Part 7: Lazland
and Laz People
In the 19 kilometers separating Pazar from Çayeli, the familiar red shawl vanishes from the scene: not a single
peasant woman will be caught wearing a keşan in the marketplace of Pazar. The
tongue twisting consonants of an unfamiliar speech overheard on the street
reinforces the feeling of having crossed a cultural boundary. From here to the
Soviet border, and continuing for a few more villages beyond it, is the land of
a peculiar tribe of people who have come to personify the Black Sea-the Laz,
descendants of the kings of Colchis who defended the Golden Fleece against the
The Laz combine the cocky pride of Scotsmen with the eccentric humor of Basques.
They were never dominated by the Byzantines; nor did the Ottoman Empire succeed
in subjugating them fully. When they felt their partial autonomy threatened in
the early 19th century, they took up arms under Memiş Tuzcuoğlu, Lord of the
Valley, and fought against the troops of the governor of Trabzon for more than
two decades. The Russian connection cultivated during that struggle led to the
rapid adoption of "modern" customs and ideas from the northern neighbor during
the rest of the century. Today the five townships that house Turkey's Laz
population Pazar, Ardeşen, Fındıklı Arhavi and Hopa-display a remarkably
progres¬ive outlook. Hopa, at the far edge of Turkey, is one of the rare places
it the country where village womer work the fields in short sleeves and (gasp!)
a knee-length cotton skirt The profusion of blond and red head with aquiline
noses and piercing blue eyes completes a strikingly "un Anatolian" picture.
No amount of progress, however, seems likely to dampen the ancient Laz passion
for hawks. Hawking is practiced as a hobby, an addiction and a lifestyle.
Specific cafes in each of the five townships serve as gather¬ing places for hawk
buffs. One favorite is the cafe underneath Hotel Avcı in Ardeşen, where, during
a particularly exciting football game on television, no less than two dozen
birds shouted and screamed along with their eccentric owners amid a thick cloud
of cigarette smoke. The mayor of Ardeşen, a great raconteur in the best Laz
tradition ("The only reason why we continue speaking Laz," he says, "is that in
no other language can one tell so many hilarious jokes."), showed up with his
pride and joy. As his favorite pet watched menacingly from his shoulder, the
proprietor explained that the birds are caught and domesticated at an early age
and they make superb companions for hunting quail. Since the arrival of Gulf
Arabs as buyers, the price of a baby hawk has gone up to 1000 dollars. A rare
falcon was offered in barter for this author's car.
At the regionally famous restaurant of Baba Ahmet the evening continued with a
bravura display of the inimitable and irrepressible Laz joviality. After the
third course of hamsi and the fifth bottle of raki, a kemençe was brought out.
Men stood up for aninitially clumsy, then increasingly intense and finally
delirious rendition of the traditional Black Sea dance, the horon. Half a dozen
hawks perched on the hatstand kept tempo with jingling bells tied to their
Apart from their delightful inhabitants and an increasingly wild and craggy
coastline, the five townships offer few specific sights-a fine beach near Pazar,
a few totally wild ones beyond Hopa, a forlorn ruined church in someone's back
yard just outside Ardeşen, several charming village mosques behind Arhavi, and
of course, the spectacular panorama of the
Kaçkar Mountains rising above the
The best way to get away from the apparent impersonality of the coast is to make
random excursions into the hills. A good place to do that is the hinterland of
Arhavi where a number of semi-paved roads lead in the direction of Ortacalar.
They meander through pleasant farmlands overgrown with tea, offering
images of rosy-cheeked Laz beauties and ancient moss-covered stone bridges. In
the front yards of remote farmsteads, one may note the tall and distinctive
plants of the cannabis family.
The Laz language (self-designation: lazuri nena)
is spoken along the Black Sea coast from the Chorokh River (Georgia)
to south of Pazar (Atina) in Turkish territory. The language is
unwritten, Georgian being used as the literary language in Georgia
and Turkish in Turkey. In view of the structural closeness between
Mingrelian and Laz, they are sometimes considered as dialects of a
Laz lazuri nena , Georgian čanuri ena , also
called Chan language unwritten language spoken along the coast of
the Black Sea in Georgia and in the adjacent areas of Turkey. Some
scholars believe Laz and the closely related Mingrelian language to
be dialects of the Svan language rather than independent languages.
Both Laz and Mingrelian have made a number of linguistic changes in
comparison to Georgian and Svan, which are relatively conservative
in both their grammatical and phonological characteristics. The Laz,
Mingrelian, Georgian, and Svan languages constitute the Kartvelian,
or South Caucasian, language family. See also Kartvelian languages.
Free Travel Guide of Turkey Pontic
coast: East of Trabzon - Trebizond