Tat people (Caucasus)
|tens of thousands (various estimates)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Tat language, Azerbaijani, and Russian|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Other Iranian peoples, Armeno-Tats|
The Tat people (also: Tati, Parsi, Daghli, Lohijon) are an Iranian people, presently living within Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Russia (mainly Southern Dagestan). The Tats are part of the indigenous peoples of Iranian origin in the Caucasus.
Tats use the Tat language, a southwestern Iranian language, somewhat different from Standard Persian, Azerbaijani and Russian are also spoken. Tats are mainly Shia Muslims, with a significant Sunni Muslim minority.
As late as the turn of the 20th century, the Tat constituted about 11% of the population of the entire eastern half of Azerbaijan (see Baku Governorate, section on Demography). They formed nearly one-fifth (18.9%) of the population of the Baku province and over one-quarter (25.3%) of the Kuba Province—both on the Caspian Sea. Either through misrepresentation, data manipulation or simple assimilation, the Tat portion of the population of Azerbaijan has shrunk to insignificance, facing assimilation.
The earliest mention of Persians in the Caucasus is found in the Greek historian Herodotus' account of the Achaemenid expansion of 558–330 BC, during which they annexed Transcaucasia (South Caucasus) as the X, XI, XVIII and XIX satrapies of their empire.
There is little information about permanent Persian population in South Caucasus since the Achaemenid period. Likely the ancestors of modern Tats settled in South Caucasus when the Sassanid Empire from the 3rd to 7th centuries built cities and founded military garrisons to strengthen their positions in this region.
Khosrow I (531–579) presented the title of regent of Shirvan in eastern South Caucasus to a close relative of his, who later became a progenitor of the first Shirvanshah dynasty (about 510 – 1538).
Since the 11th century Oghuz tribes, led by Seljuq dynasts started to penetrate into the region. The gradual formation of the Azeri people started. Apparently in this period the Turkic exonym Tat or Tati, which designated settled farmers, was assigned to the South Caucasian dialect of the Persian language.
The Mongols conquered South Caucasus in the 1230s and the Ilkhanate state was founded in 1250s. Mongol domination lasted until 1360–1370, but that did not stop prominent poets and scientists to emerge.
In the end of the 14th century South Caucasus was invaded by Tamerlane. By the end of the 15th century the state of Shirvanshahs had obtained a considerable power, its diplomatic and economic ties had become stronger. In the middle of the 16th century the state of Shirvanshahs was eliminated and South Caucasus joined to Safavid Iran almost completely.
In the late 18th century Russia actively started to contest the hegemony of Iran in the Caucasus. Following the Russo-Persian Wars of 1804-1813 and 1826-1828 and the respectively resulting treaties of Gulistan and Turkmenchay, Russia gained most of the South Caucasus and parts of the North Caucasus from Qajar Iran. After that there is data about quantity and settling of the Tats, collected by tsarist authorities. When the city of Baku was occupied in the beginning of the 19th century during the Russo-Persian War (1804–1813), the whole population of the city (about 8,000 people) were Tats.
“There are eight villages in Tabarsaran which are: Jalqan, Rukan, Maqatir, Kamakh, Ridiyan, Homeydi, Mata'i, and Bilhadi. They are in the environs of a city that Anushiravan built near the wall of Darband. Its remains are still there. They speak the Tat language, which is one of the languages of Old Persia. It is clear that they are from the people of Fars and after its destruction they settled in those villages. ..The districts situated between the two cities of Shamakhi and Qodyal, which is now the city of Qobbeh, include Howz, Lahej, and Qoshunlu in Shirvan and Barmak, Sheshpareh and the lower part of Boduq in Qobbeh, and all the country of Baku, except six villages of Turkmen, speak Tat. it becomes apparent from this that they originate from Fars.“— Abbas Qoli Aqa Bakikhanov, "The Heavenly Rose-Garden: A History of Shirvan & Daghestan"
According to the Calendar of the Caucasus of 1894 there were 124,693 Tats in South Caucasus., but because of the gradual spreading of Azeri Turkic, Tati was passing out of use. During the Soviet period, after the official term Azerbaijani had been introduced in the late 1930s, the ethnic self-consciousness of Tats changed greatly and many started to call themselves Azerbaijani. Whereas in 1926 about 28.443 Tats had been counted, in 1989 only 10,239 people recognized themselves as such.
In 2005 American researchers carried out investigations in several villages of Guba, Devechi, Khizi, Siyazan, Ismailli and Shemakha districts of the Republic of Azerbaijan, indicating 15,553 Tats in these villages.
Although the majority of the Tat population of Azerbaijan and southern Dagestan uses the Turkic exonym Tati or Tat as a self-designation, there remain some local self-designations:
- Parsi—The term Parsi has been used until the present day by the Tats of Apsheron as self-designation and zuvan Parsi as an indication of Tat language. This term relates to Pārsīk, the Middle Persian self-designation of Persians, cf. Middle Persian Pārsīk ut Pahlavīk – Persian and Parthian. During the New Persian language period the final consonant was lost and the ethnonym became Pārsī. Some groups of Persian-speaking populations in Afghanistan together with the Zoroastrians of India (the Parsis) also use the term Parsi as a self-designation.
- Lohijon—The citizens of the Tat settlement Lahij in the Ismailli district name themselves after their village Lohuj, plural Lohijon. Lahij is the largest Tat village (about 10.000). Its isolation has prevented local population from contacts with the outside world which has led their own isolated self-designation. A small community of the Lohijon, descendants of the 1910–20s migrants from Lahij, live in the village of Gombori in Kakheti, in the east of Georgia. They are registered as Azerbaijanis and speak Azerbaijani as their primary language. As of 2020, there are only about 150 them left.
- Daghli—The Tats in Khizi district and parts of Devechi and Siyazan districts use another Turkic exonym, Daghli (mountaineers) for themselves. As a result of the spread of Azeri Turkic the term Daghli has strongly come into use and the local Tats started to use it themselves.
On December 14, 1990, the Azeri cultural and educational society for studying and development of Tati language, history and ethnography was founded by the board of the Ministry of justice of the Azerbaijan SSR. A primer and textbook of the Tat language together with literary and folklore pieces were published.
The Persian settlers of South Caucasus have long interacted with the surrounding ethnic groups, exchanging elements of their cultures. Arts like carpet-making, hand-weaving, metal manufacture, embossing and incrustation are highly developed. The arts of ornamental design and miniature are also very popular.
There is a rich tradition of Tat spoken folk art. Genres of national poetry like ruba’is, ghazals, beits are highly developed. While studying the works of Persian medieval poets of South Caucasus like Khaqani and Nizami some distinctive features of the Tat language have been revealed.
As a result of the long co-existence of Tats and Azerbaijanis many common features in farming, housekeeping and culture have developed. Traditional Tat female clothes are long shirt, wide trousers worn outside, slim line dress, outer unbuttoned dress, headscarf and "Moroccan" stockings. Male clothes are the Circassian coat and high fur-cap.
Traditional occupations of the Tat population are agriculture, vegetable-growing, gardening and cattle-breeding. The main cultures are barley, rye, wheat, millet, sunflower, maize, potatoes and peas. Large vineyards and fruit gardens are widespread. Sheep, cows, horses, donkeys, buffalos and rarely camels are kept as domestic cattle.
The traditional one or two storeyed houses made of rectangular limestone blocks or river shingles and also have blank walls facing the street. The roof is flat with an opening for a stone fireplace chimney. The upper floor is used for habitation and living areas where the family gets together (kitchen etc.) were situated on the ground floor. Typically one of the living room walls has several niches for the storage of clothes, bed linens and sometimes crockery. Rooms were illuminated by lamps or by a skylight through an opening in the roof. House furniture consisted of low couches, carpeted floors and mattresses. Fireplaces, braziers and ovens were used for heating the home in winter and cooking year round.
Originally the Persians were Zoroastrians. After they had been conquered by the Rashidun Caliphate, Islam became widespread. Today the Tats are mainly Shia Muslims, with a sizeable minority of Sunni Muslims and Jews.
Other Tat-speaking ethnic groups
The Tat language was widely spread in Eastern South Caucasus. Up to the 20th century it was also used by non-Muslim groups: Mountain Jews, part of the Armenians and the Udins. This has led some to the idea that Muslim Tats, Tat-speaking Mountain Jews and Tat-speaking Christian Armenians are one nation, practicing three different religions.
Tats and Mountain Jews
The "Mountain Jews" belong to the community of Persian-speaking Jews. Some groups of this community live in Iran, Israel (especially), North America (especially), Europe, and Central Asia (Bukharan Jews). The Jews of Central Asia were classified "Mountain Jews" only in 19th-century official Russian documentation. The Mountain Jews call themselves Juhuro.
In the year 1888 A. Sh. Anisimov showed the closeness of language of the Mountain Jews and the Tats. In his work Caucasian Jews-Mountaineers he came to the conclusion that the Mountain Jews were representatives of the Iranian family of the Tats, which had adopted Judaism in Iran and later moved to South Caucasus. The ideas of Anisimov were supported during the Soviet period: the popularization of the idea of the Mountain Jews' Tat origin started in the 1930s. Through efforts of several Mountain Jews, closely connected with the regime, the idea of mountain Jews being not really Jews at all but judaized Tats became widely spread. Some Mountain Jews started to register themselves as Tats because of secret pressure from the authorities.
As a result of this the words Tat and Mountain Jew became almost synonymous. The term "Tat" was used in research literature as the second or even first name for Mountain Jews. This caused the whole cultural heritage (literature, theatre, music) created by Mountain Jews during the Soviet period to be attributed to the Tats.
Comparing physic-anthropological characteristics of Tats and Mountain Jews together with information about their languages suggests no signs of ethnic unity between these two nations.
Like most "Jewish" languages, the grammatical structure of Juhuri retains archaic features of the language it is derived from. At the same time all of these languages are satiated with Hebrew words. The loanwords from Aramaic and Hebrew in Juhuri include words not directly connected with Judaic rituals (e.g. zoft resin, nokumi envy, ghuf body, keton linen, etc.) Some syntactical features of Juhuri have are ones typical for Hebrew.
The physical-anthropological types of Tats and Mountain Jews are also dissimilar.
In 1913 the anthropologist K.M. Kurdov carried out measurements of a large group of Tat population of Lahij village and revealed fundamental differences of their physical-anthropological type from the Mountain Jews. Measurements of Tats and Mountain Jews were also made by some other researchers. Cephalic index measurements have showed that while for Tats mesocephalia and dolichocephalia are typical, extreme brachycephalia is typical for Mountain Jews. Dermatoglyphic characteristics of the Tats and Mountain Jews also exclude ethnic similarity. In 2012 a uniparental genetic markers comparison between Judeo-Tat dialect and Muslim-Tat dialect speakers in Dagestan found independent demographic histories.
Speakers of Mountain-Jew dialect and Tati language are representatives of two different nations, each with its own religion, ethnic consciousness, self-designation, way of life, material and spiritual values.
Tats and Armenians
Some 19th- and 20th-century publications describe the citizens of several Tat-speaking village of South Caucasus as Armenian Tats, Armeno-Tats, Christian Tats or Gregorian Tats. It was suggested that a part of the Persians of Eastern South Caucasus had adopted Armenian Christianity, but this did not take into consideration the fact that those citizens identify themselves as Armenians, because conversion to religion is strongly attached to ethnical identity in eastern cultures.
There are traces of an Armenian phonological, lexical, grammatical and calque substratum in the dialect of Tat-speaking Armenians. There are also Armenian affricates (ծ, ց, ձ) in words of Iranian origin, which do not exist in the Tat language. This can only be explained by Armenian influence.
Although they have lost their language these Armenians managed to preserve their national identity. It has a distinct "us versus them" dichotomy, "Hay" (us) to "Muslims" (Tats and Azeri together).
Tat people of northern Iran
Starting from the Middle Ages, the term Tati was used not only for the Caucasus but also for northern Iran, where it was extended to almost all of the local Iranian languages except Persian and Kurdish.
Currently the term Tati and Tati language is used to refer to a particular group of north-western Iranian dialects (Chali, Danesfani, Hiaraji, Hoznini, Esfarvarini, Takestani, Sagzabadi, Ebrahimabadi, Eshtehardi, Hoini, Kajali, Shahroudi, Harzani) in Iranian Azerbaijan, as well as south of it in the provinces of Qazvin and Zanjan. These dialects have a certain affinity to the Talysh language as one of the descendants of the Old Azari language.
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- (cephalic index average value is 79,21)
- Cephalic index average value for the Tats of The Republic of Azerbaijan differs from 77,13 to 79,21, for Mountain Jews of Daghestan and The Republic of Azerbaijan – form 86,1 до 87,433.
- Bertoncini S, Bulayeva K, Ferri G, Pagani L, Caciagli L, Taglioli L, et al. (2012). "The dual origin of Tati-speakers from Dagestan as written in the genealogy of uniparental variants". Am J Hum Biol. 24 (4): 391–9. doi:10.1002/ajhb.22220. PMID 22275152.
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