Lezgins - Orientation

Identification. The Lezgins are the descendants of Caucasic peoples who have inhabited the region of southern Daghestan since at least the Bronze Age. The Lezgins are closely related, both culturally and linguistically, to the Aghuls of southern Daghestan and, somewhat more distantly, to the Tsakhurs, Rutuls, and Tabasarans (the northern neighbors of the Lezgins). Also related, albeit more distantly, are the numerically small Jek, Kryz, Khaput, Budukh, and Khinalug peoples of northern Azerbaijan. These groups, together with the Lezgins, form the Samurian branch of the indigenous Caucasic peoples.

Prior to the Russian Revolution, the Lezgins did not have a common self-designation as an ethnic group. They referred to themselves by village, region, religion, clan, or free society. Before the Revolution, the Lezgins were called "Kyurintsy," or "Akhtintsy," or "Lezgintsy" by the Russians. The ethnonym "Lezgin" itself is quite problematic. Prior to the Soviet period, the term "Lezgin" was used in different contexts. At times, it referred only to the people known today as Lezgins. At others, it referred variously to all of the peoples of southern Daghestan (Lezgin, Aghul, Rutul, Tabasaran, and Tsakhur); all of the peoples of southern Daghestan and northern Azerbaijan (Kryz [Jek], Khinalug, Budukh, Khaput); all Daghestani peoples; or all of the indigenous Moslem peoples of the northeastern Caucasus (Daghestanis, Chechens, and Ingush). In reading pre-Revolutionary works one must be aware of these different possible meanings and scope of the ethnonym "Lezgin."

Location. The Lezgins inhabit a compact territory that straddles the border area of southern Daghestan and northern Azerbaijan. It lies for the most part, in the southeastern portion of Daghestan (in Akhti, Dokuzpara, Kasumkent, Kurakh, Magaramkent, and Rutul districts) and contiguous northeastern Azerbaijan (in Kuba, Nukha, and Shemakha districts).

The Lezgin territories are divided into two physiographic zones: a region of high, rugged mountains and the piedmont (foothills). Most of the Lezgin territory is in the mountainous zone, where a number of peaks (like Baba Dagh) reach over 3,500 meters in elevation. There are deep and isolated canyons and gorges formed by the tributaries of the Samur and Gulgeri Chai rivers. In the mountainous zones the summers are very hot and dry, with drought conditions a constant threat. There are few trees in this region aside from those in the deep canyons and along the streams themselves. Drought-resistant shrubs and weeds dominate the natural flora. The winters here are frequently windy and brutally cold. In this zone the Lezgins engaged primarily in animal husbandry (mostly sheep and goats) and in craft industries.

In the extreme east of the Lezgin territory, where the mountains give way to the narrow coastal plain of the Caspian Sea, and to the far south, in Azerbaijan, are the foothills. This region has relatively mild, very dry winters and hot, dry summers. Trees are few here also. In this region animal husbandry and artisanry were supplemented by some agriculture (along the alluvial deposits near the rivers).

Demography. The Lezgins are the second-most numerous of the Daghestani peoples. In 1979 their population was 382,611, of whom 49.3 percent lived in the Daghestan ASSR and 41.3 percent in neighboring Azerbaijan. Many of the Lezgins in Azerbaijan no longer inhabit their traditional rural areas in the northern part of that republic, having moved to important urban centers there (Baku, Sumgait, Shemakha, Kuba, and others). Since the environment in the traditional Lezgin territories is so harsh, the Lezgins have had to lead their flocks of sheep and goats into winter pastures in Azerbaijan and to find seasonal employment there. The Lezgins have therefore been strongly influenced by the Turkic-speaking Azerbaijani people and their culture. The Lezgins are the most culturally Turkicized Daghestanis. Most Lezgins are traditionally bilingual (Lezgin and Azerbaijani), and over the centuries many southern Lezgins were totally assimilated by the Azerbaijanis. This process of Turkicization of the southern Lezgins continued well into the 1930s. Had the Soviet regime not decided to actively suppress this process and support the Lezgins as a distinct nationality, the current Lezgin population and the number of Lezgin speakers would be much lower. In the north, however, the Lezgins exerted a major influence on the Aghuls, Rutuls, and Tabasarans. Most of these peoples spoke Lezgin in addition to their own languages, and many were being culturally and linguistically assimilated by the Lezgins. In the early Soviet period the regime actively supported the "Lezginization" of the Aghuls and Rutuls.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Lezgin language belongs (along with Aghul, Rutul, Tsakhur, Tabasaran, Budukh, Khinalugh, Jek, Khaput, Kryz [K'rits'], and Udi) to the Lezgian or Samurian Group of the Northeast Caucasian (Checheno-Daghestani) Language Family. The Lezgin language is comprised of three closely related (mutually intelligible) dialects: Kurin (also referred to as Gunei or Kurakh), Akhti, and Kuba. The Kurin dialect is the most widespread of the three and is spoken throughout most of the Lezgin territories in Daghestan, including the town of Kurakh, which, historically, was the most important cultural, political, and economic center in the Lezgin territory in Daghestan and is the former seat of the khanate of Kurin. The Akhti dialect is spoken in southeastern Daghestan. The Kuba dialect, the most Turkicized of the three, is widespread among the Lezgins of northern Azerbaijan (named for the town of Kuba, the cultural and economical focus of the region).

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: