The village of Sarybash. Zaqatala Okrug. Late 19th – early 20th century

Zaqatala used to be part of the Lezginian security cordon, a system of fortifications put up to protect Georgia from Dagestanian mountain dwellers’ raids.

“Zaqatala is a town and citadel built in 1830, when Count Paskevich was Governor General of the Caucasus <…>. The place name derives from ‘Zaker-Taly’, which is the Lezgic for ‘rear Taly’; a large aul, Taly, is three versts short of the citadel.”

A Concise Historical and Geographical Guide to the Scenic Countryside of Kakheti, the Zaqatala Okrug, and, Partly, the Baku and Tiflis Guberniyas… Tiflis, 1864. P. 17–18 (in Russian)

Even today, Tsakhurs and Avars living in the Zaqatala District are sometimes described as Lezgins. A local Azerbaijanian man has told us that he thinks of Avars and Tsakhurs as Lezgins, and, likewise, Belarusians and Ukrainians as Russians.

Zaqatala residents describe their district as a “Small Dagestan”, because of its ethnic diversity. Its population includes Azerbaijanis, Tsakhurs, Greeks, Poles, Russians and members of other ethnic communities. In speaking about this, they compare their region to a bunch of flowers, where all peoples complement each other, existing side by side.

View of ammonia fume for silkworm pupae. Zaqatala Okrug. Late 19th – early 20th century

n the late 19th and early 20th century, the sericultural zone used to stretch all along the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range. Silkworm cultivation was an important cottage industry in Zaqatala Okrug villages. The peasants would revive grains, i.e. silkworm moth eggs, feed the larvae on mulberry leaves abundant in the area, and sell the cocoons to middlemen.

Tall, well-ventilated and shady attics served for drying fruit and rearing silkworm caterpillars. The object in the foreground is presumably a cocoon tray. All silkworm rearing and feeding tasks were handled by women.

Lezginian dwelling. Zaqatala Okrug. Late 19th – early 20th century. Lezgins (from the present-day viewpoint, the photograph shows either Tsakhurs or Avars)

In a restaurant kitchen. The town of Zaqatala

House design typical of Zaqatala

The Zaqatala church was built in the 19th century. However, when asked what kind of church it was, the local residents, accustomed to associate Christian monuments with Caucasian Albania, told us at once that it was Albanian.

Men in an aroba cart. The town of Zaqatala. Zaqatala Okrug. Late 19th – early 20th century. Lezgins (from the present-day viewpoint, the photograph shows either Tsakhurs or Avars)

Ruins of “Yeddi kilisa” (i.e. ‘seven churches’), a medieval Albanian monastery complex. Near the village of Lekit

In the fourth century Christianity became the official religion of Caucasian Albania. Numerous monuments of architecture, e.g. chapels, churches and cloister complexes, often dilapidated, survive on the former territory of that state. Many are said to have been built on the sites of ancient pagan sanctuaries.

Mosque wall. The village of Lekit

Mosque. The village of Lekit. Tsakhurs

“The pilgrims who are honored as Hadji stand out from the crowd owing to a white turban (a white kerchief covering half of the papakha hat on the outside). They are boisterously and warm-heartedly applauded, kissed and given presents, whereupon the crowd returns to the village with joyous cries and religious songs.”

G. Paradov. Some Details of Zaqatala Okrug Muslims’ Journey to Mecca // Collection of Materials Describing the Localites and Tribes of the Caucasus. Issue 32. Sec. 1. Tiflis, 1903. L. 26–27 (in Russian)

Mosque warden. The village of Mukhakh. Tsakhurs

The village of Mukhakh. Tsakhurs

The Shabanovs, husband and wife. The woman is wearing a set of traditional festive clothes: a blouse, a tuman full skirt, and a mezer (or deshtuk) apron. Dandling on the bib of her apron are ornamental gazayagy (i.e. ‘goose feet’) pendants, their other ends fastened on the neck. The boyunbagy (or mamasan) pectoral worn under them used to be indispensable to the festive attire of Azerbaijanian, Avar and Tsakhur women in Zaqatala District. The man is wearing a papakha sheepskin hat, its shape typical of the rural male population of the Zaqatala area. The village of Mukhakh. Zaqatala District. Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. 1969. Tsakhurs and Azerbaijanis

At the mill. The village of Mukhakh. Tsakhurs

Reeling the silk. Zaqatala Okrug. Late 19th – early 20th century. Lezgins (from the present-day viewpoint, the photograph shows either Tsakhurs or Avars)

Women making a jejim on a loom in the house courtyard. The village of Sarybash. Zaqatala Okrug. Late 19th – early 20th century. Lezgins (Tsakhurs)

Jejims are long and narrow napless carpets with a pattern of vertical stripes, which, as distinct from other techniques, is achieved with variegated warp rather than weft yarn. Jejims were only woven from wool or silk.

“The entire loom, consisting as it does of a few woodblocks and stones, can be constructed in a day <…>. The Lezgin female weaver performs all operations manually, using no stirrups nor a comb ensuring the parallelism of warp threads…”

A.S. Piralov. An Outline of Caucasus Handicraft Industries. SPb., 1913. P. 19 (in Russian)
The village of Mukhakh. Tsakhurs

An elderly woman wearing everyday clothes that retain traditional elements, i.e. a padded sleeveless jacket, a mezer (or deshtuk) apron and a saranjaz head shawl. The village of Mukhakh.

Zaqatala District. Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. 1969. Tsakhurs

The village of Mukhakh. Tsakhurs

Hazelnut sales are a tangible source of income for the population of the Zaqatala District. The Azerbaijan government has become more attentive to the needs of agriculture. Plans are pending for the renewal of tobacco farming, which thrived here in Tsarist times and the latter days of the Soviet Union.

The village of Mukhakh. Tsakhurs

Countryside around the village of Mukhakh

The garden was laid out about ten years ago: first the rocks were removed, then the earth was brought and finally young hazelnut plants were obtained from other gardens. Young hazel trees do not produce as high yields as do mature ones. Nuts are normally harvested in two stages separated by a five-day interval. After that anyone can come in and pick the remaining hazelnuts for their own use.

Countryside around the village of Khynalyk. Azerbaijan
.jpg">
Mt. Shalbuzdag. Dagestan