Ethnic Stereotypes at Play
As we all know, stereotypes at least have some basis in truth. It’s just that we usually get a little carried away with them. It turns out that that goes on with ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan, too. Living in an area of Azerbaijan that is predominantly an ethnic minority brings those stereotypes into sharper relief. Having gone to Zaqatala a few weeks back also brought differences to light.
Starting with that trip to Zaqatala, we spent our time in a village called Danaçı, an Avar village. The Avar are a Northern Caucasus minority, also found in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia. In Azerbaijan, they constitute a rather small minority. However, they do have their own national heroes, like İmam Şamil, and their own language. In Azerbaijan, they are also associated with their North Caucasus brethren, the Lezgis. The prominent stereotype I’ve encountered with this group is violence. I went to an Avar wedding while in Zaqatala, and it was a yard wedding (not in the wedding hall). These events are infamous for their violent, knife-wielding nature. Luckily, I didn’t encounter that at the wedding we attended (we did leave a little early, so maybe we missed it). Upon returning to Lənkəran, I told some of my colleagues that I went to an Avar wedding and their first reaction was, “Did you see a fight? Did you see the knives?” They said that the Avar and Lezgis are notorious for their fierce jealousy and it manifests itself in the form of knife fights at weddings. Fun, huh?
On the flip side, telling people that I live in Lənkəran gets the Talysh stereotypes flowing. When I was in Ağcabədi a few months ago, the Azeri woman we were talking to didn’t skip a beat in informing us that the Talysh are stupid. The Talysh are generally thought of as slow. And some of the families in Danaçı expressed the same thing. They commented on my Talysh accent. The local joke is that the Talysh mind doesn’t work after 12 (After which 12? AM or PM? That’s just it.) Talysh folks also speak a bit slower in general, slurring the end of their questions. I find it an enjoyable accent, and it sounds more endearing than the Azeri I hear spoken through the rest of the country. I blew this woman’s mind when I told her Miri could speak four languages, very good English among them.
I’m sure there is more to stereotypes about ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan, but this is what I’ve got to start with. We’ll see what other things I can pick up along the way.