The Lezghian of Russia
Most Lezghian live in the high, rugged mountain areas where there are many deep, isolated canyons and gorges. The summers are hot and dry, while the winters are windy and brutally cold. Some live near the Caspian Sea, where the winters are dry and mild.
As late as the mid-nineteenth century, attempts were made to create a written script for the Lezghian. In the 1920s, the Soviets changed the script from Arabic to Latin. Then, in 1938, it was changed again, from Latin to Cyrillic. Russia also attempted to replace all of the Arabic and Persian words with Russian words. Nevertheless, having their own written language only served to unify, rather than Russianize, the Lezghian.
What are their lives like?
Lezgian women are famous throughout the Caucasus for their woven carpets. The economy in this region is mostly food processing (meat, cheese, butter), leather working, and textile production. Many Lezghian have found seasonal metalwork (weapons and jewelry) in the coastal towns of Daghestan and northern Azerbaijan. This has placed them under strong Azerbaijani influence. As a result, most Lezghian are now bilingual, speaking both Lezgin and Azerbaijani.
In the mountains, the Lezghian raise sheep and goats along with some horses, mules, and water buffaloes. Their diet primarily consists of meat and milk products. Wheat, barley, potatoes, cabbages, cucumbers, melons, and tomatoes are also raised and eaten by those living in the foothills.
Lezghian generally marry within their own clans. The elder women are very influential in such decisions. The custom of paying kalim (bride-price) is still followed by some, but is now more of a symbolic payment than a requirement.
The lezginka is the traditional folk dance of the Lezghian. It is both a couples' dance and a male solo dance, often performed with a sword. The man, imitating the eagle, falls to his knees, leaps up, and dances with precise steps and strong arm and body movements. When the dance is performed in pairs, couples do not touch; the woman dances quietly as she watches the man's performance.
What are their beliefs?
While the Lezghian are primarily Sunni Muslims, many of their former beliefs have been mingled with their Islamic practices. For example, the names of many pagan gods have become synonymous with Allah. During the spring, as well as during planting and harvesting seasons, several ancient rituals are still practiced. Also, the bones of animals are thought to have magical and healing powers.
What are their needs?
Currently, there are only twenty-six known Lezgian believers. They have neither the Bible nor any Christian broadcasts available in their language.
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
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Bethany World Prayer Center
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