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South Caucasus

Coordinates: 42°15′40″N 44°07′16″E / 42.26111°N 44.12111°E / 42.26111; 44.12111
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South Caucasus
1994 map of Caucasus region prepared by the U.S. State Department
Coordinates42°15′40″N 44°07′16″E / 42.26111°N 44.12111°E / 42.26111; 44.12111
Time ZonesUTC+04:00, UTC+03:30 and UTC+03:00
Highest mountainShkhara (5,203 metres (17,070 ft))

The South Caucasus, also known as Transcaucasia or the Transcaucasus, is a geographical region on the border of Eastern Europe and West Asia, straddling the southern Caucasus Mountains.[1][2] The South Caucasus roughly corresponds to modern Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, which are sometimes collectively known as the Caucasian States. The total area of these countries measures about 186,100 square kilometres (71,850 square miles).[3] The South Caucasus and the North Caucasus together comprise the larger Caucasus geographical region that divides Eurasia.


The South Caucasus spans the southern portion of the Caucasus Mountains and their lowlands, straddling the border between the continents of Europe and Asia, and extending southwards from the southern part of the Main Caucasian Range of southwestern Russia 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, Qaradagh, the Talysh Mountains, the Lankaran Lowland, Javakheti and the eastern portion of the Armenian Highland.

All of present-day Armenia is in the South Caucasus; the majority of present-day Georgia and Azerbaijan, including the exclave of Nakhchivan, also fall within the region.[citation needed] Parts of Iran and Turkey are also included within the region of the South Caucasus.[4][which?] Goods produced in the region include oil, manganese ore, tea, citrus fruits, and wine. It remains one of the most politically tense regions in the post-Soviet area, and contains two heavily disputed areas: Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Between 1878 and 1917, the Russian-controlled province of Kars Oblast and the county of Surmalu uezd (present-day Iğdır Province) were also incorporated into the South Caucasus.


Nowadays, the region is referred to as the South Caucasus or Southern Caucasia (Armenian: Հարավային Կովկաս, romanizedHaravayin Kovkas; Azerbaijani: Cənubi Qafqaz; Abkhaz: Агырҭ Кавказ, romanized: Agyrt Kavkaz; Georgian: სამხრეთ კავკასია, romanized: samkhret k'avk'asia; Russian: Южный Кавказ, romanizedYuzhnyy Kavkaz). The former name of the region, Transcaucasia, is a Latin rendering of the Russian-language word Zakavkazye (Закавказье), meaning "[the area] beyond the Caucasus".[3] This implies a Russian vantage point, and is analogous to similar terms such as Transnistria and Transleithania. Other, rarer forms of this word include Trans-Caucasus and Transcaucasus (Russian: Транскавказ, romanizedTranskavkaz).



Herodotus, a Greek historian who is known as 'the Father of History' and Strabo, a Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian, spoke about autochthonous peoples of the Caucasus in their books. In the Middle Ages, various people, including Scythians, Alani, Huns, Khazars, Seljuq Turks, and Mongols settled in Caucasia. These invasions influenced on the culture of the peoples of the South Caucasus. In parallel Middle Eastern influence disseminated the Iranian languages and Islamic religion in Caucasus.[3]

Contemporary political map of the Caucasus (including unrecognized states)
Administrative map of Caucasus in the USSR, 1957–1991.

Located on the peripheries of Iran, Russia and Turkey, 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 Achaemenid, Neo-Assyrian Empire,[5] Parthian, Roman, Sassanian, Byzantine, Umayyad, Abbassid, Mongol, Ottoman, successive Iranian (Safavid, Afsharid, Qajar), and Russian Empires, all of which introduced their faiths and cultures.[6] Throughout history, most of the South Caucasus was usually under the direct rule of the various in-Iran based empires and part of the Iranian world.[7] In the course of the 19th century, Qajar Iran had to irrevocably cede the region (alongside its territories in Dagestan, North Caucasus) as a result of the two Russo-Persian Wars of that century to Imperial Russia.[8]

Ancient kingdoms of the region included Colchis, Urartu, Iberia, Armenia and Albania, 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 and Russian Empire) on the other side.

The Iranian Parthians established and installed several eponymous branches in the South Caucasus, namely the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia, the Arsacid dynasty of Iberia, and the Arsacid dynasty of Caucasian Albania.

Middle ages and Russian rule[edit]

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[dubiousdiscuss] the region.[9] 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 first half of the 19th century, namely the Russo-Persian War (1804-1813) and the Russo-Persian War (1826-1828), the Russian Empire conquered most of the South Caucasus (and Dagestan in the North Caucasus) from the Iranian Qajar dynasty, severing historic regional ties with Iran.[7][10] By the Treaty of Gulistan that followed after the 1804-1813 war, Iran was forced to cede modern-day Dagestan, Eastern Georgia, and most of the Azerbaijan Republic to Russia. By the Treaty of Turkmenchay that followed after the 1826-1828 war, Iran lost all of what is modern-day Armenia and the remainder of the contemporary Azerbaijani Republic that remained in Iranian hands. After the 1828-1829 war, the Ottomans ceded Western Georgia (except Adjaria, which was known as Sanjak of Batum), to the Russians, who populated this new southern boundary mostly with undesirable citizens and tolerated heretics (sektanty).[11]

In 1844, what comprises present-day Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan were combined into a single czarist government-general, which was termed a vice-royalty in 1844-1881 and 1905–1917. Following the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War, Russia annexed Kars, Ardahan, Agri and Batumi from the Ottomans, joined to this unit, and established the province of Kars Oblast as its most south-westerly territory in the South Caucasus.

Modern era[edit]

Members of the Eastern Partnership

After the fall of the Russian Empire in 1918, the South Caucasus region was unified into a single political entity twice, as the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic from 9 April 1918 to 26 May 1918, and as the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic from 12 March 1922 to 5 December 1936.

Both times these Transcaucasian entities dissolved, although the region would remain politically bound together in the Soviet Union in the form of the three separate Soviet Socialist Republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. All three regained independence in 1991 when the Soviet Union dissolved.

The Russo-Georgian War took place in 2008 across the South Caucasus, contributing to further instability in the region, which is as intricate as the Middle East, due to the complex mix of religions (mainly Muslim and Orthodox Christian) and ethno-linguistic groups.

Since their independence, the three countries have had varying degrees of success in their relations with Russia and other countries. In Georgia, after the Rose Revolution in 2004, the country, like the Baltic states, began integrating into wider European society by opening up relations with NATO and the European Union. Armenia continues to foster relations with Russia, while also developing ties with the EU. Azerbaijan relies less on Russia, strategically partnering with Turkey and other NATO states. All three South Caucasus countries are members of the Council of Europe, the European Political Community, and participate in the EU's Eastern Partnership and Euronest Parliamentary Assembly.

On 8 November 2023, the European Commission issued an official recommendation to grant EU candidate status to Georgia, which was confirmed on 14 December 2023. Georgia, thus becoming, the first country in the South Caucasus to receive EU candidate status.[12]


Historical population of the South Caucasus
Year Armenia Azerbaijan Georgia TOTAL
1897 798,853[13] [better source needed] 1,806,700[14] 1,919,400[15] 4,524,953
1908 877,322[13] [better source needed] 2,014,300[14]
1914 1,014,255[13] [better source needed] 2,278,245 2,697,500[16] 5,990,000[17]
1916–17 993,782[13] [better source needed] 2,353,700[14] 2,357,800[16] 5,705,282
First World War and Russian Revolution
1920–22 780,000 1,863,000 2,677,000 5,321,000[17]
1926 880,464 2,314,571 2,666,494 5,861,529[18]
1929 6,273,000[17]
1931 1,050,633[13] [better source needed] 6,775,000[17]
1932 6,976,000[17]
1933 7,110,000[17]
1939 1,282,338 3,205,150 3,540,023 8,027,511[19]
1956 9,000,000[17]
1959 1,763,048 3,697,717 4,044,045 9,504,810[20]
1970 2,491,873 5,117,081 4,686,358 12,295,312[21]
1979 3,037,259 6,026,515 4,993,182 14,056,956[22]
1989 3,304,776 7,037,867 5,400,841 15,743,484[23]
1999–2002 3,213,011[24] 7,953,400[14] 3,991,300[25] 15,157,711
2009–14 3,018,854[26] 8,922,000[14] 3,713,804[27] 15,654,658


The South Caucasus, 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.[28] Some experts speculate that the South Caucasus may be the birthplace of wine production.[29] Archaeological excavations and carbon dating of grape seeds from the area have dated back to 8000–5000 BC.[30] Wine found in Iran has been dated to c. 7400 BC[28] and c. 5000 BC,[31] while wine found in Georgia has been dated to c. 8000BC.[32][33][34] The earliest winery, dated to c. 4000 BC, was found in Armenia.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Caucasus". The World Factbook. Library of Congress. May 2006. 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. ^ a b c Solomon Ilich Bruk. "Transcaucasia". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
  4. ^ Wright, John; Schofield, Richard; Goldenberg, Suzanne (16 December 2003). Transcaucasian Boundaries. Routledge. p. 72. ISBN 9781135368500.
  5. ^ Albert Kirk Grayson (1972). Assyrian Royal Inscriptions: Volume I. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. p. 108. §716.
  6. ^ German, Tracey (2012). Regional Cooperation in the South Caucasus: Good Neighbours Or Distant Relatives?. Ashgate Publishing Ltd. p. 44. ISBN 978-1409407218.
  7. ^ a b "Caucasus and Iran" in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Multiple Authors
  8. ^ Dowling, T.C. (2014). Russia at War: From the Mongol Conquest to Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Beyond [2 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. pp. 728–730. ISBN 978-1-59884-948-6.
  9. ^ King, Charles (2008). The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus. Oxford University Press. p. 65. ISBN 978-0199884322.
  10. ^ Allen F. Chew. An Atlas of Russian History: Eleven Centuries of Changing Borders. Yale University Press, 1967. pp 74
  11. ^ Breyfogle, Nicholas Brenton (June 2005). Heretics and Colonizers: Forging Russia's Empire in the South Caucasus. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-4242-7.
  12. ^ "European Commission Recommends EU Candidacy for Georgia". Retrieved 7 February 2024.
  13. ^ a b c d e Korkotyan, Zaven (1932). Խորհրդային Հայաստանի բնակչությունը վերջին հարյուրամյակում (1831-1931) [The population of Soviet Armenia in the last century (1831–1931)] (PDF) (in Armenian). Yerevan: Pethrat. p. 167. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 February 2022.
  14. ^ a b c d e "Azərbaycanda dеmоqrаfik vəziyyət" (in Azerbaijani). State Statistical Committee of Azerbaijan. 18 February 2019.
  15. ^ ჯაოშვილი, ვახტანგ. საქართველოს მოსახლეობა XVIII–XX საუკუნეებში./Jaoshvili, Vakhtang. Population of Georgia in the XVIII–XX centuries. Metsniereba, Tbilisi, 1984, pp. 92
  16. ^ a b ჯაოშვილი, ვახტანგ. საქართველოს მოსახლეობა XVIII–XX საუკუნეებში./Jaoshvili, Vakhtang. Population of Georgia in the XVIII–XX centuries. Metsniereba, Tbilisi, 1984, pp. 95
  17. ^ a b c d e f g Pipes, Richard (1959). "Demographic and Ethnographic Changes in Transcaucasia, 1897-1956". Middle East Journal. 13 (1). Middle East Institute: 48. JSTOR 4323084 – via JSTOR.
  18. ^ "Приложение. Всесоюзная перепись населения 1926 г. СССР, республики и их основные регионы". Демоскоп Weekly. Retrieved 9 April 2022.
  19. ^ "Приложение. Всесоюзная перепись населения 1939 года". Демоскоп Weekly. Retrieved 9 April 2022.
  20. ^ "Приложение. Всесоюзная перепись населения 1959 г." Демоскоп Weekly. Retrieved 9 April 2022.
  21. ^ "Приложение. Численность наличного населения городов, поселков городского типа, районов и районных центров СССР по данным переписи на 15 января 1970 года по республикам, краям и областям (кроме РСФСР)". Демоскоп Weekly. Retrieved 9 April 2022.
  22. ^ "Приложение. Всесоюзная перепись населения 1979 г." Демоскоп Weekly.
  23. ^ "Приложение. Всесоюзная перепись населения 1989 г." Демоскоп Weekly. Retrieved 9 April 2022.
  24. ^ Information from the 2001 Armenian National Census
  25. ^ "Population Dynamics in Georgia – An Overview Based on the 2014 General Population Census Data" (PDF). UNFPA, National Statistics Office of Georgia (Geostat). 29 November 2017. Retrieved 2 February 2022.
  26. ^ "The Results of 2011 Population Census of the Republic of Armenia (Figures of the Republic of Armenia), trilingual / Armenian Statistical Service of Republic of Armenia". armstat.am. Retrieved 10 January 2018.
  27. ^ ჯაოშვილი, ვახტანგ. საქართველოს მოსახლეობა XVIII–XX საუკუნეებში./Jaoshvili, Vakhtang. Population of Georgia in the XVIII–XX centuries. Metsniereba, Tbilisi, 1984.
  28. ^ a b c But was it plonk?, Boston Globe
  29. ^ Hugh Johnson Vintage: The Story of Wine pg 15 Simon & Schuster 1989
  30. ^ Johnson pg 17
  31. ^ Ellsworth, Amy (18 July 2012). "7,000 Year-old Wine Jar". Penn Museum.
  32. ^ "'World's oldest wine' found in 8,000-year-old jars in Georgia". BBC. 13 November 2011. Retrieved 26 April 2020.
  33. ^ Berkowitz, Mark (1996). "World's Earliest Wine". Archaeology. 49 (5). Archaeological Institute of America. Retrieved 25 June 2008.
  34. ^ Spilling, Michael; Wong, Winnie (2008). Cultures of The World: Georgia. Marshall Cavendish. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-7614-3033-9.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]