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Caucasus

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Updated: 04.10.2003

Mountainous region, between the Black and Caspian seas. Occupying roughly 170,000 sq mi (440,000 sq km), it is divided among Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia and forms part of the traditional dividing line between Europe and Asia.

Geography

Enlarge map

The region is bisected by the Caucasus Mountains; the area north of the Greater Caucasus range is called Northern Caucasus (or Ciscaucasia) and the region to the south Transcaucasia.


Northern Caucasus, composed mainly of plain (steppe) areas, begins at the Manych Depression and rises to the south, where it runs into the main mountain range, the Caucasus Mts. This is a series of chains running northwest-southeast, including Mt. Elbrus, the Dykh-Tau, the Koshtan-Tau and Mt. Kazbek.

The beauty of the Caucasus is much celebrated in Russian literature, most notably in Pushkin's poem Captive of the Caucasus, Lermontov's novel A Hero of Our Time, and Tolstoy's novels The Cossacks and Hadji Murad.

Northern Caucasus, part of Russia, includes the Adygeya Republic, Chechnya, the Dagestan Republic, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, the Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Krasnodar Territory, North Ossetia-Alania, Stavropol Territory, and parts of Kalmykia and the Rostov region.

Transcaucasia includes Georgia (including Abkhazia, the Adjarian Autonomous Republic, and South Ossetia), Azerbaijan (including the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic and Nagorno-Karabakh), and Armenia.

Major cities in the Caucasus are Baku, Yerevan, Grozny, Vladikavkaz, Tbilisi, Krasnodar, Novorossiysk and Batumi.

People and Economy

The Aragvi River flowing through the central sector of the Greater Caucasus north of Tbilisi, Georgia.

More than 40 languages are spoken by the ethnic groups of the entire region. The Ossetians, Kabards, Circassians, and Dagestani are the major groups in Northern Caucasus. The Armenians, Georgians, and Azeris are the largest groups in Transcaucasia.

The Kura and Rion river valleys have traditionally been the main thoroughfares of the Caucasus. Now the Rostov-Makhachkala-Baku railway links Northern Caucasus with Transcaucasia, and there is a line connecting Rostov-na-Donu and Armavir with the port of Batumi, beyond the Caucasus. In Transcaucasia the main line cuts through the center of the region from Baku, Tbilisi, and Kutaisi, and there are lines along the Turkish border and the Caspian Sea.

Oil has been the major product in the Caucasus, with fields at Baku, Grozny, and Maykop. There is an oil pipeline from Baku, on the Caspian, through Tbilisi to Batumi, on the Black Sea, and pipelines from the fields at Grozny to the port of Makhachkala and to Rostov-na-Donu.

On the mountain slopes, which are covered by pine and deciduous trees, there is stock raising. In the valleys, citrus fruits, tea, cotton, grain, and livestock are raised. Along the Black Sea coast between Anapa and Sochi there are many resorts and summer homes. Pyatigorsk and Kislovodsk are notable among the health and mineral resorts in Northern Caucasus.

History

The Caucasus figured greatly in the legends of ancient Greece; Prometheus was chained on a Caucasian mountain, and Jason and his Argonauts sought the Golden Fleece at Colchis. Persians, Khazars, Arabs, Huns, Turko-Mongols, and Russians have invaded and migrated into the Caucasus and have given the region its ethnic and linguistic complexity.

The Russians assumed control in the 19th century after a series of wars with Persia and Turkey. The people of Georgia and Armenia, then predominantly Christian, accepted Russian hegemony as protection from Turkish persecution.

In Azerbaijan, Dagestan, and the historic region of Circassia, the people were largely Muslim. They bitterly fought Russian penetration and were pacified only after the Shamil uprising.

In World War II the invading German forces launched (July, 1942) a major drive to seize or neutralise the vast oil resources of the Caucasus. They penetrated deeply, but in January, 1943, the Soviets launched a winter offensive and by October had driven the Germans from the region.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, demands for smaller, ethnically based nations in the Caucasus, both in Russian Northern Caucasus and in the newly independent nations of Transcaucasia, have given rise to a number of disturbances and armed rebellions.

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