Aida Mirmaksumova, originally from Dagestan, lives and studies in Tbilisi. This year, she will graduate from the International School for Caucasus Studies of the Ilia State University. For her master’s thesis, she focused her work and research on a community called ‘Avars’, actually a minority group from Dagestan settled in Georgia. On June 15, 2011, I met Aida in her office and discussed with her the situation of the Avars of Georgia.
Up until 1990 and the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were around 1.000 Avars living in the village of Tivi in the Eastern region of Kakheti in Georgia. At the beginning of the 1990s, however, it happened that a lot of them went back to Dagestan. It was the era of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the 1st President of independent Georgia – who remains infamous for the great pressure he put on minority groups during his governmental term. Nowadays, only 400 to 500 Avars remain in Tivi.
Avars are settled in a few villages which can be counted on the fingers of a hand – Tivi, Saruso, Khentlis Kure or Chantliskure – in a region close to the Georgian border with the Tlyarata, Tsumada and Tsunta regions of Dagestan. Currently, the roads from Georgia to Dagestan are closed, and people willing to reach Dagestan must travel via North Ossetia or Azerbaijan first. The trip is not impossible; it is just made longer for geopolitical reasons.
Beyond politics, the truth is that the general trend among young people of the Avarian community is to emigrate to Dagestan, where they receive support from relatives to find jobs and make a living. They say they prefer this way of life, rather than a life in Georgia where they claim they cannot benefit from the same rights as Georgians.
In the Avarian villages of Georgia, the way of life as it is today still matches very traditional social and gender patterns, as well as the requirements of the common religion, Islam.
Men meet to discuss the issues of the community – they have a special bench in the village for this, which is referred to as ‘birzha’ in Russian – whereas women lead the life of housewives. As they are Muslims, they wear scarves, and skirts are preferred to trousers, even though rules are not so strict anymore and women can now go bear-head and with trousers as well. One rule remains, though: women do not drink and do not smoke.
Interestingly enough, Avarian communities practice endogamy, which corresponds to the practice of marrying within one’s own circle of relatives. Prohibited in many other societies, it is accepted in Dagestan and Avarian societies. In some Georgian-Avarian villages, also, ‘bride-napping’, in which a man kidnaps the woman he wishes to marry, is still tolerated. In the recent times, this solution has been turned by youth into a way aiming at avoiding the organization of an expensive wedding.
This video (above) was shot by the cameraman of the Caucasian House in 2009, the secret of it being that the wedding was ‘replayed’ especially for the shooting. Indeed, the real wedding had taken place earlier, but for the visit of Caucasian House delegates, villagers agreed to show what a traditional Avarian wedding was like. And this is how, luckily, this element of culture is now available to a larger audience – as it was posted on… Youtube.com!
Literature available on Avars is to be extended, as it is rather scarce according to Aida Mirmaksumova. She is herself thinking of, maybe, in the near future or later, dedicating a PhD-research to this topic in which she has grown more and more interested in the course of her 2-year master’s degree in Caucasus studies.
Moreover, Aida has already started being committed to the process of making Avars wider known: recently, she was noticeably invited, as a guest speaker, to introduce the young audience of the Tbilisi Caucasian House to the Avarian community of Georgia. The lecture was completed, on June 30, with a field trip to the village of Chantliskure – where the shooting of the video above was made two years ago.
With the goal of fostering relations between Avars of Georgia and the Caucasian House, the trip gave the opportunity to guests and hosts to further pass on what seems to be their main message: Georgia is well and truly home for the Avars, and they wish for themselves and for all nothing more than… peace in the Caucasus.
Aida Mirmaksumova writes an online travel journal about her field trips to Kakheti, where she meets with various Avarian communities. Her blog is available in Russian at Miramax – a live journal.
The webpage of the International School for Caucasus Studies at Ilia University is available in Georgian, Russian and English here.
Many many thanks to Aida Mirmaksumova for her time, explanations and pictures –