A Cluster of 5 Talysh groups in Iran and Azerbaijan
Nearly 100,000 Talysh inhabit the northwestern regions of Iran. Another 30,000 can also be found in southeastern Azerbaijan. They occupy a land of sharp contrasts, ranging from the high, forested Talysh Mountains, to the subtropical coastal land along the Caspian Sea. They refer to themselves as the Talushon, and speak an Indo-Iranian language that is also called Talysh. Although all of the Talysh groups speak their native language, most are also fluent in Azerbaijani, and some speak Russian or Farsi.
The Talysh have lived in the southwest Caspian Sea region for thousands of years. They came under Turkish influence during the Middle Ages, but established their own independent khanate, or kingdom, in the 1600's. In the early 1800's, the Talysh of present day Azerbaijan fell under Russian control, which continued until 1991, when Azerbaijan seceded from the Soviet Union. Today, the Talysh face the same dilemma as many other Central Asian peoples as they attempt to decide whether to follow the Islamic traditions of the past, or the Western culture and technology of the present.
What are their lives like?
Not all of the Talysh are farmers. Some have become skilled craftsmen. Their primary handicrafts include the production of silk, rugs, and felt. Some work with tin, make shoes, or design jewelry.
The Talysh live in various styles of houses, depending on the region in which they are located. Those in the mountainous areas typically live in flat-roofed homes built of uncut stone. Those in the coastal zone live in clay houses that have roofs made of reeds or sedge (grass-like plants with solid stems). The homes usually have high doors reaching to the ceiling, since there is no opening in the roof to allow smoke from the cooking fires to escape. The traditional Talysh homes have no furniture. However, today, a growing number of homes have adopted Western-style furnishings.
Talysh women once wore traditional Muslim clothing, which consisted of veils over their faces and long robes that completely covered their bodies. Today, many Talysh women, especially those in Azerbaijan, have abandoned the customary outfit and wear Western-style clothing.
Although Islamic law permits men to have as many as four wives, most Talysh men take only one wife. Boys usually marry while they are between the ages of 15 and 20; whereas, girls usually wed while they are between the ages of 12 and 16. The groom's family is required to pay a bride-price, or kebin, which consists of money and items such as carpets or utensils. To avoid paying the kebin, a young man will sometimes "kidnap" the prospective bride, taking her as his wife.
What are their beliefs?
Although the Talysh are professing Muslims, some remnants of their pre-Islamic religion remain. For example, they have a great reverence for trees and groves, and trees form some of their most sacred sites. They also believe in the presence of both good and evil spirits, with the most dangerous spirit being Alazhan, the "Red Woman." Alazhan is believed to attack women during childbirth, as well as newborn babies.
What are their needs?
Iran has strictly enforced the "Islamic code of conduct" since the 1979 revolution. This code states that men are the leaders and women care for the children and home. The government's persecution of Christians has increased dramatically since the revolution.
The Talysh have been bound by Islam for many years. Today, there are less than 30 known believers among the 130,000 Talysh living in Iran and Azerbaijan. Most of them have not had an opportunity to hear a clear presentation of the Gospel. These precious people are in desperate need of Christian resources in their own language. At the present time, there are no Christian broadcasts, Bibles, or literature available to them, and none of the groups are being targeted by missions agencies. Willing laborers and evangelistic tools are needed to effectively penetrate these groups with the Light of the Gospel. Most importantly, they need people who will begin to faithfully intercede for them, tearing down the strongholds that are keeping them in spiritual bondage. Only then will their hearts be prepared to receive the Gospel as it is presented to them.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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