The Shahdaghs of Azerbaijan

This Google Map shows the Shahdagh (Şahdağ) peoples of the north Caucasus, in what is today Azerbaijan.

There are four ethnic groups under the umbrella of the generic term Shahdagh, each of which has its own language.

The colour code used on the map is as follows:

Buduq (Budukh): green markers
Cek (Dzhek): red markers
Xinaliq (Khinalug): purple markers
Yergüc (Yerguj): blue markers

The regular pins on the map show the original native highland settlements. The circles show the diaspora settlements, which are mainly although not entirely in the lowlands and largely the result of Soviet era displacement.


The Kurds of Red Kurdistan & Nakhichevan

The Google Map shows (with red pins) some of the more notable places in which Kurds lived during the short-lived “Red Kurdistan” of 1923-1929 and, of course, both long before and after. The Kurds of this area, approximating to the Lachin corridor and its extensions north and south, were notable for being Shiites (rather than Sunni Muslims). Over time, they started to assimilate into the Azerbaijani population and speak Azerbaijani rather than Kurmanji (only 8.3% of Kurds were recorded as Kurmanji speakers at the time of the Soviet census of 1926).

Most of the Kurdish communities became unfortunate collateral damage during the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict of the early 1990s and many of the villages were completely destroyed by the Armenians – only the shells of buildings can be seen in satellite imagery. The local Kurds were internally displaced to Baku, Ağcabädi and elsewhere within Azerbaijan.

The map also shows (with green pins) the smaller number of Kurdish communities in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan.


The Udi

The Google Map shows the distribution of the Udi, an ancient relict ethnos of the Caucasus, the survivors of the formerly great Caucasian Albanian people.

Today, this Christian people is found primarily in two large villages in Azerbaijan (Nic and Oğuz, known until 1991 as Vartashen) and one small settlement in Georgia (Zinobiani). There are smaller numbers of Udi in a few other villages in Azerbaijan (and of course in its capital Baku) but most have assimilated or left the country for Armenia and, more especially, Russia. Most of the settlements in Azerbaijan marked with blue pins on the map therefore effectively show former rather than extant Udi communities.

As mentioned, there are numbers of Udi in diaspora dispersed across both cities and villages in southern Russia (shown with grey pins on the map) and elsewhere across Russia (not marked on the map).

Finally, there are also about 200 Udi refugees from Oğuz in a handful of villages in Armenia; these are marked with red pins.



The Tsakhur of Dagestan & Azerbaijan

The Google Map shows the main areas of settlement of the Tsakhurs. The Tsakhur are a northern Caucasian people or ethnos with their own Tsakhur language (one of the Lezgic family of languages in the NE Caucasus). The Tsakhurs will, of course, additionally speak the majority language, such as Azerbaijani or Russian, where they live. They profess Sunni Islam.

The Tsakhur territory was centred originally on a highland valley (that of the river Samur) in what is now the SW of the Republic of Dagestan in Russia. This is shown on the map by the line of 13 auls marked with blue pins. However, there was an expansion of territory over the mountains, extending it into what is now Azerbaijan, in the C15th – shown with green pins. The two capitals, as it were, were respectively Tsakhur aul itself in Dagestan, and İlisu village in Azerbaijan.

Place names on the Google Map are given in a standardised transliteration from the Russian for Dagestan, and in a modified Azerbaijani (using an ä instead of a schwa) for those in Azerbaijan. In some cases, alternative spellings or names are given in brackets.

One interesting place is Baş Suvagil, on the banks of the Qaraçay, which was flooded repeatedly, leading its inhabitants to establish a new Yeni Suvagil at a safer spot down on the plains. Satellite imagery suggests that people have again settled the site of Baş Suvagil.

The map also shows more recent dispersal by the Tsakhurs to the big cities of Dagestan and to a belt of Soviet era farming villages in the NE of the Republic.



The Mountain Jews of Azerbaijan

This Google Map is entitled The Mountain Jews of Azerbaijan but shows the distribution of both the true Caucasian Mountain Jewish settlements and, additionally, those of other Jewish communities in the country – Ashkenazi in Baku and the Russian Orthodox to Jewish convert sects known as the Gerim and Subbotniki.

Formerly there were many Mountain Jewish (Juhurim) mountain villages or auls but most of these have now been abandoned. A few of these have been identified and are plotted on the map. Note that a pin does not necessarily imply an extant surviving Jewish community. Indeed, the approximate location of the long-abandoned historic settlement of Kulgat is shown (to the WSW of Quba, between the villages of Küpçal and Qaladüz). Kulgat has been included because some accounts on the internet either imply it still exists or assert that it is merely an earlier name for the apparently still entirely Jewish town of Qirmizi Qasaba (Krasnaya Sloboda) across the river from Quba. In fact, Kulgat was the precursor of the town, and Sloboda was founded and populated by Jews who had abandoned Kulgat in the mid-C18th; there is, or was, a neighbourhood named after it.

There are various references to Karchag as a Mountain Jewish village in the vicinity of Quba in Azerbaijan. In fact, Karchag is over the (modern) border in Dagestan, Russia.

The location of some known Mountain Jewish communities – such as Chipkent and Devit – has not yet been established.

The Mountain Jewish population of Azerbaijan is much reduced, mostly by emigration. As well as movement from the traditional mountain auls and towns to the cities of Baku and Quba, there has been an international migration to Israel, of course, but also to Canada and USA.


The Azerbaijani Germans of Helenendorf 

In the years leading up to the start of WW1, one could find, eight versts from Elizavetpol, an outpost of the Germanic world – the neat, homely village of Helenendorf (ЕленендорфЪ, or Elenendorf, in Russian). In Russian terms, this was a koloniya, a colony, settled on land within the Empire regarded as vacant. In this case, the village was established by Swabian Germans in 1819 on the general invitation of Alexander I, grandson of Catherine the Great (who had opened up to colonists many parts of Russia’s vulnerable, newly acquired southern frontier regions). The initial settlers came from places such as Balingen, Degerloch, Reutlingen, Stuttgart, Tübingen and Ulm in today’s Baden-Württemberg.

Over the course of the long C19th, this German community thrived, specialising in viticulture. The 1910 official gazetteer for Elizavetpol Guberniya states that, at the most recent count (in 1908), the village had harvested 261,900 puds of grapes and pressed 196,425 vedros of wine (over 2.3m litres). Cognac was produced as well as wine.

To put that into context, in 1910 the village comprised 289 households (charmingly referred to in Russian as smokes, or chimneys – perhaps one would say hearths) with a population of 2,234 (1,106 males and 1,128 females). It had both a Lutheran church (built in the late 1850s) and a smaller prayer house, a secondary-level school attended by 185 boys and 227 girls, nine shops or market stalls, and seven mills. The mills were used for grain, as the villagers cultivated wheat, barley and oats, at least some of which would have been ground locally for flour for domestic use – they were self-sufficient and traded their excess agricultural produce. However, prior to the arrival of electricity, some of the mills may also have been used to power irrigation, as a third of the cultivated land (including most or all of that used for grape vines) was irrigated.

The 1910 gazetteer also records livestock headcounts – 340 horses, 689 cows and 271 calves, 2 oxen and 49 pigs. As pork was of course taboo for the surrounding Azerbaijani Muslim population, one supposes that the pigs were for village consumption only, unless traded with some of the local Armenians and Russians.

Among the surnames to be found in the village upon the eve of WW1 were Aichler, Hartenstein, Kies, Epp, Votteler, Hummel, Vohrer and Klein. However, Helelendorf was a so-called Mutterkolonie or “mother colony”. In other words, over time settlers left Helenendorf to found new settlements elsewhere in the Caucasus, for instance the colonies of Elisabetthal (in Georgia), Georgsfeld and Grünfeld (both in today’s Azerbaijan). However, Nazi Germany’s Drang nach Osten proved the downfall of all the German communities within this part of the Soviet Union; in 1941 a paranoid Stalin deported the communities en masse to Central Asia and Siberia, to ensure they did not become an enemy within. Today, there are no Germans in Helelendorf (today known as Göygöl), although doubtless their DNA lives on in the local Azerbaijani population. The Lutheran church is now a gym.

For the location of Helenendorf, see this Google Map showing the German communities in the Caucasus. This map shows only some of the German agricultural colonies to be found in the Caucasus region of the Russian Empire up to, and sometimes, beyond, WW1. The map makes no claim to be comprehensive (other colonies are not marked) or accurate (in some cases, the precise location of a village is not known).



This is a revised version of an article and map first published by bluebirdresearch in 2014.