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Cultural Landscape of Khinalig and “Köç Yolu” Transhumance Route

Khinalig village is located in the south of the Caucasus Mountains, in the eastern part of Gudyalchay. Archaeological findings and historical studies prove that the village’s area was inhabited for about 5 thousand years, dating back to Bronze Age.  

A few scientific investigations of the area allow the connection between Khinalig’s past and Caucasian Albania. The people of Khinalig name themselves Kettids and their village Ketish. The Kettids belong to Shahdag ethnic group that scientists suggest being part of 26 Caucasian Albanian tribes in the past. A. A. Bakikhanov's book "Gulustani Iram" contains notes about the Albanian Ket tribes.       

"Ket" or "Ketish" can be associated with the word Ket-did-Ketish, which means "ours". Besides the people of Khinalig, the Udins and the Griz also consider themselves the descendants of Albanians. Along with these nations, the people of Khinalig believe that they are descendants of Noah. Some Khinalig legends refer to Albanian personalities. Every scientist, researcher, writer and author gives an explanation of the word Khinalig in different ways. The word "Khinalig" is given in the forms of Khinalig, Khanalig, Khinali-Khinalig, Khanalik and so on. 

Ancient historian Musa Kalankatli's work "History of Albania" names the province located in the north-west of Albania Kheni (Xeni). According to some hypotheses, Khinalig reflects the name of that province. The ancient Greek historian Strabo wrote that the city of Khan in Albania was a fortress surrounded by walls.  

The name Khinalig is first mentioned in the 15th century in Mahmud al-Khinalugi's manuscript "Shirvan and Dagestan events" (1457-1459). Mahmud got his nickname Khinaligli. This is the first written source that used the name of Khinalig. The manuscript was discovered in 1860 by a Russian scientist Berge and taken to St. Petersburg and was translated into Russian. Mahmud Al Khinalugi's work "Shirvan and Dagestan events" translated into Russian was published in 1996 as a booklet by the Dagestan National Academy of Sciences.

In the 8th century, the people of Khinalig accepted Islam through the ruler of Derbent Hisham’s brother Abu Muslim. Abu Muslim spread Islam throughout wide area of the Caucasus. The oldest mosque in this area was built in Khinalig by the order of Abu Muslim, which is still called Abu Muslim Mosque. Between the twelfth and eighteenth centuries, numerous shrines and mosques were built by religious leaders. In the eighth century, the Arab scholar Yaqut al-Hamawi, in his dictionary Mujam al-buldan (names of countries in alphabetical order), noted that there was a small settlement (town) in the Khazaran mountain pass. According to the book "Geography" authored by Greek scholar Strabo (64-24 BC), a city functioned as a cultural center in that area from the 7th to the 10th century. Although there is no information about the city’s name, it can be said that they meant Khinalig. Pir Jomard or Abu Muslim Mosque is considered to be the oldest and main shrine of Khinalig. Juma Mosque is one of the largest buildings in Khinalig. There are Sheikh Salbuzbaba Mosque, Gamik Mosque, Jabbar Baba, Mohuj Baba, Shikhsalburuz Baba, Khidir Nabi and Gulla shrines in the village.

According to research conducted by Russian and German linguists in the first half of the 19th century, the people of Khinalig descended from Albanian tribes belong to the Shahdag ethnic group. Among the aboriginal minority peoples of Azerbaijan, they are distinguished by their unique ethnographic features. This ethnos belongs to the Caucasian language family and is named "Shahdag peoples" in the historical and ethnographic literature due to its location around Shahdag. The people of Khinalig are one of the oldest inhabitants of Azerbaijan. The language and habitat of this ethnos is one of a kind in the world. That is, there is only one Khinalig village and the only Khinalig language on the ethnic map of the world, which belongs to the Guba region of Azerbaijan.

Khinalig is located 2300 m high above sea level. The population of the village was in touch with the neighbouring villages and districts through the mountain trails until the end of the 60s of the last century. The closest relations of the people of Khinalig were with the neighboring Gabala and Shamakhi regions only in the summer months, horses and oxen were used as a means of transport. The people of Khinalig are a devout community as religious Muslims. People with their special traditions, costumes and ceremonies, live in houses built of pebble stones with a special architectural structure.

Looking at the structure of the village, it becomes evident that the ancient and newly built graves are densely located around the village. It is possible to say that in ancient times, people in Khinalig were buried in nearby places, and later, the cemeteries were expanded as the village grew. It is very interesting that the calligraphers of Khinalig professionally made headstones from hard, volcanic rocks and drew inscriptions and paintings on their surfaces. Such ancient tombstones can be seen in the cemetery covering an area of about 40 hectares. There are 210 houses in Khinalig with 160 historical buildings. Currently, 1905 people live in Khinalig. The exact number of members of the Khinalig ethnic group living in Azerbaijan has not been determined yet. At present, there are about 250 people in Vladimirovka (Gulustan) village of Guba region, 120 in Garachay village, 20 in Arabkhan settlement, 130 in Dagli village, 100 in Alekseyevka village, 20 in Narimanabad village, 15 in Igrig village, 15 in Alibeygishlag village, 15 in Barli, 100 in Ashagi Atuj village, about 100 in Guba city, 30 in Timiryazev settlement, 20 in Girmizi settlement, about 10 in each of Agbil, Pirvahid, Khujbala, Digah, Nugadi villages, 60 in Vandam village of Gabala region, 30 in Gabala city. Nearly 20 Khinalig families live in Baku and 30 families in Sumgayit. In addition, approximately 50 families of Khinalig descendants live in Moscow, Ufa, Surgut, Tumen and other cities of Russia. It should be noted that in the 17th-18th centuries, several Khinalig families moved to the Aghdash region due to the family farm and settled the village of Khinakhly.

From the 19th century to the 40s of the last century, there were 9 mosques and 9 hydro mills in Khinalig. Currently, 6 out of 9 mosques have been reconstructed. Only one of the nine hydro mills has survived. There are 8 neighborhoods in Khinalig, which are as follows:

Tepe neighborhood, Yukhari neighborhood (Gamk), Yelgovan neighborhood, Malikli neighborhood, Ashagi neighborhood (Kamk), Gadakhe neighborhood, Chukhur neighborhood and Modern Deyirmanchay residential area.

After Azerbaijan gained independence, life in Khinalig has also changed dramatically. Agriculture with weak economic development, combined in collective and state farms, was re-privatized. Thus, the people of Khinalig were able to return to their traditional way of life. In 2001, Khinalig was included in the list of World Heritage and Cultural Monuments, and in 2007, the World Heritage List. 

After the official visit of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev to Khinalig in October 2006, a new post office was built in Khinalig, telephone lines were laid, and stations of mobile operators were opened. On September 15, 2007, a boarding school was opened in Khinalig village. As the main occupation of the Khinalig community is sheep and cattle-breeding, some of them have to move to winter quarters for 7-8 months. The children of those families study at the boarding school in Khinalig village, and all their expenditures are met by the state. Besides, the pupils of neighbouring villages can study and stay at this school as well. 

On June 10, 2015, after the installation of special technical equipment at the Khinalig ATES, the people of Khinalig were able to use the high-speed Internet.

Khinalig village, located in Guba region of the Republic of Azerbaijan, is an amazing tourist destination with its wonderful historical sites, delicious cuisine and picturesque nature.

To protect the unique history and nature of Khinalig, the area was declared a State Historical, Architectural and Ethnographic Reserve according to the decree of President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev dated December 19, 2007. 

However, as a result of the great efforts of our state, the Khinalig State Historical, Architectural and Ethnographic Reserve was included in UNESCO’s Tentative List on June 15, 2020. 

The basis of the document submitted to UNESCO is the nomadic culture of Khinalig. As this unique region is home to many historical sites and natural wonders, the cultural and natural heritage of outstanding universal value was submitted to the World Heritage Committee as a nomination document "Cultural Landscape of Khinalig and “Köç Yolu” Transhumance Route" in 2021.   

The nomination territory of Azerbaijan called "Cultural Landscape of Khinalig and “Köç Yolu” Transhumance Route" has been included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The decision was made at the 45th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on September 18, 2023.  

On September 4, 2023, the “Khinalig and Köç Yolu” State Historical, Cultural and Ethnographic Reserve was established by the Decree of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan to protect the significance of the cultural heritage of Azerbaijan and the territory where the transhumance route is located, to create a unified management model and to promote responsible tourism in the area. 

Thus, "Khinalig and Köç Yolu" became the fourth cultural heritage site in Azerbaijan to be included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Previously, Icherisheher (Walled City of Baku) with the Shirvanshahs’ Palace Complex and Maiden Tower, Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape, the historic center of Sheki with the Khan's Palace was also inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.