Located in Azerbaijan’s south, Yardimli is one of the country’s remotest places. It is surrounded by Iran on three sides. Having absolutely no roads, people in Yardimli drive only Soviet Niva and Vilis jeeps in the mountains. It is the least known Azerbaijani district. There are no even places here, which makes it difficult to keep one’s balance at an altitude. Yardimli’s geographical location has basically stopped the access of modern civilization. At the same time, its remoteness has helped preserve natural beauty. The air and water here are unique. In 1921-30, it was called the Vargaduz circle of Lankaran district, while in 1938 it received its present name. After Lankaran district was abolished the same year, Yardimli became a separate district.
The distance to Baku is 286 km. Yardimli is in the north-west of Talysh mountains, a continuation of the Lesser Caucasus. The district center, the Yardimli settlement, is on the left and right banks of the Vilashchay river in the Yardimli depression. Forests cover 21,000 hectares. The district center is 1000-1800 m above sea level. The Yardimli depression is in the north-west of the Talysh and Peshtasar range, between Pestasar and Buravar. The highest tops are Shinunkalak (2419 m) and Tarakan (2350 m). In winter both are entirely covered with snow, while in summer they are amazingly green. Yardimli has a mild climate with a dry summer.
• Takdam waterfalls
Located 25 km from the Masalli-Yardimli road, the waterfalls are considered Yardimli’s visiting card. The two-level waterfalls are 34-m high. There are steps to the very top of the waterfalls. The top, located at an altitude of 1500 m, commands a magnificent view of the surroundings. Since a lone watchman’s hut was placed next to the waterfalls in the Soviet time, the place is still referred to as “tak dam”.
The place-name is explained differently. One theory suggests that it relatea to the word “yardam”, i.e. a part of a nation or people. In fact, Ardebil is said to have the same base. Another suggestion is that the place-name is derived from the word “ertim”. Historian G. Geybullayev links it to the name of a Pecheneg tribe. In ancient Turkic it meant strong and bellicose. In 1924, archeologist I. Azimbayov said the place-name means “assistance” in Turkish. Local legends say that a noble man named Ali once decided to help local people living in difficult conditions by building numerous watermills here. The place where he lived has since been called Yardim Ali (assistance Ali).
• Alar village
This is a village high in the mountains noted for its severe colds. Its hills are all covered with thyme. In places with such abundance of thyme there are always many partridges. In 1947-1953, residents of 32 villages were deported, which is why many natives of Yardimli now live in Jalilabad, Masalli, Lankaran, Shirvan, Salyan, etc. The purpose of such policies pursued by Stalin was to protect the territory from Iranian influence. Alar was one such village, as all its residents were resettled to Jalilabad. The road southwards passes through Alar.
• Oku village
The 1222-year-old plane tree is on the list of the village’s historical monuments. Local people say a caravan road used to pass through here, while the shade of the tree was a place for rest. There is a water spring here. Some villages of Yardimli have water supply, others don’t. Villagers carry water home from here on donkeys and beats of burden. The nearest village is 2 km away. Women come to the spring to wash clothes by striking them on stones.
• 1. Talk rock
As is clear from its name, people gather near it to talk.
• 2. Khan rock
This is where Khan used to sit, look around and smoke hookah. There is a hookah dent on the stone.
• 3. Envoy rock
This is where envoys coming to the village used to sit. Seeing an envoy sitting on the rock, a villager would come and enquire about the purpose of the visit. Envoys were mainly coming to engage village girls and the local elders would direct them where necessary.Another village sight is the magnificent mosque at the top of the mountain about 1600 m above sea level. It was built several years ago by hired Iranian specialists. The best-known historical and religious monument here is the tomb stone of Mirgiyas Agha. Since he was a descendant of Imam, all villagers are considered saints. The name is explained as a holy place located at the top. Perimbel is the name of a tribe. Villagers believe that they are all descendants of one man, which is also explained by the sacred nature of this land. The village was established 1200 years ago by two grandsons of the 4th imam who lived and died here. Their tombstones are a place of worship for the local people.
To go to Yardimli, we need to pass through Masalli and Istisu. It is 54 km from Masalli. The road here lies through Deman plain. The historical plain commands a wonderful view of the forest and mountains and is located 1600- 1800 m above sea level. The name relates to Teoman, grandfather of commander Matan, the Hun ruler. People also say Deman means dry-farming land. It is possible to stop here for rest, spend a night or make a picnic. Despite its potential, there is no tourism infrastructure in Yardimli.
• Beshmartaba (five-storey waterfalls)
It is located several kilometers behind the Takdam waterfalls in a barely accessible place. The waterfalls, consisting of five levels deep inside the forest, are referred to as Beshmartaba. There is no road, so one can only walk there. Although the path has many ascents and descents, it is a must-see due to its panoramic view. There are enormous caves in rocks. Local people say these used to be inhabited by bandits in the past.
• Residents of Yardimli
Tough living conditions can’t but affect human nature. Those not knowing these people may think they are somewhat rude. In reality, however, they are pure and daring. Men usually gather at the central square to talk. It is noteworthy that almost all men wear a Panama hat and have a newspaper or a book in their hand. Local people like reading a lot, while Yardimli has nurtured many scientists. Due to proximity to Iran, most people are pious Shiites. Yardimli is known for its descendants of the prophet. For this reason, these people are held in high esteem. Another noteworthy fact is that Yardimli is the only mono-ethnic center of the south, as Talysh, who form the majority in the region, don’t live here.
This is the name of a Turkic tribe. People say the name relates to Ali Khan, who came here with his children from Iran to establish the first settlement. It was subsequently called Allar and Alar. The place-name is also related to the Shahsevan tribe of Alars.
• Maiden Tower (5th century)
This is a natural monument. It is a cone-shaped fortress in the mountains near the Alar village. Known as Maiden Tower, this ancient fortress used to be a shelter in ancient times. Fire-worshippers prayed here, then built towers to turn it into a stronghold. It is located about 2200 m above sea level. Historians believe that judging by traces of fire, the fortress was a temple in Zoroastrian times. It is said that Zoroastrians lived and worshipped fire here before Islam. Subsequently, the temple was used as a fortress against Arab invaders. Some say the fortress dates back to the 5-9th centuries, to Zoroastrian times. The Maiden Tower in Alar played a crucial role in 1812, during the attack on Azerbaijan by the top commander of the Iranian army Abbas Mirza, who was the successor to the Iranian ruler Fatali Shah Gajar. Looking like a hat put on the mountain, the fortress stands on the brink of an abyss. It is possible to reach it from three sides via steep and dangerous paths. It takes a full day to reach it. An earthenware pipeline carries water to it from Khanbulag. There is Oghlangala fortress 500-600 m from it. There was an underground tunnel between the fortresses. In case of a danger, bonfire was made at the top of one fortress to alert people in the other. Locals call the area Voynbara. There is an ancient cemetery, different caves and 10-15 watchman stations 2500 m above sea level. Rock engravings are also quite interesting. Researchers say that there was a settlement around the fortress.
• Abudarda Mosque (12-14th centuries)
It sounds like Abuzarda, Abuzara or Abidarda. This is a medieval monument shared by the Arus, Larzan and Arsila villages. It means “Giving water to woes” and is a place of worship. The mosque was owned by First Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib. Ashaba Abu Dardail was delegated to this region by Imam in the 7th century to execute certain religious orers. Many suggest that the name of the monument relates to well-known cleric Sheikh Seyyid Abuzar who lived in Ardebil. It is said that Sheikh Seyyid Abuzar asked his daughter shortly before his death to bury him in this land. A mosque was subsequently established above his grave. People rub small stones from around the gravestone against the wall and make a wish. If the stone clings to the wall, it is said that the wish will come true. Every village is located on a separate mountain top, so to go to another village would mean climbing a mountain top. Although this is a tiring task, it is very tranquilizing. Once you get used to mountains, you start enjoying them. Here is a small piece of advice for those who haven’t been to Yardimli yet: in order to fully enjoy the nature and relax, don’t miss two ideal destinations. One is the waterfall on Pestasar mountain with a sour water spring, while the other is the spring in Abdalli village near the Iranian border. These two places, noted for contrasting temperatures, are very popular destinations for district residents in hot summer months.
Yardimli residents appear not to have discovered the road concept yet. There is still no road connecting Yardimli to neighboring Lerik. The first road between Yardimli and Masalli was built in 1935. From that time and until mid-1970s people mainly rode horses, while the first asphalt road was laid in 1976. Finally, the construction of a broad asphalt road in 2000 enabled a comfortable journey here. Although Yardimli was part of Lankaran district, it took days to reach Lankaran. Therefore, it was easier to travel to Ardebil for commercial purposes. For this reason, residents of Yardimli, often traveling to the neighboring country to receive education, had a slight Iranian accent. Ties with Iran were completely severed in the Soviet time.
They were historically settled in Yardimli. It was due to the bandits that Soviet rule was established in Yardimli a year later than elsewhere in Azerbaijan. Bolshevik power was established in Baku in 1920 and in Yardimli in 1921, while communist fought against bandits until 1928- 30. Local people put up stiff resistance to the Russians. After a sustained stand-off which claimed many human lives, Russia’s 245th regiment succeeded in seizing the territory. The commander of the regiment was officer Dolgov, who was notorious for his cruelty. The regiment unleashed unseen atrocities on the local population because no-one spoke Russian.
Yardimli’s stone box graves have not been fully studied yet. It was an ancient tradition to bury people in boxes. People were placed inside them together with their belongings. The household items, jewelry and arms discovered from the boxes in excavation are now stored at a local history museum. The present-day territory of Yardimli used to be part of Atropatene. In the 3rd century Sasanids occupied it, in the 7th the area was taken over by the Arabs and in the 18th by the Safavids. From the 19th century, Yardimli was part of the Lankaran Khanate until Soviet power was established.All villages scattered along the mountain range sit on tops. This is a place for those crazy about mountain climate and extremes. Moving here by car, on horseback or on foot may prove a torture for those not used to such surroundings. To travel from one village to another and visit the historical sites all located on mountain tops will take at least one full day. It is a good idea to take some food on such journeys. However, although there are no restaurants, there is no risk of staying hungry because, as is the case elsewhere in Azerbaijan, local people are very hospitable and won’t let you go without offering a meal.
• Perimbel village
This village of Yardimli is worth visiting although it still doesn’t have a road. It is famous for its yellow mud which villagers use in construction. It doesn’t come off shoes and can hardly be washed away. It also becomes heavy under your feet, making it difficult to walk. Perimbel is rich in walnut trees as they form 90 per cent of all orchards. They are said to be at least 300 years old. The historical Goz spring is another attraction. There are springs outside every house in Perimbel. Monuments to rams and three huge rocks in the village can’t but attract attention. The three rocks in the center of Perimbel have interesting names.
• Arus village
The name means a bride. The legend goes that the village was named after a girl who was faithful to her fiancé. It also relates to the name of the Orus tribe.
• Arus meteorite
This is yardimli’s famous meteorite. It landed between Arus and Jiy villages at 8 a.m. on 24 November 1959. Although it was a foggy day, the flash it produced on an area of 2800 sq. km. when landing could be seen for 5-10 seconds. The biggest and smallest splinters weighing 127 kg and 300 grams respectively were discovered. They contained nickel, graphite and other metals. This was the third biggest meteorite to land in the USSR. The splinters are currently stored at a museum of the USSR Committee on Meteorites.