Caucasus (or Caucasia) is a region situated between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea – named after the Caucasus mountains, which are Europe’s highest mountains (mount Elbrus of 5,642 meters – or 18,510 feet).
Caucasus mountains are divided in the Greater Caucasus Mountains (of North Caucasus) and the Lesser Caucasus Mountains (of South Caucasus).
The western part of Caucasus receives high amounts of precipitations – which results in green lush landscapes, while the eastern part near the Caspian Sea is more dry.
The North Caucasus is part of the Russian Federation since 1864.
After the Russian conquest, North Caucasus went through an arbitrary division of its territories. Most significant is the division of Circassia into 3 republics (Adygea, Karachay – Cherkessia, Kabardino – Balkaria); Ingushetia also lost a significant part of its territory to North Ossetia (considered an ally of Russia for its lack of opposition) after the 1944 deportation of Ingush and Chechen people. Also, the north of Azerbaidjan and the south of Dagestan constitutes the historic homeland of Lezgins (second biggest ethnic minority of Dagestan after Avars). Yet the state borders were created without taking this factor into consideration, and therefore the community (and families) have been divided by borders.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the majority of the states incorporated in USSR gained independence, including South Caucasus republics. However, the North Caucasus remained behind the Russian Federation’s borders and any talks for independence have been refused (read more here – War in North Caucasus).
Today, North Caucasus consists of the provinces of Krasnodar Krai, Stavropol Krai and 6 constituent republics:
– Republic of Adygea
– Republic of Karachay – Cherkessia
– Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria
– Republic of North Ossetia–Alania
– Republic of Ingushetia
– Republic of Chechnya
– Republic of Dagestan
Abkhazia and South Ossetia are states under defacto Russian control, whose independence is recognized by Russia and a handful of small countries. Most countries in the world consider it Georgia’s territory (more details here Russia – Georgia conflict).
While Russians represent an ethnic minority in the Caucasian republics, Russian remains the primary official language.
Culturally and historically, North Caucasus also includes the northern parts of Georgia and Azerbaijan. Georgians are considered the only native Caucasians who have their own independent state.
Caucasus region is a bridge between Europe and Asia – North Caucasus is considered (geographically speaking) to be part of Europe, and South Caucasus (Transcaucasus) considered to be part of Asia.
North Caucasus is the warmest region in Russia.
Despite its rich natural resources, the North Caucasus has socio-economic problems worsened by the recent wars, which caused signification economic damage, population movements, border closures and economic blockades.
The Caucasian region has geo-strategic significance for Russia due to the Caspian petroleum and natural gas in the region, and due to the surrounding export channels and pipelines.
North Caucasus remains a major tourist spot for Russia with high potential due to its natural attractions and warmer climate.
Caucasus is rich in minerals and energy resources:
- alunite, gold, chromium, copper, iron ore, mercury, manganese, molybdenum, lead, tungsten, uranium, zinc, oil, natural gas, coal.
The region between the Greater and Lesser Caucasus mountains formed an important trade corridor throughout the centuries, and is now a major oil-pipeline route.
The oil and mineral resources have been exploited by Russia since the XIX century, with the first oil refinery opened in 1864 in Krasnodar-Krai (half of which had been part of Circassia until the 1864 Russian conquest). Read more on Economy, oil and quality of life in North Caucasus
Although North Caucasus represents 1% of the Russian Federation territory, it accounts for 30% of all Russian mineral water and over 70% of its thermal water resources – with its full potential not yet reached (source www.en.krskfo.ru).
North Caucasus is also rich in fauna and flora which puts it in between the 34 biodiversity hotspots of the world.