I’m still reading Russia’s Steppe Frontier (see yesterday’s post), and I’ve developed the habit of looking up the peoples he mentions in my well-thumbed copy of Wixman’s The Peoples of the USSR: An Ethnographic Handbook. So when he mentioned the Kumyks, who “were organized into the largest principality in the North Caucasus under their ruler, the shamkhal (shevkal),” who “had a residence in the town of Tarki,” I went to Wixman and found:
The Kumyk are Turkified (Kypchak) Caucasic peoples of northern Dagestan. They were formed by the assimilation of these Caucasians by the Kypchaks. This process of assimilation was strong well into the mid-20th cent., and many Dagestani peoples (Dargins and Avars in particular), Chechens, and Nogai have shifted over to the Kumyk language. The Kumyk language and culture became very influential among the eastern North Caucasians (Chechen, Avar, Andi-Dido people, Dargin, Kaitak, Kubachi, and Nogai) because the Kumyk controlled the lowland winter pasture areas used by these mountaineers and the main cities in which they found winter employment [Khasavyurt, Buinaksk, and Makhachkala (Temir Khan Shura)] were in Kumyk territory. Even though numerically small their cultural, linguistic, political, and economic influence was great. Kumyk also served as a lingua franca for all eastern North Caucasians.
Who knew? I just got finished learning about the similar status of Polish in early modern Eastern Europe in The Reconstruction of Nations; I guess every corner of the world has had its lingua franca. (Wixman goes on to describe the language, religion, and location of the Kumyks in similarly compendious manner; his book is really extraordinarily useful and has a nice section of maps that shows where all the various peoples live.)