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The Karakalpaks (also Qaraqalpaqs) are a Turkic people. They 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 in Uzbekistan. The name "Karakalpak" comes from two words: "qara" meaning black, and "qalpaq" meaning hat. The Karakalpaks number nearly 520,000 worldwide, out of which about 400,000 live in the Republic of Karakalpakstan.
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. Its vocal and pronunciation patterns share with the Kipchak–Nogay language group a vocal harmony that is full. The labial attraction is not full. Nevertheless, there are round speech patterns as observed in Kyrgyz 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 very close to Kazakh language and Kyrgyz language. Karakalpak written language is rooted in the foundation of Karakalpakistan (1925). Karakalpak dialect is mainly divided into two accents: 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 the 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 Southwestern accent is spoken. The vocabulary is rooted in 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 in a movement to remove the influence of the Russian language from everyday life.
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" and has caused much confusion in the past, since historians linked them with other earlier, who have borne the appellation "black hat" in Slavic vernacular. Many accounts continue to link the present day Karakalpaks with the Slavic Cherniye Klobuki of the 11th century, whose name also means "black hat" in Russian. Cherniye Klobuki were mercenary military troops of the Kievan Rus. Apart from the fact that their names have the same meaning, there is no archaeological or historical evidence to link these two groups, .
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 are so similar to that of the Kazakhs.
Karakalpaks are primarily followers of the Hanafi School of Sunni Islam. It is probable they adopted Islam between the 10th and 13th centuries, a period when they first appeared as a distinct ethnic group.
Dervish orders such as the Naqshbandi, Kubrawiya, Yasawi and Qalandari are fairly common in this region. The religious order that established the strongest relation with the people of the region is the Kubrawiya, which has Shi'i adherents.
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.
- Richardson, David; Richardson, Sue (2012), Qaraqalpaqs of the Aral Delta, Prestel Verlag, ISBN 978-3-7913-4738-74. Retrieved 2012-07-27
- MaryLee Knowlton: Uzbekistan. Marshall Cavendish 2005, ISBN 0-7614-2016-9, pp. 54–58 (online copy at Google Books)
- Shirin Akiner: Islamic Peoples of the Soviet Union, Taylor & Francis 1983, ISBN 0-7103-0025-5, pp. 338–345 (online copy at Google Books)
- James Stuart Olson, Nicholas Charles Pappas: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of the Russian and Soviet empires. Greenwood Publishinh Group 1994, ISBN 0-313-27497-5, pp. 343–345 (online copy at Google Books)
- David J. Phillips: Peoples on the Move: Introducing the Nomads of the World. William Carey Library 2001, ISBN 0-87808-352-9, p. 304 (online copy at Google Books)