[kah-ruh-kahl-pahk, kar-uh-kal-pak; Russ. kuh-rah-kuhl-pahk]
The Karakalpaks (also Qaraqalpaqs) are a Turkic ethnic group who mainly live in the lower reaches of the Amu Darya and in the (former) delta of Amu Darya on the southern shore of the Aral Sea. However, small numbers can also be found in Iran and Turkey, and smaller communities in Kazakstan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan. The name "Karakalpak" comes from two words: "Kara" meaning black, and "Kalpak" meaning hat. The Karakalpaks probably number about 650,000 worldwide, out of which about 500,000 live in the Republic of Karakalpakstan. The Karakalpaks in Turkey are primarily concentrated in the mountains of eastern Turkey near the headwaters of the Murat River. Those in Iran live mainly on the southern shores of Lake Urmia, which is located in the northwestern corner of the country.


The Karakalpak population is mainly confined to the central part of Karakalpakstan that is irrigated by the Amu Darya. The largest communities live in Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan, and the surrounding large towns, such as Khodzheli, Shimbay, Takhtaitash, and Kungrad. Rural Karakalpaks mainly live on former collective or State farms, most of which have been recently privatised. Many rural Karakalpaks have been seriously affected by the desiccation of the Aral Sea, which has destroyed the local fishing industry along with much of the grazing and agricultural land in the north of the delta. Karakalpaks have nowhere to go. The majority of Karakalpakstan is occupied by desert - the Kyzyl Kum on the eastern side, the barren Ustyurt plateau to the west, and now the growing Aral Kum to the north, once the bed of the former Aral Sea.

Although their homeland bears their name, the Karakalpaks are not the largest ethnic group to live in Karakalpakstan. They are increasingly being outnumbered by Uzbeks, many of whom are being encouraged to move into the rich agricultural region around Turtkul and Beruni.


Karakalpak language is a subgroup of Kipchak-Nogay language group. These characteristics are significant in respect of its vocal and pronunciation patterns; Its vocal harmony is full. The labial attraction is not full. Nevertheless, there is round speech patterns as observed in Khirghiz language (SÖzgö: Sözge). Their Written Language is Turkic used commonly by all Turkistan people until the end of the century XIX. Their spoken language is much close to Kazakh-Khirghiz language. Karakalpak written language is rooted from the foundation of Karakalpakistan (1925). Karakalpak dialect is mainly divided into two accents such as the Northeastern and Southwestern accents. Apart from these two accents that are not much different from one another, there are some accents spoken within the boundaries of Karakalpakistan such as Karakalpak-Kazakh, Karakalpak-Turkmen and Karakalpak-Uzbek mixtures. Karakalpak language is close to the languages of Nogay and Kazakh. The Northeastern accent is spoken in Kara-Uzek, Tahta Köpür and on the coastal sides of Aral. The mixed Karakalpak accent is included within this group. In the rest of the country, in other words in the regions of Shimbay, Kokeyli, Kuybishev, Kongrat, Şomanay, Hojaeli, Kipshak, Shahbaz and Törtkül, the south-western accent is spoken. The vocabulary is rooted from the Kipchak language in principle. Karakalpak language had become a written language in the Soviet period for the first time and an alphabet was developed that was based on the Arabic letters at first. Pursuant to the declaration of the independence of Karakalpak people in 1991, the Russian language was not taken into consideration as before. The transition to the Latin letters has been accelerated for getting of the influence of Russian language.


The word Karakalpak is derived from the Russian Cyrillic spelling of their name and has become the accepted name for these people in the West. The Karakalpaks actually refer to themselves as Qaraqalpaqs, whilst the Uzbeks call them Qoraqalpogs. The word means "black hat" in Turkic and has caused much confusion in the past, since some historians have attempted to link them with other historically earlier groups, who have also born the appellation "black hat". Many accounts continue to falsely link the present day Karakalpaks with the Cherniye Klobuki of the 11th century, whose name also means "black hat" in Russian. In fact the Cherniye Klobuki were a cadre of mercenary border guards who worked for the Kievan Rus. They were of mixed tribal origin and many adopted Christianity and became settled agriculturalists. There is no archaeological or historical evidence to link these two groups, apart from the fact that their names have the same meaning.

Recent archaeological evidence indicates that the Karakalpaks may have formed as a confederation of different tribes at some time in the late 15th or the 16th centuries at some location along the Syr Darya or its southern Zhany Darya outlet, in proximity to the Kazakhs of the Lesser Horde. This would explain why their language, customs and material culture is so very similar to that of the Kazakhs.


Karakalpaks are the followers of Sunnite Hanafi sect. The exact period in which they adopted the religion of Islam cannot be known for sure. However, it is probable that they adopted Islam between the 10th and 13th centuries during which they first appeared as a different ethnic group. Karakalpaks are well known for their devotion in their religion. As a matter of fact, the Russian researchers have determined that Karakalpak people were the community that was most pious and devoted to their religion among the Turks living in the Middle East. The dervish orders such as Nakşibendi, Kübrevi, Yesevi and Kalenderi are fairly effective in this region. The religious order that established the strongest relation with the people of the region is the order of Kübrevi. Its founder is Necmenddin-i Kübra (1145-1221 D.C.) There is a specific population of Shiites in the religious order of Kübreviye. The Sufism is effective among Karakalpaks. Although there were 553 mosques in the year of 1914, there are not so many mosques left today. The mosques that are present are located in Nukus, Törtkül, Hocaeli and Çimbay.

See also


  • Richardson, D. R. K, and Richardson, S., Karakalpak Demographics (2005),

External links

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