The people inhabiting the Basque Country of central northern Spain and the extreme southwest of France. The Basques are a pre-Indo-European people whose language (Euskara) is unrelated to any other language. Although both the Romans and, later, the Visigoths conquered them, they largely maintained their independence until the 19th century. During the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), they were on the republican side defeated by Franco. The Basque separatist movement Euskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA; ‘Basque Nation and Liberty’) and the French organization Iparretarrak (‘ETA fighters from the North Side’) have engaged in guerrilla activity from 1968 in an attempt to secure a united Basque state.
At the beginning of the 10th century the Basques to the south of the Pyrenees were brought into the kingdom of Navarre and were granted fueros (charters) allowing them autonomy. The fueros were lost by the French Basques in the French Revolution and by the Spanish Basques in the 19th century. Their long tradition of self-government helps to explain their continued fight for separatism. The declaration of the republic in Spain divided their allegiances, and its defeat sent many Basques into exile in North and South America.
The Basques have been a distinct population for at least 18,000 years. They are genetically distinct from all other Europeans.
They have the highest frequency of rhesus negative individuals (see rhesus factor) and a low frequency of the B gene in the ABO blood group system.
The word ‘Basques’ is derived from the Latin Vascones, recorded by Roman authors in Navarre. This word in its Germanic form, Wascones, has also given a name to the Gascons, an entirely different people. Place names throughout Spain, Sardinia, Sicily, and Corsica bear a strong resemblance to Basque names, and may sometimes be explained from Basque derivations; it is thought that the Basque race is connected with the Iberian or Celtiberian and was dispersed over these areas.
Although the Franco government tried to suppress the Basque language, the Basques continue to see themselves as a race apart. This attitude also manifests itself in their reluctance to accept strangers into their communities. Since the 14th century the Basques have been especially renowned for their unique skills in whaling, and they sailed as far as Newfoundland for whales and cod. They put great value on the unity and strength of the family and are devout Roman Catholics. European Basques number about 850,000 and there are many thousands more scattered throughout the South American continent.
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