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Background and Present Situation of the Talysh. UNPO
Mar 05, 2006

Background and Present Situation of the Talysh


The historical background of the Talysh as a distinct people. Also included is an overview of current problems, challenges and actions to be taken in the future to safeguard the culture of the Talysh people

The Talishi's are one of the northwest Iranian peoples. Talishi's are living on the south-west coast of the Caspian Sea. They belong to the Caucasian anthropological type of the south Europeans. The land of the Talish people – Tolish – is divided in two parts between Azerbaijan and Iran. In Azerbaijan Talishi's are compactly living in five southern regions: Lenkoran, Astara, Lerik, Masalli and Yardimlii and in large cities such as Baku and Sumgait.

In Iran they are resident in the province of Gilan. Here they inhabit the cities such as Astara, Masal, Someie-Sara, Masule, Fuman, Djongandan and others. There are a few Talish settlements in the Iranian province of Ardebil . From a geographical point of view, Talishi's are settled in Talishian (Lenkoran) low land and Talishian mountains. The north Talishian border is considered to be the river Viliash, the southern is the river Sefidrud and the west frontier is the Talishian mountain crest.

There is no exact, verified data concerning the Talishian population. The official population census counts 76.8 thousand in Azerbaijan (1999) and 100 thousands in Iran. However, an American research made in five south Azerbaijani regions, found 500 thousands people speaking the Talishian language. Approximately the same amount is living in Baku and Sumgait (300 thousands and 200 thousands accordingly). More than half a million Talishian people are living in Iranian Talish. In such a way the total amount of Talishian people is somewhere close to 2 million people. 

Talishi's are the descendants of the ancient people of Mada (in Talish language – Miado, in Greeks – Midia) who built their civilization in the very beginning of human history.

Mada came on the historical horizon in the beginning of the 1st millennium BC. They are mentioned for the first time in the Assur chronicles in the 9th century BC. Salmanasar III (860-825) called their country Amadai. Later on we hear about Matai and Madai, which means Mada. Destroying the Skifs kingdom in the end of the 7th century BC and after victory over Assyria in 616 BC, Mada became the most powerful state in the Middle East. In the end of the 8th, beginning of the 7th century, Mada occupied Manna, Urafta and Skifs kingdom. The borders of Mada state extended from the Middle Asia in the east to the river Halis in the west and north near Kolhida. 

Mada became the cultural and religious center of the Iranian civilization. This civilization had a huge influence on all the people, living on the Iranian highland and beyond. Mada religious-philosophical conceptions made some contribution to Judaism, earlier Christianity and Greeks philosophy.

In 553 BC, Persians under the leadership of Kurusha turned against Astiaga (the governor of Mada) and overturned him in 550 BC. The state power came into the hands of Kurusha. He took all the titles of the Mada kings.

The dynasty of Hahameni was ended by the battle at Gavgamela on the 1st of October 331 BC, where Hahameni was smashed by Alexander of Macedonia. Mada, in the union with "kaduses, Albanian and sakesinses" under the leader of Mada satrap Atropata participated in this battle. The Hahameni Empire was destroyed. 
After the death of Alexander, Atropat became the only governor of the so called Small Mada – Atropatena.

"Now despite of the lack of the texts in Mada language, we can say, based on the significant historical material, that Mada language existed and we can refer it to the north-west group of the Iranian language family. Based on its features this language is closer to the language of Holy Avest than the Old Persian language. People who spoke this language, without any doubts, could be named "Mada – Atropatenian people". The historical sources are calling them Mada, Atropatenian.

Till now the research claims that the written samples of Mada Language were not found. The reason for this is the insufficient research of the Talish language. Beyond any doubt, modern day research would be able to find a lot of words in the modern Talish language close to Mada language or even remaining original Mada words.

Under the general characteristics of the Atropatena phenomena, it's quite important to note that the genesis of the definition of "Azerbaijan" as well as all the ethno-cultural, social–political and other processes are connected with the Atropatenian historical period of our Motherland. Here are the roots of the ancient Azerbaijani nationhood and Azerbaijani, more precisely Mada – Atropatena, people. The name of "Azerbaijan" is based on this translation and has developed from the ancient "Atarpatakan".

The word "Atarpatakan" does not mean "The country of lights" as many mistakenly think, but means "the land belonging to Atropat". This corresponds to the historical development of the Talish language and is generaly consistent with the modern Talish language toponyms.

The name "Atarpatakan", having in the second syllable the sound "a", formed in the middle centuries and has a lot of historical forms (Adarbigana, Adarbadagani, Adarbaygan, Adarbayjan, Azarbadgan etc.) and of course could have later on changed its syllable sound "u" and lead to the middle Persian form "Aturpatakan".

For the roots of "Atarpatakan" we have to look into the Mada dialects. This toponym, as it was mentioned before, means "the land belonging to Atropat" and consists of the root "Atarpat" and suffix – akan (a), which was confirmed by Strabon. Strabon wrote that Atropaten Midia had its name from the military chief Atropat (the word "Atarpatakan" means into Talish as "Atropat"+"kjan" – "home" e.g. "home, the land of Atropat").

We do not exclude the role and significance of other ethnic unions and tribes lived at that time on this territory. But the most important role in the forming of the ethnic process belongs to median people. According to Strabon, the median people were the teachers of Persians and Armenians.

In the 2nd century BC the dynasty of Arshaki was established in Iran for 500 hundred years. They came from Parthia. Parthia is the name for the area in the south–eastern part around the Caspian Sea. The people that lived in this area spoke in the different Iranian languages but were close to each other. Strabon writes about them : "From Urmia to Bakteria they have the same language". Parthenian language belongs to the Iranian language group as do Avestian and the Talish languages.

In the state of Arshaki, the Parthenian language, close to Mada, became the official language. In the 3rd century BC, the dynasty of Arshaki was overturned. The new dynasty Sasani, coming from Pars became the new ruler.

After the collapse of the Sasani state, Atropatena became part of the Arabian Halifat. But local people did not immediately accept Islam. Part of them immigrated to India and became Gebrs. Because of them we know "Avesta" now.

In the 9th century AD, the largest rebellion under the leadership of Babek (in Talish – "Popok") started against Arabian invaders. After 20 years the rebellion was ruthlessly suppressed.

Multiple Talish castles or their remains are left from this time. Presumably, the main citadel of Babek Biaz/Biaaz/Biazei/Biazein was located in the mountains not far away from the village of Biazj. This settlement is located in the hard-to–reach mountain massive of the Lerik region of the Azerbaijanian Republic. 

Talishian region
(Nature and economical potential)

The Talish region is subtropical: warm and humid subtropics with the silk acacia, ironwood and chestnut oak growing in epibiotic forests. You can find hedgehogs, and leopards. In one of the largest Azerbaijani national parks, Gizilaghaj (88 thousand ha) there are more than 200 species of migrant birds: pelicans, cormorants, ducks, flamingo's, goose's, swans and herons. In Hirkan national park many epibiotic moisture-loving and thermophilic timber species are growing: ironwood, wing nut, chestnut oak, lint, alder and many others.

In the Talish region, mixed farming, including agriculture in combination with gardening and animal industry, is quite common. The early vegetable farming, rice and tea cultivation are the main occupations of the local people.

Two perspective oil fields (Talish-Deniz and Lenkoran-Deniz) are located in the aquatorium of the Caspian Sea closed to Talish. 

What do we want?

Nowadays Azerbaijan is trying, with the help of the most progressive democratic countries, to become a respectful member of the unified European family. Due to the efforts of European structures, first of all the European Union, democratic values are introduced more and more in public and political life of the Azerbaijani people. Azerbaijan is a multinational country. The struggle for democracy and European values means a recovery and protection of each majority and minority’s ethnic rights.

Official statistics consciously under-estimate the population of the Talishian people. According to the most modest calculation, the Talish population is 1,5 million. The Azerbaijan state counts only 80 thousand.

- Talishian people do not have a possibility to study in their own language. Despite the numerous claims of the Talishian intelligentsia, the Talishian language is only taught in elementary school (2nd and 4th grades) and only as facultative lessons. None of the high education colleges prepares teachers for the Talishian language.

- Talishian people do not have their own mass media. There is only one Talishian newspaper (once per month) and 15 minutes radio-broadcasting twice per week.

- History, culture and language of the Talishian people are not a subject of scientific research.

We are convinced that without the proper solution of these problems Azerbaijan cannot be the complete and consolidated democratic state it wants to become. Based on this and guided by the "Convention on protection of rights of the minority peoples" and other fundamental international documents we are demanding: 

- To include the Talishian language as an official subject in the middle and high school educational program in places where Talish people live.

- To establish in the Azerbaijani institutions and universities the specialties: "Teacher for the Talishian language".

- To prepare and start using "Talishian language" text books in schools.

- To open, in Lenkoran and Baku state universities, the departments of the Talishian language and history.

- To open and transmit television and radio channels in Talishian language in Talish region .

- To make a fair population census in Azerbaijan in order to restore the historical truth in regards to the Talish population.

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