In northern Azerbaijan’s Gabala region lies a village fighting against time.
Nij, a hamlet of about 4,000 people, is home to the Udi community, a group who claim descent from Caucasian Albania, a legendary Christian kingdom which allegedly existed in the East Caucasus between the first and fifth centuries AD. Based primarily in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russia (Dagestan), the Udis have their own language, part of the Lezgian group, and, unlike their predominantly Muslim neighbors, are Christian.
Nij, located about an hour southeast of the mountain town of Sheki, is thought to be the Udis’ largest remaining population center. Migration and integration with the surrounding ethnic Azerbaijani community have affected their culture, yet they remain proud of their distinct identity.
Classes in Udi are held twice a week in the village’s elementary school. Their church, Chotari, thought to date to the 4th century AD, was restored over a decade ago by the Azerbaijani government.
But in an age of globalization, is this enough to preserve the Udi way of life?
June 2018, Identity Edition