- Ethnic group. The Lezgins are an ethnic group comprising roughly half a million living in Dagestan and northern Azerbaijan. They are the fourth-largest ethnic group in Dagestan, after the Avars, Dargins, and Kumyks. Their language, Lezgin or Lezgi, is a member of the Northeast Caucasian language family. They are predominantly a Sunni Muslim people, though some follow Shi’a Islam. Under tsarist and Soviet rule, the Lezgin people enjoyed contiguity within the same state; however, the impending breakup of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) at the end of the 1980s triggered the development of a national movement intended to preserve the territorial integrity of Lezgin-inhabited lands on both sides of the Samur River (which serves as an international border between the Russian Federation and Azerbaijan). The political organization Sadval (Lezgin: “Unity”) unsuccessfully advocated the creation of Lezgistan, an autonomous region that would stretch across Dagestan (Russia) and Azerbaijan. Failing to achieve such ends, Sadval became increasingly radical in the early 1990s and was implicated in terrorist bombings in Baku and with establishing links with the security services of Armenia, a development that had the potential to widen the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. However, in 1996, Sadval retracted its call for Lezgian statehood, fearing such rhetoric could place Azeri Lezgins in a precarious position in their state of residence.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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