chapter  5
Felt Capes and Masks of the Caucasus
Pages 13

Between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, the road south to Azerbaijan passes along the Caspian Sea through the walled city of Derbent, built on a five-thousand-year old settlement, which blocks the narrowest part of the way. A mountainous region about the size of Scotland, Daghestan has absorbed peoples through successive conquests and migrations throughout history. Today thirty-three languages are still spoken locally by two million inhabitants, two thirds of whom live in over 700 mountain, lowland and plains villages. The largest ethnic group are the autochthonous Avars with a population of about 600,000 and the smallest, the autochthonous Ginoukh, with 400 people. This ethnic mosaic is in many ways a microcosm of the former Soviet Union. However Daghestan is different in the virtual absence to date of inter-ethnic violence. Perhaps one reason for this is the survival of mountain village life which is typified by a traditional style of clothing, masks and felt capes which are worn alongside modern dresses, tracksuits and Bonny-and-Clyde style peaked caps.