Who are the Batsbi?
This website aims to collect and publish information on the myriad peoples of the Caucasus, but its main concern is with the Batsbi.
The Batsbi are a people of probable Nakh origin (i.e. they are probably related to the Chechens and the Ingush) who migrated to a remote valley in the mountainous region of Tusheti in north-eastern Georgia in the XVIIth century ("probably", again, given the lack of historical material) and who lived there in fortified villages until the early XIXth century. In Tusheti and in Georgia as a whole, they are also known (if indeed they are known at all!) as Tsova or Tsova-Tush (Georgian: წოვა; singular წოვა–თუში, "tsova-tushi", plural წოვა–თუშები, "tsova-tushebi").
The ruins of the village of Tsaro
The ruins of the village of Indurta
The Wikipedia entry (link) on the Batsbi sums up the problematic debate over their origins rather succinctly:
Debate over origins
The origins of the Bats are mysterious, with two prevailing views. As the Estonian scholar Ants Viires points out in his Red Book of the Peoples of the Caucasus [see below — A.B.], it is actually two separate disputes: the first being whether it was Nakh tribes or Old Georgians that inhabited Tusheti first, the second being from which (or both) the Bats are descended.
Descent from the Nakh tribes
The first is that they are descended from ancient Nakh tribes inhabiting the region. The Old Iberian name for the ancient inhabitants of Kakheti was "Kakh", but they apparently called themselves "Kabatsa" and they are thought to have been "Tushians of Nakh extraction" Jaimoukha notes that according to an 18th century Georgian historian named Vakhushti, the Kakh considered the Dzurdzuks (an old Georgian name for the Chechens), Kists (Georgian for the Ingush) and Gligvs (unknown origin, though some speculate it was another name for the Ingush as used by some authors) as their ethnic kin.
Descent from 16th century Ingush migrants
The second theory has it that the Batsbi crossed the Greater Caucasus range from Ingushetia in the seventeenth century and eventually settled in Tusheti, and that they are therefore a tribe of Ingush origin which was christianized and "Georgianized" over the centuries.
However, this latter theory is somewhat awkward with regard to the fact that, linguistically, the Bats language (within the Nakh family) is much more distinct from Chechen and Ingush than they are from each other, having differentiated from them much longer ago than the 15th century (when Chechen and Ingush began differentiating, approximately), and forms a completely different branch. However, this does not necessarily render the theory to be non-plausible.
Over the centuries, the Batsbi have to some extent been "Georgianized" by their neighbours the Tush (a Georgian mountain people — themselves probably a mixture of Georgian, Nakh and possibly "Daghestanian"), and by the time the Batsbi abandoned their mountain fastnesses and moved down to the more favourable climes of Georgia's eastern province of Kakheti, in the lowlands, they were bilingual in both Batsbur (their unique language, closely related to Chechen and Ingush) and Georgian, and had adopted much of Tush i.e. Georgian, Kartvelian culture.
Several thousand of them still live in the village of Zemo Alvani in western Kakheti (close to the provincial town of Akhmeta) where their great-great-grandfathers settled around 200 years ago, but their cultural assimilation into the wider Tush and Georgian community is almost consummated. Their individuality is destined to disappear within a few more generations.
Their language — batsbur mot — still (just) exists, and is still spoken by many of those over 50 years old who remained in the village. The young, however, have not learnt Batsbur, and the old have — generally-speaking — not taught it, for both groups have little interest or reason (beyond principle) to do so. Despite some vague attempts to introduce Batsbur language classes for the children in school, nothing much has been done.
Their identity — as Batsbi — is also fading fast, and little remains of their individuality. To the few Georgians who have heard of them, they are Tush, and even those Batsbi who are aware of any slight differences between themselves and their neighbours do not proclaim any "original" North Caucasian identity and think of themselves as Georgians.
For more information on the Batsbi, I suggest you read a very interesting article written by Prof. Roland Topchishvili, which I have reproduced here on my website (No. 14 in "Resources and Links").
The Red Book of the Peoples of the Caucasus has a rather good i.e. relatively speaking quite complete entry on the Batsbi (link):
Self-designation. They call themselves batsba nah (Bats people), and their language batsba motjiti (Bats language). Neighbouring peoples, who speak the Nakh languages (Ingushes, Chechens), know them by the same name. The peoples who speak the Kvartelian languages (Georgians, Sans, Svans) know the Bats as tsova-tushians and the Didos call them tsuv-ak.
The Bats language belongs to the Nakh group of the Caucasian languages. There are no dialects of Bats and neither is there a written from -- the Bats use Georgian as their literary language.
Until the middle of the 19th century the Bats lived in Tushetia, the mountain region of Northwest Georgia. The Tsova Gorge in Tushetia was inhabited by four Bats communities: the Sagirta, Otelta, Mozarta and Indurta. Later they settled on the Kakhetia Plain, in the village of Zemo-Alvani, where they still live. Administratively they are part of the Akhmeta district of Georgia. There are some families of Bats in Tbilisi and other bigger towns in Georgia.
No exact data exists concerning the exact population of the Bats. None of the censuses taken in the Soviet Union have counted them as a separate nation and they have been regarded as Georgians. According to the collection "The Languages of the Peoples of the USSR", which in its turn was based on the findings of the expeditions of the 1960s, the Bats number 2,500--3,000. Considering the tendency to assimilate, the number has probably declined since then.
Religion. The Bats are Christians. The first records of Christianity in Tushetia date from the 16th century, though the actual conversion could have taken place some centuries before. Christianity spread from Tushetia via the Bats to the Chechens and Ingushes. The strength of their faith manifested itself in a series of wars against the "non-believers", i.e. the Islamic peoples of Daghestan, as well as in strong opposition to the Islamization policy of Persia in the 18th century.
While it is an acknowledged fact that the Bats language belongs to the Nakh group of languages, there is no agreement on the Bats' ethnic origin. Numerous interpretations exist, but because of a lack of historical, ethnographic and anthropological material none can said to be definitive. There are two main areas of contention: a) were the first inhabitants of Tushetia Nakh or Old Georgian tribes? and b) from which do the Bats originate? For centuries there have been two communities next to each other in Tushetia, one speaking the Nakh language, the other Old Georgian. The general name for them is tush, according to their language either Tsova- or Chagma-Tushian. They formed one single material and intellectual unit with Old Georgian elements prevailing.
The descendants of the Old Georgian pagan tribes, whose ancestors had fled from Christianity to Tushetia, are regarded as Tushians. In the mountains some of the fugitives splintered off from other Old Georgian tribes. They were in close contact with the Nakh tribes which resulted in a new linguistic unit.
According to the other hypothesis the Bats' ancestors are members of the Chechen Kist tribe who moved south and became isolated from their kindred tribes. Having contact with Old Georgian tribes they adopted their culture, but maintained their own language.
Anthropological research shows that the Bats or Tsova-Tushians are closer to Chagma-Tushians, holding an intermediary position between the Chagma-Tushians and Chechen Kist tribes.
Tushetia as a geographical unit is first mentioned in the 4th century BC. During the 12th--14th centuries it was a part of Georgia and after its collapse was absorbed into the kingdom of Kakhetia. In the 16th century Persia and Turkey became interested in Kakhetia and Tushetia. The next three centuries saw numerous fierce battles between Persia and Turkey, and the rulers of Kartli (Iberia) and Kakhetia, the overlords of the Tushians, constantly appealed for help to Russia. The Tushians played a significant role in the delegations sent to Russia. The Tushians also acted as negotiators between Georgia and the Chechens and Ingush. In 1762, King Irakli II managed to unite Kartli and Kakhetia and the new union, which also included Tushetia, was annexed to Russia in 1801. The event failed to ensure peace because in the middle of the 1800s the Tushians fought Shamil and muridism. As a result of these battles the central government in Russia came to regard the fighting skills of the Tushians very highly.
Before settling on the plains the Bats used to breed sheep. Sheep breeding required large mountain pastures and these were rented from the Chechens. Apart from the sheep, oxen and horses were also reared. Working the land was of minor importance, a situation which changed only in the second half of the 19th century after the Bats resettled to the plains. By the end of the 19th century the Bats were already using artificial irrigation and quite advanced fertilization and agricultural equipment. Sheep breeding still retained its prominence, because its products (cheese and wool) were the Bats' main exports. The are records of the Bats having trade relations with France and England, though generally goods were exchanged with other mountain nations in Georgia or with the Ingushes and Chechens. The Bats' homespun cloth achieved renown.
Historical records chronicle the Bats' striving for education. Education as well as folk traditions and culture were closely connected with corresponding Georgian institutions, especially with the Christian Church. The Bats consider Dmitri Tsiskarishvili, born in the 17th century, to be their first intellectual. He was educated at the Telavi and Tbilisi seminaries and later in the newly-founded St.Petersburg. By the 18th--19th century there were already several university graduates among the Bats. The year 1864 marked the beginning of a national education for the Bats with the opening of a primary school in the village of Zemo-Alvani. The languages used in teaching were Georgian and Russian, and amongst the subjects taught were biblical history, arithmetic and gymnastics. This movement toward education did not occur with Chagma-Tushians.
At the end of the 19th century nationalist and separatist ideas began to spread through Bats society, however their social movement took place within the limits of the disorders in Georgia and the whole of the Caucasus. The changes in central government in 1917 led to a period of confusion lasting for decades. The national independence movement was confronted by two imperialistic forces: the White Guard supporters of Denikin and the Bolshevist Red Army. The Bats were able to repel the White Guard but not the attack of the Bolshevist 11th army. Soviet power was established in Tushetia at the end of 1920 and the region was annexed to the Soviet Union on December 30th, 1922 as a part of the Trans-Caucasus Federation. The imposition of Soviet authority failed to bring about any stabilization in the political situation. Strong nationalist feelings were preserved in Tushetia and these were manifest in both active and passive opposition. Soviet rule was finally consolidated amongst the Bats at the end of the 1930s with the introduction of collectivization and the accompanying liquidation of all nationalists.
The first major changes in the Bats' national development were brought about as a result of their resettlement to the plains in the middle of the 19th century. New conditions brought about a new way of life and changes in the Bats economy. Georgian language and culture gained more importance. In the mountains the Bats had been living in keeping with common laws and national traditions. There had been a tendency towards becoming more and more Georgian but after the establishing of Soviet rule the Georgian influence became even stronger. This was accompanied by the centralization of the economy. The fate of the Bats was more often decided in offices in Moscow and Tbilisi than in their own villages. In the 1970s only half of the inhabitants of the village of Zemo-Alvani could speak Bats and even then it was only used at home. Communication in the main was in Georgian.
Bats society has been weakened also by the urbanization of the 1950s and 60s. Mixed marriages have become more common and everyday life and culture are now greatly affected by European urban culture and Soviet customs.
Unless stated otherwise, all material on this website is © A.J.T.Bainbridge 2006-2012
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