Russian Federation: in the south of the Republic of Dagestan, on the upper reaches of the River Samur, in the Rutul district.
Republic of Azerbaijan: in the northwest, in the districts of Qax and Zaqatala.
Total number: approximately 25,000.
Dagestan: 9,771 (data from 2002).
Azerbaijan: 15,900 (data from 1999).
Official language in Dagestan.
Legally recognised in Azerbaijan.
Produced by CIEMEN.
Main source: CLIFTON, John M. et al. The Sociolinguistic Situation of the Tsakhur in Azerbaijan (online). SIL International, 2005. [Date of consultation: 20 November 2007]
[Originally published in John CLIFTON, ed. 2002. Studies in Languages of Azerbaijan, vol. 2, 21-34. Baku, Azerbaijan and St. Petersburg, Russia: SIL International.]
Tsakhur is spoken in the northeast of the Caucasus. Since 1991, the speakers of the language have been divided between the Republic of Dagestan, which is part of the Russian Federation, and the Republic of Azerbaijan.
The origins of the Tsakhurs are unclear, but it is known that they were part of the ancient kingdom of Aghbania (the Roman name for Caucasian Albania). When Aghbania ceased to exist in the 8th century AD, the Tsakhurs remained independent until the 19th century, when their territory was swallowed up by the Russian Empire. The Caucasian War saw many Tsakhurs exiled to Azerbaijan for a nine-year period (1852-1861).
Situated on the upper reaches of the River Samur, the territory of the Tsakhurs is entirely surrounded by chains of high mountains. There was consequently little contact between the Tsakhurs and other peoples prior to the 1960s. Nonetheless, the Tsakhurs have had close ties with the Azerbaijanis and the Rutuls, and some variants of the Tsakhur tongue have many elements in common with the languages of the peoples in question.
Tsakhur has two major dialects, namely Tsakh (the most widespread) and Gelmets (present only in the easternmost part of the area in which the language is spoken in Dagestan), each of which has various subdialects.
Tsakhur was an oral language until 1932, when a standard written form based on the Latin alphabet was established. This written form of the tongue was never used in Dagestan, and was only employed in Azerbaijan until 1938, when the cultural autonomy of the Tsakhurs was suspended. The language ceased to be taught in schools and did not regain its status as a literary language until 1990. A new standard written form of Tsakhur in the Cyrillic alphabet was developed in 1992, and is used in Dagestan today.
The status of Tsakhur varies throughout the area in which it is spoken. The language is not included in the education system in Dagestan, where schooling is still conducted in Russian and students also learn Lezgi. In Azerbaijan, Azeri is the language used in the education system, but Tsakhur is taught in the first four years of primary school.
The contexts in which Tsakhur is used in Azerbaijan depend upon each village's ethnic make-up and territorial isolation. Tsakhur is only used at home in some villages, while in others it is the language that people use most commonly in their everyday lives. Most Tsakhurs still use the language and continue to pass it on to the younger generations. There is growing interest in learning Tsakhur and developing teaching material for the language.
The less isolated Tsakhur communities, which have more contact with the Azerbaijanis, use Tsakhur less frequently in social settings and are more inclined to use Azeri.
The first studies on Tsakhur were carried out in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A substantial number of sociolinguistic and descriptive linguistic studies of the language have been undertaken, and a considerable amount of teaching material has been produced.
There are small groups of Tsakhur speakers between the Terek and Sulak rivers in north Dagestan, as a result of financially motivated migration to the region.
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