Laz - Orientation

Identification and Location. Lazistan comprises the 48 to 80 kilometer-wide area lying between the Ch'orokh (Çoruh) River valley in northeastern Turkey and the Black Sea, extending westward from the former Soviet border as far as Trabzon (Trebizond), although today dense settlement of the Laz does not extend much farther than just west of the port of Rize. A small number of Laz live in the Ajarian village of Sarpi in the Georgian Republic, in the valley of the Chkhala, a left tributary of the Ch'orokh. The location of Lazistan is thus approximately between 42°30′ and 41°40′ N and 39°45′ and 41°45′ E. Geographically, Lazistan consists of a series of narrow, rugged valleys extending northward from the crest of the Pontic Alps (Turkish: Anadolu Daglari), which separate it from the Ch'orokh Valley, and stretches east-west along the southern shore of the Black Sea. The climate of Lazistan is generally warm and humid though less so in the upland southern regions of the Pontic Alps, which reach to an average elevation of 3,000 meters. Here on the mountain slopes, a cool, temperate, continental climate obtains, notorious for its dense fogs. Temperatures vary from 22°-30° C in August to 0°-5° C in January. The region is rainy, with an average annual precipitation of nearly 254 centimeters at Batum. The soil is thick and fertile, producing a luxuriant vegetation, mostly shrubs now, especially the Rhododendron pontica and the Rhododendron flavus (yellow azalea). The remains of the once vast forests (largely destroyed to produce charcoal for smelting of ore) comprise beech, birch, maple, box, chestnut, oak, holm oak, Pontic oak, poplars, and various varieties of firs. An enormous variety of birds (especially partridges and pheasants) and animal life (wild boar, antelope, and bear) exist in Lazistan, which also contains many cold springs of carbonic water.

Demography. In Turkish lore the Laz have had a reputation for brigandage and piracy. They are respected today for being industrious, trustworthy, venturous, and patriotic, and also for being good businessmen. The census of 1945 cited 46,987 Laz speakers but did not count Turkish-speaking Laz and is certainly an undercount. The Soviet census of 1926—the last one in which the Laz are mentioned—listed 643 ethnic Laz in Ajaria and 730 Laz speakers. Catford (1970) estimated the total number of Laz at about 50,000, but there is no question that they are gradually becoming assimilated to the Turkish population at large.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Laz language is closely related to Mingrelian, the two together forming the Zan Branch of the Kartvelian Language Group, which includes both Georgian and Svan. Laz is not written, Turkish serving as the literary language in the Turkish Republic and Georgian in the Georgian Republic. There are two main dialects of Laz, Western Laz (with two subgroups: Vitse-Arhava [Vits'e-Arkaba] and Atina) and Eastern Laz (subgroups: Hopa [Khopa] and Chkhala).

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