Introduction / History Although the origin of the Azerbaijani (also known as the Azeri) is unclear, the region and the people have been the focus of numerous invasions throughout their history. The homeland of the Azeri was conquered first by the Persians in the sixth century B.C. However, by the eleventh century A.D., Persian influence over the area was overpowered by Turkic influence. During the thirteenth century, the region fell under the dominion of Genghis Khan.
Most of the Azeris are Muslims. Arab Muslims first introduced Islam to the region during the seventh century A.D.; and it has been practiced there ever since.
In 1979, a significant number of Azeris formed emigrant colonies in the Central Asian nations. The Azeri colony in Turkmenistan consists almost entirely of urban oil specialists. In other Central Asian nations, the communities are divided between rural farmers and city dwellers who are mainly technicians and engineers.
What are their lives like? In the past, the 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 Azeris: 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? Turkmenistan's Azeris are primarily Muslims of the Shi'ite tradition, but there are many Hanafite Muslims as well. Azeri shi'ism 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 of the other Muslim countries. The majority of 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 Turkmenistan are very resistant to the Gospel. Progress has been slow. The New Testament and the Jesus film are available in Azeri. Christian broadcasts and literature are needed to help reach them with the Gospel.
Prayer Points * Pray that the doors of Turkmenistan will soon open to missionaries.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Turkmenistan 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.
* Pray that God will open doors for Christian businessmen to share Christ with the Azeris.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften their hearts towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray for God to give favor and strategies to the missions agencies that are focusing on the Azeris.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Azeris.