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The Archi are a people living in southern Dagestan. They speak the Archi language, which is a member of the Southwestern, Eastern and Lezgian-Samur group of the Dagestan languages. Their habitat is about 2,000 metres above sea level in the Kara-Koisu basin of a range of the Caucasus. There are eight villages, of which Archi is the parent village. From Archi the other seven villages grew and for three months of each year the whole community used to reassemble in Archi to engage in communal work. The village extends along the slope from southeast to northwest. It is a typical mountain village with closely packed houses and narrow streets. The sibling villages did not become permanently settled until the 1930s. Administratively, all the Archi villages belonged to the Archi village soviet, Charodin district, Dagestan ASSR. The severe highland climate does not make for an easy life. The onset of winter is usually in October and summers are cool and rainy. There are rapid mountain rivers and lush pastures, but absolutely no woodland. The same conditions are characteristic of the neighbouring areas, settled by the Avars to the northeast, the Lakks to the east and the Rutuls to the south, over the Dyultydag mountain range. In the previous century communication was possible only with the Avars and the Lakks.

The population of the Archi can be traced from the middle of the 19th century:

native speakers
1866592 (A. Komarov)
1926854100 %
1960 (field data) -- over 700

Since the 1959 census the Archi have been counted as Avars. As the reader will have noticed the Archi people have retained their population numbers in the face of all the political and economic changes. Despite the predictions of the ethnographer D. Butayev, in 1930, that the Archi people would very soon be assimilated by the Avar environment, they have been able to retain their national identity.

The academic study of the Archi began in the second half of the 19th century. The main emphasis was then laid on linguistic studies. (P. Uslar, A. Dirr, R. Erckert). Anthropological and ethnographical studies began in the 1930s and 1950s (P. Svidersky, A. Gadzhiyev, E. Schilling, A. Sergeyeva).

The genetic classification of the Archi language has been an issue of controversy. According to some scholars (Uslar) it should be considered a variant of Avar, but in the opinion of others (Erckert) it is closer to Lakk. The language has also been considered as a separate entity that could be placed somewhere between Avar and Lakk. The Italian linguist, Trombetti, placed the Archi language within the Avar-Ando-Dido group, but today the most widely recognized opinion follows that of the Soviet scholar, E. Bokarev, who regards Archi as one of the Lezgian-Samur group of the Dagestan languages.

The self-designation of the Archi people is arshishtib. Archi has no written language and instead Avar is used.

Anthropologically the Archi belong to the Balkano-Caucasian race. Typologically they lie somewhere between the Caucasian (Lakks, Avars) and Caspian (Lezgi) types. They are characterized by a remarkably acquiline nose, a broader than average face, a high forehead, dark eyes and hair, and relatively short stature (the shortest people of Dagestan).

Religion. The Archi are Sunni Muslims. According to tradition the Archis, together with the Lakks, embraced Islam before the 10th century. Previous to this they had been Christians -- proved by the occurrence of Christian gravestones in the Archi graveyard.

Not much is known of the history of the Archi people. Archeological data is missing, so is any mention in ancient sources. According to A. Komarov, the Archi consider themselves a separate tribe, once quite numerous. It is not impossible that they are descendants of some ancient Dagestan tribe who, for unknown reasons, found themselves at some point in isolation. This hypothesis is corroborated both by linguistic and anthropological data.

The first written mention of the Archi people is made in the Chronicle of Shirvan Mohammed Rafi (end of 13th -- the 14th century) where Archi is listed among the tax-paying communities of Dagestan. After the 17th century the Archi community was subordinated to the control of Kazikumukh rulers. Towards the end of the 18th and the first half of the 19th century the Archi people were constantly engaged in armed struggle. They participated both in the Caucasian wars and the Shamil Muridi Uprising. In the 1860s and 1870s Russia consolidated its presence in Archi which stabilized the situation.

The Archi economy has always been largely dependent on the environment. The mountainous landscape and scarcity of arable lands was favourable to seasonal livestock raising only. Sheep were the primary animals with some cows and horses kept for household purposes. In winter the animals stayed near the village or in sheds, while in summer they grazed on mountain pastures.

Sheep-breeding being exclusively the occupation of the men, the women were responsible for land cultivation and took care of the cattle. Arable lands were scarce and the technology for working them quite primitive. Barley and wheat were grown but horticulture was not practised. The harvest was consumed in six or seven months, and the grain had to be bought at the Kumukh market. The diet was enriched by game. Capitalist economy and material differentiation only began to develop at the turn of this century.

Before sovietization the Archi society was based on a village community headed by a village elder (begaoul), elected by the village assembly (dzhamat). The village judges (karti) and assistant village elders (chaushei) were also elected by the assembly. Inheritance quarrels and family matters were dealt with by the local cleric (qadi).

The Archi family was strictly endogamous, and marriage between cousins was widespread. This was largely conditioned by territorial and linguistic isolation. Marriage was at an early age: for boys preferably as soon as they were entitled to wear a dagger, i.e. at the age of 15. Girls became eligible for marriage at 12--14 years of age.

Although the Dagestan ASSR was proclaimed in 1921, Soviet rule was slow to become established and its presence was not truly felt until after the end of World War II. One reason for this was undoubtedly territorial isolation. Until 1938 mountain paths were the only connection to the rest of the world. A linguistic barrier also existed. First, Marxist-Leninist theory and the principles of collectivization were instilled into the consciousness of the Avars, then attention was turned to the Archi people.

In the 1930s, however, the Soviets made a number of advances: an administrative reform was carried out, extensive road building was embarked upon and collectivization was begun. The first co-operatives came to Archi in 1928. In 1935 the first collective farm was founded. According to its statutes, a certain part of the land and livestock were to remain private property. As a result every kolkhoz member only took care of his own farm. In 1939, however, the right to private property was annulled and by 1940 collectivization proper was in force.

In the 1960s the Tshurib-Archi highway was completed. This effectively ended the territorial isolation and opened the way to many changes. Some of the most far-reaching changes occurred in the social sphere. Administrative functions passed from the village assembly to the newly formed village soviet and the local Party organisation. The role of endogamy decreased -- though to this day the parents of a girl of marrying-age consider it proper to enquire of the plans of any unmarried cousins before marrying the girl off to somebody else. An entirely new phenomenon arose: that of mixed marriages. Migration also increased (in 1965 ab. 60 Archi families lived outside the traditional Archi territory).

Until the 19th century the Archi had been educated at mosque schools. Schooling had been in Arabic under the influence of Islam. Several famous names in Arab culture actually have their origins in ethnic Archi: for example, the 18th-century Arabist Kazakilov, who was also a mathematician, astrologer and traveller and Magomedhan, a courtier of Shamil famous for his scholarly endowments.

In 1930 the first secular primary school was opened in Archi. Even there, instruction was not in the pupils' mother tongue but in the Avar language. The creation of a written version of Archi was considered unnecessary as the people were so few and it was thought they would soon become assimilated by other more numerous peoples. In 1965 there were two schools operating in Archi -- an eight-year school and a primary school. In 1965/66 instruction was switched to Russian beginning from the fourth form. Although the language of education was a foreign language, out of school Archi was spoken.

There is a sharp contradiction between the old and new mentalities. Customary law and religious beliefs and prejudices are held by older men. They define public opinion. No changes are apparent in their attitude to the female sex. Education for girls, outside that provided in the village, is not viewed favourably. The position of women in the family has improved slightly, but this is not due to the women's own initiative. They adhere to old customs and traditions even more ardently than men. The new ideas are propagated by school and Party-educated ideological workers. Their atheist propaganda has yet to bear much fruit, but there is a certain weakening of traditional folk culture.

The material culture of the Archi resembles that of the other Caucasian peoples. The differences are in details only. During the Soviet rule, factory products and elements of urban culture began to spread little by little. Most of the changes concern household utensils and men's clothing.

The survival of the Archi society is most endangered by the erosion of their territorial and linguistic isolation. The advancing urban culture has proved enticing to the Archi and great numbers have emigrated from their native villages. If this should continue Archi territories will be emptied to be refilled by the Avars, who are used to the hardships of life in the mountains.

This would also dismember the Archi community linguistically.

The propagandizing of Russian and Avar as better means of communication has adversely affected the Archi language. To keep alive their language -- which is the main feature distinguishing the Archi from all other peoples -- the Archi need to develop a conscious, or even subconscious, resistance of the kind felt among Archi schoolchildren in the 1960s.


  1. А. Г. Булатова, Традиционные праздники и обряды народов Горного Дагестана в ХIХ -- начале ХХ века, Ленинград 1988
  2. Л. И. Лавров, Этнография Кавказа, Ленинград 1982
  3. Х. Х. Рамазанов, А. Р. Шихсаидов, Очерки истории южного Дагестана, Махачкала 1964
  4. Г. А. Сергеева, Арчинцы, Махачкала 1967


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