Health and Old Age Places with High Longevity: Transcaucasia Part 2

About the area of Transcaucasia in the former Soviet Union which has a high level of longevity, about some of the famous old agers and the daily life.


The most spectacular recorded examples of old age or long life were those of Shirali Mislimov, who died at the age of 168 in 1973, and Tsurba, a woman who "withered away like an old tree," according to a Russian reporter witnessing her death, at the age of 160. Shirali, affectionately called "Baba"--"baby"--was born in a mountain village of Azerbaijan in 1805, a fact attested to by his internal passport. According to Dr. Abdulla I. Karayev, head of the Dept. of Physiology at Azerbaijan's Academy of Sciences and a leading Russian gerontologist, Shirali-Baba was the forebear of 5 living generations, including one great-great-great-grandchild aged 4. He continued until his death to tend an orchard he planted in 1870, and he retained vivid memories of the 1853-1856 Crimean War. He left behind a 120-year-old widow whom he had married 102 years earlier.

Tsurba, whose life facts were researched by Dr. Ramazan-Alikishi, the Daghestani gerontologist, also lived to celebrate a "double golden jubilee"--a 100th wedding anniversary. At age 140 she began to "shrink," and finally when she was 160 years old she was a mere 3' in height. She slept and died in a baby's crib.

Living There. The Caucasus has been romantically depicted in Russian literature, opera, and ballet ever since it came under Russian influence 2 centuries ago. Pushkin, Tolstoi, and Chekhov have all described its exotic charms and health-giving atmosphere. The towns of Sochi and Sukhumi on the Black Sea, and Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea, are famous throughout Russia as resorts offering rest and pleasure. Muscovites and Leningraders vacation there regularly, with some of the more influential having their own permanent villas or, more modestly, beach houses. Many Russians make the journey for health reasons and take what is known as the "water cure" (seabathing) or the "grape cure" (a diet of nothing but luscious, sweet, Georgian grapes). The mineral waters of the Caucasus are among the finest and purest in Europe, and Borzhom, the leading brand, is exported all over Russia and even abroad. The look of these places with their wooden houses, onion-shaped domes, and natives in colorful costumes--women in brightly embroidered, circular, pleated skirts and the men in karakul hats and greatcoats with ammunition belts across the chest--has been somewhat spoiled by the huge rest houses, resembling sanatariums, built by the Government for vacationers.

To find people with genuine longevity, you have to leave these fashionable tourist centers and travel back from the sea and its crowded lowlands into the foothills and mountains of the Caucasus itself. There the terrain is excitingly rugged and the life less easy. The Abkhazians call their country "God's afterthought," meaning that God had a "good 2nd thought" when he made their hilly terrain fertile enough for them to supply the Soviet Union with much of its tobacco, tea, and citrus fruits, as well as to support the local farmers and their animals. The Daghestanis too, like the Abkhazians, are of necessity superb horsemen, since the horse is the most feasible means of climbing mountain trails to tend Alpine pastures, to herd sheep or goats, and to cross the countless Caucasian gorges over light wooden bridges.

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