The Avars are a nomadic people of Eurasia who established a state in the Volga River area of Europe in the early 6th century.
xxxxxIn the mid 5th C., Priskos Rhetor was the first to deal with the Avar tribe which existed in the West Siberian region. This supports the theory of origin from the Balkhash region which is further supported by the Chinese records concerning the related Hua tribes. According to Priscos's account, the Avar-Huns forced the Sabirs out of this land and over the Volga around 461-463CE because "a fog rose from the sea scaring people" and this was followed by countless "vultures descending upon the people". Then in 550, Zakharias Rhetor the church historian mentioned an "Avar" community in the west. Also in the mid 6th century, Menandros wrote about Avars. At the same time Procopius made a distinction in his History of the Wars, Books I and II, between White Huns and European Huns which Simokattes in the early half of the 7thC. defines as the real- & pseudo- avars respectively.
Based upon Simokattes's & other information, the Avars who entered Europe are thought to have been a combination of a (Uighur people called Hund(?) and (because of the anthropological evidence as well as etymology on Avar Khagaan names like Bayan meaning "prosperous" in Mongol but meaning female in most western Altaic tongues) a Mongolian people called Var(?) who united around Balk sometime between 410-470CE.
Developments in Central Eurasia
Avars were once equated with the Juan Juan resulting in much confusion as the latter have become frequently referred to as Avars. Though this equation has since proven to be a gross generalisation since the Juan Juan continued to exist after being overthrown by the Asena until 557 while Sarosios was already well established as Khagan of the Avars in Europe by that time. There is, however, evidence that an element of the European Avars may have been, at least for a little while, a small part of the Juan Juan confederacy.
Besides their generally circulated suggestion of their relationship to the Hephthalites, another well-circulated story of more enigmatic origin has it that the Uygurs were conquered by a Mongolian people in the 5th century (see Uar & Hua). Forming a confederation in present Central Eurasia, they tried to survive in the competition with other Turkic tribes (see Juan Juan), by which they were eventually expelled. The survivors of this group of Turkic/Mongol people migrated toward East Europe where they established the Avars Khaganate 502-530CE, starting an era of conquest.
Developments in Central & S.E. Europe
Allies of the Byzantine Empire, they fought against the Slavs and the Bulgars, controlling the area between the Volga River and the Elbe River as far as the Baltic Sea. However, the situation changed resulting in an attempt to invade Italy in 610 and they attacked Constantinople in 619 and 626. The emperor Heraclius and the Bulgars fought them and pushed them back to Illyria and in the 630'sCE Khagan Kubrat of the Onoghur became the first Khagan of the second Avar dynasty.
From the late 7th century, writings begin to mention peoples using a 'K-B/V-R' root ethnonym in the same areas inhabited by Avars. The root K-B/V-R has been explained as "rebel" or "mix" as well as "rotate" and "wander". Dissident Kuber Avar-Huns are mentioned migrating southward following a rebellion against the main body of Avars not long after Batbayan-Bezmer succeeded his father Kubrat as Khagan. It may reasonably be deduced that those western Avars who mixed with the Bulgar-Huns and/or severed ties to the main eastern horde in the Caucasus became known by the 'K-B/V-R' variation of the name.
Little is known about Kabar/Avars from between the late 7th to late 8th centuries except that most of their neighbours still called them Avars. Excavations of their graves have yielded evidence that they were a mongolian people who carried objects usually associated with Hebraic culture and it has been suggested that their center of control was actually in Khazaria rather than the Ukraine or Pannonia. As Kabarids (or Kavarites) they also seem to have left their ethnonym in certain towns they founded like for example the Kopyrev Konets district of Kiev in the Ukraine which has been explained from their ethnonym. In 791 they invaded Europe once again. The so-called Avar Ring was defeated by Franks led by Charlemagne in the 9th century whereupon the three major tribes invited the Magyar seven-tribe confederacy to liberate them. The three Avar tribes which Magyar sources call Kavar or Kabar (there is no other mention of Avars in original Magyar sources) were settled in Transylvania. Their Szekely descendants preserved the popular Avar Dragon Totem well into the 15th century.
Caucasian Avars & their Language
A connection between the European Avars and the Caucasian Avar & Kabard is severely questioned, but evidence is mounting in favour of the theory that the Avars who settled in Transylvania were only a "pseudo" (Kabar?) portion of other "true" Avars who remained in the Caucasus region under Khazar control. The faction which is supposed to have remained in the Caucasus formed a powerful khanate in the 10th century contributing to the collapse of Khazaria from within that kingdom. One of the prominent figures in the modern Avar history is Shamil. Shamil successfully led the liberation movement of highland peoples of Caucasus against the Russian invasion in the 19th century. The movement was substantially suppressed by Russia in 1864. Today Avars live in part of Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria.
The Caucasian Avars' self designation is ma'arulal, or people of the mountains. The Caucasian Avar language is said to show some affinity with amcient messopotamian agglutinive languages like Hurrian, Sino-Tibetan and also Ket (Yenisey Ostyak) of which there are now less than 500 speakers left in Siberia. In the Caucasian Avar language The word "Avar" is always used any time Avars mention the names of Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jesus or Mohammed. For example; Ibrahim-Avarkov, Isa-Avarkov or Muhammad-Avarkov. Thus the word Avar seems to mean the descendants or followers of the Messiah, Prophet, an Angel or Archangel.
There are three popular points of origin suggested for the Avar peoples one is in the Caucasus as a branch of the Iberi, another is in the Hindu Kush around present day Kabul, and another is Transiaxartesia around Lake Balkash in north-east Kazakhstan. Perhaps a suitable synthesis of these ideas may be that they were originally inhabitants of Khwarezmia and had thus influence in all three areas. The skeletons found in European Avar graves are mostly mongolian [Istvan Erdelyi's "Kabari (Kavari) v Karpatskom Basseyne" specifically page 179 from Sovietskaya Archeologiya 4 (1983)], but many items usually associated with Hebrews have been found with them [A. Scheiber "Jewish inscriptions in Hungary from the 3rd Century to 1686" (1983); V.L.Vikhnovich "From the Jordan to the Dneiper" from Jewish Studies 31 (1991)]. Whether they had some kind of Hebraic origin connected to the quasi-"Jewish" tribes discovered in China and were a major influence in Khazaria or were simply influenced by the alleged Khazar conversion is a question demanding further investigation. Others have described them as "Amerinoid" (?source) loosely described as similar to a Mongolian Type with prominent noses.
Speculations on Religion
In the east, the inhabitants of Khwarezmia, recognised as being under the Avars by 410CE, were said to observe a form of mosaic law (see Sabians) which might explain the apparent Hebrew artefacts found in excavations of their Carpathian basin graves. Later while western Avar areas like Avaristan, apparently became a Christian kingdom their former eastern haunts became strongly islamicized. Arguments also exist that Avars were originally Magians, and others suggest a basic form of typical Eurasian Shamanism. These days the only surviving people still known as Avars mostly practice forms of Jafarite islam.
The Avars have been included with various Turkic peoples in attempts to trace them a descent from Noah. Joseph ben Gorion's 10thC. historical work "Sefer Yosippon" mentions Avar (עבר) as one of the ten children of the Biblical Togarmah. There is also a suggestiopn that the Avar-Huns descend from the Biblical Patriarch Heber (also written עבר) via Abraham's third wife Keturah whose descendants had moved to Central Eurasia mentioned in the 12thC. "Chronicles of Jerahmeel" by Jerahmeel ben Solomon. There are also references to the descent of various Avar-Hunnic tribes from Magog who also had a descendant called Heber (עבר). For more speculations about Avar peoples in western Central Eurasia before the 5th C. CE see Heberites.
The obvioulsy quite common eponym may be explained by a widely accepted, theory that the word Avar has a common root with the Turkish word avare, meaning wanderer or vagabond. Thus is is suggested that terms like "Avar" used for various peoples might derive from a common Turanian etymology with a meaning of human movement like "freeman/transcender" along with many similar words from many ancient languages like for example Hebrew.