Nakh peoples

Vainakhs at a wedding, circa 1870–1886
Nakh woman in traditional costume. 1881

Nakh peoples are a group of historical and modern ethnic groups speaking (or historically speaking) Nakh languages and sharing certain cultural traits. In modern days, they reside almost completely in the eastern parts of North Caucasus, but historically, certain areas of the South Caucasus may have also been Nakh.

The only healthy, living branch of the Nakh languages are now the Vainakh languages (spoken by the Vainakh peoples, namely Chechens, Ingush and Kist), due to the extinction of other peoples. The only non-Vainakh modern Nakh people are the Bats people in Northeast Georgia, but they are largely assimilated and their language is highly endangered.

Although the Vainakh are only a branch of Nakh peoples, due to the present-day situation, where the only well-known Nakh are Vainakh, the words Vainakh and Nakh are frequently confused. Hence the word Vainakh is frequently, but mistakenly applied to historical non-Vainakh peoples.


The early history of the Nakh peoples has been tentatively reconstructed from linguistic analysis and archaeological evidence.

10,000–8000 BCE
Migration of Nakh people to the slopes of the Caucasus from the Fertile Crescent.
6000–4000 BCE
Neolithic era. Pottery is known to the region. Old settlements near Ali-Yurt and Magas, discovered in the modern times, revealed tools made out of stone: stone axes, polished stones, stone knives, stones with holes drilled in them, clay dishes etc. Settlements made out of clay bricks discovered in the plains. In the mountains there were discovered settlements made out of stone surrounded by walls some of them dated back 8000 BC.[1]
4000–3000 BCE
Use of the wheel (3000 BC), horseback riding, metal works (copper, gold, silver, iron) dishes, armor, daggers, knives, arrow tips. The artifacts were found near Naser-Kort, Muzhichi, Yi-E-Borz (now Surkhakhi), Abi-Goo (now Nazran).[1]
4th century BCE – 11th century CE
The mountain clans founded an association of clans called Durzukia, which survived into the early Middle Ages despite incursions by Khazars, Huns, Arabs, Persians, Mongols and others. The first mention of the name "durdzuki" according to the writing of the Arab writer Ibn al-Faqih and al-Baladzori falls into the first half of the 6th century, stating "the construction of Chosroes Anushirvanom (VI) in Durzukia 12 gates and stone fortifications.[2] Georgian source Kartlis Tskhovreba clearly states that Durzuks paid tribute to the Khazars.
Destruction of the Alania capital of Maghas (both names known solely from Muslim Arabs) and Alan confederacy of the Northern Caucasian highlanders, nations, and tribes by Batu Khan (a Mongol leader and a grandson of Genghis Khan) "Magas was destroyed in the beginning of 1239 by the hordes of Batu Khan. Historically Magas was located at approximately the same place on which the new capital of Ingushetia is now built" – D.V.Zayats[3]
12th–15th centuries
the State of Simsir was a union of Vainakh teips. They started a national struggle of liberation from the Golden Horde.[4] After the Mongol invasion Islam started its spread in the region.[5] The spread of Islam seems to have started in the lowland part of the Vainakh states at this time, associated with the advent of the Arabic language and Arabic writing. Inscriptions on monuments from this time, preserved in some Vainakh villages, also testify to this.[6]
13th–14th centuries
Independence wars against Tatar-Mongol hordes and army of Tamerlane.
17th century – present
ongoing struggle over the independence of Chechnya; Ingush remain less openly rebellious, but still have a particularly problematic conflict with the Ossetes ; Batsbi and Kists are considered Georgians and are part of Georgia (living mainly in the Tusheti region)
Caucasian Imamate
Vainakh military tower near settlement Chanta
Necropolis in Itum Kale (Chechnya), and tower of Tsoi-Pheda protecting the peace of the dead



Main article: Nakh Architecture

A characteristic feature of Vainakh architecture in the Middle Ages, rarely seen outside Chechnya and Ingushetia, was the Vainakh tower, a kind of multi-floor structure that was used for dwelling or defense (or both). Nakh tower architecture and construction techniques reached their peak in the 15th–17th centuries.[7]

Residential towers had two or three floors, supported by a central pillar of stone blocks, and were topped with a flat shale roofing. These towers have been compared to the prehistoric mountain settlements dating back to 8000 BC.

Military ("combat") towers were 25 meter high or more,[7] with four of five floors and a square base approximately six meters wide. Access to the second floor was through a ladder. The defenders fired at the enemy through loopholes and the top of the tower had mashikul – overhanging small balconies without a floor. These towers were usually crowned with pyramid-shaped roofing built in steps and topping with a sharpened capstone.

Buildings combining the functions of residential and military towers were intermediate in size between the two types, and had loop-holes and mashikuls.

Nakh towers used to be sparingly decorated with religious or good-wishing petrographs, such as solar signs or depictions of the author’s hands, animals, etc.. Military towers often bore a Golgopha cross.

Sanctuaries, temples and mosques

The Vainakh pagan pantheon included a supreme god Dela and a goddess of fertility Tusholi. There were also phallic cults.

A whole number of peculiar monuments, natural and artificial, served as shrines for ritual services. Vainakhs chose mountains (such as the Tsei-Lam Range), lakes (Galanchoge-Ami) and some species of plants, pear-trees in particular, for exercising rituals. These shrines were places for prayers and for the sacrifice of domestic animals.

The most primitive shrines (sielingi) were low rectangular pillar-shaped stone structures with a niche for candles. These shrines were raised on the village outskirts and at the graveyards to protect both the living and the dead. Better known are shrines in the form of small houses topped with ridged step roofing, like Myatsil Sanctuary on Mat-Lam Mountain near the town of Vladikavkaz. Such a large range of shrines belonging to

Beginning from the 11th–12th century, Georgian Christian influence on the Nakh tribes are attested, for example, by the Tkhaba-Yerdy Church consecrated to St. Thomas in Assa Valley, and extant churches in Ingushetia.

Islamic influence intensified in 18th and 19th centuries. Examples of Islamic architecture from that period are the tower-shaped mosques in the villages of Makazhoy and Khimoy.


Burial vaults or crypts remained from the pagan period in the history of Vainakhs, before they converted to Islam in the 16th century (partially, the entire region, Islam has spread only in the 17th century.). They were built either a bit deepening into the ground or half underground and on the surface. The latter formed whole “towns of the dead” on the outskirts of the villages and reminded sanctuaries from the outside, with a dummy vaults constructed of overlapping stones. The deceased were placed on the special shelves in the crypts, in clothes and decorations and arms.

The general Islamic rituals established burials with the further penetration of Islam inside the mountainous regions of Chechnya and Ingushetia. Stone steles, churts, inscribed with prayers and epitaphs, began to be erected at the graves and more prosperous mountaineers were honoured with mausoleums after death. The Borgha-Kash Mausoleum dating to the very beginning of the 15th century and built for a Noghai prince is a good example of these.

Ruins of ancient Vainakh settlement, and agricultural terraces behind.

Agricultural structures

Lack of arable land in sufficient quantities in the mountainous areas, forced Vainakhs to use their territory of residence as efficiently as possible. They leveled the steep slopes, organized terraces suitable for agriculture. On the barren rocky slopes of rocks, which are unsuitable for agriculture Vainakhs hew foundations for terraces. On carts harnessed donkeys and oxen, they brought black soil of the lowlands, and filled with it artificial terraces.[8] For maximum harvest was organized by the entire irrigation system, which consisted of a small artificial stream canals connected with the mountain rivers, these canals were called Taatol, they also built a small stone canals called Epala, and quite small wooden troughs Aparri. Some scholars notably I. Diakonov and S. Starostin proposed that Epala and Aparri may correspond to Urartian irrigation canal name "pili" and Hurrian "pilli/a".[9] Some irrigation structures were built also on lowlands but they were less complicated.


Chechen, Ingush

Economy in the Middle Ages



Сarts and carriages made Vainakh masters were highly valued in the region and beyond. Products of Vainakh masters bought not only the Caucasian peoples, but also such excess power with an established industry like Russia. To support non-competitive domestic producers, Russia, overlaid Vainakh manufacturers of large fees. At this complaining Terek Cossacks in their letters to Russian Government, despite the fact that they are a natural enemy of the tree.[10] In 1722 the Russian Army bought 616 Vehicles for 1308 rubles, at a time when the annual salary of the governor of the three villages was only 50 rubles.[11][12]

Nakh traditional feasting carpet, Istanga

Carpet weaving

Since ancient times, the Vainakhs have been producing thin felt carpets called Istang. Vainakh rugs are distinguished by a peculiar pattern and high quality. Jacob Reineggs, who visited the region in the 18th century, noticed that Chechen and Ingush women skillfully manufactured carpets and fringes.[13] Ornamen Vainakh carpets were divided among themselves into different groups dependent on patterns;

Cole Thomas Prometheus Bound 1846–47


Main article: Vainakh mythology

Only a few fragments of Vainakh mythology have survived to modern times. These fragments consist of the names of deities personifying elements of animist ideas, Nart saga, cosmogonic tradition, remnants of stock-breeding and landtilling, totemic beliefs and folk calendar.[14]


The greatest samples of Nakh mythology are the legends of Pkharmat, Galanchoge Lake, the epic war of Pkhagalberi (hare riders) dwarves against Narts, Kezanoi Lake, and myths about how sun moon and stars appeared.[15]

The Nakh myth of the legendary Pkharmat being shackled on Mount Kazbek by God Sela because he has stolen heavenly fire from him shows some parallels with Greek Myth of Prometheus and Georgian Amirami. The Legendary war of Pkhalberi (hare riders) dwarves against Narts can be compared to Greek "Crane and Pygmies war" by Said-Magomed Khasiev [16] The Golden Fleece myth seems to be bound to Nakh 11 years calendar tradition. In such a myth, ram skin was placed in an oak frame "Jaar" for 11 years, and produced golden fleece named "Dasho Ertal".[17]

Kouzan-Am Lake

Legend of Kouzan-Am Lake

Legend has explicit parallels with Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Islamic Lot. The story tells us that there once there was a very rich settlement at the place where now there is a lake. Despite their wealth, the people of this city were very greedy. Once God Dela sent his representatives in the guise of beggars, to test people. They asked all residents to give them food, but residents of the city in response to abused and driven away, and only one poor family in the village shared with them their food.

Legend has it that a poor family left a burnt bread for themselves and gave a piece of white bread for their guests. Leaving the house, the guests told the family that after some time has passed, behind the front door water will be collected in puddles, and when this happens they should gather the bare necessities, leave their home, and go to the mountains. Since poor families do not disobey and so did everything as they told to do by the guests.

They told the rich of the impending disaster, and asked to follow them, but their greed would not allow them to leave their treasures. That the evening the family watched a terrible catastrophe, they saw the water cover their house along with those who remained. In memory of terrible events Vainakhs named the lake, lake of sorrow and cruelty, Kezanoi lake.

Galayn-Am Lake

Legend of Galayn-Am Lake

Legend tells of an incident which occurred when two women decide to wash clothes in the purest water of the lake next to their settlement, which was the abode of Vainakh's supreme deity Dela's daughter Tusholi. In continuation of story insulted goddess punishes the offenders turning them into stones, all the same goddess could not remain in distorted lake. She has turned into a mythical bull, and began to destroy the settlements are located on the hillside. Disaster continued until the bull was tamed in the settlement located in place of new Galayn-Chozh settlement. Vainakhs found use for the tamed animal, with its help they plowed their fields. But unfortunately the next spring in the fields that were plowed by sacred animal began to appear springs. The water flooded the fields and turned them into a lake, and Tusholi again turned her face and settled into a new clean abode.

Cosmology and creation

In ancient Nakh cosmology the universe was created by the supreme god Dela. Earth, created in three years, was three times larger than heavens and was propped up on the gigantic bull horns. The realm of the Vainakh Gods was over the clouds. Ishar-Deela was the ruler of the subterranean world, Deeli-Malkhi. Deeli-Malkhi was larger than the realm of the human; it took seven years to create it. Nakhs believed that when the sun sets in the west it goes to the netherworld and vice versa. Deeli-Malkhi wasn't an evil realm of the dead or undead. It was almost similar to the upper world with some improvements in its social structures. There was no judgment in life after life. Dela-Malkh was the sun god playing a central role in religious celebrations. On 25 December Nakhs celebrated Sun Festival in honour of the Sun God's birthday.[18]

The names of stars and constellations were also connected to myths. So Vainakhs knew:

Fairy tales

In Nakh fairy tales can be found people with supernatural abilities, magic artifacts, mythic animals as dragons and winged horses and some journeys to another worlds and magic. In almost all the fairy tales good triumphs over evil. There are legends of the origin of defecating, which came as a punishment for men's greed.


Tkhaba-Erdy Temple in Ingushetia.

In the Middle Ages Vainakh society felt a strong Byzantine influence that led to the adoption of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in some parts of the country (particularly the mountainous South). However, Christianity did not last long. After the devastation of the country by Tamerlane, Christianity was eroded (due to the temporary loss of contacts between Georgia and Nakh Christians) and gradually the Chechens and Ingush returned to their native, pagan beliefs (while the Bats were permanently Christianized). Islam began to spread on Nakh peoples lands from 16th and 17th centuries.

Vainakhs are predominantly Muslim of the Shafi`i school of thought of Sunni Islam.[19] The majority of Chechen (approx 1.5 million) and Ingush (500,000 people) people are Muslim of the Shafi`i school. Kists (about 7,100 people) are partly Sunni Muslims and Georgian Orthodox when Bats approx. 3,000 people are Christian (Georgian Orthodox) [19]

By rite, most Chechens are Qadiris, with a considerable Nakshbandi minority. There is also a tiny Salafi minority (Sunni sect).[20] The two main groups (Salafism is more of a modern introduction to the region, and is still considered to be completely foreign) have often had divergent responses to events (for example, the Qadiri authorities initially backing the Bolsheviks after the promised to grant freedom to the Chechens from Russia; while the Nakshbandis were more sceptical of the Bolsheviks' sincerity). And some historic Iranian influence in Chechnya and Azerbaijan, which the majority of Iranians follow Shia Islam.

However, as is also the case with other Caucasian groups, such as the Georgians, Abkhaz, and Circassians, Islam did not wipe out all traces of the native religion. Many Chechens and Ingush even refer to the God of the Muslim religion (usually "Allah", from Arabic) as "Dela", who is the head god of the original Nakh pantheon (parallel to how Georgians refer to the Christian God as Ghmerti, their original main god). The Nakh interpretation of Sharia often is more resemblant of the adat than of sharia as practiced in other Muslim countries, though some note that this may actually be closer to the original intent in some ways. There is a common saying that "Muhammad may have been an Arab, but Allah is Chechen for sure", emphasizing this attitude towards the restrictive Islam of the Middle East that is often imagined in the West as representing the behavior and culture of all Muslims.[21][22] Despite syncretism, most Nakh peoples are often regarded as either "Muslim people" (in the case of Ingush, Kists and Chechens), or as "Orthodox Christian people" (Batsbi). Nonetheless, worship of the original pantheon, with the exception of Dela, for the most part has no modern continuity and was replaced by Islam, despite some syncretism (i.e. building mosques consistently near streams, where temples were, reverence for the adat, etc.).

There is considerable tension among Chechens about religion. This largely asserts itself in the conflict between the pan-Islamist/Wahhabi/Salafi creed which vows to "cleanse Islam of impurity and syncretism" (i.e. de-Chechenize Islam in Chechnya to bring it more in line with global Islam), and those who view the indigenous form as superior, or otherwise as a national custom to be defended. Among the claimant governments for the land of Ichkeria, both the Western exiled Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and the Russian installed Kadyrov regime are largely hostile to Wahhabism/Salafism, while the reaction of the Caucasus Emirate is considerably more positive, though still at times rather uncomfortable towards it (see certain statements by Dokka Umarov, for example). The Kadyrov government, meanwhile, opposes Wahhabism in name, but still rules Chechnya with a rather harsh interpretation of sharia law, including banning of bare-headed women in public, mandatory Qu'ran study in schools (with the interpretation favored by the government promoted), the death penalty for suspected homosexuality and so on. The exiled Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, meanwhile, has consistently stated both that the indigenous interpretation is a national trait (to be preserved) and that Ichkeria should be a secular national state, and while Islam may certainly be a part of the Chechen identity at times, it is certainly neither a requirement nor more important than any other aspect.

This attitude has been largely consistent (except for in 1998 when Maskhadov briefly allowed sharia courts to appear due to intense pressure from his opponents, including Shamil Basayev and Salman Raduyev, in an attempt to find unity by compromise). It is noted by many observers, Chechen, Russian (such as Valery Tishkov) and Western (such as Paul B. Henze, though his wife is in fact Abkhaz, as well as Tony Wood and Anatol Lieven), that often, as seen in countries like Turkey and Albania, nationalist imagery -particularly the wolf, an animal viewed as symbolic of the Chechen nation- is given far more importance than religion.[23]

Vainakh social organization scheme.

Social Structure

Main articles: Teip and Tukkhum

Traditionally Nakh peoples known as a society with a highly developed and complex clan system. In which individuals are united in family groups called "Tsa" – house. Several Tsa's are part of the "Gar" -branch or "Nekh"-road, a group of Gar's is turn in to a Teip. Teip is a unit of tribal organization of Vainakh people. Teip's has its own council of elders and unites people from the political, economic and military sides. All cases teips left solely to the democratically elected representatives of houses i.e. "Tsa". Number of participants of Teipan-Khelli depends on number of houses.

Most teips made unions called Tukkhum. Tukkhum is a military-economic or military-political union teips. Tukhums governed by a Board of Representatives of Teips, Teipan-Khelli. Teips council of elders choose one or several people to submit their Teip in Tukkhum-Khelli (Council of Tukkhum). New Teip were taken in tukhums depending on its geographical location and on depends on the harmonization of Tukkhum Council Elders. Joining a Tukhum depended on desire of the Teip itself. No one could force a teip to join a Tukkhum.

To address issues of national scale worked Mexk-Khel, the People's Council. Representatives of the Council were elected by each Tukkhum Council and had an enormous influence on the destiny of the people. Could start a war or prohibit any or tukhum or Teip prevent war. As it was forbidden Akkhis to fight against the Kabardian Kings in the 14th century. Orstkhoys Tukhum was banned for their disobedience, when they were going to completely destroy north-Daghestan Vainakh clans of Aukh. For disobedience of its orders Mekhk-Khel could raise an army from all parts of Chechnya and Ingushetia. Mexk-Khel, could gather in different places at different times. It was gathering in Terloi Moxk and Äkkhi Moxk's Galanchoge region. In Galainchoge still stands giantic Mexk-Kheli stone, around which Mexk-Kheli members solved issues.[7]

All Vainakh Councils also bore responsibility and respect for law and order. The problem is not solved in Teip council could move to Tukkhum council and further even to Mekhk-Khel. That was called "Mexkidaqqar" meaning "to make a state matter" and "bringing to Mexki". Mexk-Khel name come from Nakh word Moxk, the state. On the top of the social structure stands nation which is referred to in most Nakh languages something resembling "Kham"

Sharoi Tukkhum capital Sharoi

Political Structure

Many observers, including Russians such as Leo Tolstoy, have been very impressed by the democratic nature of the indigenous Chechen governments prior to Russian conquest. According to Western Ichkerophile Tony Wood, the Vainakh people, in particular the Chechens (as the Ingush and the Batsbi have fallen under foreign domination much more frequently and as a result, the indigenous system and democratic values are less deeply ingrained), could be described as one of the few nations in the world with an indigenous system highly resemblant of democracy [21](others cited are often Scots, Albanians and Basques; notably, all three, much like the Vainakh peoples, are mountain dwelling peoples with a clan-based social organization and a strong attachment to the concept of freedom). Even more interestingly, in the 19th century, a couple of Circassian tribes overthrew their traditional aristocracy and established a democratic, egalitarian society, with some adoptions from the Nakh system. Of course, this advance, which may have spread eventually to all of the Circassian tribes, was halted by their political state being annihilated by Russian conquest, a fate later shared by the rest of the Caucasus.

It is notable especially that the Chechen and Ingush systems, as well as the system later adopted from them by some Eastern Circassian tribes, is resemblant especially of the Western democratic republic. It has a central government with a legislative body (the Mexk-Kel), a body resemblant of an executive branch (the Council of Tukhum) as well as a judicial branch (the other councils). The adat and other bodies have served as the constitution. The members to all three of the main national councils of the nation were, in fact, elected, making the inherent indigenous democracy of the Nakh peoples even more striking.[24]

During the Soviet Union period as well as currently during Ramzan Kadyrov's regime, the Taip-Council system has been heavily criticized by Russian governments and the puppet governments installed by Russia in Chechnya and Ingushetia, who view it as a destabilizing force and an obstacle to maintaining order. The claim is that such a system was illustrative of the anarchic nature of the Caucasian ethos.[25]

The democratic and egalitarian nature and democratic values of freedom and equality of Chechen society has been cited as many as a major reason why their persistence in resistance to Russian rule has been so intense (as well as the fact that there was no elite to be coopted by Tsarist authorities, as Wood notes).[22][26][27][28]

Foreign origin teips

According to Nakh ethos and moral codes such as the adat, hospitality is considered extremely important, less important only than freedom (considered of first importance) and equality (second importance).

As the third most important value to the moral code, it has a profound effect on the functioning of the teip system. Several times, originally foreign groups have been completely integrated into the teip system, becoming their own teip. A notable example is the Germans who lived among the Chechens during their exile in Kazakhstan and Siberia: during even as short a period of 13 years, the Germans decided to join the teip system, and the new "German" taip was founded by M.Weisert, whose relatives still lived mainly in Germany.[25] There have also been several periods where Jews living in Chechnya founded their own teip (teip Dzugtoi), which is still in existence, though it has shrunk considerably due to the flight of people from Chechnya due to the brutal war. There are also teips that were formed, sometimes temporarily, by Russians (teips Orsi, Arsoi), Poles or Ukrainians. These taips are often eventually viewed as integral parts of the nation, despite their foreign origin.



Haplogroup J2a4b*

A 2011 study by Oleg Balanovsky and a number of other geneticists showed that the Y-DNA haplogroup J2a4b* (a subclade of J2, located mainly in the Middle East, Caucasus and Mediterranean) was highly associated with Nakh peoples.[29] J2a4b* accounted for the majority of the Y-chromosomes of Ingush and Chechen men, with the Ingush having a much higher percentage, 87.4%, than Chechens, who had 51–58% depending on region (the lowest being in Malgobek, the highest in Dagestan and Achkhoy-Martan). In their paper, Balanovsky et al. speculated that the differences between fraternal Caucasian populations may have arisen due to genetic drift, which would have had a greater effect among the Ingush than the Chechens due to their smaller population[29] (another possible reason for the difference is the greater absorption of foreign peoples into the Chechen populace, reflecting an older theory that the Ingush are more 'archaic' than other Caucasian peoples). The Chechens and Ingush have the highest frequencies of J2a4b* yet reported (other relatively high frequencies, between 10 and 20 percent, are found in the Mediterranean and Georgia).

Theories on Origins of the Nakh peoples

Migration from the Fertile Crescent c.10000-8000 BCE

Many scholars, such as Johanna Nichols[30] and Bernice Wuethrich [31] hold that the Dzurdzuks were descended from extremely ancient migrations from the Fertile Crescent to the Caucasus, perhaps due to population or political pressures back in the Fertile Crescent. Others who believe the so-called "Urartian version", such as George Anchabadze and Amjad Jaimoukha, still hold that those original migrants contributed to both the genetic and cultural traits of the modern Ingush and Chechens, but that the primary ancestors were Nakh-speaking migrants from what became Northeastern Urartu.

Various Interpretations on the Relationship with Urartu and Urartians; Hurrians

It is widely held by various authors that Nakh nations had a close connection of some sort to the Hurrian and Urartian civilizations in modern-day Armenia, Turkey and Kurdistan largely due to linguistic similarities (Nakh shares the most roots with known Hurrian and Urartian) – either that the Nakhs were descended from Hurrian tribes, that they were Hurrians who fled north, or that they were closely related and possibly included at points in the state.[32]

Although all historians agree they were closely related, there is a wide variety of views on the nature of the relationship.

According to ethnic Circassian Caucasus specialist Amjad Jaimoukha, at least

It is certain that the Nakh constituted an important component of the Hurrian-Urartian tribes in the Trans-Caucasus and played a role in the development of their influential cultures.


It has been noted that at many points, Urartu in fact extended through Kakheti into the North Caucasus. Jaimoukha notes in his book:

The kingdom of Urartu, which was made up of several small states, flourished in the ninth and seventh centuries BCE, and extended into the North Caucasus at the peaks of its power...


The Georgian chronicles of Leonti Mroveli state that the Urartians "returned" to their homeland (i.e. Kakheti) in the Trans-Caucasus, which had become by then "Kartlian domain", after they were defeated.

Xenophon passed through Armenia on the territory of ancient Urartu in 401 BCE, and found possible remnants of Urartians (which he calls Khaldians, probably due to their worship of the god Khaldi) in the higher slopes of the mountains, while the lower lands were already settled by Armenians.[34][35] These Urartians, as modern scholars infer, were to later undergo a process of fusion with Proto-Armenian language and culture.

Jaimoukha notes that the first confirmed appearance of a consolidated Vainakh nation in the North Caucasus spanning the range the Zygii would later have (with a few additions later) was after the fall of Urartu, and notes that numerous people think that they were a regathering of Nakh tribes fleeing the crumbling state and the invasion of the Proto-Armenians, who slowly assimilated most of those who stayed behind.[36] The Ancient Greek chronicler Strabo mentioned that Gargareans had migrated from eastern Asia Minor (i.e. Urartu) to the North Caucasus.[37] Jaimoukha notes that Gargareans is one of many Nakh roots- gergara, meaning, in fact, "kindred" in proto-Nakh.[36]

Other Nakh roots throughout the Republic of Armenia, Naxcivan, and Western (Turkish) Armenia have been found, although the Nakh nature of some of these places has been disputed with other assertions put forward (for example, the Nakh root of "Nakhichevan" as nakh+che+bun is rivaled by the theory that the place name comes from Armenian roots meaning "first landing" in reference to the legend of Noah).

Jaimoukha provides a number in his book.[38] Yerevan is thought to be the site of the similarly named ancient Èribuni (from the Nakh nation-tribe of the Èrs, which lived in the region + bun, the root in Chechen that generated the word "shelter" or "lair"). The Nakh Èr nation also contributed to a number of other roots- for example the Arax valley (Èrashki, from a Hurrian/Nakh hydronym forming suffix). Near the Èrs lived a tribe known as the Nakhchradzor. The Dzurdzuks, a name the Georgians called the early medieval inhabitants of Ichkeria later, had a name derived from the settlement of Durdukka, near Lake Urmia. The area around Lake Sevan, known as Eriaki in Urartian times (i.e. perhaps from the Ers) also contributes a number of roots. Old Armenian name for the lake include Gegharkunik (Armenian: Գեղարքունիք) and the Sea of Gegham (Armenian: Գեղամա ծով); whereas the old Georgian name for the lake was Lake Ereta, referring once again to the Ers who lived around it. The Georgian name for the region, meanwhile, was Gogharena, possibly drawing from the "Gargarean" root.

In addition to these, there is also the very name of Naxcivan (Nakhichevan, from Nakh+Che+Bun), and Lake Van (similarly, from Bun, although it may instead be from Urartian biani; it is nonetheless the Armenian rendering of the Ersh bun). There may be an increasingly long list of further Nakh placenames in the South Caucasus that are less well-known, or not yet identified. The area of Nakhichevan and the site of Durdzukka on Lake Urmia (which rendered the historical Georgian name for the Chechens, the Dzurdzuks) point to an area which was on the Southeast periphery of what became Urartu. According to that, the flight of people from the area may have taken place as early as the 9th or 8th century BCE (when the area was being fought over by Urartians and Iranian tribes, the Medes), long before the invasion of the Cimmerians or the rise of the Armenian kingdom. All of this, however, is based around speculation and individual interpretation of data, as there are little remaining resources on the details of the flight north of the "Gargareans".

However, the nature of the relationship between the Nakh in the northern and eastern reaches of the Urartian state and the Central Urartians themselves is not known. Their languages were not identical, but seem to possibly have been related (Urartian biani to Ersh buni, to use the "house" root). Some scholars, such as Amjad Jaimoukha, propose that the Urartians were Nakh, or passed their language on to the Nakh in some way, etc., etc.; or that the Hurrians were a common ancestor to the Nakh peoples and the Urartians. There is much confusion, however, in how large the category of "Nakh" peoples is, whether the Urartians and Hurrians are a branch of Nakh, or conversely, whether the Nakh are a branch of Hurrians. There is also the view that the Urartians and Hurrians formed a separate linguistic branch from the Nakh, equal to it in time depth (but maybe or maybe not closer to Nakh than other branches).

The migration may have occurred much earlier than the fall of Urartu- as Jaimoukha points out, archaeological finds traced to the modern Chechens (at least according to him) date much further back. It is possible that rather than fleeing Urartu's collapse (or those of its predecessors) they may have instead been fleeing the Urartians themselves (or their predecessors). Although the migration of Hers (a related people) to Hereti occurred later, this does not mean that the Dzurdzuks could not have fled much earlier.

Modern Nakh nations

Chechen people

Main article: Chechen people

The Chechen people are a Caucasian ethnic group, who refer to themselves as Vainakhs (which means "our people" in Chechen) or Nokhchiy (pronounced [no̞xtʃʼiː]). Their worldwide population is around 2 million, approximately 75% of which live in the Republic of Chechnya, a subdivision of the Russian Federation. Most Chechens are Sunni Muslims of the Shafi'i school.

Ingush people

Main article: Ingush people

The Ingush are a Caucasian native ethnic group of the North Caucasus, mostly inhabiting the Russian republic of Ingushetia. The endonym they use for self-designation is Ghalghai. The Ingush people are predominantly Sunni Muslims and speak the Ingush language, which is not mutually intelligible with Chechen, despite popular misconceptions, though they are closely related.[39] Their total population is estimated to be ca. 700,000 worldwide.

Kist people

Main article: Kist people

The Kists are a Nakh group living in Georgia. They primarily live in the Pankisi Gorge, in the eastern Georgian region of Kakheti, where there are approximately 5,000 Kist people. Majority of Kists are Sunni Muslim, however, there are still remaining small pockets of Christian Kists in Pankisi, Tusheti and Kakheti.

Bats (Tsova-Tush or Tush)

Main article: Bats people

The Bats people or the Batsbi are a small Nakh-speaking community in Georgia who are also known as the Ts'ova-Tush after the Ts’ova Gorge in the historic Georgian province of Tusheti (known to them as "Tsovata"), where they are believed to have settled after migrating from the North Caucasus in the 16th century. Their population is estimated to be ca. 3000. Unlike the other Nakh peoples the Bats people are overwhelmingly Orthodox Christians.

Historical Nakh nations

Although today the Nakh are primarily the Vainakh (Chechens and Ingush) to the point that the words Nakh and Vainakh are often used interchangeably, the Nakh peoples once included many other nations, according to some historians and linguists. Some of these proposed inclusions are largely accepted, while others are debated. Due to the loss of many historic writings in the Caucasus, most of the research done to identify which peoples are Nakh is by evaluating linguistic stratum and place names. Early Nakh groups disappeared through assimilation, eradication or other methods, so that the only substantial Nakh groups left today are the Chechens and Ingush (and the tiny Kist and Bats groups, the latter of which is verging on extinction through assimilation). In addition to proposed connections of the Nakh to the Urartians and the Hurrians (by authors such as Amjad Jaimoukha), the list of possible historic Nakh peoples includes the following:


According to Georgian scholars I.A. Djavashvili and Giorgi Melikishvili the Urartuan state of Supani was occupied by the ancient Nakh tribe Tzov, the state of which is called Tsobena in ancient Georgian historiography.[40][41][42] Sophene was part of the kingdom of Urartu in the 8th–7th centuries BCE. After uniting the region with his kingdom in the early 8th century BCE, king Argishtis I of Urartu resettled many of its inhabitants to his newly built city of Erebuni.

Gargarei People

The earliest evidence of the distant ancestors of the Vainakhs, the Gargarei Peoples, who lived on the northern slopes of the Caucasus mountain range, is found in the Geographica of Strabo (1st century BCE [43] and in Naturalis Historia of Pliny the Elder (1st century CE).[44] Strabo wrote that "... the Amazons live close to Gargarei, on the northern foothills of the Caucasus mountains". The Amazons were equated with the Circassians via the root word maze. Gaius Plinius Secundus also localizes Gargarei as living north of the Caucasus, but calls them Gegar.[45] Some scholars (P.K. Uslar, K. Miller, N.F. Yakovleff, E.I. Krupnoff, L.A. Elnickiy, I.M. Diakonoff, V.N. Gemrakeli) supported the proposal that Gargarei is an earlier form of the Vainakh ethnonym. The Ancient Greek chronicler Strabo mentioned that Gargareans had migrated from eastern Asia Minor (i.e. Urartu) to the North Caucasus.[37] Jaimoukha notes that "Gargarean" is one of many Nakh root words - gergara, meaning, in fact, "kindred" in proto-Nakh.[46] If this is the case, it would make Gargarei virtually equivalent to the Georgian term Dzurdzuk (referring to the lake Durdukka in the South Caucasus, where they are thought to have migrated from, as noted by Strabo, before intermixing with the local population) which they applied to a Nakh people who had migrated north across the mountains to settle in modern Chechnya and Ingushetia.

Èrs and Hereti

The Èrs people were a people who inhabited what is today Northern Armenia, and then, (possibly) later, Hereti in what is today Southeast Georgia and Northwest Azerbaijan. They are considered to be more or less confirmed as Nakh, on the basis of a large number of placenames.[47] The urban center of their culture in ancient times was the fortress-city of Erebuni. (Eribuni in their language, meant "lair of the Èrs", combining the roots Èr+(i)+buni home;lair.) This city is now Yerevan, the capital of the Republic of Armenia. After those living in Northern Armenia left their homeland in what had become Urartu, the Èrs (called the "Hers" in the Georgian Chronicles) may have set up and run the state of Hereti. They were assimilated eventually, and their language was replaced by Georgian and Azeri.

Kakh and Kakheti

The Kakh were the original inhabitants of Kakheti and Tusheti in Eastern Georgia.[47][48] According to Amjad Jaimoukha, the Kakh apparently called themselves Kabatsas and their territory Kakh-Batsa.[35] If they were Nakh, they may or may not be ancestral to the modern Bats; or else they may or may not be closely related to them. The Kakh became linguistically assimilated by the rest of Georgiandom. However, the view that the Kakh were a Nakh people is not widely held, so they should not be included in a basic list.

Tsanars and Tzanaria

The Tsanars were a people of East-Central Northern Georgia, living in an area around modern Khevi. Tsanaria was their state, and it distinguished itself by the decisive role it and its people played in fending off the Arab invasion of Georgia. Their language is thought by many historians (including Vladimir Minorsky and Amjad Jaimoukha) to be Nakh, based on placenames, geographic location, and other such evidence.[47] However, there is opposition to the theory that theirs was a Nakh language. Others claim they spoke a Sarmatian language like Ossetic. The Tsanars, too, eventually were assimilated within Georgiandom.


G(h)lig(h)vs were a mysterious people in the North Caucasus thought by some Georgian historians to be a Nakh people.[47] They may be ancestral to the Ingush, but the term used by Georgians consistently for the Ingush is "Kist." This has caused much confusion, as the Nakh people in Georgia who speak Chechen are also called "Kists" by the Georgians.

Dvals and Dvaleti

The Dvals were a historic people living in modern-day South Ossetia and some nearby regions, as well as the southern parts of North Ossetia (South and West of the Gligvs, South and East of the Malkh). They integrated themselves into the Georgian kingdom and produced a number of fine Georgian calligraphers and historians. They also produced an Orthodox saint: Saint Nicholas of Dvaleti. The language of the Dvals is thought to be Nakh by many historians,[47][49][50][51][52][53] though there is a rival camp which argues for its status as a close relative of Ossetic.[53] Various evidence given to support the Nakh theory (Different scholars use different arguments.) includes the presence of Nakh placenames in former Dval territory,[53] taken as evidence of Nakh–Svan contact, which probably would have indicated the Nakh nature of the Dvals or of people there before them,[47] and the presence of a foreign-origin Dval clan among the Chechens,[52] seemingly implying that the Dvals found shelter (like the Malkhs are known to have done) among the Chechens from the conquest of their land by foreign invaders (presumably Ossetes). The Dvals were assimilated by the Georgians and the Ossetians. It is thought that Dval did not become fully extinct until the 18th century, making the Dvals the most recent Nakh people known to have disappeared.


The Malkhs were a Nakh people[47] who lived in modern-day Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay–Cherkessia, and the western part of North Ossetia and once briefly conquered Ubykhia and Abkhazia. They were conquered first by the Scythian-speaking Alans and then by Turkic tribes, and seem to have largely abandoned their homeland and found shelter among the Chechens, leading to the formation of a teip named after them. Those who stayed behind were either wiped out or assimilated. Their name may (or may not have) survived though: the Balkars in the region call themselves "Malkhars" (although this could also be from root of the Volga river, which gave us the name "Bulgars"). The common rendering of their name is the Malkh, but they may have been called the Melkh or some other closely related name.

Durdzuks and Durdzuketi

Durdzukia 1060. Note that this map does not include Simsir, a Durdzuk-run state that formed in the late 11th century (in this map it is part of Alania, as it was before it was a state in its own right), in Central and Northern Chechnya, on and around the Sunzha and Terek rivers.

Durdzuk was the name used historically by Georgians for the Chechens. The Durdzuks constructed numerous kingdoms, notably Durdzuketi; and they were noted for their exceptionally fierce devotion to freedom and their ability to resist invaders, ranging from the Arabs to the Scythians to Turkic peoples to the Mongolian invaders. They seemed also to have been employed as mercenaries by various parties. They had a written language using Georgian script (It is not known whether they spoke that language however.), but most of these writings have been lost, with only a few pieces surviving. After the 14th-century Second Mongol Invasion of Durdzuketi and the destruction wrought by the two invasions (including, as Amjad Jaimoukha notes, the destruction of their memory of their past [47]), they radically changed their culture. They became known as the Ichkeri (Turkic for "freedom people"), and their land as Ichkeria. It was then (as the Ichkeri) that the teip system became formalized into its well-known modern form. The term Ichkeri was also used to refer to the Ingush (for the most part), until the Ingush broke off. The name Ichkeri is a cognate of the names used for "Chechen" and "Chechnya" in many languages at that time, including Michiki (Lak) and Mitzjeghi. Only after the Russian conquest in the 19th century did the name "Chechen" become the internationally accepted name for the people of Chechnya.


Kist is the historical Georgian name for the Ingush, or rather, a Western group of Dzurdzuks under Alan and (later) Circassian rule. According to Johanna Nichols , they never fought, even once, a war for any purpose other than defense, except when they were employed as mercenaries.


The Isadiks were an ancient Nakh people of the North Caucasus who were farmers.[54] They were probably undone by Scythian invaders. A remnant of them may have been absorbed by the Vainakh, as their name can now be seen in the Chechen teip Sadoy.


The Khamekits were another ancient Nakh people of the North Caucasus who were farmers.[54] They were also probably undone by Scythian invaders. A remnant of them may have been absorbed by the Vainakh, as their name may now be reflected in the Ingush teip Khamki."


Before the 19th century, the Arshtins were a Vainakh tukkhum living in between the Ingush and Chechens (see Split of the Vainakhs), with vague affinities to both groups, along the Sunzha River's middle reaches and its tributaries.[55] The Arshtins were mostly known as Karabulaks, which they are called in Russian, from their Kumyk name. They also called themselves "Baloi".[56] They were variously considered to be an independent people, a subgroup of Chechens, or a subgroup of Ingush (further complicated by the fact that many in the 19th century, including many Ingush themselves, considered the Ingush to be a subgroup of the Chechens). Their language is thought to have been similar to Chechen and Ingush (not unlike today's Galanchozh dialect spoken by the Myalkhi tukhum).[55]

The Arshtins eventually were wiped out by Russian imperialism. The late 1850s saw the end of the Eastern and Central Caucasian resistance to Tsarist rule; and in 1865, the Deportation of Circassians occurred. Although the Russians mainly targeted Circassians for expulsion or murder, the Arshtins also were victims. In May–July 1865, according to official documents, 1366 Arshtin families disappeared and only 75 remained.[55] These 75 families joined (or rejoined) the Chechen nation as the Erstkhoi tukhum.[55][56]

See also


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