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Subject: List of ethnic groups, Demographics of Turkey, Batumi, Colchis, Bulgarian Muslims, Ancient Anatolians
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Laz people
Laz men ca.1900s
Total population
202,000 (1970 est.)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Laz, Georgian, Turkish
Orthodox Christians in Georgia
Sunni Islam in Turkey[2]
Related ethnic groups
Georgians, Mingrelians

The Laz (Lazi (ლაზი) or Lazepe (ლაზეფე) in Laz; Lazi (ლაზი) or Č’ani (ჭანი) in Georgian or Lazlar in Turkish) are an ethnic group native to the Black Sea coastal regions of Turkey and Georgia, being a people of South Caucasian stock (Iberian, “Georgian”).[3] One of the chief tribes of ancient kingdom of Colchis, the Laz were initially early adopters of Christianity, and most of them subsequently converted to Sunni Islam during Ottoman rule of Caucasus in the 16th century.

The Laz of Turkey form two principal groups. One of these is indigenous to the eastern Black Sea province formerly known as Lazistan (modern Rize and Artvin provinces). The other group fled the Russian expansion later in the 19th century and settled in Adapazarı, Sapanca, Yalova and Bursa, in western and eastern parts of the Black Sea and Marmara regions, respectively. The Laz speak the Laz language, related to Georgian, Svan and Mingrelian (Kartvelian languages).[4] Laz identity in Georgia has largely merged with a Georgian identity and the meaning of "Laz" is seen as merely a regional category,[5] and are mainly concentrated in Ajaria.

According to Pontic Greek scholar Dimosthenes Oikonomides, the Laz people are related to and originate from the region of the Caucasus. This is evident by their general appearance but also to their language (Lazuri), which is related to the language of Georgia. Both the Laz, and for that matter the Georgian languages, are related to the Iberian family of languages.[6]

Laz were converted to Christianity while living under the Byzantine Empire and the Kingdom of Georgia. During the rule of the Ottoman Empire, the vast majority of Laz became Sunni Muslims, and were ruled as part of the Lazistan sanjak.[7] There is also a very small number of Christian Laz in Georgia who were converted to Christianity from Islam.[8]


Main article: Lazica

The Georgians call Lazistan Chaneti, and the people Chan, plural Chan-ni. The Swanetian form of Chaneti (from which the Turkish Lazistan seems to derive) is Lazan (i.e. La—territorial prefix+Zan<—>Chan). The root form Chan<—>Son is widespread throughout the Caucasus, particularly as applied to tribal and place-names in the western part. The Laz by their language are closely related to the Mingrelians (who are themselves called Chan-ar by the neighbouring people of Swaneti).

The Laz people live in a geographic area which they refer to as Lazona (ლაზონა). Today, the entire area is part of the Republic of Turkey. Its history dates back to at least the 6th century BC when the first South Caucasian state in the west was the Kingdom of Colchis which covered modern western Georgia and modern Turkish provinces of Trabzon and Rize. Between the early 2nd century BC and the late 2nd century AD, the Kingdom of Colchis together with the neighbor countries, become an arena of long and devastating conflicts between major local powers Rome, Kingdom of Armenia and the short-lived Kingdom of Pontus. As a result of the brilliant Roman campaigns of generals Pompey and Lucullus, the Kingdom of Pontus was completely destroyed by the Romans and all its territory including Colchis, were incorporated into Roman Empire as her provinces.

The former Kingdom of Colchis was re-organized by the Romans into the province of Lazicum ruled by Roman legati. During Byzantine times, the word Colchi gave way to the term Lazica. The Roman period was marked by further Hellenization of the region in terms of language, economy and culture. For example, since the early 3rd century, Greco-Latin Philosophical Academy of Phasis (present-day Poti) was quite famous all over the Roman Empire. In the early 3rd century, newly established Roman Lazicum was given certain degree of autonomy which by the end of the century developed into full the independence and formation of a new Kingdom of Lazica (covering the modern day regions of Abkhazia, Mingrelia, Guria and Adjaria) on the basis of smaller principalities of Svans, Apsilae, Zans and Sanigs. Kingdom of Lazica survived more than 250 years until in 562 AD it was absorbed by the Byzantine Empire. In the middle of the 4th century, Lazica adopted Christianity as her official religion. That event was preceded by the arrival of St. Simon the Canaanite (or Kananaios in Greek) who was preaching all over Lazica and met his death in Suaniri (Western Lazica). According to Moses of Chorene, the enemies of Christianity cut him in two halves with a saw.

The ruins of the ancient historical city-fortress of Petra are located in the village of Tsikhisdziri, Kobuleti region wich dates back to the 6th century A.D. and historically the territory was inhabited and belonged to the Laz people - one of the Iberian tribes. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian build a city here because of the importance of its unique strategic and trade-economic location. The city was crossed by the essential route connecting Western Georgia, with Byzantine provinces, Persia and Armenia.

The re-incorporation of Lazica with the Kingdom of Aphkhazeti into Byzantine Empire in 562 AD, as a result of a campaign waged by Byzantine Emperor Justinian,[9] was followed by 150 years of relative stability that ceased in the early 7th century when the Arabs appeared in the area as a new regional power.

Geographical distribution

The ancient kingdom of Colchis and its successor Lazica (locally known as Egrisi) was located in the same region the Laz speakers are found in today, and its inhabitants probably spoke an ancestral version of the language. Colchis was the setting for the famous Greek legend of Jason and the Argonauts.

Today most Laz speakers live in Northeast Turkey, in a strip of land along the shore of the Black Sea. They form the majority in the Pazar (Atina), Ardeşen (Art'aşeni) and Fındıklı (Vitze) districts of Rize, and in the Arhavi (Ark'abi) and Hopa (Xopa) districts of Artvin. They live as minorities in the neighbouring Çamlıhemşin (Vijadibi), Borçka, and İkizdere (Xuras) districts. There are also communities in northwestern Anatolia (Karamürsel in Kocaeli, Akçakoca in Düzce, Sakarya, Zonguldak, Bartın), where many immigrants settled since the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878) and now also in Istanbul and Ankara.

The Laz in Georgia are chiefly centered in the country's southwestern autonomous republic of Adjara. The largest Laz villages in Adjara are: Sarpi, Kvariati, Gonio and Makho. The Laz also live in Batumi, Kobuleti, Zugdidi and Tbilisi.

An expatriate community of the Laz is also present in Germany where they have migrated from Turkey since the 1960s.


The Laz language is not written, Turkish and Georgian serving as the literary languages for the Laz in Turkey and Georgia, respectively. Therefore, the Laz are typically bilingual. The Laz possess a colorful folklore. Their folk literature has been transmitted orally and has not been systematically recorded. The first attempts at establishing a distinct Laz cultural identity and creating a literary language based on the Arabic alphabet was made by Faik Efendisi in the 1870s, but he was soon imprisoned by the Ottoman authorities, while most of his works were destroyed. During a relative cultural autonomy granted to the minorities in the 1930s, the written Laz literature—based on the Laz script—emerged in Soviet Georgia, strongly dominated by Soviet ideology. The poet Mustafa Baniṣi spearheaded this short-lived movement, but an official standard form of the tongue was never established.[10] Since then, several attempts have been made to render the pieces of native literature in the Turkish and Georgian alphabets. A few native poets in Turkey such as Raşid Hilmi and Pehlivanoğlu have appeared later in the 20th century.

The Laz music and dances are highly original, even though they have been developed in close contact with the neighboring peoples. The national instruments include guda (bagpipe), kemenche (spike fiddle), zurna (oboe), and doli (drum). In the 1990s and 2000s, the folk-rock musician Kâzım Koyuncu attained to significant popularity in Turkey and toured Georgia.

Most of the Laz in Turkey belong to the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam, while the Laz in Georgia are the Eastern Orthodox Christians adhering to the national Georgian Orthodox Church. Their beliefs have survived in folk poetry and in some customs related to births, marriage, death, seamanship, the New Year, and harvest rituals.

Apart some research activities at universities in Georgia and Germany (University of Cologne), there has been done little to study the language and folk culture of the Laz.[11] A degree of cultural assimilation into the Turkish medium is high, but there has been some recent upsurge of cultural activities aiming at revitalizing the Laz tongue and folk tradition.[12]

The social organization of the Laz community is dominated by an elaborate system of kinship in which blood and milk brotherhood as well as elements of blood feuds have survived. The family is strongly dominated by the husband, but, even under Islam, the rule of monogamous marriage has been preserved.


The traditional Laz economy has been based on agriculture—known for production of hazelnuts until the 1960s, when the introduction of tea cultures which has since been growing in importance. It has largely eliminated the hitherto closed-economy, self-rearing way of life and encouraged many Laz to engage in trading, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union opened the border with Georgia.

The traditions of fishing, hemp cultivation, weaving of the material, ceramics and pottery are also widespread and trace their origin to the Classical antiquity.


The Turkish public uses the name "Laz" in a general way to refer to all inhabitants of Turkey's Black Sea provinces east of Samsun, and the word is often associated with certain social stereotypes.[13] However, the Laz themselves are increasingly keen to differentiate themselves from other inhabitants of these regions. Also, the non-Laz does not want to be called "Laz", preferring to be called Karadenizli [14] ("of the Black Sea region"). The Laz language (Lazca in Turkish) is a Kartvelian language, also known as South Caucasian, unrelated to the Trabzon dialect of Turkish language.[15]

See also



  • Andrews, Peter (ed.). 1989. Ethnic Groups in the Republic of Turkey. Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag. pp. 497–501.
  • Benninghaus, Rüdiger. 1989. "The Laz: an example of multiple identification". In: Ethnic Groups in the Republic of Turkey, edited by P. Andrews.
  • Bryer, Anthony. 1969. The last Laz risings and the downfall of the Pontic Derebeys, 1812–1840, Bedi Kartlisa 26. pp. 191–210.
  • Hewsen, Robert H. Laz. World Culture Encyclopedia. Accessed on September 1, 2007.
  • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.25 June 1998

External links

  • Documentary film about history of the Laz people
  • Laz Cultur - Information about Lazs, Laz Language, Culture, Music
  • Laz Cultur - Information about Lazs, Laz Language, Culture, Music
  • Laz Cultur - Information about Lazs, Laz Language, Culture, Music and Laz Diaspora
  • Information about
  • - Georgian Patriarchate's Lazuri TV site
  • - Batumi Lazs
  • Recordings of traditional Laz music
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