Aliaga Mamedov, Ph. D. (History), Head of the Department for Applied Ethnology at the Azerbaijani Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Archeology and Ethnography.
The ethnic and national groups of Azerbaijan have established themselves on this territory over a long period of time. The most ancient sources of information about Azerbaijan illustrate the many ethnic strains that make up the population. Turks, Caucasians and Iranians at various stages participated in general socioeconomic and political processes which became the basis for ethnic integration on the territory. Some factors were responsible for developing integration processes. One of these was the extensive spread of Islam among most peoples of Azerbaijan since the 7th century. The principle of a common faith was the main determining factor in an era when religious ideology was predominant and political boundaries were constantly changing.
Another factor was the similarity between types of economy. Living in identical climatic conditions, the various peoples of Azerbaijan engaged in the same industries, another bonding factor.
Yet another factor in the development of ethnic integration was the Azerbaijani (Turkic) language. It so transpired that this was the language of communication between the ethnic communities of the country throughout the long historical process.
The conquering of Azerbaijan by Russia heralded the beginning of a new stage in the emergence of the ethnic structure of society and, consequently, of the system of ethnic relations. One element of the tsarist administration was to shift certain population groups to the conquered lands. In Azerbaijan, communities of Russian peasants, persecuted for sectarianism, and Armenians from Iran and Turkey started to crop up. Later, as towns and industry grew, the inflow of migrants continued.
The new conditions and alien culture and environment initially isolated these groups from the rest of the population. But, as economic integration grew, social and cultural relations with the local population began to strengthen. One reason was the high ethnic and religious tolerance of that local population. Since the 1920s, Azerbaijan has had many national schools, newspapers and journals have been published, theatrical shows given in various languages, and so on. All of this has been coordinated by special government agencies. It was in these years that alphabets were created for those ethnic communities of Azerbaijan who had no written language.
However all of those efforts were gradually scaled down during the 1930s by the harsh Stalinist regime which brought about radical changes in national policy. Throughout the U.S.S.R. schools that catered for ethnic minorities were closed down, and various attempts were made to reduce the official number of peoples living in the U.S.S.R.
During the Soviet era, there was some discrepancy between official figures about certain ethnic groups in Azerbaijan and their actual number. For this reason, some ethnic minorities gradually became smaller and even disappeared from the map entirely. For example official figures for Kurds, Talyshe, Tats, Tsakhur and some other ethnic groups were far lower than they actually were. This was clearly illustrated by the last countrywide census of 1989, which was conducted in slightly different conditions from previous ones. The census showed the Talyshe to be a separate ethnic group, while previous censuses did not even mention the group. The census of 1989 showed that the population of Kurds and mountainous Jews had more than doubled, and the population of Tsakhur had increased by 50%. Given that crude population growth in Azerbaijan between 1979 and 1989 was only 20%, that there were no large migrations of Talyshe, Jews and Kurds during the period and judging by the data for births, it can be deduced that some representatives of these minorities had had their ethnic identities reinstated. However the process had particular aspects in Azerbaijan. The patterns of change in the ethnic composition of the population of Azerbaijan during the 19th century indicate that changes in ethnic identity were fairly intense among some groups. Thus, the Tsakhur population of a number of settlements in the Sheki-Zakataly district by the beginning of the 20th century were already referred to as Azerbaijani in official Russian statistics.1 The same processes could be observed in districts with a Tat population (Apsheron, Guba-Khachmas) and Talyshe (Lenkoran). The assimilation of the 19th century also affected some of the Lezghian population of Azerbaijan, mainly those dispersed among the Azerbaijani population.
Depending on historical, socio-democratic and cultural factors, ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan can be grouped by number, the date of their appearance in Azerbaijan, the nature of their dispersal and affiliation to historical and cultural systems (religion, ethics, social standards, etc.).
One such group consists of major nationalities (Russians and Armenians), with their own national states. These nationalities have an advanced social culture and include both urban and rural dwellers. Also, these ethnic groups differ fundamentally from the indigenous population by their own historical and cultural systems. Besides the aforementioned factors, there is a socio-psychological factor: most of their compatriots live outside Azerbaijan.
Russians. The first order to remove the Russian Raskolniki from the provinces of their homeland to Transcaucasia was issued in 1832. Afterwards, in the 1830s-1850s, the first Russian migrants from the Tambov, Saratov, Voronezh and some other provinces appeared in Azerbaijan.2 The next waves of Russian migrants arrived at the turn of the 20th century as Azerbaijan’s oil industry and towns and cities began to grow.
At present, there are some 250,000 Russians in Azerbaijan, most of them in Baku, Gianja, Sumgait and other cities. Russian settlements are concentrated mainly in the districts of Shemakha, Ismailly and Lenkoran. Between 1979 and 1989 the Russian population of Azerbaijan decreased both in relative and absolute terms. If the census of 1979 gave a Russian population of more than 475,000, the 1989 census quoted 392,000. This drop occurred mainly because of a low level of natural population growth among Russians and high rate of migration from Azerbaijan.
Russians have been leaving Azerbaijan for mainly economic reasons as the standard of living in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other major Russian cities is better than in Azerbaijan. However the appeal of returning to the historic homeland is of no small importance.
Also, the sociopolitical processes that have taken place since 1990 have strengthened the exodus of Russians from Azerbaijan. Political factors have also played their role. Take, for example, the conflict in Nagorny Karabakh and the political instability that caused. Then there was a heavy constraint on the use of the Russian language and increasing psychological uneasiness among the Russian ethnic group. During Azerbaijan’s first years of independence, the Russian population was to some extent isolated from political life. The Karabakh conflict, which had just started to heighten, and increased demands for independence were not among the vital interests of the Russian population. Therefore the Russian community played an episodic role in political life.
The importance of the “Russian factor” in the political life of Azerbaijan has also been determined by the considerable role that Russians continue to play in the country’s economic and social life. By far most of the Russians here are urban dwellers. Most of them are qualified workers like engineers. Some of them are employed at state, scientific and educational institutions and many have degrees.
The constant decline of industrial production, stoppages at many factories, meager budget allocations for science, education and other spheres in recent years have caused social degradation as the intellectual potential accumulated over the years has lain dormant. Because Russians constitute a certain amount of that intellectual potential, this process has prompted Russians to protest passively through migration beyond Azerbaijan and lean toward political movements calling for the restoration of the U.S.S.R. and the Soviet political system.
But the presence of a numerous Russian population is also a major foreign policy issue for Azerbaijan. The seriousness of this issue can be judged by the active policy being conducted by officials in Russia with respect to their compatriots abroad. This policy has distinct strategic as well as humanitarian aims. An analysis of current events shows that “Russians in the near abroad (i.e. the CIS)” is a serious factor that will for a long time to come influence the political situation within the boundaries of the former U.S.S.R. It is worth mentioning that Azerbaijan was one of the first F.S.U. republics to feel the danger of the negative use of this factor when, in January 1990 as Soviet troops were brought into Baku, the Russian media launched a broad propaganda campaign against Azerbaijan. Later unconfirmed reports that Russians were being pressured and persecuted in Azerbaijan were used as some of the main arguments for the operation in Baku.
Armenians. Until recently, Armenians were one of the biggest ethnic groups in Azerbaijan. But, between the censuses of 1979 and 1989, the Armenian population in Azerbaijan declined, from 475,000 to 390,000. Then, for obvious reasons, many Armenians left Azerbaijan. Now there are reckoned to be only about 130,000 Armenians in the country, all of them in Nagorny Karabakh.
Armenians did not appear in Azerbaijan quite as long ago as the other ethnic groups. True, a clutch of Armenian speakers lived in the mountains of Karabakh before the 19th century. But most Armenians arrived after the end of the Russo-Iranian war in 1826-1828. In this period, Transcaucasia was of mainly military strategic importance to the Russian empire and was supposed to serve as a platform for further conquests in the Middle East.
The Caucasian region witnessed substantial changes after the Russian conquests. In 1828, the Emperor Nicholas I gave the order to create an Armenian Oblast or “Region” in the Erevan and Nakhichevan khanates or Azerbaijani state territorial entities.3 The implementation of that decree brought about considerable changes in the ethnic composition of the region. Most of the Muslim population, mainly Azerbaijanis, were exterminated or driven out into Turkey and Iran. If in the area called Armenian “Region” Armenians constituted only a tenth of the population before the Russian conquest, they made up a quarter as soon as the Russo-Iranian war ended in 1828.4 All of this was linked with the deportation of Azerbaijanis and the introduction of Armenians.
The decision to bring Armenians from Turkey and Iran started to be implemented in March 1828 and continued until the end of 1830. The period saw the arrival of more than 200,000 people in Transcaucasia.5 In order to keep the Armenians within their own territory, the Russians exonerated them from all taxes and dues for five years and granted them 50,000 rubles in silver. Those groups of the Armenian population were dispersed throughout Transcaucasia, some in Karabakh. A report by A.S. Griboiedov on “the relocation of Armenians from Persia to our regions” gives a fine enough indication that this was a policy with a purpose. 6
It should be mentioned that Armenians relocated to Transcaucasia throughout the 19th century. This process peaked during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878. By 1886, Armenians made up more than 58% of the population of the Shushinskii uyezd (district) of the Ielizavetpol gubernia (province), which covered nearly the whole of Nagorny Karabakh.7
The next group of ethnic minorities includes the Ingiloi, Jews and Udi. The group differs socially and demographically from the previous group. The minorities are fewer in number, they are concentrated in a comparatively smaller territory and the vast majority of them are rural dwellers. However the historical and cultural systems of these minorities distinguish them from the other ethnic groups of Azerbaijan. This is primarily a difference of religion. The group contains both Christians (some of the Ingiloi and Udi) and Jews.
Ingiloi. The Sheki-Zakataly zone, on the western slopes of the Great Caucasian Range in northwest Azerbaijan, is highly interesting from an ethnographical point of view. Together with the Azerbaijanis, who form the overwhelming majority, it is home to Avars, Tsakhur and pockets of Ingiloi. Views differ in Azerbaijan as to the ethnic history and the emergence of the Ingiloi in this zone. Without dwelling on the debates surrounding the ethno-genetic processes in northwest Azerbaijan, we will note that many researchers believe that the region was once the natural habitat of Albanian tribes.8 The contemporary Ingiloi, who dwell in the Belokany, Zakataly and Kakhi districts, are strains of those tribes. They speak one of the eastern dialects of the Georgian language and some are followers of Islam (the residents of the Belokany and Zakataly districts), while the others, inhabitants of the Kakhi district, are Christians. Ingiloi is derived from the Azerbaijan words “eni” (new) and “iol” (path, way). The name is thought to have originated with the acceptance at the end of the 15th and 16th centuries of Islam by the Georgian speakers in the territory.
It is known that after the Russians conquered the territory, they forced Christianity on the region. However before 1834 only 32 Ingiloi had accepted Christianity.9 The tsarist government announced it would exempt those who accepted Christianity from paying tribute. Thus, tsarist Russia was able to achieve some success in converting the Zakataly district to Christianity. Villagers from the Ilisu section adopted Christianity between 1850 and 1856. They included Kakh, Alibeglo, Karagan, Kotuklu and Meshabash villages, and some of the residents of Shotavar. In 1858, the villages of Tasmalo, Zagiam, Lala-Pasha, Mirsaia and Engian adopted Christianity.10 However very soon afterwards many reverted to Islam, which survives to this day in the aforementioned villages.
Today, some Ingiloi consider themselves to be Azerbaijani, and some Georgian, depending on their faith. Moreover the centuries-old co-existence of Ingiloi and Azerbaijanis has largely bonded their way of living and many features of their culture. Back in the 19th century, scholars pointed out that the industries and lifestyles of these two peoples were, like those of other peoples in the region, largely identical.11
A glance at official census documents will indicate that there has been no such people. But in fact there are some 10,000 ethnic Ingiloi who live in several large villages in the aforementioned district. The fact is that although the census procedures were relaxed somewhat in 1989, none of the Ingiloi were entered as such. Most of them are listed as Azerbaijani and the minority of them as Georgian.
The Ingiloi factor is of importance for relations between Azerbaijan and Georgia. At present, the problems of Ingiloi in Azerbaijan and of Azerbaijanis in Georgia are being resolved and do not threaten to upset ethnic contacts. Nevertheless, potential threats to the stability associated with the Ingiloi factor persist. They include possible Georgian claims on Azerbaijani land inhabited by the Ingiloi. Georgia could conceivably capitalize on the fact the Ingiloi “have no true rights” in Azerbaijan to discriminate against Azerbaijanis in Georgia. And Georgia could increase its influence among the Ingiloi and foment anti-Azerbaijani sentiment among them. In the days of Gamsakhurdia, those threats even looked as though they were becoming defined.
Udi. The southern Sheki-Zakataly zone hosts the Gabala and Oguz districts of Azerbaijan, home to the Udi. According to the 1989 census, there were as many as 6,000 Udi in Azerbaijan, 4,500 of them inhabiting the settlement of Nij in the Gabala district. The rest of the Udi live in the district center of Oguz.
The Udi language is one of the Daghestani group. The Udi, or Uti, are descendants of the Albanian Uti tribe, which is mentioned by ancient sources.12 Those sources say that the Uti enter into history during the first quarter of the 5th century BC, and participated in the march of Xerxes on Greece. Historical tradition, including that of Armenia, associates the modern Udi with the ancient Albanians. The Udi themselves until quite recently recalled their Albanian roots.13
The ethnic group is Christian. Those Udi inhabiting the Oguz district are Orthodox. But the group also has a Gregorian element. They live mostly in the settlement of Nij. However the Udi may have accepted Christianity, but they also retained their ancient religious notions. Festivals are a combination of Udi pagan and Christian rites.14
Despite the differences in language and religion, the centuries of co-existence between the Udi and Azerbaijan peoples have helped formulate a great many common features in lifestyle and culture. For example, both Azerbaijanis and Udi worship the same sanctuaries in a centuries-old tradition. Even during their semi-Christian, semi-pagan festivals, for example Vardavar, the Udi have sung in Azerbaijani.15
Certain conditions have been set for the preservation and development of the ancient Udi culture. A recently established Udi National Cultural Center is undertaking a large amount of work to design Udi language textbooks and to translate Azerbaijani and world classics into Udi.
Jews. The origins of this ethnic group have caused even more debate among scholars. Who are they? A Persian tribe that adopted Judaism, or are they ancient Jews who switched to one of the Persian languages? Both arguments have solid support, but the prevailing theory is that the inhabitants of the ancient Jewish settlements in Persia which converted to a Persian language together with some tribes during the reign of the Sassanid shah Yazdegerd II (435-459) were relocated to the northeastern districts of Northern Azerbaijan.16 This theory is also supported by the strong determination of the culture and everyday life of the Jews toward Judaism and by their fully defined ethnic self-identification.
Azerbaijan has some 35,000 Jews, most of whom live in Baku, the settlement of Krasnaia Sloboda, not far from the town of Kuba, and in Oguz. Between 1979 and 1989, the Jewish population increased by 260%. This was to do with the rules of the last Soviet census. For the first time in many years, the Jews were categorized as a separate ethnic group, and restrictions were lifted when the census was carried out.
For all their differences in religious views, the Jews and the Azerbaijanis have much in common. Many of Azerbaijan’s Jews speak two or even three languages. And in recent times fewer and fewer Jews have been emigrating to Israel.
Another ethnic group is the representatives of the so-called Daghestani language family. This includes the Lezghians, Tsakhur and Avars, all of which have concentrations in Azerbaijan. They have much in common both historically and culturally with Azerbaijan. However their compatriots are mainly from outside Azerbaijan.
And there are fairly substantial cultural differences between the Lezghians and Avars who live in Azerbaijan and the majority of their compatriots in Daghestan. The Daghestan community, though, is actively integrating with that in Azerbaijan.
Lezghians. The Lezghians, one of the biggest ethnic communities in Azerbaijan, inhabit the northeastern Azerbaijani district’s Samur basin and the eastern spurs of the Great Caucasian Range. According to the 1989 census, there were 171,000 Lezghians and, except for the Kusary district, where Lezghians constitute more than four-fifths of the population, they have been dispersed in the districts of Khachmas, Guba, Gabala and some others.
The early ethnic history of the Lezghians is closely associated with Caucasian Albania, one of the most ancient states to have existed on the territory of Azerbaijan. The ancient writers mentioned Caucasian-speaking tribes in the northern part of Azerbaijan. Those tribes included the Leghi, who were probably distant ancestors of the modern Lezghians.17 Recent historical research has pinpointed the territory of the Leghi as a location on the left bank of the Samur, in contemporary southern Daghestan.18 But for centuries some of the Lezghian tribes gradually migrated south and to the foothills and coastal areas. This tendency continued right until the 20th century. It is important to note that the historical fate of the Lezghian people is closely related to Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis. Back in the times of the Arab and Persian conquests and during the independence of some state entities in Azerbaijan, the Lezghians lived in one region together with Azerbaijanis and other peoples who dwell on the territory today.
The Lezghians and Azerbaijanis were also linked by mutually beneficial economic relations. Lezghian farmers and craftsmen sold their wares in such Azerbaijani cities as Guba, Sheki, Baku and others. But, after the Russian campaigns in the Caucasus in the 19th century and the annexation by Russia of Azerbaijan and the Caucasus as a whole, a frontier was drawn up between the new Baku gubernia and the Daghestan Region along the Samur river in 1860... As a result, both the Lezghian people and the Azerbaijanis were split up. A large number of Azerbaijanis lived in Derbent and nearby locations. The border still existed in Soviet times.
The Lezghians had always worked the land and kept livestock. They were influenced economically by natural and geographic diversity and by the economic activity and material culture of the Azerbaijanis. Besides being expert farmers and herdsmen, the Lezghians had achieved proficiency as craftsmen. The wooden items crafted by the Lezghians of the foothills are widely known, the villages of Gil’, Miral, Iukhary iarag and others achieving fame.
The Lezghians were also good carpet makers. Sumakhi—rugs without pile, which have a smooth upper side and a shaggy underside, were made in the Kusary district. The Lezghians copied traditional Azerbaijan decorative subjects—either plants or geometrical motifs—when making their carpets.19
The Lezghian language is one of the Daghestani group of Caucasian languages and a rich spiritual culture had been built on it. The classics of Lezghian literature include Etim Emin and Suleyman Stalskii. The work of these poets is also a fine illustration of the close links between the Lezghian and Azerbaijani peoples. The classics composed many of their works in Azerbaijani.
Today, Lezghian is taught at primary schools in the Lezghian districts of Azerbaijan. Newspapers and radio programs are also broadcast in Lezghian. A Lezghian national and cultural center, Samur, has been set up. The state of Azerbaijani-Lezghian relations has a major impact on the social and ethnic situation in Azerbaijan. In this respect, ethnic stability in Azerbaijan is under threat. The most realistic threats are the growth of separatist sentiment among the Lezghian of Azerbaijan, fueled by the Lezghian movement in Daghestan, and Russia’s use of the “Lezghian factor” in its Caucasus policy.
Avars. This is the biggest ethnic community in the Sheki-Zakataly zone after the Azerbaijanis. According to the 1989 census, there were as many as 44,000 Avars. They were dispersed mainly in two districts—Belokany and Zakataly... These districts are home to large Avar villages like Djar, Tsiliban, Matsekh and others with a rich history. Most ethnic Avars, though, inhabit Daghestan.
Nobody is quite sure when the Avars settled here. Avars and closely-related peoples live in western Daghestan. The Avars have been highland sheep farmers since ancient times. The search for new pastures and a consequently fairly mobile lifestyle meant the Avars established themselves in new environments. Avars with winter pastures on the southern side of the Main Caucasian Range frequently roamed into the territory of the modern Sheki-Zakataly zone. This and the fact there was little available land forced the Avars to settle in these lands in small groups only. History does not record some isolated mass-migration. In all probability Avar tribes filtered into the territory over a period spanning several centuries.20
Legend has it that the Avars’ first settlement in the region was Goloda, on Mount Kelan, where nomads roamed and where the graves and foundations of several buildings survive. In fact the Avars in this district were for a long time known as the Golodolal, or inhabitants of Goloda.
Whatever the truth, the Avars are known to have become firmly established in this region by the start of the 16th century. It is then that selected Avar tribes began to amalgamate into free societies called Jamaat. This was also the period of the establishment of the largest and most powerful of the Jamaat, the Djar society, named after the village of Djar. By the start of the 18th century six Jamaat had become established. Arabian and Persian sources called them Djaro-Tala, and the Avars themselves Goloda. The Djaro-Belokany Jamaat that had become established were a unique form of social and political organization, a federation of free societies presided over by a council of elders and military commanders. The Djaro-Belokany societies as military-political entities existed right until the Russian conquest of 1830.
The Avars of the Zakataly and Belokany districts speak the Antsukh dialect of the Avar language, which is one of the Daghestani group of languages. But the Avars also widely speak Azerbaijani. Recently a decision was made to teach Avar in primary schools where the Avar population is concentrated. Of late, a certain tide of Avar nationalism has been observed, for which there are two reasons:
— defense of the Avar alternative (shadow) economic structures in competition with those of the Azerbaijanis;
— the influence of Avar nationalist forces in Daghestan;
— reaction to the growth of Azerbaijani Turkic nationalism.
All of these factors are fairly subdued at present and could manifest themselves if the social and political situation in the country is upset.
Tsakhus. Most of the Taskhur live in the Zakataly district, which is home to 11,500 of Azerbaijan’s 13,000 Tsakhur. A small group lives in the Kakhi district. The largest Tsakhur settlements are those of Alibairamly, Gezparak and Eni Suvagil’.
Various opinions exist on how the Tsakhur arrived in Azerbaijan. Although popular legends and historical accounts made in the 19th century indicate that the Tsakhur had arrived from the opposite face of the Great Caucasian Range in modern Daghestan, historians have offered a rather convincing theory of the genetic links between the Taskhur and the Djigba, an Albanian tribe.21 In all probability, this would suggest that the Albanian tribes had a hand in establishing absolutely all ethnic groups in this region: Albanians had lived not only in the territory of contemporary northern Azerbaijan but also in southern Daghestan. Even so, historical sources have revealed that more than 400 years ago migrants from the settlement of Tsakhur, which is in a canyon by the Samur chai, crossed the western slopes of the Caucasian Mountain Range and founded the village of Sarybash, which today is an important historical and architectural site.22
Later, the Tsakhur dispersed more extensively, establishing the settlement of Ilisu, which later became a center of the Ilisu Sultanate, a vassal of the Djaro-Belokany Jamaat. The Sultanate’s first capital was Kakhi but, out of safety considerations, the ruler moved his residence to Ilisu, where he built a palace, towers and fortresses, traces of which have survived to this day.23 The population of this Sultanate consisted not only of Tsakhur but also of Azerbaijanis and Ingiloi. The Sultanate consisted of four main Jamaat—Tsakhur, Suvagil’, Karadulak and Ilisu. These were affiliated social organizations with a defined structure similar to most of the Daghestani Tokhum.
The Tsakhur had been herdsmen from ancient times and had farmed their own plots of land. Lengthy co-existence on this territory had bonded the Tsakhur and Azerbaijanis to such an extent that it is now hard to distinguish some aspects of the social and cultural existence of the Tsakhur community.
The Tats, Talyshe and Kurds, and representatives of the so-called Shakhdag group (Khynalyg, Budukha, Kryz) constitute a large group of ethnic minorities. The ethnic communities in question live in Azerbaijan and are mainly engaged in farming, hence the backwardness of there social structure. The Tats, Talyshe and Kurds plus the “Shakhdag” are largely integrated ethnically with the Azerbaijanis.
Tats. The Tats have been dispersed in northeast Azerbaijan. Their language belongs to the Iranian group of Indo-European languages and is close to Persian. By their origin, the Tats are direct descendants of the Iranian-speaking population that migrated back in the era of the Sassanids to the Caspian coastal regions of Azerbaijan.24 Most of the Tats in Azerbaijan live in the Apsheron zone and the districts of Khyzy, Divichi, Guba and some others.
Research has demonstrated that the word “Tat” does not have an ethnic origin. This is the term the Turks used to call the settled Iranian-speaking population of Azerbaijan. This is proven by the names some groups of the Tat population have given themselves. For example the residents of the Apsheron settlements of Balakhany and Surakhany call themselves Pars, and those of the settlement of Lagich in the Ismailly district the Lohudj. It must be mentioned that in the 19th century, cattle herders called the seasonal workers from southern Azerbaijan Tat, although they were ethnic Turks.
The Tats and Azerbaijanis have gained much in common both industrially and culturally and in every day life from their centuries of co-existence. Here a significant role has been played by the Azerbaijani language, which since the 19th century has been virtually the second native tongue for the Tats. The wide use of Azerbaijani, though, has imposed some constraints on the Tat language, which had become the general language in rural areas. Significant changes have taken place in the ethnic consciousness of the Tats. Many of them consider themselves to be Azerbaijani and have largely lost the Tat language.
According to the 1989 census, there were 10,000 Tats in Azerbaijan. It is vital to stress that the Tats are one of the most assimilated of Azerbaijan’s ethnic groups. This is particularly true for urban Tats. All of this makes it difficult to identify the true number of the Tat ethnic group.
Kurds. Kurds live in the most western part of Azerbaijan, in the Lower Caucasus Mountains. They totaled more than 12,000, according to the last census. Most of the Kurds live in the Lachin and Kelbadjar districts, however when the Armenians occupied them, the Kurds like all other peoples of those districts, moved temporarily to other parts of Azerbaijan.
The biggest Kurdish settlements in these districts are Agdjakend and Leninkend. The Kurdish population, too, has become heavily assimilated. Kurdish is one of the northwestern branches of the Iranian languages. The Kurds include both Sunni and Shiite Muslims. They also have various different sects (Iezidy, Ali-Ilakhi and others). Most of the Kurds in Azerbaijan, though, are Shiite.
The history of the Kurdish settlement in northern Azerbaijan is not yet fully known. It is known that Oguz tribes in the 11th century attacked Kurdish nomads in Shirvan. And a small large Kurdish population also existed in the 12th century in the city of Beilagan.25 These fragmented accounts enable us to deduce that selected groups of Kurds have been known on the territory of northern Azerbaijan since the 11th century. In all probability, the Kurds came here gradually, in individual families and clans. At times there were mass migrations. One theory is that the Turkish army during the Turkish-Iranian war in 1589 contained Kurds and that the latter stayed behind after that war since Turkey had been the winning side.26 But after the Russo-Iranian war in 1826-1828, the Zilan community, led by the Hussein-khan, moved to Azerbaijan from Persia. Many Kurds started to move from Turkish Kurdistan to Transcaucasia. The migration took place during the latter half of the 1800s and the early 20th century.27 Thus, the modern Kurdish population of Azerbaijan took several centuries to become established.
The Kurds main pastime had always been cattle herding with some arable farming. Traditional crafts that have survived the ages include carpet and felt making.
The Azerbaijani language plays a large role in the life of the Kurds. The Kurds use the language both to communicate with Azerbaijanis and among themselves. Only a few of the older members of the population still speak Kurdish. True, Kurds have been recorded by ethnographical data as having lived in the Zangelan and Djebrail districts of Azerbaijan back in the 19th century. But in those regions the Kurds were subsequently registered as being Azerbaijani (Turkic). In some settlements of those districts the population spoke Kurdish right until the middle of the 19th century.28
Recently, Azerbaijan has made certain steps toward preserving and developing the Kurdish language and spiritual culture. To do this, a Kurdish National and Cultural Center has been set up under the Cultural Foundation. But the “Kurdish issue” remains a major factor in the ethnic-political stability of Azerbaijan. Here, it is vital to point out that this issue could be used to involve Kurds from Azerbaijan in the Kurdish Workers’ Party which is campaigning for the creation of a Kurdish state in Turkey.
Talyshe. This ethnic group abodes in southeast Azerbaijan, specifically in the Lenkoran, Astara and, in part, in the Masally and Lerik districts. According to the 1989 census, there were more than 21,000 Talyshe in Azerbaijan.
In the past, the Talyshe living in the valleys were mainly rice growers and the highlanders were herdsmen. The Talyshe have become deeply integrated with the Azerbaijani ethnic group. The traditions and everyday lives of the Talyshe differ little from those of the Azerbaijanis. Many of the Talyshe are bilingual, speaking both Talyshe and Azerbaijani. But although Azerbaijani is widespread, Talyshe has not lost its functional role and is widely spoken in homes and at work. Talyshe is taught in local schools and in Lenkoran radio programs are broadcast in Talyshe. However recent years have revealed potential threats to stability in the region, mainly the likelihood that social group differences will grow into ethnic differences. And it cannot be ruled out that Iran will increase its influence in the region and use the “Talyshe factor” in its own interests.
Shakhdag group. High off the eastern foot of the Shakhdag mountain on the territory of the Kuba district of Azerbaijan lives a group of ethnic communities known as the Shakhdag. These minority peoples—the Khynalyg, Budukha and Kryz—live in the mountain settlements of Budukha, Kryz and Khynalyg. The Budukha also live in the settlements of Deli Gaia and Giunei Budug, the Kryz in Alik, Djek and Gaput Ergiudj. These settlements, especially Khynalyg, are among the most mountainous and inaccessible in the Caucasus. Other parts of Azerbaijan are largely accessible only in the summer.
The peoples of the Shakhdag group speak Caucasian languages. The Budukha and Kryz languages are similar and are genetically linked to Lezghian. Khynalyg, though, has more differences, although it is still a Caucasian language. Besides their native tongue, its speakers converse in Azerbaijani.
Apart from mention of the word “khynalyg” by the Arabian geographer Yakut Khamavi in the eighth century, the Khynalyg were not mentioned anywhere until the 19th century.29 In the 1830s, describing the Guba zone of Azerbaijan, V. Legkobytov speaks of a Khynalyg settlement and its inhabitants. He said the Khynalyg led an antiquated way of life and were mainly herdsmen.
The Khynalyg language has no dialects or modes of speech. True, the pronunciation of Khynalyg in the upper, middle and lower country differs accordingly. Azerbaijani influence can be detected by the infiltration of a large number of Turkic-sounding words and by the many common elements of traditions and ways of life.30
As for the Kryz, practically nothing is known about their origins. Their main activity is cattle herding.
The Budukha, too, are a little studied people from an historical and ethnographical point of view. Their language, like many other elements of their culture, is akin to that of the Kryz.
Although the ethnic communities within the Shakhdag group are somewhat isolated, their languages contain many lexical and phonetic borrowings from Azerbaijani. This would suggest that the Shakhdag and Azerbaijanis have had a long history of ethnic-cultural contacts. It is for this reason that Azerbaijani is so functional among the Khynalyg, Kryz and Budukha peoples. Also, in everyday life, industry and socio-normative culture, Azerbaijani cultural traditions have had a strong influence.
At the end of the 20th century, on the huge expanse of the Eurasian “mainland”, as a result of the disintegration of the Soviet empire and growth in ethnicity, the battle for political power, clashes of economic interests, the rebirth of ethnic self-awareness and drive by peoples for freedom and independence have got into a bloody tangle. In Azerbaijan, as in many of the former Soviet republics, the rebirth of ethnic self-awareness among the country’s peoples has begun in the spirit of the campaign for state independence. In these conditions, the state is faced with having to solve social and ethnic problems. This will largely reflect the strategy of the political development and place of the country in the world community.
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2D. Ismail-zade, Russkoe krestianstvo v Zakavkazie, Moscow, 1982, p. 34.
3Sobranie aktov, otnosiashchikhsia k obozreniiu istorii armianskogo naroda, Moscow, 1833, Part 1, pp. 278-279.
4R. Safarov, “Dinamika etnicheskogo sostava naseleniia Erivanskoi gubernii (1801-1910),” Azerbaijan. Obshchestvenno-politicheskii i istoricheskii sbornik Instituta istorii AN Azerbaidzhana, Baku, 1989, No. 10, p. 3.
5I.I. Shavrov, Novaia ugroza russkomu delu v Zakavkazie: predstoiashchaia rasprodazha Mugani inorodtsam, St. Petersburg, 1911, p. 59; Kolonial’naia politika russkogo tsarizma v Azerbaidzhane, Moscow, Leningrad, 1936, Part 1, pp. 204, 368.
6A.S. Griboiedov, Pis’ma i zapiski, Baku, 1989, p. 388.
7I.I. Shavrov, op. cit., p. 63.
8V. Dondua, Sochineniia, Tbilisi, 1963, Vol. III, p.13.
9Iu. Aleskerov, Zakatal’skii okrug v pervoi polovine XIX veka i vosstanie 1863 g..., Baku, 1950. Research Archive of the Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences Institute of History, f. 2073, p.12.
10I.P. Petrushevskii, Djaro-Belokanskie vol’nye obshchestva v pervoi treti XIX stoletia, Tiflis, 1934, p. 30.
11A. Von-Plotto, “Priroda i liudi Zakatal’skogo okruga,” Sbornik svedenii o kavkazskikh gortsakh, Tiflis, 1870, Issue IV, p. 26.
12Strabo. XI, 5, I; Plutarch, Pompey, p. 35.
13G. K. Klimov, “K sostoianiiu deshifrovki agvanskoi (kavkazsko-albanskoi) pis’mennosti,” Voprosy iazykoznania, 1967, No. 3.
14A. Arzumanian, Voprosy etnicheskoi istorii i kultury, Candidate’s Dissertation, Erevan, 1987, p. 14.
15Narody Kavkaza, Moscow, 1962, Vol. II, pp. 195-196.
16B. Miller, Taty, ikh govory i rasselenie, Baku, 1927, pp. 22-23.
17P. Uslar, Drevneishie skazania o Kavkaze, Tiflis, 1886, pp. 539-540; N. Marr, Kavkazskie plemennye nazvaniia i mestnye paralleli, St. Petersburg, 1922, p. 35; I. Abdullaev, K. Mikailov, “K istorii dagestanskikh etnonimov lezg i lak,” in: Etnografia imen, Moscow, 1971, p. 13.
18K. Aliev, Kavkazskaia Albania, Baku, 1974; M. Ikhilov, K voprosu o proiskhozhdenii narodnostei lezginskoi gruppy (s drevneishikh vremen do nachala XX veka), Makhachkala, 1967.
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20Iu. Aleskerov, op. cit.
21G. Geibullaev, Toponimiia Azerbaidzhana, Baku, 1986, p. 85.
22A. Von-Plotto, op. cit., p. 11.
23Iu. Aleskerov, op. cit.
24B. Miller, op. cit, p. 23; V. Minorskii, Istoria Shirvana i Derbenta, Moscow, 1963, p. 35.
25G. Akhmedov, Srednevekovyi gorod Beilagan, Baku, 1972, p. 82.
26G. Chursin, “Azerbaidzhanskie Kurdy,” Izvestia Kavkazskogo istoriko-arkheologicheskogo instituta, Tbilisi, 1925, Vol. III, p. 2.
27T. Aristova, “Iz istorii vozniknoveniia sovremennykh kurdskikh selenii v Zakavkazie,” Sovetskaia etnografia, 1962, No. 2, p. 39.
28E. Kerimov, Otchet ob etnograficheskoi ekspeditsii v priaraksinskie sela Zangelanskogo i Dzhebrail’skogo raionov v 1974 g. Nauchnyi arkhiv instituta istorii, p. 126.
29Iu. Desheriev, Grammatika khynalygskogo iazyka, Moscow, 1959, p. 6.
30Iu. Desheriev, Razvitie mladopis’mennykh iazykov narodov S.S.S.R., Moscow, 1958, p. 189.