Introduction / History
The Lezghians are the second largest ethnic group of the Daghestan ASSR (one of the seven independent republics of southern Russia). This republic is located in the breathtaking Caucasus Mountains between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.
Most Lezghians live in the high, rugged mountain areas 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.
As late as the mid-nineteenth century, attempts were made to create a written script for the Lezghians. In the 1920s, the Soviets changed the script from Arabic to Latin. Then, in 1938, it was changed again, from Latin to Cyrillic. Russia also attempted to replace all of the Arabic and Persian words with Russian words. Nevertheless, having their own written language only served to unify, rather than Russianize, the Lezghian.
What are their lives like?
The Lezghians formerly lived in free societies. They consisted of large groups or clans led by a male elder. He was responsible for making all the major decisions for the group. The clans were referred to as tukhum. Today, with modernization and outward migration, the tukhum are becoming less important.
Lezgian women are famous throughout the Caucasus for their woven carpets. The economy in this region is mostly food processing (meat, cheese, butter), leather working, and textile production. Many Lezghians have found seasonal metalwork (weapons and jewelry) in the coastal towns of Daghestan and northern Azerbaijan. This has placed them under strong Azerbaijani influence. As a result, most Lezghian are now bilingual, speaking both Lezgin and Azerbaijani.
In the mountains, the Lezghian raise sheep and goats along with some horses, mules, and water buffaloes. Their diet primarily consists of meat and milk products. Wheat, barley, potatoes, cabbages, cucumbers, melons, and tomatoes are also raised and eaten by those living in the foothills.
Lezghians generally marry within their own clans. 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 lezginka is the traditional folk dance of the Lezghian. It is both a couples' dance and a male solo dance, often performed with a sword. The man, imitating the 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.
What are their beliefs?
Arab Muslims have had a strong influence over the Lezghians since the ninth century. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Lezghians had been successfully converted to Islam. This was credited to the systematic activities of the tariqa, a semi-secret Sufi brotherhood, that organized underground Islamic schools and prayer houses during the time of Soviet rule. Today, there are hundreds of mosques in Daghestan.
While the Lezghians are primarily Sunni Muslims, many of their former beliefs have been mingled with their Islamic practices. For example, the names of many pagan gods have become synonymous with Allah. During the spring, as well as during planting and harvesting seasons, several ancient rituals are still practiced. Also, the bones of animals are thought to have magical and healing powers.
What are their needs?
Many of the younger Lezghians no longer follow their parents' religious traditions, making them more open to the Gospel. However, they are under a strong secular influence. These young people desperately need to be shown the love of Christ.
Currently, there are only a few known Lezgian believers.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Russia and share Christ with the Lezghians.
* Pray that Christian broadcasts will soon be made available in their language.
* Ask God to grant wisdom and favor to the missionaries who are trying to reach the Lezghians for Christ.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Lezgian Muslims towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray that God will protect and encourage the small number of Lezgian Christians.
* Ask the Lord to raise up a strong local church among the Lezghians.