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Articles in The Caucasus

Where Is the Caucasus?

By Martin W. Lewis | January 11, 2012 | 40 Comments
Geopolitical Map of the Caucasus

For the next two weeks or so, GeoCurrents will examine the Caucasus. This unusually long focus on a particular place derives from several reasons. The Caucasus is one of the most culturally complex and linguistically diverse parts of the world, noted as well for its geopolitical intricacy and intractable conflicts. The region contains three internationally recognized sovereign states (Georgia, …

Keystone of the Caucasus: Ignored Ossetia and Its Snow Revolution

By Martin W. Lewis | January 13, 2012 | 25 Comments
Map of the Caucasus, Showing North Ossetia-Alania and South Ossetia

If the arch of the Great Caucasus can be said to have a keystone, it would have to be Ossetia. This east-west range presents a formidable barrier to traffic between southern Russia and the Middle East, as it is pierced by few negotiable passes. By far the most important route across the mountains extends along the Darial Gorge through …

From Sarmatia to Alania to Ossetia: The Land of the Iron People

By Martin W. Lewis | January 16, 2012 | 28 Comments
Map of the Sarmatian Tribes in Late Antiquity

The Caucasus is often noted as a place of cultural refuge, its steep slopes and hidden valleys preserving traditions and languages that were swept away in the less rugged landscapes to the north and south. Such a depiction generally seems fitting for the Ossetians, the apparent descendents of a nomadic group called the Sarmatians that dominated the grasslands of western …

The Turkic-Speaking Greek Community of Georgia—and Its Demise

By Martin W. Lewis | January 19, 2012 | 21 Comments
Maps showing ethnic changes in Georgia

Readers who have carefully examined the maps of the Caucasus posted recently in GeoCurrents may have noted an area marked “Greek” in south-central Georgia. This Greek zone appears on most but not all ethno-linguistic maps of the region, sometimes as a single area, and sometimes as two. Depicting Greek communities here is historically accurate but increasingly anachronistic. Since 1991, the Greek …

Historical Clues and Modern Controversies in the Northeastern Caucasus: Udi and Ancient Albania

By Martin W. Lewis | January 23, 2012 | 29 Comments
Map of Hurrian Kingdoms, 2300 BCE

The Caucasus is rightly called a “mountain of languages.” Linguistic diversity reaches its extreme in the Russian republic of Dagestan and adjacent districts in northern Azerbaijan. The nearly three million inhabitants of Dagestan speak more than thirty languages, most of them limited to the republic. Such languages may seem inconsequential to outsiders, mere relict tongues of minor peoples. Yet a …

The Politics of Genocide Claims and the Circassian Diaspora

By Martin W. Lewis | January 24, 2012 | 47 Comments
Map of the Caucasian Language Families

Allegations of genocide are often politically charged. On January 23, 2012, the French parliament voted to criminalize the denial of the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. In Turkey, by contrast, it is illegal to assert that the same acts were genocidal. The Turkish government remains adamant, threatening to impose unspecified sanctions on …

Dreams of a Circassian Homeland and the Sochi Olympics of 2014

By Martin W. Lewis | January 27, 2012 | 6 Comments
Map of the Circassian Republics in Russia

The resurgence of Circassian identity in recent years faces daunting obstacles. Many Circassians believe that the long-term sustainability of their community requires a return to the northwestern Caucasus, but both the Russian state and the other peoples of the region resist such designs. Circassians are thus focusing much of their efforts on global public opinion, building a protest movement in …

The Circassian Mystique and Its Historical Roots

By Martin W. Lewis | January 30, 2012 | 16 Comments

Although little known today, the Circassians were once a famous people, celebrated for their military élan, physical mien, and resistance to Russian expansion. In the nineteenth century, “Circassophilia” spread from Europe to North America, where numerous writers expressed deep admiration for the mountaineers of the eastern Black Sea. Prominent physical anthropologists deemed Circassian bodies the apogee of the human form. …

Sochi 2014: A Subtropical Winter Olympics?

By Martin W. Lewis | January 31, 2012 | 20 Comments
Wikipedia map of the Subtropics

In 2010, Foreign Policy magazine asked Russian opposition leader and Sochi native Boris Nemtsov why he opposed the 2014 Winter Olympics in his hometown. Nemtsov’s reply was broad ranging. He decried the displacement of 5,000 people while warning that corruption and organized crime would devour most of the construction funds showered on the city. He began his critique, however, with …

The Role of the Caucasus in Russian Cultural and Intellectual History

By Vitaliy L. Rayz | February 3, 2012 | One Comment

(by guest blogger Vitaliy L. Rayz, in collaboration with Martin W. Lewis)
The present GeoCurrents series has focused on the peoples of the Caucasus, examining Russia and Russians only insofar as they have impacted the region. But the Caucasus has played a significant role in the politics of Russia, and in its cultural history as well. The most prominent Russian poets …

The Many Armenian Diasporas, Then and Now

By Martin W. Lewis | February 6, 2012 | 2 Comments
Wikipedia map of the recent Armenian Diaspora

Armenians have long been scattered over many countries, whether as permanent migrants or temporary sojourners. Today, only about a third of their population lives in Armenia, with the rest spread over a wide area, as can be seen on the map posted here. This pattern largely reflects the movements caused by deadly mass expulsions of the early 20th century that …

The Centrality of the Caucasus

By Martin W. Lewis | February 7, 2012 | 5 Comments
London to Mumbai Great Circle Route, Passing Through the Caucasus

For the past month, GeoCurrents has focused on the Caucasus, exploring the region’s history, languages, cuisines, and more. Two additional posts will conclude the series. We will subsequently pause to introduce some new features of the blog, and then we will move on to examine a different part of the world.
The current series began by asking a seemingly banal question, …

Chechnya’s Questionable Votes—and Investments

By Martin W. Lewis | March 13, 2012 |

Returns from the recent elections in Russia indicate significant “irregularities” in the voting process. Nowhere was fraud more widespread than in Chechnya, which recorded a 99.6 percent voter turnout, and which Vladimir Putin took by 99.76 percent.
The Russian government has been pouring money into Chechnya in recent years —US$21 billion by some accounts. Many of these investments have been questionable. …

The Sochi Olympics and the Circassians: A Media Failure?

By Martin W. Lewis | February 7, 2014 | 33 Comments

When lecturing on the Caucasus last fall, I asked my Stanford students if any of them had ever heard of the Circassians. Out of a class of roughly 100 students, two raised their hands. I then told that class that the Circassians had once been an extremely well known if often misunderstood ethnic group, and I predicted that by February …

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