Location: Western Caucasus
Language family: Northwest Caucasian
Bible portions to date: Luke 2:1-20 (2000), Luke* (2013)
Long term plans: OT/NT portions
2,500 years ago the Greek historian Herodotus noted that Greek seafarers encountered a tribe named the Abaza along the eastern shores of the Black Sea. The descendants of the Abaza later migrated northeastward into the Caucasus Mountains and now live in at least 14 towns and villages in the mountain region of Karachay-Cherkess Republic in southern Russia. Their ancient language is fascinating – it functions with 63 consonant sounds and only two vowels! For an outsider it’s like a mouthful of intense sounds. Linguistically, the Abaza language has the same origin as the Abkhaz (or Abkhazian) language, but it was also strongly influenced by the neighboring Adyghe language. Some scholars have argued that the ancestors of the Abaza had a writing system as long ago as in the 3rd millennium BC, which later became the basis for the creation of the Phoenician letters, which in their turn laid the foundation for the Latin alphabet. But since the Abaza people are now part of the Russian Federation, the contemporary Abaza writing system is based on the Cyrillic alphabet.
The main occupations of the Abaza throughout the centuries have been cattle breeding and agriculture, especially gardening. From ancient times the Abaza were also renowned as blacksmiths, armorers, jewelers and beekeepers. Fur and leather crafts were also well developed among them.
The Abaza took an active part in Russian-Caucasian wars of the 19th century. Many of them perished and many are now dispersed in foreign lands. Over the past 1,000 years the Abaza became Muslim, though in the first centuries A.D. their ancestors professed Christianity. Many ancient pagan beliefs have been preserved along with Sunni Islam. There are just a few Christian believers among the Abaza today.
Bible translation project: The translation of the Gospel of Luke was completed and published by a local church in 2013, a sign of interest in Bible translation among the local believers. We have now formed a new translation team to revive the IBT Bible translation project. For a long time we were looking for a philological editor, and fortunately this problem has been solved, since a former translator has agreed to try doing the philological editing. A potential field tester has also been found. He is one of the very few Christians among the Abaza people. The new translator took part in the introductory seminar in Moscow in mid-February 2017. The new field-tester was trained in spring 2017 during the project co-ordinator’s visit to the region. Abaza Christians took part in the Scripture Engagement project in Nalchik in June 2018.
Current Bible translation work: Ruth and Jonah have been consultant checked. The book of Esther is planned for consultant checking via Skype in October. All three books will be audio recorded, and we are planning to submit them to the publishing department in 2018. The new translator with the exegetical advisor have prepared the translation of the Lord’s Prayer from the Gospel of Matthew for the forthcoming IBT polyglot edition, and now translation work has started on the Gospel of Matthew.
The book of Jonah is going to be published separately with pictures that were primarily created for another project. The pictures, prepared specially for IBT by a very talented illustrator, are very beautiful. People in other projects liked them immensely, and now they are being successfully field-tested among the Abaza people.
We believe that translation of several Old Testament books will help to bridge the gap between the Bible and the Abaza people with its deep historic roots, as has already happened in so many other projects in Muslim societies. Illustrated Jonah is going to be the first OT publication in Abaza, but we still need to raise funds to make this publication possible.
Your prayers and financial support of this project are greatly appreciated.
Your donation of $30 will allow IBT to publish and deliver 10 copies of the Book of Jonah in the Abaza language to the readers.