The Lezgin people (Lezgian/Lezghi)
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Lezgin flagThe Lezgin are a Dagestani people numbering in total about 370.000. Of these about 160.000 live in the Republic of Azerbaijan, on the north-eastern  zone, bordering the Russian Republic of Dagestan, in Qusar and near Zindanmuruq, Shirvanovka, Laza and Maka. The rest of the Lezgin population lives in southern Dagestan just across the Russian border.

Most of the Lezgin 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.

Caucasus: ethnic mapAs late as the mid-19th century, attempts were made to create a written script for the Lezgin. 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 equivalents. Nevertheless, having their own written language only served to unify, rather than Russianize, the Lezgin.

The Lezgin formerly lived in free societies comprised of extended family units known as 'tukhum'. The societies were patriarchal, 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 have lost a lot of their importance.

Lezgin / Lezghin dancerMost Lezgin 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 Lezgin women are famous throughout the Caucasus for their woven carpets. These fine carpets can easily be recognized by their geometrical designs. The economy of the region is primarily based on food processing (meat, cheese, butter), leather working, and textile production. Many of the Lezgin have also found seasonal metalwork (making weapons and jewellery) in the coastal towns of Dagestan and northern Azerbaijan, especially in and around Baku. This has placed them under strong Azeri influence and as a result, most Lezgin are now bilingual, speaking both Lezgin and Azeri.

The 'lezginka' is the traditional folk dance of the Lezgin. It is both a couples' dance and a male solo dance, often performed with a sword. The man, imitating an 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.

Arab muslims have strongly influenced the Lezgin since the 9th century. By the end of the 18th century, the Lezgin had been converted to Islam. This was credited to the systematic activities of the 'tariqa', a semi-secret Sufi brotherhood, that later organized underground Islamic schools and prayer houses during the years of Soviet rule. Today hundreds of mosques are to be found in both Azerbaijan and Dagestan.

Although the Lezgin are Sunni Muslims, there is a strong Shia minority. Both groups mingle many animist superstitions 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 autumn harvesting seasons. They also make journeys to local pilgrimage sites that predate Islam; and also believe that animal bones have magical and healing powers.

In recent years a movement is emerging which has made repeated calls for the creation of 'Lezginistan', but still has very limited support. An independentist organization named Sadval (unioun) staged some public acts and claimed responsibility for the 1994 bomb blast in the Baku metro, but has fallen into oblivience recently. Most sources agree it was foreign sponsored.

sources: multimap, bethany, FOTW
see also: Qusar, Derbent, maps, people, geography, summary, places, images
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