Not to be confused with the Avars of the Thirteenth Century with military repute, this ethnically mixed group of largely assimilated peoples resides in the North Caucasus between the Black and Caspian seas. Most live in ancient villages located in Dagestan but smaller populations also exist in Chechnya, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
The total Avar population stands at around 1.04 million and the majority speak a dialect called Maharul Mac’- ‘The language of the mountains,’ belonging to the Avar-Andic language family. There are around 1.4 million speakers worldwide, again largely in Dagestan but also in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Russia.
The history of the Avars is a proud but in many ways a tragic one exhibiting hardships suffered by many of the worlds indigenous peoples. First mentioned in 463AD by the Roman diplomat Priscus the Avars appear to have undertaken a migration from an area near the Arral sea to the Caucasus where they established a Christian state in the Dagestani highlands where many Avars live to this day. During the 1800’s, under high taxation stress and the ever present problem of land dispossession, in this case at the hands of the Russian state, the Avars mobilised to fight in the Caucasian War as the Imamate of Dagestan, resisting Russia’s southward expansion. Though defeat in 1864 was harsher on the indigenous Circassians who suffered an ethnic purge as a result of the war, the Avars suffered nonetheless. Many migrated to the Ottoman empire rather than remain in Dagestan. Some did remain in the highlands only to be forced to migrate to the shores of the Caspian sea post World War Two by the Soviet government. This move had drastic consequences. Those of the Avar who had had to leave their highland homes were exposed to novel diseases such as Typhoid and Malaria not encountered at the altitudes the Avar had previously lived at, mortality rates increased greatly.
Today the Avar suffer from a lack of coverage of the issues that threaten their culture and very existence. For example, they are currently at risk of being forcibly assimilated into Azerbaijani society as a result of a discriminatory government policy aimed at achieving this goal. There is some hope however, supplied by the upcoming conference for the ‘Indigenous peoples of the Caucasus and Caspian region.’ (5-7 October, 2012) Which could successfully deliver the rights the Avar and neighbouring groups require to ensure their own autonomy and well-being.