Laz men ca.1900s
|45,000 to 1.6 million|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Laz, Georgian, Turkish|
|Sunni Islam, Georgian Orthodox|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Mingrelians, Svans, Georgians|
Estimates of the total population of Laz people today ranges drastically, with numbers as low as 45,000 to as high as 1.6 million people, with the majority living in northeast Turkey. The Laz speak the Laz language, a member of the Kartvelian language family along with Georgian, Svan and Mingrelian. The Laz language is classified as endangered by UNESCO, with an estimated 130,000 to 150,000 speakers in 2001.
The history of Lazica dates back to at least the 6th century BC when the first South Caucasian state in the west was the Kingdom of Colchis which covered modern western Georgia and modern Turkish provinces of Trabzon and Rize. Between the early 2nd century B.C. and the late 2nd century AD, the Kingdom of Colchis together with the neighbor countries, become an arena of long and devastating conflicts between major local powers Rome, Kingdom of Armenia and the short-lived Kingdom of Pontus. As a result of the brilliant Roman campaigns of generals Pompey and Lucullus, the Kingdom of Pontus was completely destroyed by the Romans and all its territory including Colchis, were incorporated into Roman Empire as her provinces.
The former Kingdom of Colchis was re-organized by the Romans into the province of Lazicum ruled by Roman legati. During Byzantine times, the word Colchi gave way to the term Lazica. The Roman period was marked by further Hellenization of the region in terms of language, economy and culture. For example, since the early 3rd century, Greco-Latin Philosophical Academy of Phasis (present-day Poti) was quite famous all over the Roman Empire. In the early 3rd century, newly established Roman Lazicum was given certain degree of autonomy. which by the end of the century developed into full the independence and formation of a new Kingdom of Lazica (covering the modern day regions of Abkhazia, Mingrelia, Guria and Adjaria) on the basis of smaller principalities of Svans, Apsilae, Zans and Sanigs. Lazica survived more than 250 years until in 562 AD it was absorbed by the Byzantine Empire.
The ruins of the ancient historical city-fortress of Petra are located in the village of Tsikhisdziri, Kobuleti, which dates back to the 6th century AD. Historically the territory was inhabited and belonged to the Laz people - one of the Iberian tribes. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian build a city here because of the importance of its unique strategic and trade-economic location. The city was crossed by the essential route connecting Western Georgia, with Byzantine provinces, Persia and Armenia.
The re-incorporation of Lazica with the Kingdom of Aphkhazeti into the Byzantine Empire in 562 AD, as a result of a campaign waged by Byzantine Emperor Justinian, was followed by 150 years of relative stability that ceased in the early 7th century, when the Arabs appeared in the area as a new regional power.
Under the Ottoman Empire, part of Lazika became the Lazistan Sanjak, which existed until the end of the empire in 1923. In 1801, the Laz living in Georgia became members of the Russian Empire and eventually became Soviet citizens after World War I.
One of the chief tribes of ancient kingdom of Colchis, the Laz were initially early adopters of Christianity, and most of them subsequently converted to Sunni Islam during Ottoman rule of Caucasus in the 16th century.
The Laz were converted to Christianity while living under the Byzantine Empire and the Kingdom of Georgia. During the rule of the Ottoman Empire, the vast majority of Laz became Sunni Muslims as part of the Lazistan sanjak.
Population and geographical distribution
The total population of the Laz today is only estimated, with numbers ranging widely. The majority of Laz live in Turkey, where the national census does not record ethnic data on minor populations.
The majority of the Laz today live in an area they call Laziǩa or Lazona (ლაზონა) in Northeast Turkey, in a strip of land along the shore of the Black Sea. The ancient kingdom of Colchis, and its successor, Lazica, was located in the same region the Laz speakers are found in today, and its inhabitants probably spoke an ancestral version of the language. Colchis was the setting for the famous Greek legend of Jason and the Argonauts.
The Laz are the majority in the Pazar (Atina), Ardeşen (Art'aşeni) and Fındıklı (Vitze) districts of Rize, and in the Arhavi (Ark'abi) and Hopa (Xopa) districts of Artvin. They live as minorities in the neighbouring Çamlıhemşin (Vijadibi), Borçka, and İkizdere (Xuras) districts. There are also communities in northwestern Anatolia (Karamürsel in Kocaeli, Akçakoca in Düzce, Sakarya, Zonguldak, Bartın), where many immigrants settled since the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878), and now also in Istanbul and Ankara.
The Laz in Georgia are chiefly centered in the country's southwestern autonomous republic of Adjara. The largest Laz villages in Adjara are: Sarpi, Kvariati, Gonio and Makho. The Laz also live in Batumi, Kobuleti, Zugdidi and Tbilisi. Laz identity in Georgia has largely merged with a Georgian identity, and the meaning of "Laz" is seen as merely a regional category.
Small expatriate communities of Laz are also present in Belgium, France, Germany and Russia.
The Laz language does not have a written history, thus Turkish and Georgian serve as the main literary languages for the Laz. Their folk literature has been transmitted orally and has not been systematically recorded. The first attempts at establishing a distinct Laz cultural identity and creating a literary language based on the Arabic alphabet was made by Faik Efendisi in the 1870s, but he was soon imprisoned by the Ottoman authorities, while most of his works were destroyed. During a relative cultural autonomy granted to the minorities in the 1930s, the written Laz literature—based on the Laz script—emerged in Soviet Georgia, strongly dominated by Soviet ideology. The poet Mustafa Baniṣi spearheaded this short-lived movement, but an official standard form of the tongue was never established. Since then, several attempts have been made to render the pieces of native literature in the Turkish and Georgian alphabets. A few native poets in Turkey such as Raşid Hilmi and Pehlivanoğlu have appeared later in the 20th century.
Among the Turks, the Laz have a reputation for being "fiercely independent ("Only a Laz woman can handle a Laz man," they say), quick to laugh, especially at their own expense, addicted to hawking and to carrying pistols, and they often work in construction or other building trades."
The national instruments include guda (bagpipe), kemenche (spike fiddle), zurna (oboe), and doli (drum). In the 1990s and 2000s, the folk-rock musician Kâzım Koyuncu attained to significant popularity in Turkey and toured Georgia. Koyuncu, who died of cancer in 2005, was also an activist for the Laz people and has become a cultural hero. Sopho Khalvashi, a Laz singer from Georgia, was a finalist at the Eurovision Song Contest 2007.
Cultural assimilation into the Turkish and Georgian cultures has been high, and Laz identity was oppressed during the days of Ottoman and Soviet Rule. One of the pivotal moments was in 1992, when the book Laz History (Lazların tarihi) was published. The authors had failed to have it published in 1964.
Over the past 20 years, there has been an upsurge of cultural activities aiming at revitalizing the Laz language, education and tradition. Koyuncu, who in 1998 became the first Laz musician to gain mainstream success, contributed significantly to the identity of the Laz people, especially among their youth. The Laz Cultural Institute was founded in 1993 and the Laz Culture Association in 2008, and a Laz cultural festival was established in Gemlik. The Laz community successfully lobbied Turkey's Education Ministry to offer Laz-language instruction in schools around the Black Sea region. In 2013, the Education Ministry added Laz as a four-year elective course for secondary students, beginning in the fifth grade.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Laz people.|
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Formerly Christians, they converted to Sunni Islam a little over four centuries ago.
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Due to a lack of census information on minorities (aside from a small number of exceptions such as the Greek or Armenian populations), the actual number of Laz living in Turkey can only be estimated
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