Rasul Guliyev
Beyond The Hills
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Qafqaz is a literature graduate by education, and shepherd by choice. Every year at the end of spring, the 59-year-old gathers his flock, packs his family and belongings, and leaves his native Dmanisi, a village in Georgia’s southern region of Kvemo Kartli, to travel to the green pastures up on the mountains bordering Armenia. They will live on those hills from May until before the first snowfall, in October.

Qafqaz is just one of the dozens of ethnic Azerbaijanis, who constitute the majority of the population in the region, who have been living this seasonal journey, or transhumance, between the plains and the highlands, for generations.

Robust donkeys carry cooking pots, agile horses bear canvas bags, and sturdy Lada Nivas transport women and children. Together, humans and sheep climb those steep hills and settle in spacious meadows where the bina, large tents housing each family during the summer months, are erected.

Without electricity, gas, and running water, these shepherds get energy from the sun and food from what the animals and soil offer them — in a natural cycle that is passed on from one generation to the next.   

Ehtiram Jabi
Families pack their lives into tents during their transhumance, the seasonal migration of livestock, and the people who tend them, between lowlands and adjacent mountains.
Ehtiram Jabi
Qafqaz, 59, is an experienced shepherd. A native of Dmanisi, he is a respected tamada, a traditional toastmaster that across the Caucasus entertains guests at weddings and other celebrations from the start till the very end.
Ehtiram Jabi
Ehtiram Jabi
Qafqaz learnt to ride as a child and grew up among these highlands.
Rasul Guliyev
Allahverdi is in the 5th grade and spent the school summer holidays here with his family.
Rasul Guliyev
Children assist their parents in basic chores around the tents and help them look after the animals.
Rasul Guliyev
Sheep and cows provide daily dairy products
Rasul Guliyev
Children adapt to the life in the pastures from an early age.
Rasul Guliyev
Injured and sick sheep are separated from the rest of the flock.
Rasul Guliyev
Families dry their clothes on dry beds and wash them in nearby springs.
Ehtiram Jabi
As the sun rests behind the cliffs, the sheep gather and return towards the camp. The shepherds count them — their flock is their everything.
Ehtiram Jabi
Flocks can amount to hundreds of animals, in order to check which sheep belong to who, the shepherds mark them with different colors.
Rasul Guliyev
Ehtiram Jabi
Shepherd dogs are herders’ best friends, as they help them to keep the flock in order and defend it from the wolves.
Ehtiram Jabi
Qafqaz’s mother is the oldest person in the settlement. At 97 she still follows the family and the flock in their seasonal journey and is the oldest woman in the settlement by the village of Kvemo-Karabulakhi.
Ehtiram Jabi
At the end of the summer herders shear the sheep. The shearing takes place in the mountains, then the wool is sold to a dealer who takes them to Marneuli, Georgia’s largest city with an Azerbaijani majority.
Ehtiram Jabi
Shepherds erect their tents near the best pastures, for months they live closer to the sky then to civilization.
Rasul Guliyev
Donkeys are essential for carrying things — up on the pastures they mainly bear large cans of water from the spring to the tents.
Rasul Guliyev
Rasul Guliyev
Rasul Guliyev
The summer settlement has no electricity and no gas connection — families cook their meals on large bonfires.
Ehtiram Jabi
Ehtiram Jabi
Shepherds live off what nature can offer them. Meat is cooked and eaten right after the animal is slaughtered, as there is no refrigerator to preserve food.
Ehtiram Jabi
Guests are sacred among these mountains. Regardless of the circumstances, shepherds always welcome a visitor and slaughter a sheep to welcome them.
Ehtiram Jabi
Herders master the skill of slaughter.
Chai Khana
  Jumpstart Georgia
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