Introduction / History
The Mingrelian, also known as the Laz, live off the southeastern edge of the Black Sea in a region known as Lazistan. Today, the area is divided between Turkey and the Republic of Georgia. In Turkey, the Mingrelian live scattered throughout the country, but many have migrated to larger cities for financial and educational reasons. There, they have access to conveniences such as radio and television.
The Mingrelians of Turkey and Georgia speak two different languages, both of which are unwritten. Although they are closely related, they are not mutually intelligible. Most of the Mingrelians in Turkey also speak the Turkish dialect of their region.
In Turkish folklore, the Mingrelians have a reputation for plundering and piracy. They were notorious as kidnappers, and until the 1800s, they engaged in slave hunts focusing on young children. Today, however, they are respected as industrious, educated, adventurous, and trustworthy people.
What are their lives like?
Traditionally, the Mingrelians have earned a living by fishing, farming, and raising livestock. The fertile lowland soil of their area enables them to produce crops such as tea and tobacco. From the forests, they also obtain lumber for shipbuilding. Many, in the past and present, have been bakers, cooks, and sailors.
A few Mingrelians still lead a semi-nomadic lifestyle, taking their flocks to summer pastures in the mountains. Some also tend orchards, keep bees, and hunt to supplement their diets. Since the 1960s, growing tea has become an important industry. Previously, the only bulk export was hazelnuts.
Mingrelians attach great importance to education, sending both girls and boys to school. A large number of them have even become doctors, teachers, and engineers. Others have become businessmen and have secured much of the real estate market in Turkey.
In the mountainous areas, Mingrelians live in yayla evi, or "mountain houses." In other parts of Turkey, they live in regular houses or apartment buildings. Their basic diet consists mainly of hamsi (fish), vegetables, and meat.
The traditional clothing of Mingrelian men consists of coarse, tight-fitting brown jackets with loose sleeves, and baggy brown woolen pants tucked into slim knee-high boots. Bandanna-like coverings for their heads are knotted on the side and hang down to the shoulder. Traditionally, the men often carried some type of weapon, even while at work in the fields. These included rifles, pistols, powder horns, daggers, and coils of rope for snagging slaves.
Mingrelians are noted for their unique dances. Men's dances vary from solemn, calculated footwork to vigorous foot movements while dropping to a crouch. Accompaniment is either by a kemancha (a fiddle held upright on the knee), or by an oboe and a doli (a drum).
What are their beliefs?
At the beginning of the sixth century, Mingrelians were converted to Christianity. However today, in Turkey few of them are still Christian.
In the fifteenth century, the Ottoman Empire conquered the area that is now Turkey. This resulted in the conversion of many Mingrelians to the Sunni branch of Islam. Today, almost all Mingrelians in Turkey profess to be Muslim and are traditionally known for their conservatism in the Islamic faith. Although Turkey is officially open to all religions, people who profess any religion besides Islam are frequently ostracized and are not considered to be true Turks.
What are their needs?
Their need for the Gospel is great, but the tools to reach them are few. Urgent prayer must be made if the Mingrelians of Turkey are to have an opportunity to hear the Good News.
* Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers to the Mingrelians of Turkey.
* Pray that God will give Mingrelian believers boldness to share Christ with their own people.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Lord to save key leaders among the Mingrelians who will boldly declare the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth a triumphant Mingrelian church for the glory of His name!