Map: Compared to Nagorno-Karabakh (left), the breakaway indigenous Armenian region, areas where Lezgins reside (right) in Azerbaijan is pretty small. Yet indigenous Lezgins’ growing movement doesn’t only seek self-determination but indirectly challenges Azerbaijan’s official identity that links the predominantly Turkic country to an extinct culture in the South Caucasus.

While Azerbaijan, an ex-Soviet country with a Turkic majority, hopes to restore its ‘territorial integrity’ by getting the indigenous Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh back, another native population is voicing desires for self-determination.


Some leaders of ethnic Lezgins – Islamized descendants of the now extinct Caucasian Albanian nation (that was the first country, along with its stronger ally Armenia, to officially adopt Christianity in 301 A.D.) – are quoted as saying that their only dream is “to unite the entire Lezgin people in one state.”


Spread predominantly in the Dagestan region of Southern Russia and in northern Azerbaijan, Lezgins are a nation of about a million people.


While Lezgins are not the only ethnic group in Azerbaijan to consider themselves descendants of the ancient Albanians, this new indigenous movement is a blow to Azerbaijan’s official claim that Azeris are native to the South Caucasus.


Although Azerbaijan’s is ethnically heterogeneous, the Turkic culture is dominant (and originates in Central Asia). Yet Azerbaijan has countered Armenians’ indigenous claim, which Armenians consider a boost for legitimacy for Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence, claiming that Azerbaijan is a direct heir of Caucasian Albania and, thus, native to the region. So indigenous Lezgins’ claim of ethnocide in Azerbaijan is not only a long-term territorial claim to the Turkic country, but also disqualifies Azerbaijan’s official myth of Caucasian Albanian origins.