Introduction / History Avar is a collective term that is often used to describe fifteen distinct ethnic groups living in Russia's Dagestan Republic. The Russian Avar are one of the largest native people groups living in Dagestan. They are located within the Caucasus Mountain region, particularly in central and northwest Dagestan.
The Avar played an important role in Dagestan's history. During the third century B.C., fighting broke out between Iran and the people of the Caucasus region, which included the Avar. A powerful community formed in the mountain regions.
The Avar rulers lived in Khunzakh, the region's capital, until 1834. Their ability to control the river valleys and central plateau area gave them dominion over the highland peoples. Consequently, their language became the primary means of communication throughout much of the Caucasus region. Soviet influence in the area has been minimal, allowing traditional institutions to remain strong.
What are their lives like? The Avar are involved in a variety of occupations such as farming, raising livestock, working in domestic industries, and trading. Since a small portion of the land is suitable for farming, the region is well known for its ancient terrace agriculture. The Avar grow several types of cereal crops, such as wheat, corn, and rice; fruit crops are also raised on the coastal plain and in the Terek River delta region. Fishing is important along the Caspian Sea, and sheep are herded in large numbers.
Under Soviet rule, private Avar farms were organized into "collective" (community) farms. This did not radically change their traditional lifestyle; however, it did alter their status of ownership, making them land users and workers on the various state farms rather than private landowners. Control of the farms is slowly changing, and land is being reinstated to its previous owners.
The Avar are very devoted to traditional family values. The basic unit of Avar society is the village community. A village assembly and a council of elders govern the community. Most villages are built on hillside slopes. Avar homes can be either two or three story houses, or fortress-like towers that are mostly made of stone. In some houses, cattle are kept on the ground floor. The roof of one house often serves as the courtyard for another elevated house.
Girls generally marry at about 15 years of age. Although the parents' wishes are considered in selecting a partner, personal preference is also important. Traditionally, a divorce could only be requested by the husband, but now the marriage can be dissolved by either partner.
The traditional clothing of the Avar is similar to that of other Caucasian groups. It includes felt cloaks and quilted coats. Women also wear special headdresses called chikhtas. However, many modern Avar wear ordinary western style clothes.
Efforts have been made to develop an Avar handwriting based on Arabic, Roman, and Cyrillic scripts. Well-developed literature is presently available in a language called Bolmata, which is based on the northern Avar dialect.
What are their beliefs? Sunni Islam has been the prevailing religion of the Avar since the thirteenth century. Two important holy places are located within their region. Also, there are many Islamic schools.
The mystic Sufi orders arrived in the area in the early 1800's, and today they are organized along patriarchal lines (lineage is traced through the males). These orders tended to reinforce the local customs and traditions.
What are their needs? Between the fifth and twelfth centuries, Georgian Orthodox Christianity was introduced to the Avar. However, the influence of Islam was more lasting, and today the Avar are almost completely Muslim.
The Avar are extremely devoted people. They hold fast to their religion, and tradition seems to keep them from being receptive to the Gospel. It is important that the Avar know that Jesus loves them and that accepting Him will help to build up their entire community.
Prayer Points * Pray that Lord will break down the walls of tradition that are keeping the Avar from receiving the truth of the Gospel.
* Pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal the grace and mercy of Jesus to the Avar.
* Ask God to raise up laborers who understand the Muslim culture and can effectively take the Gospel to the Avar.
* Pray that God will grant wisdom and favor to the missions agency that is focusing on the Avar.
* Pray that loving Russian Christians will have a burden to share Christ with the Avar.
* Ask God to raise up strong local churches among the Russian Avar.