Peoples of the South Caucasus. Late 19th – early 20th century
When did they begin to plow land there? What crops did local residents grow in valleys? How did they tend their gardens and vineries? How did the Georgians, the largest people of the South Caucasus, call themselves? Why did they celebrate grape harvesting as the rtveli feast? How did they make wine from grapes? Why were hospitality and banqueting, or supra, considered an important part of Georgian culture? What helps Armenians settled in other countries feel their ethnic unity? Why is chaikhana one of the most frequented places with the Azerbaijani? Medieval Arabs called the Caucasus “A Mountain of Languages”, because such great variety of peoples, customs, and religions can seldom be met on planet Earth. This museum exposition lets you travel in the South Caucasus and meet the traditional cultures of some peoples of the region.
The exposition “Peoples of the South Caucasus. Late 19th – early 20th century” forms part of the complex “Peoples of the Caucasus,” the work on which is currently underway. The styling of the exposition “Peoples of the South Caucasus” gives an idea of the region south of the Main Caucasian Range, restoring the architectural appearance of the Museum’s rooms designed in the early 20th century. The movement along the exposition is presented as a journey successively opening to the visitor various cultural landscapes – a city lane, a rural estate, a monastery town house, an out-of-town banquet in the open etc. The theme of journey is supported by the frieze at the top of the walls composed of historic photos. The right-hand part of the rooms mainly shows male activities, and the left-hand one, female occupations.
According to the general concept, the existing scene and artifact complexes form a so-called regional type exposition showing both general components of culture of the whole South Caucasus and materials on the ethnography of particular peoples of the region. The exposition is opened by a section illustrating the economical and cultural adaptation of the region’s population. It contains the following theme units: “Ethnic territory and settlement,” “Husbandry: Crop farming, cattle raising, vine growing, cooking and utensils, wool processing,” “Settlements.” The presented work tools and clothing of various ethnicities of the region illustrate the life activity specifics in different landscape zones of the South Caucasus. One may judge the settlements and dwellings by genuine photographs and architectural mockups. A section dedicated to the everyday life of a South Caucasian town also serves as an introduction to the exposition: the conventional scene the workshop of a Tbilisi jeweler.
The core of the exposition is the sections illustrating the ethnic culture of the Georgians, Armenians, and Azerbaijani. Close to them, a set of furnishings of an Abkhaz sanctuary forge is displayed. In each section, the monitors offer the visitor help/information on history and ethnography, with photo materials presenting landscape views and folk costume variations, arts and crafts objects, and sets of artifacts.
An overview of religious traditions of the peoples of the South Caucasus is given already in the introduction to the sections, and is seen as the basis of their outlook and identity, along with many traits of cultural distinctness of the South Caucasian peoples.
The section “Armenians” presents brief information on the history, basic tenets and practices of the Armenian Apostolic Church, which for many centuries has been playing a special role in the preservation of the ethnicity surrounded by other confessions and other ethnicities. This idea is conveyed by attributes of official church practice, extra-church household sacred artifacts, and the memorial cross-stone khachkar uniting the official ecclesiastic and traditional mundane aspects of Armenian culture. As part of the “Dwelling” theme, a sacred complex is displayed based on the code containing the Holy Writ, that multifold element of Christian culture.
In the section “Georgians,” two aspects are marked out in this theme: on one hand, early adoption of Orthodoxy in Georgia and important role of the autocephalous Georgian Orthodox Church in the people’s spiritual consolidation, and on the other hand, emphasized synthesis of Orthodox orthopraxis with local religious cults. Such cults are characterized by objects related to the cult of St. George, prayer and sacrificial holy things, and objects from the mountaineers’ sanctuary.
In the subsection “Azerbaijani,” the role of Islam in the South Caucasus and the specifics of Shi’ism are shown, namely the existence of the miracle play Ashura (in honor of Shia saints Ali and Hussein), materialization of cult symbols that is higher than in Sunnism, and special role of amulets and fortune-telling objects.
Men’s occupations are presented by complexes of Armenian arts and crafts in such occupations as stone processing, blacksmithing, coppersmithing, cloth printing, jewelry, and musical instrument making. The scene “In a teahouse” of the subsection “Azerbaijani” shows the elite subculture of well-to-do male residents in an Oriental city. The importance of the theme of weapons and personal war bravery of Georgian mountaineers for the Georgians’ male socialization is emphasized.
The female subculture of the South Caucasus in the subsection “Armenians” is presented by the female figures of “maiden,” “senior housewife,” and “daughter-in-law” placed in the context of dwelling place and home space. Presented in the subsection “Azerbaijani” is a rite of the wedding cycle called “Bride’s Parting with the Paternal Home.”
Ethnic groups are shown in the exposition as possible. This is presented with utmost intensity in the subsection “Georgians, emphasizing the special complexity of this ethnicity.
The exposition is concluded with the theme of unity of the folklore music culture of the South Caucasian peoples.