The Rutuls live in 20 villages of the Rutul District on the upper reaches of the River Samur in South Dagestan (19,5 th. p.) The region inhabited by the Rutuls is not ethnically homogeneous. Interlaced with Rutul villages are settlements of Lakk, Azerbaijani and Lezgi people. Two Rutul villages, Shin and Kainar, are situated in Azerbaijan. The biggest Rutul villages, Rutul, Borch, Khnov, Luchek, Ikhrek, Amsar and Mjukhrek, are on the banks of the Rivers Samur, Ahty-Chai and Kara-Samur. Like everywhere in the Caucasus, the climate is severe - cold winter, cool, foggy and windy in summer. In winter all communication with the outer world is broken off. There are numerous pastures on the mountain slopes as well as occasional forests. Neighbours are the Lakks to the north, the Dargwas to the north-east, the Lezgis to the east, the Azerbaijanis to the south and the Tsakhurs to the west.
The self-designation is mjukhadar meaning 'an inhabitant of the Mjukhad village'. Among the Lezgis and Azerbaijan the village is known as Rutul, hence the internationally recognized name for the people. The Rutul language has numerous dialects, and belongs to the Lezgian-Samur subgroup of the Dagestan languages. At present the majority of the Rutuls recognize their ethnic unity, although the inhabitants of some bigger and older villages still apply to themselves their village names. The Rutuls have no written language.
Anthropologically and ethnoculturally the Rutuls are descended from the same root as all other Lezgian peoples; they are among the aborigines of Dagestan.
Until the 8th century the Rutuls were Christian, probably following the example of the Georgians. Arab conquests brought Sunnite Islam. Despite the considerable influence of Islam, the traditions and customs of the Rutuls have retained heathen elements. Fire is worshipped. One of the highest land masses in the region bears the name of Tsailakhan, that is, 'a place for fire'. A pagan god bynysh is still recognised.
In the 15th century the Rutuls had not yet completely splintered from the Lezgian community and despite their own language and culture they were treated as Lezgians in the historical records of that time. The names of Rutul villages appear in several sources between the 13th and 16th centuries. The first written records of Shinazh, for example, date from 1275 and Khnov is mentioned in 1598. The latter was, in fact, settled much earlier as archaeological evidence shows. Much of the time the Rutuls were involved in bloody feudal wars with the result that they had to pay particular attention to means of defence. In the 17th century the Rutul magal, an alliance of free communities, was established. This soon grew to be considerable feudal power as feudal relations developed. Besides the Rutul settlements it included domains and provinces of several other peoples. Only Khnov, Borch and Ikhrek always considered themselves independent. In 1839 the Rutul territories were annexed to Russia and this led to a rapid decline in patriarchal feudal relations and a corresponding development of capitalisti economy. In 1857 the Rutul magal consisted of 18 villages, 1178 households and 18 mosques.
As with most of the high mountain peoples, the chief occupation of the Rutul was seasonal livestock breeding. As they had no winter pastures, these had to be rented from the Azerbaijanis. Nowadays, the Rutul collective farms have winter pastures assigned to them in North Dagestan and the Astrakhan Region and herding the animals is centralized. Sheep and cattle are the main livestock. The first notable economic upsurge took place between 1856--1913 when the number of sheep tripled and the number of cattle increased sixfold. Agriculture has remained of secondary importance and has therefore been developed to a lesser extent. As late as the early 19th century the fallow system was unknown on the terraced fields. Ashes and dung were used as fertilizers. Wheat, rye, peas and potatoes have been the chief crops. Building was the most advanced of other occupations, in pottery even the potter's wheel remained for a long time unfamiliar. In winter when the cattle and sheep had been driven to the winter pastures the majority of men went to work in the fishing and oil industries of Baku and Derbent.
In the community, patriarchal relations, with an important role played by the tuhum (clan), persisted until the early 20th century. The formation of capitalist relations brought along a speedy separation of the family from the clan. This process was completed by the 1950/60s. Frequent marriages between cousins in Khnov, Borch, Ikhrek, however, still persist as remnants of endogamy.
In the early 20th century there was no nationally structured economy and the only consolidating force was the language. The Rutuls knew no form of national self-identification and there was no term whatsoever in the language for 'nation'. The sense of national identity only began to appear in the 1920s with the social changes. At this time, the first secular educational establishment, founded in 1914, acquired a special significance.
In comparison with other Lezgian peoples the triumphal progress of the Soviet power was much quicker in the area where the Rutul were living. By 1926 the Rutuls already had 26 collective farms comprising 2225 households. By 1935 collectivization was complete. By 1948 the area under crops had doubled and foundations had been laid for horticulture, formerly unknown in the region.
Population. Examining the census data an increase in population is apparent, except of course in the census of 1959 in which the losses of World War II are reflected. However, the population figures are not always the most precise criteria. Instead it is worth examining the Rutul village community which bears the seed of national identity and whose existence echoes the continuity of the people. During the 20th century the village community has preserved its integrity, although in the last three decades there has been some migration to the city. Of greater consequence than the migration is the decline in traditional values and customs, as well as the urbanization of the Rutul way of life. Behind this lies the systematic effort to "merge the country with town" and the corresponding propaganda, the results of which are clearly to be seen in the village lifestyle. The national costume, worn now only by elderly women, is on its way to oblivion. A lot of ethnic traditions are becoming extinct while mass-produced goods -- furniture, clothing and household implements -- are gaining headway. Tradition is trying to hold its ground. Despite the abolition of houses of worship and the establishment of civil marriage, old wedding customs have persisted. Funerals are still conducted according to the rules of Islamic law. The most unremitting bearer of alien ideology has been the school system which has until now propagated vulgar socialism and instead of a reasonably patriotic approach has ladled Marxist-Leninist doctrine. School has attempted to direct the young away from the knowledge, beliefs and customs of their forefathers.
Language and its use are a difficult issue. Rutul exists in the domestic environment and at workplaces while the official language and the language used at schools until 1950 was Azerbaijani, followed by Russian. The introduction of Russian has served as a kind of defensive shield for Rutuls and other Lezgian ethnic minorities. Russian does not at the moment represent as strong a danger to the survival of their language as the languages of closer neighbours, the Azerbaijani and the Lezgians. The influence of Russian is indirect (school, literature, etc.) since there is no direct geographical contact with the Russians.