Caucasus (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 Mamison and the Daryal, and by the Georgian Military Road and the Ossetian Military Road, 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 Republic, Chechnya, the Dagestan Republic, Ingushetia, the Kabardino-Balkar Republic, the Karachay-Cherkess Republic, Krasnodar Territory, North Ossetia-Alania (see Ossetia), Stavropol Territory, and parts of Kalmykia and the Rostov region. Transcaucasia includes Georgia (including Abkhazia, the Adjarian Autonomous Republic, and South Ossetia), Azerbaijan (including the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and Nagorno-Karabakh), and Armenia.
Major cities in the Caucasus are Bakı, Yerevan, Grozny, Vladikavkaz (formerly Ordzhonikidze), Tbilisi, Krasnodar, Novorossiysk, Batumi, Ganja (formerly Kirovabad), and Kumayri (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. Pyatigorsk and Kislovodsk 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 Circassia, the people were largely Muslim. They bitterly fought Russian penetration and were pacified only after the uprising led by Imam Shamyl. 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).