Introduction / History The independent nation of Georgia is situated in the Caucasus Mountain region, along the eastern shore of the Black Sea. Bordered by Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia, this region has been the focus of numerous invasions throughout history. The homeland of the Azeris was first conquered by the Persians in the sixth century B.C. Later, they were conquered by the Arab Muslims, the Turks, and the Mongols. In the sixteenth century A.D., they were invaded by the Ottoman Empire, and then by Russians in the eighteenth century.
The Azerbaijanis make up a small portion of the Georgian population. Though the Azeris are an old nation, very few of their tribal traditions have been preserved.
Georgia, like most Caucasus nations, has suffered from the tension between various ethnic groups, which has sometimes resulted in violence. However, the Azerbaijanis who live there enjoy more freedoms than those living in Azerbaijan.
What are their lives like? Azerbaijani settlements in the Caucasus were traditionally divided into makhelle, or villages, made up of extended families. Before Soviet rule in the 1920s, most Georgians worked as farmers or shepherds. The nation's greatest resources are the mild climate and fertile soils, which help to make farming successful. Nevertheless, most Azerbaijanis are involved in industrial work. They usually live in apartments in the cities and enjoy a typical, cosmopolitan lifestyle.
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-Azerbaijani was almost unheard of prior to the Soviet period. Polygyny (having more than one wife) was only allowed in cases of infertility.
The Azerbaijani 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? Georgia's Azerbaijanis are primarily Muslims of the Ithna Ashari tradition, but there are a number of Hanafite Muslims as well. Twenty percent of the Azerbaijani in Georgia are non-religious.
Islam among the Azerbaijani is a reflection of the historical ties that exist between Azerbaijan and Iran. Until the twentieth century, most Azerbaijani 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 Azerbaijani, religious practices are less restrictive of women's activities than in Muslim countries. The majority of Azerbaijani 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? Azerbaijanis living in Georgia are very resistant to the Gospel. Progress has been slow.
The Bible and the Jesus film are available in the Azeri language. Christian radio and television broadcasts are needed to successfully reach them with the Gospel.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord to send long-term Christian workers to Georgia to share Christ with Azerbaijanis.
* Pray that prayer teams will be called to go and to break up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Pray that God will open doors for Christian businessmen to share Christ with Azerbaijanis.
* Pray for God to bring vision for outreach to Georgian believers who are currently living among them.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften their hearts towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray for God to give wisdom, favor, and strategies to missions agencies focusing on Azerbaijanis.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Azerbaijanis.