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The Khinalugs live in a single village on the upper reaches of the River Kudial-Tchai in the eastern part of the principal mountain chain of the Caucasus. Their neighbours, the Azerbaijanis, call the village Khinalyg. The Khinalugs themselves call their village Ketch and their self-designation is ketch halh 'the people of Ketch' or kajttiodur 'the inhabitants of one village'. The generally accepted designation both for the village and the people (Khinalug, the Khinalugs) was first used by Russian and German scholars in the 19th century. The linguists have always classified the Khinalug language as one of the Caucasian languages. Further typological study however, has given rise to different opinions: some consider the language to belong to the Lezgian language group, while others consider it a totally separate language. According to a hypothesis of A. Genko, the Khinalug language is connected with one of the most archaic of the Dagestan languages, the Udi language, which has preserved its original form from the time of the Albanian state (the 3rd century BC till 3rd century AD). Placing the Khinalug language, together with the Kryz and the Budukh languages, into the Shahdag subgroup of the Lezgian language group may be better explained by territorial rather than by linguistic factors.

Administratively, the Khinalugs live in the Konakhkent district in Azerbaijan. Khinalug is located 2,300 metres above sea level and its climate is severe. Even in the 1960s the Khinalugs were still almost totally isolated from the rest of the world and only a few, practically impassable, mountain paths enabled any contact with their neighbours. A highway, built in the 1970s, has somewhat reduced the isolation but Khinalug is still unreachable for five months of the year (November-March). The neighbours of the Khinalugs live comparatively far away: there is a Lezgi village, Kurush, 50--60 kilometres to the northwest, and Azerbaijani villages 20--25 kilometres to the south and 15--20 kilometres to the east. To the northwest are the Kryz and to the west are the Budukh territories.

Population. Statistical data for the Khinalugs has been recorded since the year 1859.

1859338 households, 2,300 inhabitants
1886359 households, 2,200 inhabitants
1921367 households, 1,800 inhabitants
19261,400 inhabitants
19762,500 inhabitants

According to the census of 1926, only 105 Khinalugs identified themselves both as being Khinalugs and as speaking Khinalug as their mother tongue. The rest considered themselves either Turkish whose mother tongue was Khinalug, or Azerbaijanis with Azerbaijani as their mother tongue. Nonetheless, it may be assumed that they all have a good command of the native language. Since the census of 1959, the Khinalugs have not been counted separately. The statistics from 1976 on the Khinalug village were gathered by a research group under the guidance of N. Volkova from the Ethnographic Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. Unfortunately, this data merely reflects the total number of inhabitants living in the Khinalug village irrespective of their nationality or mother tongue.

Khinalugs are Muslims (Sunnites). Their religious rites and way of thinking betray strong connections to paganism. The cult of fire is quite common among the Khinalugs as are rites to produce rain.

Anthropologically, the Khinalugs belong to the Caspian type of the Balcano-Caucasian race. They are characterized by comparatively dark pigmentation, average height and a hooked nose.

The first historical source describing the Khinalugs and their location is a study of the Caucasus by I. Gerber, completed in 1728. In this edition the Khinalugs are regarded as a people speaking the Lezgi language whose ethnic characteristics have been strongly influenced by Azerbaijani culture. The lack of any information previous to the 18th century, and also the scarcity of more recent statistics, has hindered the research of the ethnic origin of the Khinalugs. Their language is the only cultural component that has retained its idiosyncrasy regardless of many centuries of Azerbaijani influence. A study of other spheres of Khinalug society and culture reveals general Caucasian and Azerbaijani traits. The first are represented by the structure of the society and also by the general way of life, the latter by the narrower sphere of material life: clothing, food, buildings and folklore.

History. Khinalug, as all the villages of Shahdag, belonged to the khanate of Shemakha, forming together with the Kryz villages one magal (an administrative unit) that was governed by a bek who was appointed by the khan himself. In the Khinalug magal, Khinalug village functioned as a free community led by a headman (kenthud or junzibal) who was appointed by a village assembly (dzhamat). He was supported by two deputies (vekil), village elders (obyza) and clerics. No taxes were paid to the Shemakha khan but military aid was provided in cases of emergency. At the end of the 18th century the Khinalug came under the dominion of the khanate of Kuba and taxes, both in the form of commodities and money, were introduced. The internal life of the community was regulated by kinship and community laws. By the second half of the 19th century the disintegration of clans (kybyly) into large families (kele) and deepening material differentiation became noticeable.

The Khinalugs' main economic sphere of activity was, and still is, seasonal livestock breeding. Feudal landed property was not yet common in the 19th century and all the pastures belonged to the community while fields and pastures were regarded as private property. The animals stayed on the winter pastures of the Myshkyre and Dzhevat region from October till June. In 1980, the Khinalugs had 820 cattle and 9,000 smaller horned animals (goats, sheep); the corresponding number in 1921 were 1,300 and 11,778. Agriculture has always been of secondary importance in Khinalug society. In the 19th century winter rye and barley were the main crops -- beans, peas, cabbage and potato were added in the 1930s.

The Khinalugs had trade contacts with the Azeirbaijani and southern Dagestan regions. The livestock and their products (felt, cheese, oil) were brought down from the mountains and crops, fruits, clothes and household goods were taken back in turn. Migrant work was not widespread but some people worked in the Baku fishing or oil industries for five or so years in order to earn bridal money.

The Bolsheviks came to power in Azerbaijan in 1920. Before World War II arms were employed by the new power to subdue the Khinalugs. Those Khinalugs with nationalist leanings were either exterminated during the campaign of collectivization or forced into silence by the atmosphere of terror. The bilingualism of the Khinalugs (Khinalugs spoke their own and the Azerbaijani languages) proved advantageous for the purposes of the Soviet propaganda machine. While the statistics of the 1926 census show a comparatively good command of the Khinalug language and supposedly, also its wide use, by the 1970s Khinalug was relegated to domestic use only. Azerbaijani is preferred for most other communication.

Anticipating the advancement of the aforementioned language shift, J. Desheriyev coined a term the Khinalug dialect of the Azerbaijani language and this may be regarded as the Khinalug's preceding stage of transition to another language.

During World War II and after, the Khinalugs have displayed a tendency to migrate to the lower villages. This is mainly characteristic of the younger people who are attracted to the social norms or a way of life and to the urban culture there. In the 1960s the Khinalugs were offered a chance to resettle to the lower regions as a whole village. They declined then, but according to the data of the expedition in 1976, the refusal has since been regretted. A desire to improve their living conditions has not yet disappeared and this is reflected in the constant migration that might eventually prove the fatal blow to this small fraction of a people. Khinalug village culture betrays strong influences of European urbanism. It can be detected in the changes of clothing and household implements, but more so in trends in folk culture and new ways of thinking. In these areas the perilous influence of Soviet ideology and its accompanying educational system can be felt (there are two Azerbaijani schools in Khinalug). Traditional dress has almost entirely disappeared, and the traditions of Khinalugs are permeated with non-Caucasian elements.

The Khinalugs have had to suffer through various Soviet campaigns and reforms. In the 1960s, for example, all Khinalug gardens were destroyed as they were needed by a new state farm for pasture. The Soviet power introduced liquor to the Khinalugs to an increasingly disastrous effect.

The Khinalugs are a people whose attitude to the world and to life in general has been changed arbitrarily by bigger nations. Even if as a result the Khinalugs have experienced a rise in living standards and their level of education, it does not justify the nullification of the chances of existence for the Khinalugs as an ethnic entity.


  1. Н. Г. Волкова, Хыналыг. -- Кавказский этнографический сборник VII, 1980
  2. Ю. Д. Дешериев, Грамматика хиналугского языка, Москва 1959
  3. Ю. Д. Дешериев, Развитие младописьменных языков народов СССР, Москва 1958
  4. Л. И. Лавров, О причинах многоязычия в Дагестане. -- Советская этнография 2, 1951
  5. Р. М. Шаумян, Яфетические языки шахдагской группы. -- Язык и мысль 2, 1940


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