Introduction / History
Roughly two- thirds of all Tsakhur live in northern Azerbaijan. There, they enjoy a mild climate, fertile soil, and good communications. The remaining group live in the southwestern part of Daghestan, a harsh, mountainous area with limited communications. The Tsakhur call themselves Iiqhy, but are generally known by the name of their largest village, Tsakhur. From 1979 to 1989, their population grew by 48.8%.
Originally, the Tsakhur lived in Daghestan, but during the thirteenth century, some of them moved north into Azerbaijan. Throughout the years, they have fought for independence from the Turks and Persians. In the beginning of the nineteenth century, they looked to Russia for help and became part of the Russian Empire. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the Tsakhur in Daghestan were exiled to Azerbaijan, but returned to their homeland nine years later. However, others chose to remain in Azerbaijan.
What are their lives like?
Traditionally, the Tsakhur were farmers, growing maize, barleycorn, wheat, rice, and millet. They also raised cattle, sheep, and domestic fowl. Their income was supplemented through gardening, producing silk, and growing tobacco. In Soviet times, the economy continued to develop, due to new technology.
The traditional Tsakhur diet consisted of meat, milk products, and grain, supplemented by fruits and vegetables. Alcoholic drinks and tea were added in the beginning of the twentieth century. Today, many traditional dishes are still prepared, and techniques for preserving fruits and vegetables and for making jams and pickles have improved.
The Tsakhur traditionally wove textiles from wool combined with silk threads. Other traditional crafts included the making of rugs, the knitting of woolen socks and footwear, and working in wood, leather, and metal. In Soviet times, knitting and rug making were maintained as crafts.
The Tsakhur formerly belonged to tukhums, or family clusters with common male ancestors. Even though the importance of tukhums is less today, it is still undesirable to marry a person from a less honored family. Young Tsakhur choose their own marriage partners but still rely on the help of matchmakers. Weddings last two to five days and involve all relatives and villagers. The Tsakhur live in nuclear families, which consist of the father, the mother, and their unmarried children.
In the 1930's, a Latin-based alphabet was introduced to the Tsakhur. However, this script was abandoned some years later, and the Tsakhur language was not used for writing for the remainder of the Soviet period. Azerbaijani has always served as the language of instruction, and today, most Tsakhur are fluent in it. Recently, the decision has been made to make Tsakhur a written language again.
What are their beliefs?
The Tsakhur are almost all Muslim. In the thirteenth century, the city of Tsakhur was one of the main centers of Islam in southern Daghestan. The mosques were the centers of religious life and were erected on the central square of the village. Mullahs (Muslim priests) served in the mosques and carried out various rituals. However, some ceremonies were related to pre-Islamic customs. These included performing the "rites of spring" (lighting bonfires and jumping through them), collecting of flowers, evoking the rain, and performing certain wedding rituals. Traces of animism were also preserved: belief in the special power of stones, trees, fire, water, and spirits. In case of sickness or disease, the Tsakhur traditionally sought the aid of local healers, diviners and sorcerers; used magic; and went on pilgrimages to holy places. Today, modern medicine is used, along with healing arts.
What are their needs?
The Tsakhur are in desperate need of a viable Christian witness among them. The overwhelming majority of them have never heard a clear presentation of the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord of the harvest to call missionaries to work among the Tsakhur.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Tsakhur towards the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to strengthen, protect, and embolden the few Tsakhur believers.
* Ask God to raise up faithful intercessors who will stand in the gap for the Tsakhur.
* Pray that strong local churches will be raised up among the Tsakhur.