The Ingilois (Georgian: ინგილოები, ingiloebi) are an ethnic subgroup of Georgians who live in Azerbaijan. They are distinguished from other Georgians by their dialect and by being Shia Muslims instead of Orthodox Christians.

[“Ingilois” rhymes with “noise”, not “Illinois” or “Galois”.]

georgian writing azerbaijan ingiloi

Georgian writing, Azeri flag — Photo by Archil Kikvadze

They inhabit the northernmost tip of Azerbaijan, a region just east of the modern Georgian border which was historically known as Saingilo (literally meaning “Ingiloi place”, just like how the Georgian name for Georgia, Sakartvelo, means “Kartveli place”). Like the rest of Transcaucasia, Saingilo was conquered by the Russians in the nineteenth century. When the Russian Empire collapsed, the region was disputed by newly-independent Georgian and Azerbaijani republics. Unlike most Transcaucasian territorial disputes, this one did not lead to violence.

Azerbaijan_Democratic_Republic_1918_20 map

Saingilo is shaded in light green with diagonal lines.

After the Soviets took over both countries, the dispute was settled in favor of Azerbaijan by Georgian-born People’s Commissar of Nationalities Joseph Stalin ( Jughashvili). Today Sainiglo (in which Ingilois are a minority) consists of the Balakan, Zaqatala, and Qakh districts of Azerbaijan. The “cultural capital” of the Ingilois is the Zaqatala town of Aliabad (Əliabad), which is home to two thirds of the roughly 15,000 Ingilois.


Balakan – 10, Zaqatala – 69, Qakh – 38

Like the rest of Azerbaijan, the Ingilois were converted to Shia Islam under the Safavid Persians in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Christianity among the Ingilois has ebbed and flowed since then, with revivals during Russian imperial rule and again after the collapse of the Soviet Union.


Saingilo in pink, Azerbaijan in white, Georgia in green, Dagestan in yellow

The Ingilois speak a dialect of Georgian (Georgian: ინგილოური, ingilouri) whose vocabulary exhibits strong Azeri influence. It’s mutually intelligible with standard Georgian, although in 1895 German linguist Roderiech von Erckert listed it as a fifth member of the South Caucasian language family alongside Georgian, Mingrelian, Laz, and Svan. Practically every Ingiloi knows at least one other language – often Azeri, sometimes Russian. If you want to know just exactly how much Ingiloi Georgian is spoken and you have a lot of patience, read this paper.

Note on spelling

There is apparently no consensus on how to refer to the Ingilois in English. The word “Ingiloi” comes from a Turkic word meaning “new converts”. In Georgian the singular is ინგილოი, with the regular pluralization of ინგილოები. Some authors use “Ingiloi” as both singular and plural. As you can see, I use “Ingilois” as the plural. Same authors cannot stick to a consistent usage, even within the short space of a dictionary entry. Other authors use “Ingiloy”. This makes the plural “Ingiloys” less awkward, but I don’t like to introduce y‘s where they aren’t necessary. Some use “Ingilo” and “Ingilos”. None of the options are very good.


9 thoughts on “Ingilois

    • Saingilo once belonged to a Georgian province called Hereti (Ereti), bordering Caucasian Albania. At some point (maybe around 1000 AD?) Hereti was merged with Kakheti. (Some Ingilois reportedly prefer to be called Heretians.) If the founding of Kakhi antedates this merger, then Kakhi may have been named after Kakheti, rather than the other way around.

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  4. My perception is that among those who are in the know about Saingolo in Georgia Qakh (as opposed to Zaqatala) is often regarded as the “cultural capital” of the ethnic Georgians of Saingilo/Hereti. This could very well be due to the fact that as the paper you enclose in this post suggests, most ethnic Georgians of Qakhi are Christians, whereas in Zapatala and Balakan the ethnic Georgians are almost entirely Muslim.

    As for the “dialect” – I did not detect anything particularly different when I visited Qakh in 2007. As far as I could tell the language spoken by the ethnically Georgian Azerbaijanis there was very standard Georgian. In fact, the accent seemed softer and lighter to me as compared with accents in most parts of, say, Kakheti; this just my personal impression from almost a decade ago though.

      • I do not have answers to these interesting questions, unfortunately. I too have wondered what the attitude of Christian and Muslim ethnic Georgians of Azerbaijan are towards each other. In the absence of any sureys on the matter, even anecdotal experiences of someone who has traveled extensively in the three disricts would be interesting to hear.

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