The most common homes dating to the 1920s to early 1930s are two-room units with a front dayroom leading to a bedroom in the rear of the house. Most common in the Nogay steppe is the style of the 1930s and 1940s, the one-story brick house with three or four rooms and a glassed-in porch. Many homes are oriented so that the side faces the street and the front window opens on the courtyard. Most recently, four- or five-room and multistory houses have become more common for rural dwellers, but urban dwellers live in Soviet-style apartment complexes. By 1970, 16.2 percent of the Nogays were urbanized.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Until the early twentieth century most Nogays were pastoral nomads raising sheep, goats, cattle, horses, and camels. The Kuban and Kumyk Nogays and later the Nogays of Achikulak grew mainly millet but also oats, wheat, maize, watermelons and other melons, and squashes. Some Nogays also fished. Arid conditions, however, made the life of both pastoral nomads and agriculturalists difficult, and droughts and harsh winters sometimes brought great devastation to the herds and crops on which the Nogays relied for subsistence. In the twentieth century, improved availability of water (including more extensive canalization, already begun in the nineteenth century) and modern techniques have made the Nogays more productive as farmers and animal breeders. Today the recently sedentarized groups on the Nogay steppe raise sheep and cattle, whereas agriculture plays a greater role for groups sedentarized earlier, such as the Achikulak Nogays or the Nogays of the Kuban. Wheat is a major crop, and the importance of other crops is increasing. The availability of water, especially in river basins and along canals, makes orchards and vineyards practical. Today in the Terek-Sulakarea, fruits and vegetables such as apples, pears, plums, cherries, apricots, peaches, grapes, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbages, onions, eggplants, squashes, watermelons, and other melons are cultivated. Many of the crops resulting from such cultivation were unknown in the traditional diet. Along the Kuban, other crops such as sugar beets and sunflowers are also important.

Industrial Arts. Many of the wares that were traditionally produced from wool, leather, and wood (also from clay by sedentarists), such as clothing and household utensils, have given way to modern commercial products.

Trade. In earlier times horses and domestic wares were traded with neighboring peoples and Russian merchants in return for bread, salt, textiles, leather footwear, and manufactured goods. In the nineteenth century sedentarized Nogays also traded agricultural products such as wine. Today agricultural products from private plots in the Caucasus are sold throughout the former Soviet Union.

Division of Labor. In traditional nomadic families the livestock were collectively owned and managed, usually including the livestock brought by brides joining a family. Men tended the animals, were engaged in the field, were responsible for construction activities, and acquired goods from outside the household. Women were occupied with domestic chores. The female head of the household managed domestic affairs and organized the work of the females of her household. A symbol of the authority of the female head of the household was her chain of keys to the trunks and cashbox. She kept the male head of the household informed of the state and needs of the household and kept track of expenses. The female head distributed products for preparing meals, she or her first assistant cooked, and she served the food that was prepared. There was a strict hierarchy among women, with younger women obliged to obey the orders of the older women. Older women were responsible for preparing milk products, preparing grain and flour, spinning yarn, weaving cloth, and sewing clothing. Young daughters-in-law performed the heaviest tasks: gathering dung for fuel, laundry, cleaning the residences, sorting fleece, making felt, carrying water, and washing utensils. Today the division of labor is less stark; in many households there is cooperation between men and women. Nevertheless, women still tend to perform domestic chores in addition to managing the household budget, and men still tend to perform outdoor chores such as watching after the animals, tending the gardens, etc.

Land Tenure. Under the Soviet system, land was owned by the state, although this part of the former Soviet Union had the highest proportion of privately cultivated plots.


Kin Groups and Descent. All Nogays, including territorial groups or confederations (bet ) such as the Yedisan or the Jemboyluk, consisted of subgroups often identified as separate tribes (küp ), such as the Kïpshak (Kipchak), Mïng, Kongrat, Mangït, Keneges, Kanglï, Nayman, Uygïr, Ïrgaklï, As, Üysin, Kos tamgalï, Kazankulak, Ashamaylï, and a large number of others. For example, at the end of the nineteenth century the Kara Nogays remembered the four tribes Kïpshak, Nayman, Terik, and Ming. Although it is suggested that each of these tribes shared a belief in descent from a common ancestor, there has been no evidence in historic times to substantiate this. These tribes were further subdivided into subtribes or lineages (taytsa, kavïm, tukïm, ürim, uruv ). For example, the Nayman were divided into the lineages (uruy) Moynapa, Harnalïk, Hazan ulï, Shursha, Kalimerden, Üshkübi, Ökresh, Bakay, Keli avil, and others. The Nogay Kïpshaks apparently consisted of eleven lineages: the Hazankulak, Shiyira Kïpshak, Küdir Kïpshak, Tüyinshekli Kïpshak, Hurama Kïpshak, Shekli Kïpshak, Tizginshekli Kïpshak, Ayuvshï Kïpshak, Otekay ulï, Shabay ulï, and Kartïsh ulï.

Other traditional fictive kin relationships included atatïk, in which one family sends a child to be raised by another family, leading to close ties between the two families. Children raised by another family considered the fictive siblings emshek (kardash )"nursing sibling," or sütles "milk sibling." In another form, an older person could adopt a younger person, or a younger person, sometimes poor, could adopt an influential father (who could adopt more than one child). Yet another form of fictive kinship was adoptive siblinghood (kardash tutuv, dostutuv, adanas tutuv ; sometimes atatïk tutuv ), in which two unrelated youths concluded eternal friendship and siblinghood. Two such males were known as doslar (friends), and two females as kïymaslar (unparting girlfriends). Between opposite sexes the male was adanas (brother) and the female was karïndas (sister), and if the female was older the male would address her as èptey (older sister).

Kinship Terminology. Descent is patrilineal, and relatives through the father's line are collectively known as kazan ülesken kardashlar (relatives who share the pot). There is a separate set of kinship terms for relatives in the matriline (ana bet ), who are collectively referred to as nagashïlar. A rich separate terminology applies to the relatives of the women who join the family. The system of kinship terminology is thought to reflect the past importance of the extended family.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Traditional marriages were arranged by the parents. The head of a family unit could have as many as four wives; other males had only one. The age of marriage for women was 13 to 15, for men 15 to 25, although many men could not marry until the age of 30 to 40 because they could not yet afford to pay the kalim (bride-price), an important feature of Nogay marriage agreements. The kalïm, formerly paid in livestock and later in cash, would be distributed among members of the same lineage. In addition to the bride-price, the groom also had to provide lavish gifts for the mother and adoptive mother of the bride. Marriage was strictly exogamous to the patriline. In some areas marriage was prohibited to any prospective couple sharing an ancestor seven or eight generations back in the father's line. In other areas exogamy extended not just to the line of the father but to the whole tribe. As a result, Nogays were well aware of the origins of their lineage and tribe. There may also have been regular marriage relations between two tribes, although this has been documented only in one area and is considered a relic of earlier practices. Marriage to relatives through the matriline, however, was totally unrestricted. Today marriages are decided by the future bride and groom on the basis of romantic love, and payment of a bride-price is a rare phenomenon.

Domestic Unit. By the late nineteenth century the nuclear family was prevalent among nomadic Nogays, whereas among the sedentarized Nogays the extended patrilocal family was more common (the extended family is considered an earlier form). Extended families among the nomadic Kara Nogays consisted of seven to twenty-five members spanning three generations, although it is believed that such families were in the process of disintegration at the time. "Uncomplex" nuclear families consisted of parents and unmarried children; "complex" nuclear families also included some kin of the husband. Today most families are nuclear families, although Nogays have relatively large numbers of children.

Inheritance. When large families were divided into smaller families, property was distributed either according to Islamic religious law (Sharia) or customary law (adat ). Upon the death of a father who was head of a household, property was divided among the sons of the father; the younger generations did not have a separate share. Unmarried daughters received half of a son's share (although according to customary law they could not share in the house or land). Under Sharia, the wife received one-eighth of the property of the entire family. If the property was divided during the lifetime of the head of the household for the purposes of dividing the large family, the father received most of the property. Property was usually divided equally among the sons, but custom allowed supplements for the oldest and the youngest sons. Multiple shares could also be apportioned to the youngest unmarried son to provide for the expenses of marriage and establishing his own household. If there were no male heirs, the daughter had to give up even her share to the closest relatives in the male line, whereas the son could inherit all if there were no female heirs.

Socialization. Children traditionally were reared by the women of the family. The head of the household was an absolute authority with the right to punish members of his family. Respect for elders was important, and strong traditional customs regarding hospitality continue to have some importance. Mass education began in the Soviet period.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Urban Nogays are employed in industrial or other urban occupations. Rural Nogays raise livestock or agricultural products as members of collective or state farms.

Political Organization. The Nogays are considered one of the constituent nationalities of Daghestan, but they do not have any special territorial-administrative recognition of their separate identity except as the indigenous population of one raion. Nogays outside Daghestan have no territorial-administrative status at all. Since the establishment of the Daghestan ASSR (1921) and the Stavropol Krai (1943) and the reestablishment of the Karachay-Cherkess AO and the Chechen-Ingush ASSR (1957), changes have been limited to the renaming of towns and raions.

Social Control. The community traditionally would attempt, through mediation and restitution, to arrive at a peaceful resolution of incidents such as murder. The murderer was known as kan ishken (blood drinker) or kanlï yav (blood enemy); if the death was accidental he was known as kan yavgan (splattered with blood). If the matter could not be settled in a peaceful manner, the murder was to be avenged by the closest male relative through the father's line. Sometimes the murderer had to leave his village for a period of years. It is believed that this practice ended in the Soviet period. Religious (Sharia) courts also existed in the pre-Soviet period but were replaced by the Soviet court system. Conflict was rare in Nogay society.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. Since perhaps the thirteenth or fourteenth century the Nogays have been Sunni Muslims, although pre-Revolutionary travelers have noted that the Nogays were not a very religious people. The pre-Islamic Nogay word for god is tengri, which is associated with the traditional animistic religion of the nomadic Turks. Important ceremonies are held at birth, marriage, and death, traditionally presided over by the mullah, the local religious leader. In the earliest sedentary communities one of the first permanent structures was a mosque, although the mullah would travel with the community during the summer.

Arts. Nogays once possessed a rich material culture in which they made all the articles of daily life. Special decorative techniques were applied to fabrics and jewelry. They also possessed a rich oral literature, including songs based on heroic epics known as batïr yïrlar or Kïska kazak yïrlar, such as "Mamay batïrdïng yïrï," "Shorabatïrdïng yïrï," "Targun batïrdïng yïrï," and "Edigeding yïrï." These were sung at weddings and other occasions.

Medicine. In the Soviet period sanitary conditions were improved and health care became widely available.

Death and Afterlife. Apparently there was a belief in the spirit of death following families in which many children had died. Such families would send their children to be raised by other families.


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