Meskhetians - Religion and Expressive Culture



The religious and ritual practice of the Meskhetians is also consistant with Islamic norms and formally quite orthodox. There are only some insignificant deviations or additions in a few Muslim rituals. For example, while observing all of the classic canonical forms of the funeral rites, the Meskhetians, over the course of several nights after the burial of the deceased, light a fire over the freshly dug grave. For this reason, according to popular belief, anyone who sees a fire at night is induced to pray for the dead. Daily life is regulated not only by the strict canons of Islamic society, but also involves older pre-Islamic rituals, beliefs, magical practices, and sorcery, which have been preserved to the present day. One still observes the practice of inducing rain by imitative magic (the rattling of pebbles against a brass basin), the healing of people and animals with "moon water" (water left standing overnight under a clear sky), the wearing of various amulets and protective talismans, etc. Some rituals and festivals associated with agriculture and animal husbandry are still partially maintained. For example, echoes of the festival of the first furrow can be detected in the custom of breaking an egg against the head of an ox before plowing. Several components of the traditional spring festival kïzgalin (a folk celebration in the pastures after the spring weeding) have been harmoniously integrated into the contemporary wedding (dances, games, pantomimes, fortune-telling).

On the whole, in recent decades the distinctive culture of the Meskhetians has been greatly disrupted; as a result, its fundamental framework has all but disappeared. With the increase in political activism and because of the growing belief in the need to consolidate ethnocultural processes in Meskhetian society, however, there is a clear tendency toward a cultural rebirth. Although a certain segment of the population, owing to a lack of prospects for a return to Georgia, is inclined toward emigration to Turkey, the large majority of Meskhetians continues to concentrate in Azerbaijan, where land has been granted them. Despite the fact that the situation there is becoming more difficult because of the hostilities between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, all Meskhetians still enjoy the option of resettling in Azerbaijan if they wish. Still, this does not represent a solution to the problem of deportation, and it is questionable whether a more positive resolution of the impasse can be expected.


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