Lezgins - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Agriculture has never been of primary importance in the traditional Lezgin lands, which are too mountainous and dry to support farming. The raising of sheep and goats, and also of some horses, mules, and water buffalo, was more important to the Lezgin diet, which consisted primarily of meat and milk products. In better-watered areas and especially in the foothill regions, grains (wheat, rye, barley, and millet), garden vegetables (potatoes, peas, cabbage, cucumbers, melons, and tomatoes), and fruits were also grown. Because of the general rural poverty and the shortage of good agricultural land, transhumant sheepherding was widespread, requiring the males to migrate annually to the lowlands (mostly southward into Azerbaijani territory) to pasture their animals. In addition, many Lezgin males found seasonal employment in the towns and cities of northern Azerbaijan (Shemakha, Kuba, Shirvan, and others), coastal Daghestan (in the Azerbaijani-dominated town of Derbent), and in and around Baku. As a result, the Lezgins fell under a strong Azerbaijani influence and virtually all Lezgins were bilingual (Lezgin and Azerbaijani).

Industrial Arts. Lezgin women were famous throughout the Caucasus for their fine woven carpets. The Lezgins, however, were less well known, in general, for handicrafts and artisanry than the other peoples of Daghestan (Dargins, Laks, Avars, Kubachins, etc.). Because the Lezgin territories are so poor in economic potential, traditional economic enterprises—food processing (meat, cheese, butter), leather working, and textile production—still dominate the economy. Many Lezgins, however, work in the industrial areas of Azerbaijan and Daghestan and continue the tradition of economic out-migration. One notable alteration in the traditional economic pattern is that animals are now trucked between winter and summer pastures; in the past they were accompanied by shepherds on foot. Another is that the animals, which in the pre-Soviet period were wintered in Azerbaijan, are now driven far to the north (around Astrakhan). This was part of a Soviet policy aimed at diminishing Azerbaijani influence in southern Daghestan, and has strengthened the Russian influence on the Lezgins at the expense of the Azerbaijani influence.

Land Tenure. Traditionally, lands and herds were owned communally by extended families. Agricultural land was in short supply, and the pastures were used communally. The Lezgins had a stronger sense of land usership than of ownership. Although this should have made collectivization somewhat easier, the Lezgins openly resisted collectivization and Sovietization.

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