Introduction / History
The Lezgians are one of the five major ethnic groups living in Azerbaijan (one of the seven independent republics of the former Soviet Union). Their homeland is located in the beautiful Caucasus Mountains between the Black and Caspian Seas.
Most Lezgians live in the rugged mountain regions where there are many deep, isolated canyons and gorges. The summers are hot and dry, while the winters are windy and brutally cold. Some live near the Caspian Sea, where the winters are dry and mild.
As late as the mid-nineteenth century, attempts were made to create a written script for the Lezgian. In the 1920's, the Soviets changed the script from Arabic to Latin. Then, in 1938, it was changed from Latin to Cyrillic. Russia also attempted to replace all of the Arabic and Persian words with Russian words. Nevertheless, having their own written language only served to unify, rather than Russianize, the Lezgian.
What are their lives like?
The Lezgians formerly lived in free societies comprised of large extended family units known as tukhum. The societies were patriarchal, or male-dominated, and they were headed by male elders. These elders were responsible for making all the major decisions concerning the clan. Today, because of modernization and increased migration to the cities, the tukhum are losing their importance.
Most Lezgian marry within their own clans, and the elder women are very influential in such decisions. The custom of paying kalim (bride-price) is still followed by some, but is now more of a symbolic payment than a requirement.
The Lezgian women are famous throughout the Caucasus for their woven carpets. These fine carpets can be easily recognized by their geometrical designs. The economy in this region is primarily based on food processing (meat, cheese, butter), leather working, and textile production. Many of the Lezgian have also found seasonal metalwork (making weapons and jewelry) in the coastal towns of Daghestan and northern Azerbaijan, especially in and around Baku. This has placed them under strong Azerbaijani influence and as a result, most Lezgian are now bilingual, speaking both Lezgin and Azerbaijani.
The lezginka is the traditional folk dance of the Lezgian. It is both a couples' dance and a male solo dance, often performed with a sword. The man, imitating the eagle, falls to his knees, leaps up, and dances with precise steps and strong arm and body movements. When the dance is performed in pairs, couples do not touch; the woman dances quietly as she watches the man's performance.
What are their beliefs?
Arab Muslims have strongly influenced the Lezgians since the ninth century. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Lezgians had been converted to Islam. This was credited to the systematic activities of the tariqa, a semi-secret Sufi brotherhood, that organized underground Islamic schools and prayer houses during the years of Soviet rule. Today, hundreds of mosques are scattered throughout Azerbaijan.
Although most Lezgians are Sunni Muslims, there is a strong Shi'ite Muslim minority. Both groups mingle many former beliefs with Islamic practices. For example, the names of many pagan deities have become synonymous with Allah, and they still practice ancient rituals connected with spring planting and fall harvesting seasons. They also make journeys to local pilgrimage sites that predate Islam; and also believe that animal bones have magical and healing powers.
What are their needs?
Many of the younger Lezgian no longer follow their parents' religious traditions, making them more open to the Gospel. These young people desperately need to be shown the love of Christ.
Currently, there are only a few known Lezgian believers in Azerbaijan.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Azerbaijan and share Christ with the Lezgians.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil through worship and intercession.
* Pray for the effective use of the Jesus film and other evangelistic materials in Lezgin.
* Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Lezgian Christians.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth a triumphant Lezgian church for the glory of His name!