Clouds squeezed between the mountains, directly underneath the narrow road carved into the rock, high above the river valley. Perhaps a taciturn taxi driver, who does not turn on the light even after dark, claiming in all seriousness that it consumes gasoline, and who tries to localize your country by asking you who your traditional enemies are. Perhaps a good friend, who quotes by heart the passages of Azerbaijani literature and movie on the region, but travels here for the first time with you, two hundred kilometers from his hometown Baku.

Baku-Lahij on full screen
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In the post of yesterday we mentioned the Tat villages in Azerbaijan, about whose Iranian dialects the young Gruenberg-Cvetinovic wrote his doctoral thesis. Now we present the largest one, Lahij, also in pictures. The photos were taken by Aleksandr Cheban on his 2011 tour in Azerbaijan.

The southern Caucasus became part of the Persian Empire from the 6th century BC, and the ethnic groups speaking dialects related to Persian started to migrate up in the mountains. The process accelerated under the Sassanians (3rd-7th c. AD), when Persian garrisons and villages providing for them were settled on the northern border region.

From the 11th century Turkish tribes, the ancestors of modern Azerbaijanis began to populate the region, but the Iranian ethnic groups have survived to this day in the isolated valleys of the mountains. The Turks called them Tats, settled farmers, but they have no unified name for themselves. Some villages call themselves Parsi, Persian, others Daghli, highlander, while the inhabitants of Lahij simply refer to themselves as Lohijan, Lahiji, since in the wide region there is no other settlement with which they could have a common identity. A barrier of the common Tat identity is also the fact that some of them are Shiite, others Sunni, still others Armenian Christians, and what is more, the Mountain Jews also speak in Tat.

Lahij is one of the oldest inhabited settlement in modern Azerbaijan, with several hundred years old, earthquake-resistent stone houses, and a thousand years old sewage system, one of the oldest in the world.

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Since the Middle Ages Lahij has been one of the most important centers of Azerbaijani arts and crafts. The village is divided into three parts by crafts, each of them having its own main square, mosque, hammam and cemetery. Beside the leatherworkers and carpet weavers, the most important craft is that of the copper-smiths, still pursued today by many masters with the traditional techniques. Sometime they delivered to the whole region, up to Georgia and Southern Russia, and down to Persia. According to unverifiable legends they made Monomakh’s Cap, the oldest crown of the Russian Tsars. Now they wait in the shops established on the ground floor for the resolute tourists willing to travel this far on the arduous roads.

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In the syncretic Muslim belief of the village the mummified cat wards off evil

A fifteen-minute long film of the Belarusian TV (in Russian) about the village, in which the above images unexpectedly come to life

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