Introduction / History
The Abaza live in the western Caucasus region of southwestern Russia. They are closely related to the Abkhazian ethnic group. In fact, the two groups use the same name, Apswa, to describe themselves, and they speak very similar languages. The Abaza language is called Abazin and is part of the Northwestern Caucasian language family. The two groups differ chiefly in terms of religion. While most of the Abkhazians are nominal Russian Orthodox Christians, the Abaza are Muslims.
The Abaza have lived in the Caucasus Mountain region for thousands of years. In the sixth century, they accepted Christianity. However, between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, they gradually converted to Islam. In the 1800's, the Abaza fell under Russian control and rebelled against Russian authority several times until the early 1900's. The Abaza have retained their language and culture, despite attempts during the Communist era to discourage them from doing so.
What are their lives like?
The great majority of the Abaza are farmers and animal herders. Tobacco is their major crop, but tea, fruits, and vegetables are also important. Many people of the Caucasus region are also involved in breeding fowl, raising fish, keeping bees, and making wine. Cattle raising is another important aspect of the Abaza economy.
Nine out of ten Abaza live in rural areas. They live in small, isolated settlements high in the Caucasus Mountains, in the upper reaches of several river valleys. Their houses are typically built of brick or concrete and have either one or two stories. Most homes have verandahs and balconies, where families enjoy spending time during good weather.
Most Abaza women marry while they are in their early twenties, but men often wait until they are in their thirties or even forties. Marriage is forbidden with all possible relatives; a person is not allowed to wed anyone with the same surname as any of his or her grandparents. In the past, marriages were arranged, but today, the Abaza are free to choose their own mates.
Occasionally, a young woman will agree to a marriage, but her parents will not. If this occurs, the young man and his friends will "kidnap" the young woman and take her to the groom's house, where the marriage ceremony is performed. Whether or not the bride was abducted, her family does not attend the wedding. She is required to stand silent and secluded while her husband and his family feast and celebrate.
The Abaza highly value hospitality. A guest is given the same respect as a father or grandfather and is seated at a place of honor at the table. The arrival of a guest is accompanied by a ritual feast. Over wine, hosts and guests go through rounds of toasts, honoring each other and getting to know each other better. Providing hospitality in this way is a source of family pride for the Abaza.
What are their beliefs?
The Abaza are Muslim and most of them follow the Hanafite school of the Sunni sect. The Islamic religion is based on five key "pillars." First, Muslims must believe that there is only one god, Allah, and that the founder of Islam, Mohammed, was his prophet. Second, loyal Muslims are required to pray facing Mecca, Islam's holy city, five times each day. Third, they must give alms to the poor. Fourth, Muslims are required to fast during the month of Ramadan. Finally, they must make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca during their lifetime, if possible.
What are their needs?
Missions work among the Abaza will be difficult because of the current turmoil in the Caucasus region, ethnic and religious fighting, and the tensions in nearby Chechnya.
Only a very few Abaza have become Christians. Since there are so many Christian people groups in the area, they are familiar with Christianity. However, they have no real knowledge of the saving power of Christ.
Prayer and fervent intercession must be made if the spiritual eyes of the Abaza are to be opened to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
* Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers to the Abaza of Russia.
* Pray that God will give the small number of Abaza believers boldness to share Christ with their own people.
* Ask the Lord to raise up an army of intercessors who will stand in the gap for the Abaza of Russia.
* Ask the Lord to soften the hearts of the Abaza so that they will be receptive to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
* Pray that loving Christians from other ethnic groups will begin to reach out and share the love of Jesus with the Abaza.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Abaza of Russia.