The Lezghian of Azerbaijan
Most of the Lezgian live in the rugged mountain regions 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 Lezgian. In the 1920's, the Soviets changed the script from Arabic to Latin. Then, in 1938, it was changed 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 Lezgian.
What are their lives like?
Most Lezgian marry within their own clans, and 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 Lezgian women are famous throughout the Caucasus for their woven carpets. These fine carpets can be easily recognized by their geometrical designs. The economy in this region is primarily based on food processing (meat, cheese, butter), leather working, and textile production. Many of the Lezgian have also found seasonal metalwork (making weapons and jewelry) in the coastal towns of Daghestan and northern Azerbaijan, especially in and around Baku. This has placed them under strong Azerbaijani influence and as a result, most Lezgian are now bilingual, speaking both Lezgin and Azerbaijani.
The lezginka is the traditional folk dance of the Lezgian. 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?
Although most Lezgian are Sunni Muslims, there is a strong Shi'ite Muslim minority. Both groups mingle many former beliefs with Islamic practices. For example, the names of many pagan deities have become synonymous with Allah, and they still practice ancient rituals connected with spring planting and fall harvesting seasons. They also make journeys to local pilgrimage sites that predate Islam; and also believe that animal bones have magical and healing powers.
What are their needs?
Currently, there are only 18 known Lezgian believers in Azerbaijan. They have neither the Bible nor any Christian broadcasts available in their language.
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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