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About Russia

Nations of Russia

The Lezgins

The Lezgins live in Dagestan.
Neighboring ethnic groups are: the Tsakhurs, the Rutuls, the Aguls, the Tabasarans and the Azerbaijanians.
There are three sub-groups, all with distinctive dialects: the Kurin, the Kuba, and the Akhty (Sumar).
Before the Russian revolution, also the Aguls, Rutuls and Tabasarans were counted as Lezgins
Language: Lezgin (three main dialects). Most Lezgins are bilingual with Azeri as second language.
Religion: Sunni-muslims, also Shia Muslim minority concentrated in one region.
Diaspora: Azerbaijan

The Lezgin ethnic group probably resulted from a merger of the Akhty, the Alty and Dokus Para federations, and some clans from among the Rutuls.
Although they were first introduced to Islam perhaps as early as the 8th c., the Lezgins remained primarily animist until the15th c., when Muslim influence became stronger, with Persian traders coming in from the south, and the Golden Horde increasingly pressing from the north. In the 16th c., the Ottoman Turks occupied the area, and also helped to consolidate Islam. By the 19th c., the Lezgins had all been converted to Islam, and they have since then been very devout in their faith.
The Lezgins did not form their own country. Some were part of the Kuba Khanate in Azerbaijan, some were under control of the Derbent Khanate. The Lak Kazi Kumukh Khanate contrtolled the Lezgins for a time in the 18th c., but from 1812 onwards, the Russians took over. They created the Kiurin Khanate, later to become the Kiurin district.
Fundamentalist Muslim tendencies are strong among the Lezgins, together with a profound anti-Russian sentiment. Just after the Bolshevik revolution, the government in Moscow established the Mountain Autonomous Republic, with Arabic as official language. Lezgins and other peoples rebelled, and in 1921, the Dagestan autonomous soviet republic was established, including the Lezgin areas. Soviet policy towards this region was cruel and extremely unstable in the 1920s, with incidences of purges against Muslim leaders, changes in official language and a general "divide-and-rule"-approach. Things became more stable after 1928, however, when Lezgin, Dargin, Avar and Azerbaijani were all made official languages. However, gradually, Russian language was imposed in schools and administrations.
The Lezgins resisted russification by simply refusing to participate in programs to relocate them out of the highlands and into lowland towns and collective farms. Thus, the majority of the Lezgins still today maintain a traditional lifestyle.
Glasnost and Perestroyka policies in the late 1980s, early 1990s, together with economic collapse, and the fall of the Soviet Union, exacerbated nationalistic tensions and unleashed centrifugal ethnic forces. The Lezgins, as so many other ethnic groups, became more strident in their demands for independence from Moscow and for self-determination.

For the most part, the relations between the various ethnic groups of Dagestan are remarkably less competitive than those of the titular nationalities in the other North Caucasian republics. This may change if nationalism, as expressed in the concept of the national state, gains more currency among the larger national groups, like Lezgins or Dargins.


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