Tribes and Dialects
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Habitat: The Botlikhs live in the northwestern part of mountainous southern Dagestan. Administratively, the two Botlikh villages -- Botlikh (the Botlikh Buihe) and Miarsi (Kilu) -- are situated in the Botlikh district of the Dagestan Autonomous Republic. Their closest neighbours are the Avars to the north, the Andis to the east, the Godoberis to the south and the Chechens to the west. The region inhabited by the Botlikhs is the wettest in the whole of Dagestan.
Population. An official census of the Botlikhs has occurred only once, in 1926, since then they have been counted as Avars. The data from the 1950s and 1960s comes from academic research work on the Botlikh and is approximate. 1926, 3,354 (native language speakers 86.2 %), 1958 (Y. Desheriyev) 2,000, 1967 (T. Gudava) 3,000.
Anthropologically, the Botlikhs belong, together with the other Ando-Dido peoples, to the Caucasian type of the Balkano-Caucasian race. Stronger pigmentation and differences in the proportions of skull indicate a closeness to the Caspian type.
Religion. The Botlikhs are Muslims (Sunnites). In former times (8th--9th century) Christianity was propagated by the Georgians, but in the 14th century, after the campaign of Timur, Islam supplanted Christianity. However, it wasn't until the 18th century that Islam was fully consolidated in Botlikh society. Before Christianity and Islam various forms of paganism had predominated (animism, magic, fetishism etc.).
Ethnologically, the Botlikhs are close to the Avars. Their intellectual and material cultures share many common features and differences are evident only in details. For instance, the head-dress of the Botlikh women has a slightly different shape than that of the Avars. The only cultural element clearly differentiating the Botlikhs from the Avars is their language which was formed in political and territorial isolation from the Proto-Avar tribes.
History. The history of the Botlikhs resembles that of the Avars, and has been shaped by all the major events that have taken place in Avaria. Since the 8th century this area has been under the rule of a foreign power (the Arabs, the Mongols and Tatars, the Turks, the Russians). In the 14th century, the Avar Khanate was formed, and the Botlikh area was nominally a part of it. In the 18th century, several small political bodies were set up in West Avaria (free communities, the associated communities). The two Botlikh villages were included in one of these, the Tehnutsali community. The political bodies were not exactly on friendly terms with each other. The mountain pastures were usually the main point of contention. Due to the atmosphere of constant enmity and corresponding insecurity, several military alliances were formed, for instance an alliance between the Botlikhs and the Avars. Free communities were ruled by a village assembly from which a village elder, his aides and village judges were elected. The religious leader of the community was a Muslim cleric, qadi, nominated by the Khan of Avar. Social life was regulated by adat (customary law) and shariah (Islamic law). At the beginning of the 19th century Dagestan was united with Russia. This, on the one hand, was favourable for the development and distribution of capitalist relations, but on the other hand, it subjected Dagestan and West Avaria to the colonial policy of the Russian Empire. The Russian officials were interested in the welfare of the local people and their activities only as long as it was profitable for the Empire.
Unlike the other Ando-Dido people, the Botlikhs are not herders, but gardeners. They grow grapes and cultivate land. Their living conditions are quite favourable to this kind of activity: the climate is mild, the area of cultivated land is comparatively large, and most importantly the villages are situated on the sunny sides of the mountains. The Botlikhs grow numerous kinds of vegetables and fruits (apples, pears, plums, pumpkins, melons, watermelons, apricots, peaches etc.). They provide the whole middle reach of the Andi-Koisu rivers with their produce, bartering for other food products (meat, wool, cheese). The Botlikhs raise livestock only sufficient for their own needs. Until the 20th century agricultural technology was rather primitive (wood ploughs with iron shares, hoes). The period of 1917--1920 was a time of great troubles in West Avaria. There were strong conflicts between the nationalist movement (also supported by a religious movement) and the Communists. The former were supported by the Mountain Republic declared in Tbilisi, in 1917, the latter by the Soviet power in Russia. A culmination was reached in September 1920 with an uprising of nationalists, a movement originating in West Avaria, in the Andi-Koisu river basin. The Botlikh stronghold became the key position of the nationalists. The uprising was suppressed by Communist troops. Despite the defeat, separatist ideas lived on in the Dagestan Mountains. Following the later introduction of collectivization and its associated repressions, a new uprising was organized in the Andi-Dido area in 1930. All the peoples of the region participated. The ideological leadership of the uprising came from the Muslim parties (Ittihad ve Terakki, Firkatul-Vedzhan), which were by that time already illegal. The central authority used the suppression of the uprising to weed out and erradicate all separatist and nationalist elements.
The Botlikh educational system was also subordinated to Soviet authority. All were able to receive an education, but the primary purpose of schooling was to disseminate Soviet propaganda and ideology. The efficiency of this policy became evident following World War II. Botlikh folk traditions and the influence of religion were weakened considerably. Alcoholism became widespread. Migration to towns increased and the number of mixed marriages grew. These trends continue to the present day. They are the most drastic in the case of the younger generation, which has received a Soviet education. The situation is made worse by the fact that the Botlikh language, the main basis of their identity, has retreated to the homes, to be replaced in all other realms of society by Avar.