South Caucasus

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"Transcaucasia" redirects here. For the Soviet republic, see Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic.
Map of Caucasus region prepared by the U.S. State Department, 1994.

The South Caucasus is a geopolitical region located on the border[1] of Eastern Europe[2] and Southwest Asia.[3][4][5][6] It is also referred to as Transcaucasia, the Trans-Caucasus or the Transcaucasus. More specifically, the South Caucasus area spans the southern portion of the Caucasus Mountains and its lowlands, straddling the border between the continents of Europe and Asia and extending from the southern part of the Greater Caucasus mountain range of southwestern Russia southerly to the Turkish and Armenian borders and from the Black Sea in the west to the Caspian Sea coast of Iran in the east. The area includes the southern part of the Greater Caucasus mountain range, the entire Lesser Caucasus mountain range, the Colchis Lowlands, the Kura-Aras Lowlands, the Talysh Mountains, the Lenkoran Lowlands, Javakheti and the eastern portion of the Armenian Highland. The South Caucasus area is a part of the entire Caucasus geographical region that essentially divides the Eurasian transcontinent into two.

All of Armenia is in the Southern Caucasus; the majority of Georgia and Azerbaijan, including the exclave of Nakhchivan, fall within this area. The countries of the region are producers of oil, manganese ore, tea, citrus fruits, and wine.

In Western languages, the terms Transcaucasus and Transcaucasia are translations of the Russian zakavkazie, meaning "the area beyond the Caucasus Mountains", i.e., as seen from the Russian capital (analogous to the Roman terms Transalpine and Transpadana). The region remains one of the most complicated places in the post-Soviet area, and contains three heavily disputed areas – Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh.


Present administrative map of Caucasus.
Administrative map of Caucasus in USSR, 1957–1991.

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 region has come under control of various empires, including the Roman, Byzantine, Mongol, Persian, Ottoman and Russian Empires, all of which introduced their faiths and cultures.[7]

Ancient kingdoms of the region included Armenia, Albania, and Iberia, among others. These kingdoms were later incorporated into various Iranian empires, including the Achaemenid Empire, the Parthian Empire, and the Sassanid Empire, during which Zoroastrianism became the dominant religion in the region. However, after the rise of Christianity and conversion of Caucasian kingdoms to the new religion, Zoroastrianism lost its prevalence and only survived because of Persian power and influence still lingering in the region. Thus, the South Caucasus became the area of not only military, but also religious convergence, which often led to bitter conflicts with successive Persian empires (and later Muslim-ruled empires) on the one side and the Roman Empire (and later the Byzantine Empire) on the other side.

In the middle of the 8th century, with the capture of Derbend by the Umayyad armies during the Arab–Khazar wars, most of the South Caucasus became part of the Caliphate and Islam spread throughout the region.[8] Later, the Orthodox Christian Kingdom of Georgia dominated most of the South Caucasus. The region was then conquered by the Seljuk, Mongol, Turkic, Safavid, Ottoman, Afsharid and Qajar dynasties.

After two wars in the beginning of 19th century, the Russian Empire finally conquered the South Caucasus from the Qajars, severing historic regional ties with Iran.[9] In 1801, what is now Georgia was formally incorporated into the Russian Empire. Following the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War, Russia annexed Kars, Ardahan, Agri, and Batumi from the Ottomans and established the province of Kars Oblast as its most southwesterly territory in the Transcaucasus. After the fall of the Russian Empire in 1918, the South Caucasus region was unified into a single political entity twice, as Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic from 9 April 1918 to 26 May 1918, and as Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic from 12 March 1922 to 5 December 1936.

Transcaucasia, in particular where modern-day Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and Iran are located, is one of the native areas of the wine-producing vine Vitis vinifera.[10] Some experts speculate that Transcaucasia may be the birthplace of wine production.[11] Archaeological excavations and carbon dating of grape seeds from the area have dated back to 7000–5000 BC.[12] Wine found in Iran has been dated to c. 7400 BC[10] and c. 5000 BC,[13] while wine found in Georgia has been dated to c. 6000 BC.[14][15][16] The earliest winery, dated to c. 4000 BC, was found in Armenia.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ CIA World Factbook (May 2006). "Caucasus". Library of Congress. Retrieved 7 July 2009. 
  2. ^ Mulvey, Stephen (16 June 2000). "The Caucasus: Troubled borderland". News. BBC. Retrieved 1 July 2009. ""The Caucasus Mountains form the boundary between West and East, between Europe and Asia..."" 
  3. ^ Georgia, from Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  4. ^ Georgia, from Encarta
  5. ^ Georgia, from Intute
  6. ^ Georgia, from National Geographic
  7. ^ German, Tracey (2012). Regional Cooperation in the South Caucasus: Good Neighbours Or Distant Relatives?. Ashgate Publishing Ltd. p. 44. ISBN 1409407217. 
  8. ^ King, Charles (2008). The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus. Oxford University Press. p. 65. ISBN 0199884323. 
  9. ^ "Caucasus and Iran" in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Multiple Authors
  10. ^ a b c But was it plonk?,
  11. ^ Hugh Johnson Vintage: The Story of Wine pg 15 Simon & Schuster 1989
  12. ^ Johnson pg 17
  13. ^ Ellsworth, Amy (18 July 2012). "7,000 Year-old Wine Jar". Penn Museum. 
  14. ^ Keys, David (2003-12-28). "Now that's what you call a real vintage: professor unearths 8,000-year-old wine". The Independent. Retrieved 2011-03-20. 
  15. ^ Berkowitz, Mark (1996). "World's Earliest Wine". Archaeology (Archaeological Institute of America) 49 (5). Retrieved 2008-06-25. 
  16. ^ Spilling, Michael; Wong, Winnie (2008). Cultures of The World: Georgia. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-7614-3033-9. 

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