Tribes and Dialects
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Self-designation. The name the Aguls call themselves is agiul shui. Their neighbours are the Dargwas to the north, the Tabasarans to the east, the Lezgians to the south and the Rutuls to the west.
Administratively the Agul settlements are situated in the Agul region of the Dagestan ASSR. Its centre is Tpig. The region is divided into eight subdivisions. There are 19 Agul and 5 Dargwin villages. After Tpig the next largest villages are Richa, Burkihan and Khoredzh. Census statistics on the Agul population are as follows:
Like the other Lezgian peoples the Aguls are natives of the Caucasus. This is proved both by anthropological and cultural data.
Their religion is Sunnite Islam which was spread during the 15th--18th-century Turkish and Persian conquests. According to oral tradition a part of the Aguls had adhered to Judaism, and a part to Christianity before that. Because of the previous importance of religion in Agul society the new Soviet power made great efforts to weaken it: mosques were turned into store-rooms, clergymen into peasants, and a cult of prophets quite different from Muhammad was propagated.
Geographical isolation failed to protect the region from invaders. The land of the Aguls was coveted by Arab, Mongolian-Tatar and Turkish conquerors. The Aguls of Aguldere established their own territorial and political unit, a free community that was incorporated into the Kasikumukh Khanate in the 17th--18th centuries. Other communities that were not self-governing continued to be subjected to the local feudal lords (e.g. the Tabasaran qadi) who levied taxes. Owing to such political disunion the Aguls did not develop a state which retarded their development into a nation. In 1813 the Agul territories were incorporated into Russia within the Kürin Khanate which then became the Kürin District. The superiority of the nobility and the clergy, however, was retained, while the common territory created a basis for the development of the Agul nation.
Economy. As a result of natural conditions the main occupation of the Aguls was (and is) raising livestock. The animals kept were mainly sheep, but cattle-breeding was also of importance. Land cultivation was practised for personal necessities. However arable lands were so scarce and the yields so small that the yearly harvest lasted for six months only. This was also partly due to the primitive nature of the farming implements in use, for example, wooden ploughs with a metal ploughshares. As food was scarce men often spent winters in Baku or in Derbent working. While the Tabasarans are famous for rug-making the Aguls are proud of their master-builders who devised a special type of building -- a one-storey house standing on a stone archway. The remaining features of their material and intellectual cultures are similar to those of the other Lezgian peoples. It should also be noted, perhaps, that among the Aguls farinaceous foods are more popular than among the rest of the Caucasian peoples.
The Aguls' system of administration was the same as with other Caucasian mountain-dwellers. Local problems were decided by the village elder (begaoul) with his helpers. The elder was elected by the village assembly (dzhamat). In the 19th century when material differentiation began to make itself felt village elders tended to be elected from among the richest rather than from among the most distinguished.
The establishment of Soviet power and Soviet politics brought many changes. In order to strengthen its ideological position the state had first to do away with territorial isolation. This was accomplished in 1936 with the completion of the Tpig-Kasumkent highway. The importance of the road was immediately made apparent with collectivization: in 1935 the Aguls had not a single kolkhoz, but in 1937 there were as many as twenty of them while their membership comprised 89 % of the population. The accomplishment of the road also boosted the development of a state-run system of health care and education. In 1936 Tpig gained a hospital. In 1952 the Aguls had one secondary school, seven 7-year schools and one primary school. The Aguls having no literary language of their own received their tuition in Lezgi. In 1953 instruction was transferred to Russian beginning from the fifth form. The Russian language developed a foothold in business management and culture, the stocks of libraries, for example, being made up from Russian books.
The past 40 years have brought several major changes in the material culture as well as the mentality of the Aguls. Every year brings an increase in the consumption of factory products and urban-style consumer goods. Traditional dress has been pushed aside for decades, especially men's. The severest blow to spiritual traditions has been dealt by the uprooting of Islam to make room for Soviet ideology. Among the young there is a disdainful attitude towards the old traditions. Nevertheless, the sound old way of thinking has retained a venerable place in Agul society and old customs still persist. During the 1950s--1960s a new wave of industrialisation rolled over Dagestan. This increased the flow of mountain-dwellers to towns which usually severe ties with the native environment and, with time, erodes national identity. The second and third generation town-dwellers have partly fused with bigger ethnic groups. Although urbanization is a noticeable tendency among the Aguls it is not very extensive and bears, as yet, no menace to the preservation of the nation. The main goal of the Soviet power in Dagestan has been the creation of a unified Dagestan people. For this purpose the smaller ethnic groups were first planned to be fused with bigger ones which in their turn were expected to become russified. For the Aguls the language of primary consolidation was to be Lezgi. Its use increased to a certain extent in the 1950s but the expected transition did not take place. In the decades following the use of Russian has grown quite considerably, but in comparison with Lezgi its advance has not been so direct and it has not restricted the spheres of Agul usage as the geographical areas of the two languages lack a common border. According to present prognosis the Aguls will continue their existence if they are able to preserve their present isolation and territorial unity.