Identification and Location. The Talysh are settled in the north of Iran and in the Lenkoran, Astaran, Lerik, and Massalin districts of the Azerbaijan Republic. The territories in which the Talysh live are sharply divided into two different geographic zones: the Lenkoran lowland, with the Plains of Gilan in Iran adjacent to it, and the mountain district of Talysh. The area inhabited by the Talysh is distinguished by climatic diversity, occasioned by three parallel mountain ranges in the Lenkoran region—the Talysh, the Peshtasar, and Alashar-Burovor ranges—with numerous spurs. Elevations range from the very highest point, 2,494 meters in the Talysh range, to 28 meters in the Lenkoran lowland. The climate of the southern zone in the lowlands is close to subtropical (i.e., coastal). The largest amount of precipitation (30-160 centimeters per year) falls in the mountains; because of this precipitation, the landscape is well wooded. A quite dense network of rivers crosses the region, and the yellow soils are favorable to the raising of subtropical cultivated plants. The Iranian section, which is generally less mountainous, has a hotter and more arid climate. The southwest corner of the Caspian seaboard, populated by the Iranian portion of the Talysh, is covered with 12,000 hectares of dense forests rich in many types of trees including oak, beech, maple, linden, plane, and hazel.
Demography. According to the census of 1926 there were 77,039 Talysh in Soviet Azerbaijan; in the 1979 census all Talysh were listed as Azerbaijanis; in the 1989 census the Talysh numbered 21,914. The drop in the Talysh population in the USSR by a factor of 3.5 is the result of their partial assimilation. Only a subsequent census can more fully establish the number of Talysh in Azerbaijan. The population density in the Caspian part of Iran is about 100 persons per square kilometer. Some 100,000 Talysh live in Iran. In terms of physical features the Talysh correspond to the Near Asian variant of the Balkan-Caucasian Group of the Greater Caucasian race.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Talysh language is close to the so-called Old Azeri language (not to be confused with Azerbaijani Turkish), a language of the Northwestern Subgroup of the Iranian Group of the Indo-European Family. The Talysh speak both the Talysh and Azerbaijani Turkish languages; in Azerbaijan many also speak Russian. The Talysh language is not used for writing at present. In Iranian Talysh territory instruction is conducted in Farsi, and in the medressehs (Islamic schools) it is conducted in Talysh, Farsi, and Arabic. Before the Revolution in Russia the Talysh language was written with the Arabic script; later, in 1930, the Latin script came into use. A Talysh-language newspaper and textbooks were published in the 1930s in Soviet Talysh territory, but the literary language was abolished in 1939. Since then instruction has been in Azerbaijani Turkish in the Talysh schools of Azerbaijan (Bennigsen and Wimbush 1986, 220).