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”.]
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.
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 (né 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.
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.
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.
- A detailed encyclopedia article
- Remarks on the dialect
- Pictures of Alatemuri (Alatəmir) village in Qakh