Russian Federation: southwest of the Republic of Dagestan, in the mountains between the Andi-Koisu and Avar-Koisu rivers.
Approximate total number: 5,500 (data from 2002).
The Akhvakhs are one of the many small ethnic groups of the Republic of Dagestan. As is the case of the other Andi and Dido peoples, their traditions and culture are very similar to those of the Avars, due to their common history since the times of the Avar Khanate. The main factor that distinguishes the Akhvakhs from the other peoples in question is their language.
The Akhvakh tongue has two principal dialects, namely Northern Akhvakh and Southern Akhvakh. There are major differences between them, and Avar is used as a lingua franca for communication between their speakers. The vocabulary of Akhvakh has been quite well preserved, despite the adoption of many loanwords from Arabic, Avar and Russian. Unlike its neighbouring languages, Akhvakh has developed a system of person-verb agreement.
Akhvakh is an oral language. It has never had a standard form or been taught in schools. Ever since Soviet rule was established in the early 20th century, Akhvakh speakers have only used the tongue in their homes, using Avar and, occasionally, Russian for all other types of communication. Primary education takes place in Avar and secondary education in Russian. Virtually all the Akhvakhs are plurilingual.
A combination of a rise in the number of mixed marriages and the loss of the Akhvakhs' customs, folklore and traditional endogamy has led to language associated with the cultural manifestations in question falling out of use.
Little research has been carried out into Akhvakh, although some linguistic studies on the language have been published since the 1940s. A number of texts containing material in Akhvakh have also been published, including a compilation of stories in 1949.
There is an Akhvakh community in Azerbaijan, in a village called Akhvakh-Dere in the district of Zaqatala. The settlement in question was established 150 to 200 years ago, and is home to between 1,000 and 2,000 people who speak a variant of Akhvakh which closely resembles the Northern dialect.