The Talysh people
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Caucasus: ethnic mapThe Talysh number about 200.000, of which 130.000 live in the south-east of the Republic of Azerbaijan, near the Iranian border in and around Lenkoran, Astara and Lerik.  The rest of the Talysh live across the border in the Iranian province of Gilan, in a long strip of territory along the Caspian coast, from Astara to the Rasht area. They occupy a land of sharp contrasts, ranging from the high, forested Talysh Mountains, to the subtropical coastal land along the Caspian Sea. Often the Talysh populated area is referred as Talyshtan.

The Talysh refer to themselves as 'Talushon', and speak an Indo-Iranian language that is also called Talysh. Although all of the Talysh groups speak their native language, most are also bilingual, speaking Azeri, Russian or Farsi. The Talysh have lived in the southwest Caspian Sea region for thousands of years. They came under Turkish influence during the Middle Ages, but established their own khanate in the 17th century, with capital first in Astara and later in Lenkoran.

Flag of the Talysh National MovementIn the early 19th century the Talysh of present day Azerbaijan fell under Russian control, which continued until 1991, when Azerbaijan succeeded from the Soviet Union. 

Today, the Talysh face the same dilemma as the Central Asian peoples as they attempt to decide whether to follow Islamic traditions of the past, or the Western culture and technology of the present.

Azerbaijan - Qumbasi - Masalli Rayonu: Lankaran Tea Lady welcomes you to Lankaran region (photo by F.MacLachlan)The majority of the Talysh are farmers. In some areas, rice is the primary crop; in other, wheat and barley are grown. Tea and citrus fruits are raised in the lowlands near the Caspian Sea. Many of the Talysh living in the lowlands cultivate fresh produce, including garlic, onions, pumpkins, melons, peas and grapes.

But not all Talysh are farmers, some have become skilled craftsmen. Their primary handicrafts include the production of silk, rugs, and felt. Some work with tin, make shoes, or design jewellery.

Azerbaijan - Lerik: view across the Talysh mountains (photo by A.Kilroy)The Talysh living in mountainous areas typically live in flat roofed homes built of uncut stone. Those on the coastal zone live in clay houses that have roofs made of reeds or sedge (grass like plants with solid stems). The homes usually have high doors reaching to the ceiling, since there is no opening in the roof to allow smoke from the cooking fires to escape. The traditional Talysh homes have no furniture. However, today, a growing number of homes have adopted Western-style furnishings.

Talysh women once wore traditional Muslim clothing, which consisted of veils over their faces and long robes that completely covered their bodies. Today, may Talysh women, especially those in Azerbaijan, have abandoned the customary outfit and wear Western-style clothing.

Azerbaijan - Lerik: women descending steps (photo by A.Kilroy)Although Islamic law permits men to have as many as four wives, most Talysh men take only one wife. Boys usually marry while they are between the ages of 15 and 20; whereas, girls usually wed while they are between the ages of 12 and 16. The groom's family is required to pay a bride price, or 'kebin', which consists of money and items such as carpets and utensils. To avoid paying the kebin, a young man will sometimes "kidnap" the prospective bride, taking her as wife.

The Talysh are Muslim, primarily of the Shia branch. Some remnants of their pre-Islamic religion remain. For example they have a reverence for trees and groves, and trees form some of their most sacred sites. They also believe in the presence of both good and evil spirits, with the most dangerous spirit being 'Alazhan', the 'Red Woman'. Alazhan is believed to attack women during childbirth as well as new-born babies.

Astara rayon, Azerbaijan: Azeri-Iranian border - Iranian border guards, a little to the west of the town of Astara, on the way to the Istisu - no Azeri guards at all - photo by F.MacLachlanThe main organisation that represents the Talysh people is the Talysh National Movement. The objective of the Talysh National Movement is to work via the United Nations to realize its mission of self-determination and get recognition of the Talysh nation. The Talysh National Movement is an emancipatory organization created by the Talysh people and is the heir of the Talysh political movements of 1993, in particular the Talysh-Mughan Autonomous Republic - Talyshstan
Talysh Talish Tallish
sources: multimap, bethany

see also: Lenkoran, Astara, Lerik, maps, people, summary, places, photos
A to Z of Azerbaijan / A dan Z ye Azerbaycan