Kabardino-Balkaria: where two ethnic groups live side-by-side

The Russian republic of Kabardino-Balkaria not only boasts stunning nature and Europe's highest peak Mount Elbrus, but also the peaceful co-habitation of two distinctly hot-tempered Caucasian ethnic groups.

125-year-old Kabardino-Balkaria resident Ulya Margusheva has witnessed the Bolshevik Revolution, two wars, and both the creation and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“I like all modern things, I like modern clothes. I just don't quite fancy mini-skirts and trousers on women. And thank God that women nowadays can choose husbands too,” Ulya says.

Ulya has been married three times. Incredibly, her only child was born when she was 79.

“What did you say?! Marry for the fourth time? No, I don’t have this in my plans! Not for all the gold in the world!” Ulya exclaims.

A true Kabardin, Ulya says she’s inspired to keep the traditions of her people going. And there are many of them – like the Kabardin traditional dance, where bravery and reserved passion come together.

Kabardin make up more than half of the population of the republic. They write in the Latin alphabet and live predominantly in the lowland.

While it might not be entirely apparent, the rift between the Kabardin and Balkars is huge. Locals say they are as different as the mountain and the flatland. Yet unlike other republics in the Caucasus, Kabardin and Balkars live peacefully side by side.

Khamzat Bachiev is a Balkar. Just like the majority of his people, he lived in exile for most of his life.

In 1944, angry at the Nazi invasion in Southern Russia and occupation of Elbrus, Stalin ordered the entire Balkar nation to be deported to Central Asia. It took Khamzat quite a while to return to his 16th century family house and set up a forge there.

“We Balkars would never say ‘I'd like to do this or that’. We say: ‘I love doing this, and that's why I do it!’ I love what I'm doing! Only people who live this principle succeed in their work,” Bachiev says.

Home-produced steel by Khamzat is stronger than that of industrial producers. He rolls metal in almost 900 layers before he can say for sure he’s made a real Caucasian dagger.

His daggers then become highly sought-after items among the younger generation of ‘dzhigits’ – the brave and skilful Caucasian horsemen.

Five-year old Kabardin Tamerlan doesn’t have a horse, but he has a dream – to be a star. When music starts Tamerlan’s dream becomes a reality. No one has ever taught this Kabardin boy how to dance. He just saw it just once on TV and has been dancing ever since.

His young girl partner is a Balkar and ten years ago such a pair would be inconceivable. Today they can not only dance together, but also build a family too. The fact that 80% of marriages now are mixed proves that the republic with a double name has a bright future.