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(kô`kəsəs), Rus. Kavkaz, region and mountain system, SE European Russia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. Armenia is not crossed by the Caucasus range but is considered part of the greater region. The mountain system extends c.750 mi (1,210 km) from the mouth of the Kuban River on the Black Sea SE to the Absheron peninsula on the Caspian Sea.


As a divide between Europe and Asia, the Caucasus has two major regions—North Caucasia and Transcaucasia. North Caucasia, in Russia and 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 (18,481 ft/5,633 m), the Dykh-Tau (17,050 ft/5,197 m), the Koshtan-Tau (16,850 ft/5,134 m), and Mt. Kazbek (16,541 ft/5,042 m). The Caucasus Mts. are crossed by several passes, notably the MamisonMamison
or Mamisson
, pass, 9,550 ft (2,911 m) high, in the central Greater Caucasus, on the border between Georgia and Russia. Crossed by the Ossetian Military Road, it links the cities of Kutaisi and Alagir, and the Ardon and Rion river valleys.
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 and the DaryalDaryal
or Dariel
, pass, c.3,950 ft (1,204 m) high, N Georgia, in the central Greater Caucasus Mts. below Mt. Kazbek. Situated above the Terek River, it is noted for its wild grandeur.
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, and by the Georgian Military RoadGeorgian Military Road,
highway, SE European Russia and Georgia. It is c.135 mi (220 km) long and crosses the Greater Caucasus Mts. Starting from its northern terminus at Vladikavkaz, the road winds upward through the Daryal gorge. Skirting Mt.
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 and the Ossetian Military RoadOssetian Military Road,
highway, c.170 mi (270 km) long, across the Caucasus, S European Russia and Georgia, linking Kutaisi with Alagir. One of the two main routes over the N Caucusus, it crosses the Caucasian crest through the pass at Mamison.
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, which connect North Caucasia with the second major section, Transcaucasia. This region includes the southern slopes of the Caucasus Mts. and the depressions that link them with the Armenian plateau. 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.

North Caucasia, part of Russia, includes the Adygey RepublicAdygey Republic
or Adygeya,
formerly Adyge Autonomous Region,
constituent republic (1990 est. pop. 435,000), c.2,935 sq mi (7,600 sq km), an enclave within Krasnodar Territory, SE European Russia, at the northern foothills of the Greater Caucasus.
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, ChechnyaChechnya
or Chechen Republic
, republic (1990 est. pop. 1,300,000, with neighboring Ingushetia), c.6,100 sq mi (15,800 sq km), SE European Russia, in the N Caucasus. Grozny is the capital. Prior to 1992 Chechnya and Ingushetia comprised the Checheno-Ingush Republic.
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, the Dagestan RepublicDagestan Republic
or Daghestan Republic
, constituent republic (1999 pop. 2,074,000), c.19,400 sq mi (50,250 sq km), SE European Russia, bounded on the E by the Caspian Sea. Makhachkala (the capital) and Derbent are the chief cities.
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, IngushetiaIngushetia
or Ingush Republic
, republic, c.1,240 sq mi (3,210 sq km), Russian Federation, in the N Caucasus. The capital (since 2003) is Magas, a new city in the suburbs of Nazran, the former capital.
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, the Kabardino-Balkar RepublicKabardino-Balkar Republic
or Kabardino-Balkaria,
constituent republic (1990 est. pop. 760,000), c.4,800 sq mi (12,400 sq km), SE European Russia, in the northern part of the Caucasus Mts. Nalchik is the capital.
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, the Karachay-Cherkess RepublicKarachay-Cherkess Republic
, constituent republic (1990 est. pop. 420,000), c.5,500 sq mi (14,200 sq km), Stavropol Territory, SE European Russia, in the Greater Caucasus, along the upper Kuban River. Cherkessk is the capital.
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, Krasnodar TerritoryKrasnodar Territory,
administrative division (1995 pop. 5,004,200), 32,317 sq mi (83,701 sq km), SE European Russia, extending E from the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea into the Kuban steppe and straddling the northwestern end of the Greater Caucasus. Krasnodar is the capital.
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, North Ossetia-Alania (see OssetiaOssetia
or Alania
, Ossetian Iryston, region of the central Caucasus, divided between the Republic of Georgia and the Russian Federation. On the northern slope is North Ossetia-Alania (1990 est. pop.
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), Stavropol TerritoryStavropol Territory,
administrative division (1995 pop. 2,650,000), 31,120 sq mi (80,601 sq km), S European Russia, in the North Caucasus, the northern foothills of the main Caucasian range, and the dry steppes to the northeast.
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, and parts of KalmykiaKalmykia
or Republic of Kalmykia-Khalmg-Tangeh,
constituent republic (1990 est. pop. 329,000), c.29,400 sq mi (76,150 sq km), SE European Russia, on the Caspian Sea. Elista is the capital.
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 and the Rostov region. Transcaucasia includes GeorgiaGeorgia
, Georgian Sakartvelo, Rus. Gruziya, officially Republic of Georgia, republic (2015 est. pop. 3,952,000), c.26,900 sq mi (69,700 sq km), in W Transcaucasia.
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 (including AbkhaziaAbkhazia
or Apsny
, autonomous republic (2011 pop. 240,705), 3,300 sq mi (8,547 sq km), in Georgia, between the Black Sea and the Greater Caucasus. Sukhumi (the capital) and Gagra are the chief cities.
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, the Adjarian Autonomous RepublicAdjarian Autonomous Republic
or Ajarian Autonomous Republic
, formerly Adzhar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic
or Adzharistan
, autonomous region (1990 pop. 382,600), c.
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, and South Ossetia), AzerbaijanAzerbaijan
, Azeri Azərbaycan, officially Republic of Azerbaijan, republic (2015 est. pop. 9,617,000), 33,428 sq mi (86,579 sq km), in Transcaucasia. Strategically situated at the gateway to SW Asia, Azerbaijan is bounded by Iran on the south, where the Aras (Araks)
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 (including the Nakhchivan Autonomous RepublicNakhchivan Autonomous Republic
or Naxçivan Autonomous Republic
, autonomous republic (1990 est. pop. 310,000), 2,124 sq mi (5,501 sq km), an exclave of Azerbaijan, bordered on the south by Iran and Turkey and on the north by Armenia, which separates Nakhchivan
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 and Nagorno-KarabakhNagorno-Karabakh
, region (1990 pop. 192,000), 1,699 sq mi (4,400 sq km), SE Azerbaijan, between the Caucasus and the Karabakh range. Khankendi or Stepanakert (the capital) and Shusha or Shushi are the chief towns.
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), and ArmeniaArmenia
, Armenian Hayastan, officially Republic of Armenia, republic (2015 est. pop. 2,917,000), 11,500 sq mi (29,785 sq km), in the S Caucasus. Armenia is bounded by Turkey on the west, Azerbaijan on the east (the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan is on its
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Major cities in the Caucasus are BakıBakı
or Baku
, city (1991 pop. 1,782,000), capital of Azerbaijan, on the Caspian Sea. Greater Bakı includes almost the whole Absheron peninsula, on which Bakı proper is situated; the city is located below sea level.
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, YerevanYerevan
, Rus. Erivan, city (1989 pop. 1,201,539), capital of Armenia, on the Razdan River. A leading industrial, cultural, and scientific center, Yerevan is also a rail junction and carries on a brisk trade in agricultural products.
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, GroznyGrozny
or Groznyy
, city (2006 est. pop. 230,000), capital of Chechnya, SE European Russia, in the northern foothills of the Greater Caucasus. It is the center of Chechnya's oil fields, linked by pipelines to Makhachkala on the Caspian Sea, to Tuapse on the Black Sea,
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, VladikavkazVladikavkaz
, city (1989 pop. 300,000), capital of North Ossetia-Alania, SE European Russia, on the Terek River and at the northern foot of the Caucasus. It is the starting point of the Georgian Military Road as well as an industrial center with an electric zinc smelter, lead
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 (formerly Ordzhonikidze), TbilisiTbilisi
or Tiflis
, city (1989 pop. 1,259,682), capital of Georgia, SW Asia, on the Kura River and the Transcaucasian RR and at the southern end of the Georgian Military Road.
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, KrasnodarKrasnodar
, city (1989 pop. 621,000), capital of Krasnodar Territory, SE European Russia, on the Kuban River. A river port and railroad junction, it has petroleum refineries and machinery, metalworking, textile, chemical, and food-processing plants.
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, NovorossiyskNovorossiysk
or Novorossiisk
, city (1989 pop. 186,000), Krasnodar Territory, SE European Russia, on the Black Sea. A major port and a naval base, it exports grain and oil, has shipyards, and is a major center of the Russian cement industry.
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, BatumiBatumi
or Batum
, city (1990 est. pop. 136,609), capital of Adjarian Autonomous Republic, in W Georgia, on the Black Sea near the Turkish border. A major port and trade center, it is also the terminus of the Trans-Caucasian RR and an oil pipeline.
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, GanjaGanja
, formerly Kirovabad
, city (1989 pop. 278,000), in NW Azerbaijan, on the Ganja River. The largest Azerbaijani industrial center after Bakı, Ganja produces cotton and silk textiles, building materials, carpets, cottonseed oil, agricultural implements, copper
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 (formerly Kirovabad), and KumayriKumayri
or Gyumri
, formerly Leninakan
, city (1989 pop. 122,587), in Armenia, near the Turkish border. It has varied light manufactures. The old craft of rug making is practiced. Kumayri is the most important Armenian industrial center after Yerevan.
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 (formerly Leninakan).

People and Economy

More than 40 languages are spoken by the ethnic groups of the entire region. The Ossetians, Kabards, Circassians, and Dagestanis are the major groups in North Caucasia. 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-Bakı RR links North Caucasia 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 Bakı, 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 Bakı, Grozny, and Maykop. There is an oil pipeline from Bakı, 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. Iron and steel are produced at Rustavi from the ores of Azerbaijan. Manganese is mined at Chiatura, and there are ferromanganese plants at Zestafoni. Power for these industries is produced at several large hydroelectric stations, notably at Kura.

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. PyatigorskPyatigorsk
, city (1989 pop. 129,500), Stavropol Territory, SE European Russia, on the Podkumok River in the N Caucasus. The administrative center of the North Caucasian federal district, it is a rail terminus and a health resort.
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 and KislovodskKislovodsk
[Rus.,=sour water], city (1989 pop. 114,000), S European Russia, in the N Caucasus Mts. It is a famous health resort with mineral springs, sanatoriums, and a physico-therapeutical institute. Kislovodsk was founded in 1803.
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 are notable among the health and mineral resorts in North Caucasia.


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 cent. 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 CircassiaCircassia
, historic region, encompassing roughly the area between the Black Sea, the Kuban River, and the Caucasus, now largely the Krasnodar Territory of SE European Russia. The Circassians are a Muslim people, whose Russian name is Cherkess and whose native name is Adygey.
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, the people were largely Muslim. They bitterly fought Russian penetration and were pacified only after the uprising led by Imam ShamylShamyl
or Shamil
, 1798?–1871, imam (religious and political leader) of the E Caucasus. From 1834 to 1859 he led the Muslim tribes of the E Caucasus in their holy war to resist Russian conquest, waging guerrilla warfare with great skill.
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. In World War II the invading German forces launched (July, 1942) a major drive to seize or neutralize the vast oil resources of the Caucasus. They penetrated deeply, but in Jan., 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 North Caucasia and in the newly independent nations of Transcaucasia, have given rise to a number of disturbances and armed rebellions. Largely Muslim areas (Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan) in the region have also suffered from Muslim extremist violence; Chechnya was devastated in the 1990s as a result of civil war.


See studies by O. Bullough (2010) and T. de Waal (2010).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


(kaw -kă-sŭs) See table at mountains, lunar.
Collins Dictionary of Astronomy © Market House Books Ltd, 2006
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(the origin of the word has not been exactly determined—it may be connected with the Hittite kaz-kaz, the name of a people who lived on the southern coast of the Black Sea; the term is first encountered in the tragedy Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, the ancient Greek dramatist), the territory between the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov, and the Caspian Sea, stretching from the Kuma-Manych depression in the north to the Soviet border with Turkey and Iran in the south. Area, 440, 000 sq km.

The Caucasus is often divided into the Northern Caucasus and Transcaucasia, the boundary between which passes along the Glavnyi, or Vodorazdel’nyi, Range of the Greater Caucasus; the western extremity of the Greater Caucasus is considered part of the Northern Caucasus. These areas are not considered units of territorial division in physical geography.

Terrain. A mountainous relief predominates in the Caucasus; the Greater Caucasus mountain system stretches from the Ta-man’ Peninsula to the Apsheron Peninsula. Ciscaucasia (Pred-kavkaz’e) with its broad plains and plateaus extends from the northern foothills of the Greater Caucasus to the Kuma-Manych depression. Two depressions lie south of the Greater Caucasus: the Colchis Lowland in the west, and the Kura-Araks Lowland in the east. The folded Talysh Mountains (with heights up to 2, 477 m) and the coastal Lenkoran’ Lowland are located in the southeast. In the central and western parts of the southern Caucasus lies the extensive Transcaucasian Highland, which consists of the marginal folded ranges of the Lesser Caucasus (Malyi Kavkaz) and the volcanic Armenian (Dzhavakhet-Armenian) Highland farther south.

Western Ciscaucasia is level for the most part (the Kuban’-Azov Lowland north of the Kuban’ River and the Kuban’ sloping plain south of it). Bordering on the Kuban’ delta is the Taman’ Peninsula with its low, broad ridges and mud volcanoes. The Stavropol’ Highland (with heights up to 831 m) is located in the center of Ciscaucasia; this highland is characterized by plateaus that are trapeziform in cross section and whose surface is formed by limestone and sandstone, as well as by deep, usually asymmetrical valleys. A group of laccoliths is located to the southeast, rising above the plains to heights of 1, 402 m (Mount Beshtau). South of the Terek River lies the Terek-Sunzha Highland with its two anticlinal ranges, the Terek and the Sunzha (with heights up to 926 m), separated by the synclinal Alkhan-churt Valley. From the west and south, the Kabardan, Ossetian, and Chechen sloping plains border on the Terek-Sunzha Highland. Eastern Ciscaucasia is occupied by the Terek-Kuma depression (the southwestern margin of the Caspian depression), formed by sediment from marine transgressions and delta accumulations (both ancient and modern). An extensive land mass (formed by sands from the Terek-Kuma depression) with eolian relief forms is located north of the Terek River.

The Greater Caucasus mountain system is divided along its length into the western (up to Elbrus), central (between Elbrus and Kazbek), and eastern Caucasus (east of Kazbek). In the central part the mountain system is strongly compressed; it is wider in the west and east. The southern slope is steeper than the northern. The highest ranges, which correspond to the axial zone of the Greater Caucasus, are the Glavnyi, or Vodorazdel’nyi, and the Bokovoi; peaks of more than 4, 000–5, 000 m include, in the western Caucasus, Dombai-Ul’gen (4, 046 m); in the central Caucasus, Elbrus (5, 642 m), Shkhara (5, 068 m), Dykhtau (5, 203 m), and Kazbek (5, 033 m); and in the eastern Caucasus, Tebu-losmta (4, 493 m) and Bazardiuziu (4, 466 m). The frontal ranges and ridges on the northern side of the western and central Caucasus have a cuesta character. In places, karst is strongly developed in limestone.

The lowlands located south of the Greater Caucasus are primarily alluvial. Bordering on the Kura-Araks Lowland are southeastern Kobustan, the Apsheron Peninsula with its hills and mud volcanoes, the Iori-Adzhinouri highland region, and the Kura sloping plain (in the foothills of the Lesser Caucasus). Also belonging to this territory are the Vnutrenniaia Kartli (Gori) plain and the Alazani-Agrichai longitudinal valley (the Alazani-Avtoran intermountain area). The Lesser Caucasus reaches its greatest height in the Murovdag Range (Mount Giamysh, 3, 724 m; east of Lake Sevan). Characteristic features of the Armenian Highland (highest point: Mount Aragats, 4, 090 m) are extinct volcanoes, lava plateaus and plains, uplifts formed by lava and tufa, and in the south folded ranges (Aiotsdzor) and large intrusive massifs—for example, the southern part of the Zangezur Range with Mount Kaputdzhukh (Kapydzhik; 3, 904 m). A tectonic depression, the Middle Araks trough, extends along the USSR border.

Goelogical structure and minerals. The territory of the Caucasus belongs to the Mediterranean geosyncline belt. In its structure, according to the principal orographic units, the following are distinguished: the young platform (plate) of Ciscaucasia, the mega-anticlinorium of the Greater Caucasus, the Rioni-Kura zone of intermontane depressions, and the mega-anticlinorium of the Lesser Caucasus.

In the foundation of the Ciscaucasian platform, the northwestern section (the Rostov prominence) represents the southeastern submersion of the Precambrian Ukrainian crystalline massif, which passes here into a central massif of the Paleozoic geosynclinal region. In the other parts of Ciscaucasia, a Middle Paleozoic folded foundation is developed. The accumulation of a sedimentary mantle in Ciscaucasia began in the Middle Jurassic and continued through the Miocene. At the end of the Miocene, the Stavropol’ Highland was uplifted, separating the Azov-Kuban’ and Terek-Kuma depressions. At the end of the Pliocene, the anticlinal zones of the Terek and Sunzha ranges rose.

The northern slope of the central part of the Greater Caucasus represents the margin of the Ciscaucasian platform, which was drawn in during the most recent volcanism. Farther south, separated by the Pshekish-Tyrnyauz fault zone, stretches the zone of intensive Hercynian folding of the Bokovoi Range. Still farther south, a Baikalian-early Hercynian metamorphic complex, replete with Hercynian intrusions of granite, protrudes in the zone of the Glavnyi Range. In the interstream belt, the ancient granitic and metamorphic formations of the Glavnyi Range were overthrust over the Mesozoic southern slope. West of the upper reaches of the Pshekha and east of the Terek River valley, the Baikalian-Hercynian foundation is submerged under a thick shale formation of the Lias-Dogger, which forms axial anticlines in the western and eastern sections of the Greater Caucasus. This formation is overlapped by flysch from the late Jurassic through Eocene. The flysch is crumpled into isoclinal folds and, in a number of sections, forms nappes with an amplitude of displacement southward of up to 20–25 km. On the northern slope the flysch is replaced by limestone.

The foundation of the Rioni-Kura zone of intermontane troughs and the mega-anticlinorium of the Lesser Caucasus is a metamorphic complex from the Upper Precambrian-Lower Cambrian. The complex is broken by Hercynian granitoids; it protrudes to the surface in the Dziruli, Khrami, Loksi, Arzakan, and Megri massifs. The area between the mountains is divided by the Dziruli massif (the Suram Range) into two depressions (or intermontane troughs)—the Rioni depression in the west and the Kura depression in the east. Thick deposits of the molasse type (from the end of the Paleogenic through the Anthropogenic) are widespread in these two depressions.

The Lesser Caucasus and the Armenian Highland are notable for their great structural heterogeneity. In the northwest the Adzhar-Trialeti zone, shaped by Cretaceous and Paleogenic formations, may be distinguished. Continuing this zone southeast of Tbilisi is the Somkhito-Karabakh zone of gently folded vol-canogenic carbonaceous strata from the Jurassic and Cretaceous. Within the axial Sevan-Akera zone intrusions of ultrabasic magmatic rock are extensively developed. Farther south, extensive sheets of young lava are prevalent in the Akhalkalaki, Gegam-skii, and Vardenis volcanic plateaus.

The Caucasus is rich in deposits of various minerals. Deposits of nonferrous metals are associated with the Devonian volcanogenic series of the Bokovoi Range, with the Jurassic schistosediabase formation of the Glavnyi Range and the southern slope of the Greater Caucasus, and with the Jurassic and Cretaceous volcanogenic series of the Lesser Caucasus. Deposits of lead and zinc ores are found in northern Ossetia and on the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus, in Georgia; deposits of copper and molybdenum are located in Kabarda-Balkaria (Tyrnyauz) and in Zangezur (Armenia); iron ore (magnetite) is found in Azerbaijan (Dashkesan); an important deposit of alunites is located in Zaglik in Azerbaijan. The deposit of manganese ores at Chiatura has worldwide significance. There are beds of coal at Tkibuli and Tkvarcheli. Petroleum is exploited in eastern Azerbaijan, Chechen-Ingushia, Krasnodar and Stavropol’ krais, and the Dagestan ASSR. The gas deposits of Krasnodar Krai and central Stavropol’ Krai have acquired great importance. The Caucasus is also rich in various mineral waters, building materials, and other minerals.

Climate. The Caucasus is located on the border of the temperate and subtropical climatic zones. The Greater Caucasus mountain system sharply delimits the boundary between them by impeding the flow of cold air masses from north to south into Transcaucasia and of a warm air masses from south to north into Ciscaucasia. The mountain barrier formed by the Greater Caucasus is particularly appreciable in winter when Ciscaucasia is filled with cold air masses arriving from the north and northeast, while Transcaucasia is protected from their intrusion. The average temperatures for January are —2° to — 5°C in Ciscaucasia; 4.5°C to 6°C in western Transcaucasia (Colchis Lowland); and 1° to 3.3°C in eastern Transcaucasia (Kura-Araks and Lenkoran’ lowlands). In summer the temperature differences between the northern and southern parts of the Caucasus diminish; the disparity is more noticeable between the temperatures of the western (with a more maritime climate) and the eastern (continental) parts of the Caucasus. The average July temperatures are 23°-24°C in the west and 25°-29°C in the east. The climate of western Ciscaucasia is temperate, continental, and steppelike; eastern Ciscaucasia has a more continental and dry, semidesert climate. The Colchis Lowland is distinguished by its humid subtropical climate with mild winters and a large amount of precipitation (1, 200–1, 800 mm or more a year). The Lenkoran’ Lowland also has a humid, subtropical climate (the annual precipitation is about 1, 200 mm), but with a dry season at the beginning of the summer. The dry, subtropical climate of the Kura-Araks Lowland (the annual precipitation is 200–400 mm; in the east less than 200 mm), with mild winters and an abundance of solar heat in the summer, is favorable for the cultivation of cotton. The climate of the Middle Araks Trough in the Armenian Highland is similar.

The mountainous relief of the Greater Caucasus gives rise to a high-altitude climatic zone, manifested by a lowering of the temperature and a shortening of the growing season as altitudes increase. More precipitation falls on its mountain slopes than on the neighboring plains. Above about 2, 000 m, there is a prevailing westerly wind, in connection with which the influence of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea is intensified. Owing to the position of the Greater Caucasus at an angle to the westerly air flows, the slope of the western and central Caucasus, which is turned toward the south-southwest, receives the greatest amount of precipitation (up to 2, 500 mm, and at times 4, 000 mm). This is the most humid region both in the Caucasus and in the USSR. The average air temperature for the Greater Caucasus at an altitude of 2, 000 m is about — 8°C in January and 13°C in August (the warmest month). Higher, a cold, alpine climate with high humidity and a nival climate on high crests predominate. In the northern part of the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus (the region of Novorossiisk to Gelendzhik) the climate is Mediterranean with a humid winter and a dry summer.

The Lesser Caucasus on its outer slopes (in relation to the Transcaucasian plateau) has a climate similar to that of the opposite slopes of the Greater Caucasus at the corresponding altitudes. There is much more precipitation in the west than in the east. On the slopes of the Talysh Mountains, the climate is humid with an annual precipitation of up to 1, 700 mm. In the interior region of the Transcaucasian plateau (the Armenian Highland), the climate is much more continental (at an altitude of 2, 000 m, the average temperature for January is — 12°C, and for July, 18°C) than at the corresponding altitudes of the Greater Caucasus. The snow cover lasts for four to five months. The annual precipitation is 450–550 mm, with the maximum occurring in the spring. The moderately cold continental climate of the upland steppe plateaus gives way in the high ranges and massifs to a more humid alpine climate with a cool summer and a long, cold winter.

Glaciation. In the Greater Caucasus region glaciation is extensive. The total number of glaciers reaches 2, 200; they occupy 1, 430 sq km. About 70 percent of all glaciers and glaciated areas are on the northern slope and about 30 percent on the southern. The prevalence of glaciation on the northern slope is explained by its special orographic features and by the greater snow cover connected with the snow storms carried beyond the Vodorazdel’-nyi Range by westerly winds. In the western and central Caucasus, glaciation is more significant than in the eastern Caucasus, where the climate is more continental. The largest glacier area is in the highest part of the Central Caucasus, where the length of some glaciers is more than 12 km (Dykhsu, Bezengi, and Karaugom on the northern slope and Lekziri and Tsaneri on the southern slope). Elbrus is a thick glacial node; Kazbek’s glaciation is similar but less thick. Present-day glaciation is insignificant in the Transcaucasian Highland: small glaciers are encountered only on the summit of Aragats and in the highest part of the Zangezur Range.

Rivers and lakes. The rivers of the Caucasus belong to the basins of the Caspian Sea (the Kura and Araks, Sulak, Terek, and Kuma), the Black Sea (the Rioni and Inguri), and the Sea of Azov (the Kuban’). The distribution of the flow and the regime of the rivers depend for the most part on climatic conditions and relief.

Rivers with a prolonged high-water level (about six months) during the warm months are characteristic of the Greater Caucasus. Perennial snows and ice, as well as late-melting seasonal snow in the high-mountain regions, feed the rivers. Similar to this type is the regime of the rivers that rise in the highest ranges and massifs of the Transcaucasian Highland (Aragats, the Zangezur Range, and the Murovdag) and in the sections of the southern slope of the Greater Caucasus where there are no glaciers. Spring flooding is typical of the remaining rivers of the Transcaucasian Highland. Spring freshets and summer flash floods are typical of the rivers on the southern slope of the Greater Caucasus. The rivers of Ciscaucasia, with the exception of those flowing from the Greater Caucasus, flood in spring and become icebound in winter; in summer, however, they become very shallow and at times dry up. The Stavropol’ area is irrigated from the Kuban’ River.

The rivers of the Caucasus that do not rise in areas with stable snow cover typically have flash floods from heavy rains or rapidly melting snow; groundwater serves as an additional source. Flash floods occur throughout the year (on the Black Sea coast south of Sochi and in the Colchis Lowland), during the warm season (in the frontal ranges of the northern slopes of the Greater Caucasus and in the Terek River basin), and in the coldest six months (in the western extremity of the Greater Caucasus and on the northern Black Sea coast). Seli, violent streams of mud and stone after heavy rains or the melting of snow, are typical of many rivers in the eastern Caucasus and part of the central Caucasus. The frontal limestone ranges of the Greater Caucasus have karst rivers, which disappear underground in places and reappear on the surface. The regimes of these rivers, as well as of the rivers in the volcanic region of the Armenian Highland, are regulated only by sacrificing the substantial contribution they make to the feeding of groundwaters. The major rivers, which receive tributaries from different areas, have mixed regimes. Most important rivers of the Caucasus have a mountain character and flow in trough valleys and gorges in their upper reaches but flow peacefully in broad valleys in their lower reaches.

The lower reaches of the Kura, Kuban’, and Rioni are navigable. The waters of many rivers are used for irrigation of the arid regions of Ciscaucasia, the Kura depression, and the Middle Araks Trough. Many hydroelectric power plants have been constructed on the rivers of the Caucasus, including the Mingechaur and Zemo-Avchala hydroelectric power plants on the Kura, the Khrami and Rioni plants, and many plants on the rivers of the Greater Caucasus.

Lake Sevan is the largest lake in the Caucasus. Its waters feed the Razdan River and are used for energy production (at the Sevan Cascade Hydroelectric Power Plant), as well as for irrigation in the southern Armenian SSR. There are many cirque lakes in the alpine region of the Greater Caucasus; there are also avalanche and karst lakes. On the sea coasts there are lagoonal lakes. Most of the lakes are fresh water, but in the arid regions of the eastern Caucasus the lakes are saline.

Principal types of landscapes. An exceptionally great diversity of landscapes is typical of the Caucasus because of the complexity of its orography and its climatic contrasts, as well as the individual features of the history of the formation of the different parts of the Caucasus and the influence of the neighboring territories. Both flat and mountainous landscapes are widely represented.

The flat landscapes of Ciscaucasia belong to the temperate zone; those in Transcaucasia belong to the subtropical zone. In western and central Ciscaucasia, steppe landscapes predominate. These give way to forest-steppe landscapes in the highest sections of the Stavropol’ Highlands, in the Mineral Waters region, in the western Sunzha Range, and on the sloping plains near the foothills of the Greater Caucasus. The steppes with their fertile Ciscaucasian carbonaceous chernozems and leached chernozems (in forest-steppe regions) are almost completely under field and garden cultivation. The forest steppe and the slopes of the laccoliths of the Mineral Waters region are covered with broad-leaved forests of beech, hornbeam, oak, and ash. In eastern Ciscaucasia, there is a zonal landscape of wormwood semidesert with chestnut soils, which gives way to saltwort semidesert on saline soils. The landscape of the Terek-Kuma sands with their eolian relief is more steppelike. In the delta of the Terek and Sulak rivers, there are plavni (low parts of downstream valleys covered with reed and trees) and marsh and meadow landscapes, which, in the process of evolution, are turning into semidesert. The fauna of Ciscaucasia is related to that of the steppes of the southern part of the Eastern European plain and (in the east) to that of the semideserts and deserts of Middle Asia.

Semidesert landscapes (wormwood, saltwort, and, occasionally, ephemeral semideserts) of the subtropical type are prevalent in the most arid regions of the Kura depression: the Kura-Araks Lowland, the Apsheron-Kobustan region, and the Kura sloping plain. The soils (sierozems, meadow sierozems, and gray-brown soils) in many areas are cultivated with the aid of irrigation, producing cotton and other crops. Untitled areas serve as winter pastures. Amid the semideserts of the Kura-Araks Lowland, there are sections of solonchak desert. The fauna of the Kura-Araks Lowland resembles that of Middle Asia: Persian gazelles, long-eared hedgehogs, jerboas, and reed cats are encountered.

In the Colchis and Lenkoran’ lowlands humid, subtropical landscapes predominate: in place of the former lowland forests, today there are plantations of various subtropical crops and rice fields (in the Lenkoran’ Lowland). Swamp alder forests and marshy subtropical landscapes have been preserved! Large areas of marsh have been drained and opened up for subtropical agriculture.

The mountainous landscapes of the Caucasus form three regions: the Greater Caucasus, with a predominance of mountain-forest, mountain-meadow, and glacial-nival landscapes; the Lesser Caucasus, with mountain-forest and mountain-meadow landscapes; and the Armenian Highland, with a prevalence of mountain-steppe and mountain-meadow volcanic landscapes. The Talysh Mountains with their humid subtropical landscapes are part of the Girkan region, most of which lies in northern Iran.

The distribution of landscapes in the mountains is subject to the natural laws of high altitude zones. Subtropical-forest landscapes are prevalent in the lower layer of the southern slope of the Greater Caucasus and the northern slopes of the Lesser Caucasus and the Talysh Mountains. In the western regions of the Caucasus and in the Talysh Mountains, low-mountain humid subtropical landscapes have developed, with terra rossa and yellow soils, broad-leaved forests of a varied floral composition, evergreen shrubs in the undergrowth, and lianas. The fauna of the Talysh Mountains is connected with that of the Kopetdag and more southerly regions (leopard, porcupine). In eastern Transcaucasia (the mountainous rim of the Kura depression) subtropical forests have a xerophytic character and grow on mountain brown soils.

Mountain-forest landscapes predominate in the mountains of the Greater and Lesser Caucasus. The lower part of the mountain-forest belt in Transcaucasia above the subtropical forest landscapes forms oak forests with hornbeam, above which are found beech forests with hornbeam (which also occupy the mid-mountain areas of the Talysh Mountains). Above these belts, in the western parts of the Greater and Lesser Caucasus, dark coniferous forests are prevalent (Caucasus spruce and fir). On the northern slope of the central Caucasus and partly in the eastern Caucasus, there are pine forests. Mountain-forest brown soils predominate in the mountain forests of the Caucasus. The mountain forests serve as a source of valuable wood and play a major role in protecting the soil and conserving water. Mountain-steppe landscapes with mountain chernozems predominate in the midmountain regions of the northern slope of the eastern Caucasus (Dagestan) and, partly, of the central Caucasus, as well as on the lava plateaus and plains of the Armenian Highland. The high-mountain area of the Greater and Lesser Caucasus and the Armenian Highland is occupied by mountain-meadow landscapes (in the most continental regions by meadow-steppe landscapes). The high-grass meadows of the sub-alpine belt on typical mountain-meadow soils are used for raising hay and for periodic pasture for livestock; the low-grass meadows and carpet-like meadows of the alpine belt on mountain-meadow peat soils serve as summer pastures. The upper, subnival part of the mountain-meadow belt has a fragmentary soil-vegetation cover. On the highest crests of the Greater Caucasus and partially in the Armenian Highland (Aragats and the Zangezur Range) a glacial-nival landscape is prevalent. The mountain regions of the Greater and Lesser Caucasus are inhabited by forest and high-mountain fauna, including endemic species (the West Caucasian and Dagestani tur, Caucasian black grouse, and Caucasian ular) and even genera (the long-clawed mole-vole), as well as forms common to Western Europe (the chamois, red deer) and widely distributed forms (bear, lynx, and fox). The mountain fauna of the Armenian Highland is related to that of Asia Minor (the Asia Minor suslik, William’s jerboa).

Preserves. Within the Caucasus are many preserves, in which complexes of various landscapes are maintained in their natural state. The best known are the Adzhameti Preserve in western Georgia, in the Rioni River basin; the Babaneurskii Preserve in Kakhetia, on the southern slope of the Greater Caucasus; the Batsara Preserve in Georgia, on the southern slope of the Greater Caucasus, on the left bank of the Batsara River; the Borzhomi Preserve near the city of Borzhomi, in the spurs of the Meskheta Range; the Vashlovan Preserve in eastern Georgia, in the El’dar steppe; the Dilizhan Preserve in Armenia, in the basin of the upper course of the Agstev River; the Zakataly Preserve in the extreme northwest of Azerbaijan, on the southern slope of the Greater Caucasus; the Lagodekhi Preserve in Georgia, near the city of Lagodekhi; the Caucasus and Teberda preserves on the northern slope of the Greater Caucasus; the Ritsa Preserve in the Lake Ritsa region, on the southern slope of the Greater Caucasus; the Pitsunda Preserve on the Black Sea coast; and the subtropical S. M. Kirov Kyzylagach Preserve on the southwestern coast of the Caspian Sea.

Favorable natural conditions—the combination of the Black Sea coast and high mountain ranges located nearby—furthered the transformation of the Caucasus into one of the USSR’s principal health resort regions and one of the main centers of Soviet tourism and mountain climbing. Within the Caucasus is the Caucasian Mineral Waters region, a large group of health resorts on the Black Sea coast from Anapa to Batumi, including Kabar-dinka, Gelendzhik, Dzhubga, Novomikhailovskoe, Nebug, Golovinka, Sochi, Leselidze, Gagra, Miussera, Pitsunda, Gudauta, Novyi Afon, Sukhumi, Gul’ripshi, Zelenyi Mys, Kobuleti, and Teberda. The principal centers of tourism and mountain climbing are found in the Georgian SSR and the Kabarda-Balkar ASSR.


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Gruziia. Moscow, 1967. (In the series Sovetskii Soiuz.)
Rossiiskaia Federatsiia: Evropeiskii lugo-Vostok, Povolzh ‘e, Severnyi Kavkaz. Moscow, 1968. (In the series Sovetskii Soiuz.)
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Atlas Gruzinskoi SSR. Tbilisi-Moscow, 1964.

N. A. GVOZDETSKII (physical geography) and V. E. KHAIN (geological structure and useful minerals)

Population. The Caucasus has a complex ethnic and linguistic composition. More than 50 peoples live there, speaking languages from three linguistic families: Caucasian proper (or Ibero-Caucasian), Indo-European, and Altaic. The Caucasian family consists of the Kartvelian, the Abkhazo-Adyg, and the Nakho-Dagestan groups. The most numerous people of the Caucasian family (and of the Kartvelian group) are the Georgians (3, 245, 000; 1970 census), who live in the central Caucasus, south of the Greater Caucasus. (All the remaining peoples of this family, except the Abkhazians, are settled north of this range.) In Georgia, the Georgians constitute 66.8 percent of the total population. The Abkhazo-Adyg group comprises the following peoples, who are closely connected in origin: the Adygeians (100, 000 in the Adygei Autonomous Oblast and the neighboring regions of Krasnodar Krai), the Cherkess (or Circassians; 40, 000 in the Karachai-Cherkess Autonomous Oblast), and the Kabar-dins (280, 000 in the plains region of the Kabarda-Balkar ASSR and in the Mozdok region, Severnaia Osetiia ASSR), as well as the Abkhazians (83, 000 in the Abkhazian ASSR and the neighboring regions of the Adzhar ASSR) and the Abazas (25, 000 in the northern Karachai-Cherkess Autonomous Oblast). The Nakh group consists of the Chechen (613, 000 in the eastern and central Chechen-Ingush ASSR and in Khasav“iurt Raion, Dagestan ASSR), the Ingush (150, 000 in the western Chechen-Ingush ASSR and the adjacent regions of the Severnaia Osetiia ASSR), and small groups of the Batsbi, or Tsova-Tushians (Akhmeta Raion, Georgian SSR), whose language has been subject to strong influence from Georgian.

The overwhelming majority of the peoples of Dagestan—one of the most ethnically complex regions not only in the USSR but also in the world—are part of the Dagestan group, which is divided into the Avar, Darghin, Lak, and Lezghin subgroups. The Avar subgroup (396, 000 in the western mountains of Dagestan and the northwestern Azerbaijan SSR) includes, besides the Avars, the numerically small Andi-Tsez peoples, who have almost merged with the Avars: the Andi, Botlikh, Godoberi, Cha-malal, Kvanda, Tindal, Karata, Akhvakh, Tsez, Ginukh, Khvarshi, Bezhita, and Gunzib. The Avar subgroup also includes the Archi. The Darghin subgroup (231,000 in the mountains and foothills of middle Dagestan) is composed of the Darghin, Kaitag, and Kubachi. The Lak (86, 000) live in the mountains of central Dagestan. The Lezghin subgroup includes the Lezghin (324, 000 in southeastern Dagestan and the northern Azerbaijan SSR), the Tabasaran (55, 000 in southeast Dagestan, west of Derbent), the Agul (8, 800 in the high-mountain regions of southeastern Dagestan), the Rutul (12, 000 in the upper reaches of the Samur River, in southern Dagestan), and the Tsakhur (11,000 west of the Rutul’). Included in this group are the numerically small nationalities of northern Azerbaijan: the Udi, Budukh, Kryz, and Khinalug.

The Russians, Ukrainians, Armenians, and the peoples of the Iranian group are members of the Indo-European family. The Russians (about 8 million) live in Stavropol’ and Krasnodar krais and the cities of all the Union and autonomous republics of the Caucasus. The Ukrainians (more than 300, 000) live in Krasnodar Krai (the Kuban’ and Terek cossacks constitute a significant part of the Russian and Ukrainian population in the Northern Caucasus). The Armenians (3, 559, 000) are a special group in the Indo-European family. They make up the principal population of the Armenian SSR (88.6 percent), the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, and Akhaltsikhe and Akhal-kalaki raions of the Georgian SSR; many Armenians also live in the cities of the Caucasus. The Iranian group includes the Osse-tians (488, 000 in the Severnaia Osetiia ASSR and the Iuzhnaia Osetiia Autonomous Oblast), the Kurds (60, 000 in Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan), the Tats (17, 000 in the northeastern Azerbaijan SSR and the southern Dagestan ASSR), the Mountain Jews, who speak the Tat language (in the Dagestan ASSR and the Azerbaijan SSR), and the Talysh (in the southeastern Azerbaijan SSR).

There are several groups speaking Turkic languages of the Altaic family. The 4.38 million Azerbaijanis live in the Azerbaijan SSR, where they constitute 73.8 percent of the population, as well as in the adjacent regions of the Georgian SSR, the Armenian SSR, and the Dagestan ASSR. Two closely related groups are the Karachai (113, 000 in the southern mountains of the Karachai-Cherkess Autonomous Oblast) and the Balkars (60, 000 in the southern and southwestern Kabarda-Balkar ASSR). Other groups include the Kumyk (189, 000 in the northern plains section of the Dagestan ASSR and—in small numbers —in the Chechen-Ingush ASSR and Severnaia Osetiia ASSR); the Nogai (52, 000 in Stavropol’ Krai and the Dagestan ASSR); the Tatars (about 32, 000 in the cities of the Azerbaijan SSR); and the Caucasian Turkmen (or Trukhmen—about 5, 000 in eastern and northeastern Stavropol’ Krai).

Also living in the Caucasus are small groups of Greeks, Assyrians, Moldavians, Estonians, Mordvinians, Koreans, and Gypsies. For all Caucasian peoples the language of communication between different nationalities is Russian.

Anthropologically, most of the population of the Caucasus is comparatively homogeneous and belongs to the southern branch of the Europeoid race. Only the Nogai and Trukhmen have predominately Mongoloid traits; the Russians have features of the northern branch of the Europeoid race.

The greater part of the population of the Caucasus professed Christianity in the past. The Russians, Ukrainians, most Ossetians, a large number of Georgians and Abkhazians (the last two peoples belonged to a separate Georgian church), and the Mozdok Kabardins were Orthodox; the Armenians were Monophysites and belonged to the Armenian Apostolic Church. Shiite Muslims in the Caucasus included the Azerbaijanis, Talysh, Tats, and a small number of the Lezghin. Some Georgians (the Adzhars and Enghilo), Abkhazians, and Ossetians were Sunni Muslims.


Narody Kavkaza, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1960–62.


Historical survey. The Caucasus is one of the regions of the earliest settlement by man in the USSR: in Armenia, sites of primitive settlement have been discovered that date to the early Stone Age. In the first half of the first millennium B.C. in Transcaucasia the first slaveholding state on the territory of what is now the USSR was formed—Urartu. Later states to emerge were the Colchian Kingdom (sixth century B.C.), the Ayratian Kingdom (fourth century B.C.), and Iberia (fourth and third centuries B.C.). In the second century B.C. two important states were formed: Caucasian Albania and Greater Armenia; the latter conducted a stubborn struggle against Rome. The Caucasus was frequently subjected to invasions by nomads (Scythians, Sarmatians, and Alani). In the first millennium A.D. the Caucasus became a center of the struggle between Byzantium and Sassanid Persia.

In the middle of the first millennium a.d. feudal relations were firmly established in much of the Caucasus, and Christianity became widespread. In the seventh and eighth centuries, the Arabs conquered Transcaucasia. Further development of feudal relations occurred during the struggle against foreign invaders, the Arabs and later the Seljuk Turks and the Byzantines; this situation led to the formation of large states in Armenia, headed by the Bagratids, and in Georgia, centered around the TaoKlardzheti Principality. During the 12th and 13th centuries Georgia grew stronger. In the 13th century the Caucasus was subjected to the devastating invasion of the Mongol Tatars. In the 14th and 15th centuries Armenia and Georgia were the victims of destructive campaigns by foreign invaders. In Azerbaijan, Turkic state formations arose in the 15th century. The Northern Caucasus remained under the authority of the Mongol Tatars and their successors for a considerable time; as a result, the area’s development lagged significantly, and patriarchal-feudal features were preserved until the 19th century. In the 16th century Armenia and Georgia became the object of a fierce struggle between Turkey and Persia.

Russian settlements appeared in the Northern Caucasus in the 16th century. After the fall of the Astrakhan Khanate in 1556, Russia’s southern frontier was advanced to the Terek River, on which two fortresses were founded: Terek (at the mouth of the Sunzha River; 1567) and Terskii Gorodok (in the Terek delta; 1588). During their internecine struggle some of the feudal lords sought the support of Russia (for example, Kabarda had already accepted Russian sovereignty in 1557); others occupied positions inimical to Russia—for example, a Tarki shamkhal (feudal ruler) in Dagestan, against whom expeditions of Russian troops were sent in 1594 and 1604–05).

In the early 18th century Russian tsarism, seeking to strengthen its strategic position on the southern frontiers and to occupy the trade routes to Middle Asia and the Middle East, maintained a colonial policy in the Caucasus. As a result of the Persian campaign of 1722–23, Russian forces occupied the entire western coast of the Caspian Sea, as well as Derbent and Baku, but because of the aggravation of Russo-Turkish relations the Russian government became interested in alliance with Persia and, by the treaties of Resht (1732) and Gandzha (1735), restored the Caspian shore provinces to Persia. The southern border of the Russian Empire in the northeastern Caucasus was again moved to the Terek, where the fortresses of Kizliar (1735) and Mozdok (1763) were built, marking the beginning of the construction of the Caucasian fortified lines.

As a result of the Russo-Turkish War of 1768–74, it was confirmed that Kabarda would remain an integral part of Russia; northern Ossetia was annexed to Russia; and the Eia and Kuban’ rivers became the Russian border in the northwestern Caucasus. Between 1777 and 1780 the Azov-Mozdok line (through Stavropol’) was established, but by 1778 its right flank had already been moved to the Kuban’ River. As a result of the Treaty of Georgievsk in 1783 between Russia and the Kartli-Kakhetian Kingdom, a Russian protectorate was established over eastern Georgia, which was threatened by Turkey. In that year, the construction of the Georgian Military Road was begun; along this road several fortifications were built, including the fortress of Vladikavkaz (1784). The distribution of lands to Russian landlords began in the steppe area of Ciscaucasia.

The advance of the Caucasian fortified line southward strained relations with the peoples of the Kuban’ area, Kabarda, and Chechnia. In 1778 the stubborn resistance of the Nogai was crushed, and the Kabardins who had risen in rebellion were defeated. In 1785 tsarist expansionism aroused a movement of mountain people in Chechnia headed by a Muslim priest—the Chechen Ushurma, who took the name Sheikh Mansur. In July 1785 he routed the strong Russian detachment sent against him. The movement spread to the neighboring provinces, but some of the Dagestan feudal lords did not support Mansur, thus facilitating the suppression of the revolt. Mansur crossed to Anapa to join the Turks in the struggle against Russia. During the Russo-Turkish War of 1787–91, Russian troops conducted military actions against the Circassians, and in September 1790, in the upper reaches of the Kuban’, they routed both the Turkish forces of Batal Pasha, which had invaded Kabarda, and Mansur’s Circassian detachments. According to the conditions of the Peace of Jassy of 1791, Turkey recognized the independence of Georgia and the tribes beyond the Kuban’. Between 1792 and 1798 the Black Sea and Kuban’ cordon lines were created along the Kuban’ River. In 1785 a Caucasian vicegerency (namestnichestvo) was established as part of the Astrakhan and Caucasian provinces, with its center at Ekaterinograd (now the stanitsa [large cossack village] of Ekaterinogradskaia). The territory of the vicegerency included the steppes between the lower courses of the Volga and Don and a part of the Northern Caucasus, to the Kuban’ and Terek. The Caucasian Province was abolished in 1790 and the vicegerency in 1796.

The invasion of Georgia in 1795 by the Persian troops of Agha Muhammad Khan and their destruction of Tbilisi prompted Russia to undertake the Persian campaign of 1796. Russian troops advanced into Georgia and occupied Derbent, Kuba, and Baku, but after Pavel I’s accession to the throne in 1796, the troops were recalled (except for two battalions that remained in Tbilisi). Eastern Georgia’s attempt to find in Russia a protector against Turkish and Persian aggression led to that area’s voluntary affiliation with Russia in 1801. In the 19th century Azerbaijan and part of Armenia were joined to Russia as a result of the Russo-Persian wars; later, as a result of the Russo-Turkish wars, western Georgia and the rest of Armenia were incorporated.

The first Russian administrative territories in Transcaucasia were the Georgian Province (1801) and the Imereti Oblast (1811), which were united in 1840 to form the Georgian-Imereti Oblast and divided in 1846 into Tiflis and Kutaisi provinces. In 1828 the Armenian Oblast was formed; it was renamed Erivan Province in 1849. An okrug, which was given the name Zakatal Okrug in 1860, was formed from Dzharo-Belokany Oblast (which had been set up in 1830). In 1840 the Caspian Oblast was formed; it was renamed Shemakha Province in 1846 and Baku Province in 1859. In the Northern Caucasus, in 1802, the Caucasian Province was again formed (with its center at the city of Georgievsk); it was renamed the Caucasian Oblast in 1822 (center, Stavropol’), and Stavropol’ Province in 1847. In 1846, Derbent Province was created; in 1860 it was renamed Dagestan Oblast (with its center at Temir-Khan-Shura, now Buinaksk). From 1844 to 1882, a Caucasian vicegerency with its center at Tiflis was in existence. The vicegerent was commander in chief of the troops in the Caucasus and enjoyed unlimited powers. In 1845, with the introduction into the Caucasus of the all-Russian administrative system, the Caucasian Committee was established.

Tsarism’s colonial policy led to the Caucasian War of 1817–64, the aim of which was to conquer Chechnia, Gornyi Dagestan, and the northwestern Caucasus. The Russian troops succeeded in crushing the stubborn resistance of the mountain peoples only in the second half of the 19th century. Despite the colonial oppression, incorporation in Russia was the sole means of deliverance of the Transcaucasian peoples from the heavy yoke of the backward Turkish and Persian feudal regimes. The incorporation of the entire Caucasus by Russia resulted in its inclusion in the all-Russian process of the development of capitalism and in the establishment of links between the progressive public and cultural figures of the Caucasus and Russia, as well as in the involvement of Caucasian workers in the revolutionary struggle against tsarism.

In 1861, Terek Oblast (with its center at Vladikavkaz) and Kuban’ Oblast (center, Ekaterinodar; now Krasnodar) were formed. In 1867 the Black Sea Okrug of Kuban’ Oblast (center, Novorossiisk) was established; in 1896 it was reorganized as the Black Sea Province. In 1866 the Sukhumi Military Section was created as part of Kutaisi Province; it was detached as an independent okrug in 1903. In 1868, Elizavetpol’ Province was formed from parts of Tiflis and Baku provinces. In 1878, Kars and Batumi oblasts were set up on formerly Turkish territories (Batumi Oblast was an okrug of Kutaisi Province from 1883 to 1903). After the abolition of the vicegerency in 1882, the chief official of the civilian section in the Caucasus headed the administration of the Caucasus; he was simultaneously commander of the troops of the Caucasian Military District and head ataman of the cossack forces in the Northern Caucasus. Subordinate to him were six provinces—Black Sea, Kutaisi, Tiflis, Erivan, Baku, and ElizavetpoP (Stavropol’ Province had been separated administratively from the Caucasus); five oblasts—Terek, Kuban’, Dagestan, Kars, and Batumi (and, temporarily, from 1882 to 1890, Transcaspian Oblast); and two okrugs—Zakataly and Sukhumi.

From 1864 to 1883, after the abolition of serfdom in the Caucasus, the growth of capitalist relations gathered momentum. The construction of railroads expanded in the Caucasus after 1867; by 1883 the Batumi-Tbilisi-Baku main Transcaucasian line had been completed; branch lines were built to Yerevan, Batumi, Kars, Dzhul’fa, and other points in the 1890’s. In 1900 the Transcaucasian line was joined to the all-Russian rail network by the Rostov-Baku line. The oil industry emerged in the Baku region in the second half of the 19th century; in 1901, it produced about half of the world oil output. The extraction of manganese and coal in Georgia, the production of cement in the Novorossiisk region, and other industries were begun. Capitalist relations in agriculture developed more slowly because of the preservation of feudal serfdom and tribal patriarchal vestiges.

In the 1890’s, with the growth of the workers’ movement, the first social democratic organizations came into existence, such as the Mésame Dasi, or Third Group, formed in Georgia in 1892; in 1901 the Baku committee was established. In the early 20th century the workers’ movement grew, particularly in Baku. In 1903, at the First Congress of Caucasian Social Democratic Organizations, the Bolshevik Caucasian Union Committee of the RSDLP was elected. The proletariat of the Caucasus took part in the Revolution of 1905–07, during which a turbulent peasant movement spread. A new upsurge in the workers’ movement in the Caucasus occurred in 1912–13.

During World War I the Caucasus became a theater of military operations. The Caucasian front was formed against the German-Turkish alliance. In 1914 the troops on the Caucasian front repelled the Turkish offensive and in 1915 and 1916 inflicted on them a series of major defeats. During the war Bolshevik organizations in the Caucasus were seriously weakened. In a majority of the soviets that arose after the February Revolution of 1917, the Mensheviks, Social Revolutionaries (SR’s), and bourgeois nationalists seized the leadership. In March 1917 the bourgeois Special Transcaucasian Committee (OZAKKOM) came into existence in Tbilisi—the regional body of the bourgeois Provisional Government.

The victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution marked the beginning of the liberation of the Caucasian peoples from social and colonial oppression. The first Caucasian regional congress of Bolsheviks in October 1917 consolidated the Bolshevik organizations and established the Caucasian Regional Committee of the party. On Nov. 15 (28), 1917, a bloc of counterrevolutionary forces, in place of the OZAKKOM, established the Transcaucasian Commissariat, which declared the “independence” of Transcaucasia. Soviet power in Transcaucasia was established only in Baku and adjoining districts.

On Apr. 22, 1918, the Transcaucasian Diet established a bourgeois federal republic. By May 1918, however, this entity had been broken up into separate “independent” bourgeois republics —Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan—in which the Georgian Mensheviks, the Armenian Dashnaks, and the Azerbaijani Musavatists seized power. In April in Baku the Baku Commune of 1918 was formed; it heroically fought against internal and external counterrevolution, but as a result of the treachery of the SR’s, Dashnaks, and Musavatists, Soviet power in Baku fell on July 31, 1918. The bourgeois-nationalist governments in Transcaucasia were puppets in the hands of the Germans and Turks, and later of the British interventionists, who carried out organized plunder of the land. In the Northern Caucasus, the Bolsheviks, supported by the broad masses of the people, succeeded in overcoming the resistance of the cossack and nationalist counterrevolutions; by early 1918, Soviet power was victorious there. A number of Soviet republics arose (the Kuban’-Black Sea Soviet Republic, the Terek Soviet Republic, and the Stavropol’ Soviet Republic), which were consolidated in July 1918 as the Northern Caucasian Soviet Republic of the RSFSR.

In the Northern Caucasus, Soviet troops conducted a struggle against the White Guard army of General A. I. Denikin, diverting its forces from the central regions of Russia, but in early 1919 they were compelled to withdraw to Astrakhan, and a reign of terror was instituted by the White Guard. In early 1920 the Red Army crushed the remnants of Denikin’s forces and restored Soviet power. In April 1920 the Red Army came to the aid of the working people of Azerbaijan, who had risen in rebellion, and on April 28 the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed, composed of the former Baku Province, a large part of Giandzha (renamed ElizavetpoP) Province, and Zakataly Okrug. In July 1920 the Nakhichevan SSR was created as part of the Azerbaijan SSR. In February 1923 it was named the Nakhichevan Autonomous Krai, and in February 1924 it became the Nakhichevan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. In July 1923 the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast was established as part of the Azerbaijan SSR.

In November 1920 the working people of Armenia rebelled and with the support of the Red Army overthrew the Dashnak government; on November 29 the Armenian SSR was formed from the territory of Erivan Province and part of Giandzha (ElizavetpoP) Province. By the terms of the Treaty of Moscow of Mar. 16, 1921, the so-called Kars pashalic (Kars Oblast and parts of Batumi Oblast and Erivan Province) went to Turkey.

In February 1921 there was an uprising of the working people in Georgia, who turned for help to Soviet Russia. Soviet troops and the rebels drove out the Mensheviks, and, on February 25, the Georgian SSR was established. Tbilisi and Kutaisi provinces and part of Batumi Oblast formed the new republic. On the territory of Batumi Oblast, in July 1921 the Adzhar ASSR was formed as part of the Georgian SSR. On the territory of Sukhumi Okrug, the Abkhazian SSR came into existence in March 1921; in December 1921 it joined the Georgian SSR on the basis of a treaty, and in February 1931 it was reorganized as the Abkhazian ASSR. In April 1922 the Iuzhnaia Osetiia Autonomous Oblast was formed as part of the Georgian SSR.

On Mar. 12, 1922, the peoples of Transcaucasia united in the Transcaucasian Federation (ZSFSR), which, on Dec. 30, 1922, joined the USSR. In 1936 the federation was dissolved, and Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan immediately entered the USSR with the rights of Union republics. In the Northern Caucasus, in 1921, the Gortzy ASSR, the Dagestan ASSR, Terek Province, and Kuban’-Black Sea Oblast were formed as part of the RSFSR. Adygei Autonomous Oblast was formed on part of the territory of Kuban’-Black Sea Oblast in 1922. The Gortzy ASSR (which was abolished in 1924) was divided to form several autonomous oblasts (AO): Kabarda AO (1921), reorganized in 1922 as Kabarda-Balkar AO; Karachai-Cherkess AO (1922), which was divided in 1922 into the Karachai AO and the Cherkess National Okrug (reorganized in 1928 as the Cherkess AO); Chechen AO (1922) and Ingush AO (1924), which were consolidated in 1934 to form Chechen-Ingush AO; and Severnaia Osetiia AO (1924).

In 1924, in accordance with the plan for dividing the USSR into raions, the Northern Caucasus, except for the Dagestan ASSR, entered Iugovostochnaia Oblast, RSFSR, which that year was renamed the North Caucasian Krai. The krai (with the exception of the seven autonomous oblasts) was divided into 14 okrugs (of them, ten were in the northern Caucasus: Armavir, Kuban’, Maikop, Sal’sk, Stavropol’, Sunzha, Terek, Black Sea, and the cities of Groznyi and Vladikavkaz with okrug status; the other okrugs were on the Don); in 1930 the okrugs were eliminated. In 1934 the Azov-Black Sea Krai was detached from the North Caucasian Krai and in 1937 was divided into Krasnodar Krai and Rostov Oblast. According to the Constitution of the USSR of 1936, three of the autonomous oblasts were transformed into the Kabarda-Balkar ASSR, the Severnaia Osetiia ASSR, and the Chechen-Ingush ASSR. In 1937, North Caucasian Krai was renamed Ordzhonikidze Krai and in 1943 Stavropol’ Krai.

During the prewar five-year plans (1929–40), the peoples of the Caucasus, with the fraternal assistance of the other peoples of the USSR, achieved a high level of development in various branches of industry: oil, chemical, metallurgical, machine-tool, coal, mining, cement, food, and other industries. They constructed major electric power plants as well. Agriculture achieved substantial development, an important role in its rise being played by large-scale land-reclamation and irrigation works. The cultural revolution proceeded successfully. Socialist industrialization, the collectivization of agriculture, and the cultural revolution have changed the life of the peoples of the Caucasus. Most of them have been consolidated into the socialist nations and nationalities.

During the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45 major battles with the fascist German troops took place in the Caucasus, during which the Red Army defeated the enemy. In 1944 the Kabarda-Balkar ASSR was reorganized as the Kabarda ASSR. In place of the abolished Chechen-Ingush ASSR, Groznyi Oblast was created. Part of the abolished Karachai Autonomous Oblast entered the Cherkess Autonomous Oblast; the other part was transferred to the Abkhazian ASSR. In 1957 the Kabarda-Balkar ASSR was recreated, and the Chechen-Ingush ASSR was reestablished; the Cherkess Autonomous Oblast was transformed into the Karachai-Cherkess Autonomous Oblast. Since the Great Patriotic War the peoples of the Caucasus have progressed in the development of their economy and culture and in the creation of an advanced socialist society.

The Battle for the Caucasus, 1942–43. One of the most important battles of the Great Patriotic War of 1941^45 took place in the Caucasus. It includes a series of defensive and offensive operations by Soviet forces from July 25, 1942, through Oct. 9, 1943, between the Don River and the foothills of the Greater Caucasus. The battle is divided into two periods: the defensive (from July 1942 to early January 1943) and the offensive (from early January to October, 1943).

The fascist German command, in undertaking an offensive on the Caucasian operational axis (with the code name “Edelweiss”), expected to surround and destroy the troops of the Southern Front south and southeast of Rostov, who had withdrawn beyond the Don, and to seize the Northern Caucasus. The Germans then proposed to turn the flank of the Greater Caucasus with one group from the west, capturing Novorossiisk and Tuapse, and with another group from the east, seizing the oil-producing districts of Groznyi and Baku. Simultaneously with this flanking maneuver, the Germans planned to cross the Vodo-razdel’nyi Range through its central passes and come out in the region of Tbilisi, Kutaisi, and Sukhumi. With this penetration into Transcaucasia, the enemy hoped to establish a direct link with the Turkish army, 26 divisions of which were deployed on the frontiers of the Soviet Union, as well as to create the prerequisites for an invasion of the Middle East. The enemy formed Army Group A (under Field Marshal W. List) to carry out these plans. This group outnumbered the Soviet forces on the Southern front 1.5 times in personnel (167, 000 as opposed to 112, 000); 9.4 times in tanks (1, 130 against 121); twice in artillery (4, 540 guns and mortars to 2, 160); and 7.7 times in airplanes (1,000 to 130).

The fascist German offensive began on July 25, 1942. Under the onslaught of the adversary’s superior numbers, the Soviet troops were compelled to withdraw south and southeast. On July 28 the Supreme Command Headquarters consolidated the Southern and Northern Caucasian fronts into a single Northern Caucasian front (under Marshal of the Soviet Union S. M. Budennyi); the Black Sea Fleet (under Vice Admiral F. S. Ok-tiabr’skii) and the Azov Flotilla (under Rear Admiral S. G. Gorshkov) were put under the command of the Northern Caucasian Front. Shortly afterward, two strategic groups were formed at the front: the Don Group (under Lieutenent General R. Ia. Malinovskii) on the Stavropol’ axis and the Primor’e Group (under Colonel General Ia. T. Cherevichenko) on the Krasnodar axis. The Transcaucasian Front (under General of the Army I. V. Tiulenev) was assigned the preparation of the defense along the Terek River line and along the passes across the VodorazdeP-nyi Range of the Greater Caucasus.

The rapid advance of the fascist German troops and the threat of encirclement forced the Soviet command to withdraw its forces first to the Kuban’ River and then to a line passing along the foothills of the western part of the Greater Caucasus. The Supreme Command Headquarters reinforced the front with their reserves and ordered the Groznyi line to be protected by troops of the Northern Group of the Transcaucasian Front (under Lieutenant General I. I. Maslennikov). In August and September fierce fighting continued on the Maikop-Tuapse and Krasno-dar-Novorossiisk lines. On August 11 the troops of the German Seventeenth Army (under General of the Infantry R. Ruof) succeeded in taking Maikop and Krasnodar and, on August 31, Anapa. On September 7 they reached the northern outskirts of Novorossiisk, but despite desperate efforts the enemy failed to break through to Tuapse. The fascist German forces also failed to break through to Sukhumi across the passes of the Greater Caucasus, although they introduced special mountain units that were able to seize some of the passes. From August to October the enemy persistently pushed forward on the Groznyi axis. On August 25 the troops of the First Panzer Army (under Colonel General E. Kleist) took Mozdok and on September 12 Malgobek. After meeting stiff resistance on the Groznyi line, the enemy regrouped his forces and, on October 25, broke through to Nal’chik and Ordzhonikidze. Near Ordzhonikidze, from November 6 to 12, the main attack force of the fascist German troops was routed and thrown back 40–50 km to the north. In November and December the enemy, under attack by the Soviet forces everywhere, went on the defensive.

The plans of the enemy were foiled by the heroic resistance of the defenders of the Caucasus—the troops of the Northern Caucasian Front (on September 1, reorganized as the Black Sea Group of the forces of the Transcaucasian Front), the Northern Group of the Transcaucasian Front, the Black Sea Fleet, and the Azov Flotilla. During the defense of the Caucasus Soviet troops paralyzed significant enemy forces and inflicted great losses, thus preventing the enemy from transferring forces to Stalingrad, where the Soviet counteroffensive began.

The crushing defeat of the fascist German troops at Stalingrad and the expanding general offensive of the troops of the Southern Front on the Rostov axis forced the enemy to begin withdrawing his forces from the Mozdok area to the northwest. On Jan. 3, 1943, the Northern Group of troops (after January 24, the Northern Caucasian Front, under the command of Lieutenent General I. I. Maslennikov) expanded the pursuit of the enemy and by January 24 had liberated Malgobek, Mozdok, Prokhladnyi, Mineral’nye Vody, Piatigorsk, Essentuki, Kislovodsk, Stavropol’, and Armavir. The enemy’s efforts to consolidate his position on the Kuban’ River line were frustrated by the attacks of the Soviet forces. By January 30, Soviet troops had liberated Kropotkin and Tikhoretsk after having advanced 650 km in the month of January. The troops of the Black Sea Group (which, after February 9, were included in the Northern Caucasian Front) moved to the offensive on January 16 and by February 4 had freed Neftegorsk and Maikop. On February 9 they began the Krasnodar Operation, during which they liberated Krasnodar on February 12. The fascist German command succeeded in withdrawing part of the forces of Army Group A through Rostov and the other part to Taman’; they managed to consolidate their position on the “Blue Line,” which had been prepared beforehand. Efforts to break through the enemy’s defense, undertaken in the spring of 1943 by Soviet forces who had been extremely weakened in battle, were unsuccessful. In the fall, during the Novorossiisk-Taman’ Operation of 1943 (September 9 to October 9), the troops of the Northern Caucasian Front (commanded after May 1943 by Colonel General I. E. Petrov), in cooperation with the Black Sea Fleet, liberated Novorossiisk and all of Taman’ Peninsula.

Victory in the Battle for the Caucasus consolidated the southern flank of the Soviet-German front, and close coordination between the land forces and the air force, the navy, and the partisans was attained. Thousands of soldiers were awarded the medal “For the Defense of the Caucasus,” which was instituted by a decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on May 1, 1944.


Velikaia Otechestvennaia voina Sovetskogo Soiuza 1941–1945: Kratkaiaistoriia. Moscow, 1965.
Grechko, A. A. Bitva za Kavkaz. Moscow, 1967.

S. A. ZALESSKII (historical survey) and D. Z. MURIEV (the Battle for the Caucasus, 1942–43)

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. a mountain range in SW Russia, running along the N borders of Georgia and Azerbaijan, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea: mostly over 2700 m (9000 ft.). Highest peak: Mount Elbrus, 5642 m (18 510 ft.)
2. another name for Caucasia
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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