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ETHNONYMS: Self-designation: Ingilo (eli). The word "Ingilo" is of relatively recent origin; it has been associated with the Old Turkish word yangili ("newly converted").


Identification and Location. The Ingilos are one of the oldest ethnic groups among the Georgian peoples. In current administrative-political terms, Sainglo is part of the Azerbaijan Republic; it is located in the northwest of the Azerbaijan Republic, with its southwestern part adjoining the Georgian Republic. It is subdivided into three districts: Kakh, Zakatal, and Belakan. The Georgian term for the territory inhabited by the Ingilos is "Sa-ingilo."

The Ingilo territory at present is comprised of 4,780 square kilometers. It possesses rich natural resources and is noted for its variegated topography, flora, fauna, medicinal springs, sources of mineral water, pastures, and fertile soil (especially in the Alazani River Basin). The ecosystem of Saingilo is essentially a continuation of that of Kakheti and Kiziqi. The foothills and lowlands of Saingilo are characterized by a dry or semihumid subtropical climate.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Ingilos speak an eastern dialect of the Georgian language closely related to the Kakhetian and Kiziqian dialects.

History and Cultural Relations

The population of this region has been an organic part of the Georgian state and of (Orthodox) Christian faith since ancient times. In an earlier epoch the territory of Saingiloat that time part of the Caucasian Albanian statelay in the northeastern part of the province of Hereti, which was settled by related tribes and communities of Georgians, known as the Heri, linked by close social-economic and cultural-historical relations that led eventually to ethnic merger. There are data that support the assertion that in the fourth to fifth centuries Hereti was already a political component of Georgia; this is corroborated by surviving Georgian cultural monuments dating to the sixth to eighth centuries. In the eleventh century Hereti was part of the saeristavo (feudal Georgian duchy) of Mach'i. At that time, Hereti became part of the principality of Kakheti (K'axeti). Kakheti and the neighboring principality of Kartli were long the principal cultural centers of feudal Georgia. After the displacement, during the early medieval period, of the central government from southern Georgia (Meskheti, Tao-K'larjeti) to eastern Georgia, these principalities came to play an especially significant role. In the fifteenth century the term "Hereti" gradually disappeared from the political nomenclature and was replaced by the word "Kakheti," which referred to Kakheti proper plus Hereti.

In the Middle Ages seven Georgian schools were in operation in Saingilo (the students were taught theology, philosophy, orthography, church history, and the history of Georgia and Albania). These schools played an essential cultural and educational role and assisted in establishing cultural relations among the peoples of the Caucasus. Literary materials were prepared in the schools for diffusion in the northern Caucasus. In the thirteenth to fourteenth centuries the use of the Georgian alphabet and Georgian Christian literature spread from Saingilo to the neighboring province of Daghestan, and churches were founded there, remnants of which can be seen today. (It should be recalled that for a long time, beginning in the fifth century, a significant part of Daghestan was within the sphere of Georgian political influence.)

In the late feudal period, in keeping with political changes in Kakheti, the region of Eliseni came into being, corresponding to the territory of present-day Saingilo. It was here, on Georgian lands annexed by the Persians at the beginning of the seventh century, that Shah Abbas created the sultanate of Elisu. During the late feudal period, the military and political interests of the powerful Near-Eastern states came into conflict in the Caucasus. The political struggle between Persia and the Ottoman Empire for dominance in Caucasia had a significant impact on the fate of the Georgian people. It had particularly adverse consequences for cultural and political relations among the peoples of the region and led to hostility between the Georgians and the peoples of the northern Caucasus. The Persians contributed to political and, in particular, ethnic and confessional changes in the area. On the periphery of Georgia, feudal lords in the Daghestanian mountains, aided by support from Persia and Turkey, conducted an armed struggle against the agricultural settlements of Kakheti. The border regions of Kakheti were settled by Tsakhurs and AvarsDaghestanian tribes referred to as "Leks" by the Georgians. The struggle for the territory of Saingilo ended in the eighteenth century with its seizure by northern Caucasian mountaineers, who established there Avarian (in the Ch'ar-Belakan District) and Tsakhurian "free communes." As a result of raids conducted by bands of Avar and Tsakhur warriors in Saingilo, the Ingilos became serfs of the Daghestanian rulers, who forced them to make pay tribute. Some Daghestanian families hired themselves out as temporary workers on Ingilo farms. In this way, gradually, by peaceful or hostile means, these tribes settled in Saingilo and colonized it. Already after the foundation of the sultanate of Elisu the conquerors had, by a concerted effort, undertaken the Islamicization of the region.

In 1803 Saingilo (that is, the sultanates of Ch'ar-Belakani and Elisu) were incorporated into the Russian Empire. As a result, the Ch'ar-Belakan District (okrug) was established in 1830, and subsequently (in 1840), the Belakan District, administratively a part of Georgia. In 1842 this district once again became a separate region (oblast), and in 1844 the Ch'ar-Belakan Military Region was founded, which included the former sultanate of Elisu (the present-day Kakheti and Tsakhur regions). In 1860 the Zakatal Region was established on this territory, forming a part of the Tbilisi Province (Tiflisskaia Guberniia), which existed until 1917. In 1920 an agreement was signed by the Russian Federated Socialist Republic and democratic Georgia, according to which Soviet Russia recognized the following territorial units as pertaining to Georgia: Tbilisi and Kutaisi provinces; the Batumi, Zakatal, and Sukhumi regions; and other territories, including a significant part of the Black Sea coastal region. Consequently, after the declaration of independence of the Georgian democracy, the Zakatal Region (Saingilo) was returned to Georgia. This turnaround in the tragic history of the Ingilos was only temporary: subsequent to the occupation and annexation of democratic Georgia by the Red Army, the ancient Georgian province of Saingilo was artificially annexed to the Azerbaijan SSR, despite the fact that the Ingilos bear no particular cultural similarity to the Azerbaijanis, a Muslim Turkic people differing from the indigenous Caucasian groups in many cultural characteristics. The joining of Saingilo to the Azerbaijan SSR was part of Stalin's nationality policy, which had the purpose of strengthening the imperial structure of the USSR. After the annexation of Saingilo the Azerbaijani element in Saingilo grew considerably. A part of the Ingilo population still retains the (Orthodox) Christian faith, but another, larger segment adheres to the Sunni sect of Islam. The Christian Ingilos dwell in Kakh District (raion ), and the Muslims in Zakatal, Belakan, and part of the Kakh districts.

The population of Saingilo consists primarily of Ingilo Georgians, Avars and Tsakhurs, immigrants from Daghestan (Lezgins), and Azerbaijanis. There are also some Russians and others. Knowledge of the Azerbaijani language has increased among the Ingilos, but within the domestic circle they retain the Georgian language; this is especially true of Ingilo women. In recent times some Muslim Ingilos have shown a renewed interest in their ethnic origins, including a preference for Georgian rather than Muslim names.


The Ingilos typically lived in dispersed settlements rather than planned, compact villages. Between the houses and farmsteads lay tilled fields, orchards, vegetable gardens, and vineyards. Some villages consisted of rows of houses on either side of a road. By contrast, in the mountainous regions of Saingilo, for the most part settled by migrants from Daghestan, the compact village predominated, owing to the scarcity of land. A well-appointed Ingilo farmstead was surrounded by a fence enclosing the living quarters and various outbuildings: mangers for the livestock, a torne (an oven for baking Georgian bread of the tandoori type), and so on. In most instances, the Ingilo home was a single-story stone buildingthough in certain regions wooden houses are also found, especially in the more densely forested areas along the Alazani River. The traditional home was comprised of two rooms: a larger room housing the members of the family, and a smaller room reserved for guests. The typical dwelling place had a packed-earth floor and a central hearth. Additional buildings, separate from the central residential complex, housed livestock. When the family holdings were divided, the buildings that had been used only during the summer became the permanent residences of some of the inheritors. Thus seasonal dwellings grew in the course of time into permanent villages.

Traditional family structures were still preserved in Saingilo as late as the first quarter of the twentieth century, and communal forms of life were still in evidence in social norms, behavior, forms of local government, and the like.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Since ancient times the Ingilos have practiced a diversified agricultural economy: animal husbandry and the cultivation of grains, garden vegetables, wine grapes, and various fruits; walnuts have been a particularly widespread crop. Tobacco and silk were also produced. The various forms of traditional domestic industry, especially the production of textiles, played an important role in the local economy. The Ingilos were skilled stonemasons, joiners, tinsmiths, etc. The Ingilos have long been renowned for their talents as builders. At the beginning of autumn a large segment of the men would leave their settlements and go elsewhere to engage in seasonal work for the autumn and winter; spring and summer were the peak periods for economic activities in Ingilo villages.

Clothing. The style of Ingilo clothing is for the most part like that of Kakheti and Kartli. The traditional male costume of lowland Saingilo consisted of the Georgian woolen frock (chokha ), the arkhalukh (Caucasian long shirt), and kalamani (leather shoes), manufactured in traditional domestic fashion. In the mountains men wore coats of well-softened sheepskin; prosperous families purchased, or made for themselves, long thickly padded sheepskin coats called burman, sewn together from lamb skins (similar to the buruma, which was especially popular among the Lezgians who had migrated to the mountainous regions of Saingilo). Also in widespread use was the so-called chop'uzi, a type of felt cloak. The chop'uzi was sewn together from scraps of wool and white, crudely worked felt. The traditional Ingilo women's costume included many common Georgian features, but differed in some respects, including baggy cotton trousers and long gowns, similar in outer appearance to the arkhalukh worn by men. The festival costume of Ingilo women was made from velvet and silk, adorned with silver ormanents.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. The common Georgian ethnic features are especially apparent in the realm of marital relations, and in many particulars the Ingilo marriage and its associated ceremonies preserve more features of the ancient Georgian institution of marriage and its corresponding social terminology than do marriage ceremonies elsewhere in Georgia. Ingilos customarily prefer to marry within their ethnic group, but this does not exclude the possibility of marriage with members of other groups.

Although women's rights were limited within the patriarchal family, they enjoyed considerable leeway in internal family matters and in the observance of customary avoidance, despite the fact that a bride-price may have been paid. This can be linked to the traditional propertied status of women, which arises from their authority and their personal possessions. The latter is based on the dowry, which came to be regarded as an inalienable possession of a woman married into a household, forming part of the economic basis of her rights within the family.

Domestic Unit. In domestic life the Ingilos maintained a series of traditional practices that have local as well as pan-Georgian characteristics. Until recent times, alongside nuclear families, the large patriarchal family, consisting at times of over fifty members, continued to be an important component of the social structure. This family type was characterized by specific forms of property, government, and division and organization of labor according to age and gender. Among the members of the extended family there were clearly delimited rights and responsibilities in the sphere of property relations, manifested in the apportionment of major family holdings among the males of the senior generation.

The Ingilo family, it has been noted, has a patrilineal structure. The members of the lineage took an active part in the rituals associated with the birth of a child, especially a son. A son was considered a symbol of the unity and power of the socioeconomic kinship group because young women, once married, would leave their paternal kinship group, whereas males remained in their household, within the matrix of the local group, and continued in the traditions of their ancestors.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Throughout the territory of Saingilo, despite the spread of Islam, impressive and original religious edifices are to be found: the Monastery of the Mother of God at Gishi, the Kurmukhi monastery of Saint George, the Basilica of the Mother of God at Kum, and many other monasteries, churches, and ruins of fortified cities (e.g., Mach'i). Among the more widely observed Christian feast days is Kurmukhoba, the festival of Saint George at Kurmukhi, which is particularly interesting in that the shrine is visited by both Christians and Muslims. In Saingilo there are also ruins of shrines pertaining to individual clans. At Easter or other feast days the various Christian Ingilo clans gather at the spots of these ancient shrines, present sacrifices, and invoke God for the protection and increase of the clan. In Saingilo, besides Christian and Muslim rituals, traditional religious beliefs and practices were maintained, which found expression in all spheres of human activity (e.g., marital relations, funeral ceremonies, domestic economy, folk medicine). Fortune-telling, sorcery, belief in demonic spirits, and the like were widespread.


Akiner, Shirin (1986). Islamic Peoples of the Soviet Union: An Historical and Statistical Handbook. 2nd ed., 251-252. London: KPI.

Bennigsen, Alexandre, and S. Enders Wimbush (1986). Muslims of the Soviet Empire: A Guide, 208-209. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Changashvili, G. Z. (1970). Saingilo: Geographic-historical Study (in Georgian). Tbilisi.

Dumbadze, M. (1953). Iz istorii Vostochnoi Kakhetii (Saingilo ) (From the history of Eastern Kakheti [Saingilo]). Tbilisi.

von Plotto, A. (1870). "Priroda i liudi Zakatal'skogo okruga" (Ecology and people of the Zakatal district). Sbornik Svedenii o Kavkazskikh Gortsakh (Tbilisi) 4.

NUGZAR MGELADZE (Translated by Kevin Tuite)

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