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Life, culture and history of Talysh people



Gholamreza Haghighattalab
August 7, 2006

Talysh became a member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) on 26 June 2005 >>> See

The Talysh number more than 600,000, of which 430,000 live in Talyshistan, a country included by Stalin's regime in the artificial state of Azerbaijan in 1921. Talyshistan forms now the south-east of the Republic of Azerbaijan, near the Iranian border. The capital of Talyshistan is Lenkoran. Other major towns are Lerig and Astara on the Iranian border. The rest of the Talysh live across the border in the Iranian province of Gilan, in a long strip of territory along the Caspian coast, from Astara to the Rasht area. They occupy a land of sharp contrasts, ranging from the high, forested Talysh Mountains, to the subtropical coastal land along the Caspian Sea.

The Talysh refer to themselves as 'Talushon', and speak an Indo-European language (as Persian and Armenian...) affiliated to the Persian/Farsi language. The language is also called Talysh. Most of the Talysh nation speaks its native language, while also able of speak Azeri, Russian or Farsi. The Talysh have lived in the southwest Caspian Sea region for thousands of years.

During Turk-Seljouk invasions, Talyshistan payed a high price. Nevertheless, even in those black days of Turkish oppression in the Middle Ages, Talysh people resisted bravely and managed to establish statehood (khanate) in the 17th century. In the early 19th century, Talyshistan and the Talysh people of present day Azerbaijan fell under Russian control after the Gulistan and Turkmenchey treaties. Since that date, Talyshistan was to be separated in two parts, Southern and Northern. Most of the Talysh nation found itself under Russian rule, separated from their relatives in the south, and from their natural, Iranian/Oriental culture.

During the Bolshevik Revolution, Stalin included various people's native lands (Armenians, Lezghins, Talyshs, Avars, Georgians, Tzagours, Tats...), to create the Republic of Azerbaijan, placing the whole under the relative majority rule of the Turk-Tatars, now renamed Azeris. Stalin's need for this artificial republic was dictated by its aggressive Bolshevik Revolutionary plans. By naming this heterogeneous Republic 'Azerbaijan', he -- with the help of “The Democrat Party of Azerbaijan” -- clearly wanted to invade and annex the northern parts of Iran, historically called AZARBAYTCHAN / ADERABADAGAN / ADROBADENE / ATURPADEGAN.

Stalin realized his plan at the end of WWII, when the Soviet Army invaded Northern Iran, and ruled it for two years through his mercenary, Pishevari. Then the Western Allies intervened and imposed the Soviet retreat. By giving power to then Caucasian Tatars (Turks), he was again doing it according to his Bolshevik plans, which pleased Turkey and its 'anti-Western' dictator, Mustafa Kemal... (See also the fate of Nakhitchevan and Karabagh placed under Azerbaijan rule following the same accord Stalin-Kemal in 1921).

After 1921, life was not very easy for Talysh people. They submitted to hidden Turkification plans, under the cover of Sovietisation. The KGB in Baku labled all 'nationalist' Talish intellectuals as anti-revolutionaries, and sent them to Siberia or made them disappear in the Caspian.

Hidden Turkification turned aggressive after WWII, with many of the Talysh "turning" Azeri, mainly in major towns where they were exposed to discrimination. Things got bad with the nomination of Heidar Aliev, as chief of the KGB in Azerbaijan. During his rule he once claimed "achieving the dilution of 300,000 talysh peoples into Turk Azeris". The situation got worse after Azerbaijan's independence in 1991. The same draft problems appeared in Talyshistan, related to the war in Karabagh. (See similar details in LEZGISTAN, ZAGATALA...).

In 1993, at the height of the war in Karabagh, and with it, the huge human losses of the Talysh people, a popular uprising began in Talyshistan. People refused to serve in the army, since Karabagh and Armenia were not a matter for the Talysh. Oppression followed.

In reaction, the Talysh declared independence from Azerbaijan, in the 7 districts of Talyshistan, with Lenkoran as a capital. The official name was 'THE TALYSH-MOUGHAN REPUBLIC’; it included all territories south of the Kura and the Araz rivers. Baku's reaction was furious, not least because there are huge oil fields in Talyshistan and off its Caspian coast.

Heidar Aliev sent the Army, and crushed the independence movement. Western sources reported dozens killed. Hundreds were sent to neo-KGB cells in Baku and Gobustan prisons. The leader of the revolt is still in prison, and is considered by the international NGOs as the No.1 political prisoner in Azerbaijan. They have called on Aliev to free all political prisoners, among them the President of Talyshistan, Alikram Gummatov (it is said he was released from prison and escaped recently).

Azerbaijan is the only state in the European sphere to have political prisoners. Some opposition figures estimate their number at more than 11,000.

National characteristics
The majority of the Talysh are farmers. In some areas, rice is the primary crop; in other, wheat and barley are grown. Tea and citrus fruits are raised in the lowlands near the Caspian Sea. Talyshistan's Tea is famous in the Caucasus and the ex-USSR Many of the Talyshes living in the lowlands cultivate fresh produce, including garlic, onions, pumpkins, melons, peas and grapes. But not all Talysh are farmers. Some have become skilled craftsmen. Their primary handicrafts include the silk production, rugs, and felt. Some work with tin, make shoes, or design jewellery.

The Talyshes living in mountainous areas typically live in flat roofed homes built of uncut stone. Those on the coastal zone live in clay houses that have roofs made of reeds or sedge (grass like plants with solid stems). The homes usually have high doors reaching to the ceiling, since there is no opening in the roof to allow smoke from the cooking fires to escape. The traditional Talysh homes have no furniture. However, today, a growing number of homes have adopted Western-style furnishings. Talysh women once wore traditional Muslim clothing, which consisted of veils over their faces and long robes that completely covered their bodies.

Today, many Talysh women, especially those in Talyshistan, have abandoned the customary outfit and wear Western-style clothing. Although Islamic law permits men to have as many as four wives, most Talysh men take only one wife. Boys usually marry while they are between the ages of 16 and 20; whereas, girls usually wed while they are between the ages of 14 and 18. The groom's family is required to pay a bride price, or 'kebin', which consists of money and items such as carpets and utensils. To avoid paying the kebin, a young man will sometimes "kidnap" the prospective bride, taking her as wife. This a kidnap where the 2 partners are consentient, and part of Caucasian folklore.

The Talysh are Muslim Shias, as the Iranians. Some remnants of Talysh pre-Islamic religion remain. For example they have a reverence for trees and groves (as do Armenians), and trees form some of their most sacred sites. They also believe in the presence of both good and evil spirits, with the most dangerous spirit being 'Alazhan', the 'Red Woman'. Alazhan is believed to attack women during childbirth as well as new-born babies. Comment

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