In the hills of Turkey, along the Black Sea coast, there are a friendly and welcoming people with their own language that you may have never heard of, the Laz people.
Descendants of the Colchis, who you may know from Jason and the Argonauts, the Laz people now live primarily in southern Georgia and northern Turkey. They wear their scarves different than other places, so it is easy to see who they are from a distance. When you get closer, you may also notice that they speak their own language as well. Unfortunately, like many old languages that are not allowed to be spoken in schools and is not the language of the country, it is getting more and more lost. Some of the younger people do not even speak it anymore. UNESCO has recognized Laz as a language in jeopardy.
In Turkey, the Laz are mostly located in a few cities such as Rize, Hemşin, Çanlihemşin, Çayeli, and smaller villages located in the Kaçkar mountains such as Ayder. They are noted for their striking blue eyes, their colorful textiles, baskets, the Horon dance and music. Not unlike the Scots they play a Turkish bagpipe called the Tulum.
We visited Ayder, a small town in this region on a Sunday afternoon in the summer, and what a great time we had. Laz people from all around go there to just catch up with friends and relatives, have a picnic on the mountainside, and dance the Horon. We joined in and danced, and danced, and danced.
The best time to visit any of this region is in the summer, and you can often spot the Laz coming down from the hills on market days to shop and sell their handmade wares. Rize has a great market on Thursdays, and one of the sports that is showcased in the Kaçkar Mountains is bullfighting. There is a bullfighting festival in Artvin the first few days of July each year that you can attend.
This entire region, the Black Sea and Kaçkar Mountains, are not overly visited by foreign tourists, and it is one of my favorite parts of Turkey. If you have the chance to go, please take it.
Have you been to the northeastern part of the Black Sea in Turkey? What did you see and do?