Caucasus Mountains in Georgia
Caucasus Mountains (like the Ural Mountains to the northeast)
usually considered the dividing line between Asia and Europe, with the
northern region of the Caucasus in Europe; and the southern
(Trans-Caucasus) in Asia--so technically you can consider the
mountains themselves as either part of Asia or part of Europe.
The region is divided between Russia, Turkey, Iran, Georgia, Armenia
and Azerbaijan, and bounded on the west by the Black Sea and on the
east by the Caspian Sea. Three territories in the region claim
but are not
generally recognized: Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South
Ossetia (See below).
The mountains formed
over twenty million years when the Arabian tectonic plate collided
with the Eurasian plate. I found it interesting that the Caucasus
Mountains are technically considered to be a continuation of the
Himalayas. The entire Caucasus region is prone to strong
earthquakes. The highest peak is Mount Elbrus (18,510 ft.) which is considered the highest point in Europe.
The climate of the Caucasus varies according to
elevation and latitude location. For example, average temperature decreases as elevation rises. The
same thing with precipitation, which increases with
elevation. There is also more precipitation, including snowfall, on the western
slopes of the mountains from the influence of the Black Sea.
Mt. Elbrus, highest point in the Caucasus, is a long-dormant volcano.
Russians were aware of
the Caucasus as early as the reign of Ivan IV in the sixteenth century, but only under Catherine
the Great was a calculated move into the region made (under
the Viceroy of the Caucasus, Grigorii Potemkin). Shortly
thereafter, Georgia (predominantly Christian) requested protection from Muslims to
the south, and it was annexed into the Russian Empire in 1801.
Since Russia had to maintain communications across the Caucasus
Mountains with Georgia, hostilities broke out between the Russians and
the mountain peoples of the Caucasus. It took Russia into the 1860s
to finally subdue resistance from the guerrillas.
the last twenty years, there has been a renewed outbreak of hostilities
in different regions of the Caucasus. Some background
reasons for those hostilities:
- The tradition of mountaineer independence dating back to the resistance against Imperial Russia--some of that
resistance continued against the Soviet regime.
- The fact that the Caucasus is one of the most
linguistically, ethnically, religiously and culturally diverse regions
on earth--all those different people do not always all get along well together.
- During the Second World War, Stalin--on the pretext of
collaboration with the Germans--deported entire ethnic peoples such as
Chechens, Ingush, Karachis, Balkars, Bulgarians, Greeks,
Hemshin, Meskhetians to Siberia and Central
Asia. Following 1956, with Khrushchev's policy of
of these deported peoples were authorized to return to their home regions,
but--and this is a big but--they returned to find that their property
had been given to others to resettle the depopulated areas. That
meant that there was going to be trouble.
- The Soviet leadership took advantage of the deportations to
redefine borders in the Northern Caucasus. Although some of these
changes were later re-corrected, these border changes also served as a
pretext for ethnic unrest.
These are some of the recent problems:
- Abkhazia (Аҧсны, აფხაზეთი, Абхазия) is an "independent" republic
that is officially part of Georgia but that is not
recognized by any other
country. A secessionist movement of the Abkhaz ethnic
minority declared their independence from George in 1992. That
lead to war, but Georgia lost (Russia helped the Abkhaz). The
Georgian defeat lead to a mass exodus and ethnic cleansing of the
Georgian population in Abkhazia.
- South Ossetia (Хуссар Ирыстон, Южная Осетия, სამხრეთ ოსეთი) was
an autonomous district of Georgia in the Soviet Union. Now
it is mostly controlled by an independent "South Ossetian Republic" that
is not recognized by any other country. Another part of South Ossetia is still controlled by Georgia.
- Nagorno-Karabakh is an "independent" republic located in the South Caucasus within
the borders of Azerbaijan, near the border with Armenia. With
the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the population of
Nagorno-Karabakh was about 75% Armenian (in the middle of Azerbaijan). There was a
war, and today Nagorno-Karabakh is an "independent" state, tied to
Armenia but not legally a part of Armenia.
- Chechnya is located in the North Caucasus. After the
collapse of the Soviet Union, the Ingush people wanted to remain with
Russia, while the Chechens wanted independence--the Chechens had
revolted against the Soviet Union in the 1940s and been deported.
They had returned to their homeland after 1956. During the First
Chechen War, 1994-96, the Russian army attempted to prevent Chechnya
from seceding from Russia, but was unable to completely control the
area. In 1996 Boris Eltsyn declared a cease fire and signed a
peace treaty. The war had been barbaric on both sides. A Second
Chechen War broke out in 1999 when Shamil Basayev began widespread
guerrilla activity in neighboring Dagestan and then undertook a series
of spectacular terrorist acts. This time Russian forces were much more
successful in restoring order and establishing control in Chechnya. A pro-Russian regime was installed there.