Introduction / History
While the origins of the Azerbaijanis, (also known as the Azeris), are unclear, we do know that they have been subjected to numerous invasions throughout their history. The homeland of the Azeris was first conquered by the Persians in the sixth century B.C. Islam was introduced into the area during the seventh century A.D., and has been practiced there ever since.
By the eleventh century, Persian influence was overpowered by Turkic influence. Eventually, during the thirteenth century, this region of Asia fell while under the dominion of Genghis Khan.
These numerous invasions, combined with the tribal nature of the people, caused the Azeris to spread throughout Central Asia. Today, significant Azeri communities can be found in the countries of Turkey, the Ukraine, Russia, Armenia, Iran, and Iraq, as well as Azerbaijan. Today, well over two million Azeris live in Iraq, mostly in the northern regions near Turkey's border.
What are their lives like?
In the past, a clan-type family structure was common among the Azeris. The clan, or hoj, was usually named after a common ancestor. Clan members shared pasture land and were bound to provide mutual aid to each other. They frequently acted as a unified entity in business dealings. It was also common for up to forty members of an extended family to live together in large dwellings called gazma.
The development of petroleum resources in the region has changed the living conditions of many Azeri. While some still farm the rich soils, many have moved into the cities and towns to work in industry. There they find themselves occupying the lower skilled jobs and taking direction from "foreign" managers.
In a desire to protect their culture, marriage within the family was encouraged. Unions between first cousins were considered the most desirable. Marriage to a non-Azeri was almost unheard of prior to the Soviet period. Polygyny (having more than one wife) was only allowed in cases of infertility.
The Azeri diet consists mainly of rice pilaf and a variety of grilled and boiled meats including beef, goat, and lamb. Traditional dishes include bozartma (mutton stew), dovga (a soup made from yogurt), meat, and herbs. Tea and wine are popular drinks.
The Azeri language belongs to the southwestern (Oguz) branch of the Turkic language family. There are two main subgroups of Azeri: Azerbaijani North and Azerbaijani South. The main differences are in the sounds and basic grammatical structure of the languages. Azeri has a written tradition that dates back to the fourteenth century. Arabic script is used in Iran and the Cyrillic alphabet is used in Azerbaijan. Azeri serves as the somewhat hybrid, yet common, language of eastern Transcaucasus, southern Dagestan, and northwestern Iran.
What are their beliefs?
The Azeris are primarily Muslims of the Ithna Ashari tradition, but there are some Sunni Muslims as well. Islam among the Azeris is a reflection of the historical ties that exist between Azerbaijan and Iran. Until the twentieth century, most Azeris identified themselves as Muslims rather than Azerbaijani or Turks. They believe that being a "spiritual community of Islam" was much more important than being a nation.
Among the Azeris, religious practices are less restrictive of women's activities than in most other Muslim countries. Many Azeri women have jobs outside the home, and a few have attained leadership positions. However, some evidence of the traditional, restrictive female role remains.
What are their needs?
The Azeris living in Iraq seem to be a little more open to the Gospel than other Azeris. The availability of a few resources are all positive aspects, but reaching these people remains a difficult task.
* Pray that the doors of Iraq will soon open to missionaries.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Iraq and share Christ with the Azeris.
* Pray that prayer teams will be called to go and to break up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask God to use the few Azeri believers to share the Gospel with their own people.
* Pray that God will open doors for Christian businessmen to share Christ with the Azeris.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften hearts towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray for God to give favor and strategies to missions agencies focusing on the Azeris.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong fellowships of believers among the Azeris.