Monday, August 6, 2007

A Few Words on the Origins of the Bats People

As their two different names indicate, the Tsova-Tush/Bats are Georgians, sharing all the characteristics of their Georgian neighbours in Tusheti, and yet are profoundly different by virtue of their second, Nakh language (i.e. from the Nakh branch of Caucasian languages - See the language's lineage here.)

There is no definite information as to the origins of the Tsova-Tush/Bats. Most observers can agree upon the fact that they migrated to Tushetia in the mountains of north-eastern Georgia several centuries ago, and that they previously lived in Vainakh lands. ("Vainakh", "our people", i.e. Chechnya or Ingushetia.) This seems to me the most likely theory. A relatively detailed and complete account of the migrations of the Tsova-Tush/Bats people, based upon a story related by an elderly (b.1928) inhabitant of Zemo-Alvani, goes as follows:

"Six shepherds who lived in villages in the Georgian lowlands - one from the village of Matani, at the southern end of the Pankisi Gorge, and the others from the region of Kiziqi - stayed in the Gometsi Gorge of Pshavi [a mountainous region of north-eastern Georgia] for a long time, searching for better pastures for their flocks of sheep. A man named Sveluri joined them in Pshavi, and told them of a certain Jarieri Gorge in Ingushetia, which he said was rich in excellent pastures. The Georgian shepherds, interested by his account of this distant gorge, moved there with their flocks and families, and settled in Ingushetia permanently. Years later, they began to intermarry with the local Ingush people, and the Ingush language [like Chechen, a Nakh language] naturally became the native tongue of their descendants. After having lived in Ingushetia for a long time, the successors of the Georgian migrants were forced to leave their village and seek out a new home and new pastures. [The Tsova-Tush/Bats claim to this day that their ancestors were forced to leave Ingushetia/Chechnya to escape forced conversion to Islam; an Ingush narrative accounts for their departure on grounds of a dispute over pasture property-rights.] They left Ingushetia and spent several years wandering from place to place in Chechnya, then in Tianetia [another mountainous region of north-eastern Georgia], finally settling in the villages of Chontio, Girevi, and Hegho in northern Tushetia [in Pirikiti Tushetia]. After several years there, they moved to the nearby Tsovatsqali Valley, which became "Tsovata", the homeland of the Tsova-Tush/Bats people."

This information was taken from Roland Topchishvili's article on the Tsova-Tush/Bats people. Prof. Topchishvili is Professor of Ethnology at the Javakhishvili Institute of History of the Georgian Academy of Sciences, and is a specialist in the ethnography of Georgia and other Caucasian regions.