Azerbaijan's nomadic shepherds: 25 photos about people for whom nothing has changed for centuries
The Azerbaijani Terekeme are nomadic shepherds and are regarded as an ethnic group, though the term is used to define their lifestyle rather than their occupation.
They live in the eastern sub-mountainous areas of the Greater Caucasus mountain range and on the plains of the central part of Azerbaijan. They are engaged in sheep and goat breeding. The Terekeme change their location twice a year, moving to summer pastures in May, and then back to winter ones in either September or October. Their winter pastures are located in the areas around the Khyzy and Shamakhi provinces which is where these photos were taken.
The Terekeme people have two homes – a summer and a winter one. These are tiny brick houses with a maximum of three rooms, though there may be fewer rooms depending on family size.
The life of a Terekeme, as they put it, is a hard but interesting one. They regard their occupation as a treasure they’ve inherited from their ancestors and that it requires a great deal of skill.
Arastun Radjabov, the head of the Radjabov family, has been leading his nomadic lifestyle for over 30 years. Arastun says he hopes that one of his sons will continue his legacy.
The daily chores of the family, which includes two children, isn’t just limited to putting their herds to pasture. It is also necessary to take the children to school, which is about 10-15 kilometres away from their winter location. Once a month the Terekeme, as they put it, ‘go down to the district’, traveling to the nearest city to buy products such as pasta, flour and matches.
The Terekeme don’t form ‘villages’, but rather live in small groups. In Khyzy for example, there is a group of about six or seven families, while in Shamakhi we found only one family. It’s quite natural for the Terekeme not to ‘huddle up’ as each flock requires as much pasture space as possible.
Shepherds wake up before anyone else and drive their flocks to grazing pastures. While the men are tending sheep, the women are busy doing household choirs. They make butter, cheese and other products from milk, feed the poultry and also bake bread at least once every two days. They do it the old-fashioned way: the knead dough, roll it out and bake lavash on a hot sadj – a metal plate that can be put on stones with a fire lit under it.