Caucasus

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This article is about the geographic region in Eurasia. For other uses, see Caucasus (disambiguation) and Caucasia (disambiguation)
Caucasus mountain range
Political map of the Caucasus region (2008)

The Caucasus /ˈkɔːkəsəs/ or Caucasia /kɔːˈkʒə/ is a region at the border of Europe and Asia, situated between the Black and the Caspian seas. It is home to the Caucasus Mountains, which contain Europe's highest mountain, Mount Elbrus. Politically, the Caucasus region is separated between northern and southern parts. The southern parts consist of independent sovereign states. The northern parts are under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation.

Name[edit]

Pliny the Elder's Natural History (AD 77-79) derives the name of the Caucasus from the Scythian kroy-khasis (“ice-shining, white with snow”).[1]

View of the Caucasus Mountains in Svaneti, Georgia

Modern endonyms[edit]

Geography and ecology[edit]

Armenia's capital Yerevan
Azerbaijan's capital Baku
Chechnya's capital Grozny
Georgia's capital Tbilisi.

The northern portion of the Caucasus is known as the Ciscaucasus and the southern portion as the Transcaucasus.

The Ciscaucasus contains the larger majority of the Greater Caucasus Mountain range, also known as the Major Caucasus mountains. It includes Southwestern Russia and northern parts of Georgia and Azerbaijan.

The Transcaucasus is bordered on the north by Russia, on the west by the Black Sea and Turkey, on the east by the Caspian Sea, and on the south by Iran. It includes the Caucasus Mountains and surrounding lowlands. All of Armenia, Azerbaijan (excluding the northern parts) and Georgia (excluding the northern parts) are in South Caucasus.

The main Greater Caucasus range is generally perceived to be the dividing line between Asia and Europe. The highest peak in the Caucasus is Mount Elbrus (5,642 m) in the western Ciscaucasus in Russia, and is generally considered as the highest point in Europe.

The Caucasus is one of the most linguistically and culturally diverse regions on Earth. The nation states that comprise the Caucasus today are the post-Soviet states Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. The Russian divisions include Krasnodar Krai, Stavropol Krai, and the autonomous republics of Adygea, Karachay–Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya, and Dagestan. Three territories in the region claim independence but are recognized as such by only a handful or by no independent states: Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia.

The Caucasus is an area of great ecological importance. The region is included in the list of 34 world biodiversity hotspots.[2][3] It harbors some 6400 species of higher plants, 1600 of which are endemic to the region.[4] Its wildlife includes leopards, brown bears, wolves, bison, marals, golden eagles and hooded crows. Among invertebrates, some 1000 spider species are recorded in the Caucasus.[5] The region has a high level of endemism and a number of relict animals and plants, the fact reflecting presence of refugial forests, which survived the Ice Age in the Caucasus Mountains. The Caucasus forest refugium is the largest throughout the Western Asian (near Eastern) region.[6][7] The area has multiple representatives of disjunct relict groups of plants with the closest relatives in Eastern Asia, southern Europe, and even North America.[8][9][10] Over 70 species of forest snails of the region are endemic.[11] Some relict species of vertebrates are Caucasian parsley frog, Caucasian salamander, Robert's snow vole, and Caucasian grouse, and there are almost entirely endemic groups of animals such as lizards of genus Darevskia. In general, species composition of this refugium is quite distinct and differs from that of the other Western Eurasian refugia.[7] The natural landscape is one of mixed forest, with substantial areas of rocky ground above the treeline. The Caucasus Mountains are also noted for a dog breed, the Caucasian Shepherd Dog (Rus. Kavkazskaya Ovcharka, Geo. Nagazi).

Political geography[edit]

North Caucasus South Caucasus


* States in italics are largely unrecognised. Abkhazia and South Ossetia are recognised as part of Georgia, and Nagorno-Karabakh is recognised as part of Azerbaijan.

History[edit]

Further information: History of the Caucasus
Petroglyphs in Gobustan, Azerbaijan, dating back to 10,000 BC indicating a thriving culture. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Located on the peripheries of Turkey, Iran, and Russia, the region has been an arena for political, military, religious, and cultural rivalries and expansionism for centuries. Throughout its history, the Caucasus was usually incorporated into the Iranian world. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Russian Empire conquered the territory from the Qajars.[12]

Kingdom of Georgia at the peak of its power under Tamar of Georgia and George IV of Georgia (1184-1223).

Under Ashurbanipal (669-627 BC) the boundaries of the Assyrian Empire reached as far as the Caucasus Mountains. Other ancient kingdoms of the region included Armenia, Albania, Colchis and Iberia, among others. These kingdoms were later incorporated into various Iranian empires, including Media, Achaemenid Empire, Parthia, and Sassanid Empire. In 95-55 BC under the reign of Armenian king of kings Tigranes the Great, the Kingdom of Armenia became an empire, growing to include: Kingdom of Armenia, vassals Iberia, Albania, Parthia, Atropatene, Mesopotamia, Cappadocia, Cilicia, Syria, Nabataean kingdom, and Judea. The empire stretched from the Caucasian Mountains to Egypt and from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea, including a territory of 3,000,000 km2 (1,158,000 sq mi), and becoming the last strong Hellenist king, and the strongest in the region by 67 BC. By this time, Zoroastrianism had become the dominant religion of the region (except for in the Kingdom of Armenia); however, the region would go through two other religious transformations. Owing to the rivalry between Persia and Rome, and later Byzantium, the latter would invade the region several times, although it was never able to hold the region.

Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Armenia, (original building) completed in 303 AD, a religious centre of Armenia. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Georgia, (original building) completed in 4th century, it was a religious centre of monarchical Georgia. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

However, because the Kingdom of Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as state religion (in 301 AD), and Caucasian Albania and Georgia had become Christian entities, Christianity began to overtake Zoroastrianism. With the Muslim conquest of Persia, the region came under the rule of the Arabs, and soon the Emirate of Armenia was formed. But after several rebellions in 884–885 AD Kingdom of Armenia became independent, and several times crushed Arab armies. At that time, the capital of the Kingdom of Armenia was Ani, with a population of 200,000 and a city of "1001 churches". It was at its peak under the reign of Gagik I, when it stretched from Byzantine Empire to Caucasian Albania, from Caucasian Iberia to Mesopotamia, including also vassal states such as Caucasian Albania and Caucasian Iberia, until in 1045 AD the kingdom was conquered by Byzantine Empire. In the 12th century, the Georgian king David the Builder drove the Muslims out from Caucasus and made the Kingdom of Georgia a strong regional power. In 1194–1204 Georgian Queen Tamar's armies crushed new Turkish invasions from the south-east and south and launched several successful campaigns into Turkish-controlled Southern Armenia. The Georgian Kingdom continued military campaigns outside of Caucasus. As a result of her military campaigns and the temporary fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1204, Georgia became the strongest Christian state in the whole Near East area. The region would later be conquered by the Ottomans, Mongols, local kingdoms and khanates, as well as, once again, Persia, until its subsequent conquest by Russia.

In modern times, the Caucasus became a region of war among the Ottoman Empire, Iran and Russia, and was eventually conquered by the latter (see Caucasian Wars).

The region was unified as a single political entity twice – during the Russian Civil War (Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic) from 9 April 1918 to 26 May 1918, and under the Soviet rule (Transcaucasian SFSR) from 12 March 1922 to 5 December 1936.

In the 1940s, around 480,000 Chechens and Ingush, 120,000 Balkars, Karachays, and Meskhetian Turks, and 200,000 Kurds and Caucasus Germans were deported en masse to Central Asia and Siberia. About a quarter of them died.[13]

Following the end of the Soviet Union, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia became independent in 1991. The Caucasus region has been subject to various territorial disputes since the collapse of the Soviet Union, leading to the Nagorno-Karabakh War (1988–1994), the Ossetian-Ingush conflict (1989–1991), the War in Abkhazia (1992–93), the First Chechen War (1994–1996), the Second Chechen War (1999–2009), and the 2008 South Ossetia War.

Demographics[edit]

Further information: Languages of the Caucasus
Ethno-linguistic groups in the Caucasus region[14]

The region has many different languages and language families. There are more than 50 ethnic groups living in the region.[15] No less than three language families are unique to the area, but also Indo-European languages, such as Armenian and Ossetic, and the Turkic language Azerbaijani are local and used in the area. Russian is used as a common language.

Today the peoples of the Northern and Southern Caucasus tend to be either Eastern Orthodox Christians, Oriental Orthodox Christians, or Sunni Muslims. Shia Islam has had many adherents historically in Azerbaijan, located in the eastern part of the region.

Mythology[edit]

In Greek mythology the Caucasus, or Kaukasos, was one of the pillars supporting the world. After presenting man with the gift of fire, Prometheus (or Amirani in Georgian version) was chained there by Zeus, to have his liver eaten daily by an eagle as punishment for defying Zeus' wish of not giving the "secret of fire" to humans.

The Roman poet Ovid placed Caucasus in Scythia and depicted it as a cold and stony mountain which was the abode of personified hunger. The Greek hero Jason sailed to the west coast of the Caucasus in pursuit of the Golden Fleece, and there met Medea, a daughter of King Aeëtes of Colchis.[clarification needed]

In Persian mythology the Caucasus is sometimes identified with the mythic Cafcuh or Mount Qaf which is believed to surround the known world. It is the battlefield of Saoshyant and the nest of the Simurgh.

Energy and mineral resources[edit]

Caucasus has many economically important minerals and energy resources, such as: alunite, gold, chromium, copper, iron ore, mercury, manganese, molybdenum, lead, tungsten, uranium, zinc, oil, natural gas, and coal (both hard and brown).

Sport[edit]

2014 Winter Olympics venue.
Krasnaya Polyana — a popular center of mountain skiing and a snowboard, reputed most "respectable" in Russia.
2015 European Games venue. The first in the history European Games to be held in Azerbaijan.

Mountain-skiing complexes:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Natural History," book six, chap. XVII
  2. ^ Zazanashvili N, Sanadiradze G, Bukhnikashvili A, Kandaurov A, Tarkhnishvili D. 2004. Caucasus. In: Mittermaier RA, Gil PG, Hoffmann M, Pilgrim J, Brooks T, Mittermaier CG, Lamoreux J, da Fonseca GAB, eds. Hotspots revisited, Earth's biologically richest and most endangered terrestrial ecoregions. Sierra Madre: CEMEX/Agrupacion Sierra Madre, 148–153
  3. ^ panda.org
  4. ^ "Endemic Species of the Caucasus". 
  5. ^ "A faunistic database on the spiders of the Caucasus". Caucasian Spiders. Retrieved 17 September 2010. 
  6. ^ van Zeist W, Bottema S. 1991. Late Quaternary vegetation of the Near East. Wiesbaden: Reichert.
  7. ^ a b Tarkhnishvili, D.; Gavashelishvili, A.; Mumladze, L. (2012). "Palaeoclimatic models help to understand current distribution of Caucasian forest species". Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 105: 231. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8312.2011.01788.x.  edit
  8. ^ Milne RI. 2004. "Phylogeny and biogeography of Rhododendron subsection Pontica, a group with a Tertiary relict distribution". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 33: 389–401.
  9. ^ Kikvidze Z, Ohsawa M. 1999. "Adjara, East Mediterranean refuge of Tertiary vegetation". In: Ohsawa M, Wildpret W, Arco MD, eds. Anaga Cloud Forest, a comparative study on evergreen broad-leaved forests and trees of the Canary Islands and Japan. Chiba: Chiba University Publications, 297–315.
  10. ^ Denk T, Frotzler N, Davitashvili N. 2001. "Vegetational patterns and distribution of relict taxa in humid temperate forests and wetlands of Georgia Transcaucasia". Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 72: 287–332.
  11. ^ Pokryszko B, Cameron R, Mumladze L, Tarkhnishvili D. 2011. "Forest snail faunas from Georgian Transcaucasia: patterns of diversity in a Pleistocene refugium". Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 102: 239-250
  12. ^ Multiple Authors. "Caucasus Afghanistan and iran". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  13. ^ Weitz, Eric D. (2003). A century of genocide: utopias of race and nation. Princeton University Press. p. 82. ISBN 0-691-00913-9. 
  14. ^ http://www.ecmicaucasus.org/menu/info_maps.html
  15. ^ "Caucasian peoples". Encyclopædia Britannica. 

Notes[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°15′40″N 44°07′16″E / 42.26111°N 44.12111°E / 42.26111; 44.12111