13 January 2004, 03:14

Historical Survey

A man emerged in the Caucasus at the very outset of his history; this is evidenced by a unique discovery made in Georgia, near the Town of Dmanisi (in the southwest of Tbilisi). The remains of a primitive man found on the territory of Georgia are nearly 1,8 million years old and are regarded as the earliest of the kind beyond Africa, the cradle of mankind.

Traces of paleolithic habitation, going back to the period 400 thousand years ago, have been found in the Transcaucasus region, though the whole of the Caucasus territory was settled by men nearly 150 - 180 thousand years ago.

As early as the 4th to the 1st centuries B.C. the Caucasus was one of the centres of highly developed bronze metallurgy. In the North Caucasus and Transcaucasia are found the burials of tribal nobility (3rd - 2nd centuries B.C.), containing the richest jewelry, gold-plate, silverware, weapons. Archaeological data show sufficiently high level of social and cultural development in the Caucasus between the 3rd to the 1st centuries B.C. The influence of ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Anatolia on culture of the Caucasian tribes of the Bronze Age is evident. On the other hand, one can observe the cultural influence of the Caucasus on vast regions of Western Europe.

Urartu was an ancient state in the Caucasus (9th to the 4th centuries B.C.), comprising a vast region of southern Transcaucasia. The native tongue of the ethnic kernel of this state apparently was close to the Vainakh-Daghestan linguistic group.

The kings of Urartu fought with the tribal unions, formed as the earliest states on the territory of Transcaucasia. Among them were the Georgian tribal confederations, the basis for the first Georgian states, Colchis (6th century B.C.) in Western Georgia and Iberia (4th century B.C.) in the east. It was namely Iberia that played the leading role subsequently for the unification of the Georgian tribes and the formation of a Georgian national culture.

Later, after the fall of Urartu, the ancient Armenian tribes gradually began to spread on the territory of Southern Transcaucasia, though the process of formation of the independent Armenian State protracted for the reason that the country was subject to the rule of the Persian, as well as Greek and Macedonian conquerors. It was only in 189 B.C. when the kingdom of Great Armenia came into being. The state reached the peak of its power in the first half of the 1st century B.C., when the Armenian Kingdom comprised a vast territory from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean.

In the 2nd century B.C. the Albanian Kingdom, inhabited mainly by the tribes kindred with the peoples of the Daghestan Highland, formed on the territory of present - day Azerbaijan. Later the ancient Albanians incorporated with the Azeris in the main as well as with the Georgian and Armenian peoples. Direct descendents of the Caucasian-language population of Albania are primarily the Udins (Uthes), who were several times referred to as one of the greatest Albanian tribes by the ancient authors beginning with Herodotus (5th century B.C.), as well as the "Shakhdogs" and peoples of Southern Daghestan (Lezghins and others).

The states of Transcaucasia entertained close cultural-economic and political relations with ancient Greece, Asia Minor, Iran and tribal unions of the North Caucasus. The interrelation of the Caucasus and ancient Greece is evidenced by the myths about Prometheus who was chained to a rock in the Caucasus(1), and the Argonauts who sailed to Colchis in search of the Golden Fleece. Towards the 5th century B.C. first towns of Greek colonists emerge on the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus. At the same time, as a result of internal historical development of Colcha, several town centres came into existence along the Rioni Valley.

In the 1st century A.D. Transcaucasia fell under the political influence of Rome. Towards the beginning of the 2nd century A.D., Lazica, a principality of the Western Georgian tribe, had been formed on the ruins of the Colchis Kingdom. Somewhat north of Lazica emerged the ancient Abkhazian tribal principalities.

Sindika (5th to the 4th centuries B.C.) is considered to be the earliest state formation in the North Caucasus, though, possibly it was only a tribal (apparently the Adygei) union with the embryos of a state. As for the greater part of the North Caucasus, in the second half of the 1st millennium B.C. there still was the supremacy of a communal-tribal system.

Two forms of social and economic system, the steppe and mountainous ones, existed in the region for the centuries. The steppe tribes were engaged in nomad and semi - nomad cattle-breeding. As regards the origin and level of the social and economic development they, as a rule, did not differ from their contemporary nomadic people of the Eastern European steppes. As for the mountaineers, they led a settled mode of life and along the cattle-breeding were engaged in farming. The immediate analogues of the culture and mode of life of the peoples inhabiting the North Caucasus can be found with their neighbours on the southern slopes of the Great Caucasus.

In the middle of the 1st millennium A.D. feudal relations as well as Christianity, adopted as the official religion in Armenia, Georgia and Albania in the first half of the 4th century, became firmly established in the states of the Caucasus. The 5th century is marked in the cultural history of the region by the appearance of the Georgian, Armenian and Albanian written languages.

During the 5th and 6th centuries the peoples of Transcaucasia had to fight against the Iranian and Byzantine invaders, and in the 7th century - against the Arab conquerors who brought a new religion, Islam, to the Caucasus. As a result of the national liberation movement and internal break up of the Arab Caliphate, the Arab dominion fell once and for all in the beginning of the 10th century. A number of feudal states arose in Transcaucasia, among which the unified Georgian Kingdom became the most distinguished towards the beginning of the 11th century.

Part of the population of the Northern Caucasus in the early Middle Ages (5th - 10th centuries) lived under the conditions of military democracy, but in Daghestan state formations had been existing since 5th - 6th centuries. The Turkic tribes of the north - western area adjacent to the Caspian Sea formed a powerful Khazars State in the 7th century. Towards the 10th century the Alanian (ancient Ossetian) Kingdom, embracing a vast territory of the central part of the Front Caucasus, also came into existence.

In the middle of the 11th century the Seljuk Turks began a devastating campaign against the Transcaucasus. The Georgian Kingdom appeared in the lead of the struggle against the Seljuks, and with the support of the peoples of Armenia and Shirvan (Northern Azerbaijan) freed the greater part of the Caucasus from the Seljuk Turks.In the 12th to the beginning of the 13th century feudal Georgia reached the summit of its development. During the reign of Queen Tamar (1184 - 1213) the Georgian Kingdom unified almost all of the Southern Caucasus. Queen Tamar's influence spread to the definite parts of the North Caucasus and Asia Minor.

The political and economic development fostered the flourishing of spiritual life. In the 12th to first half of the 13th century the masterpieces of art and wonderful architectural monuments were created in Transcaucasia. The most perfect model of classical Georgian literature, Shota Rustaveli's epic "The Knight in a Tiger's Skin" and the poetry of the Azerbaijanian poet Nizami are the masterpieces of world fiction.

In the 13th century Transcaucasia and the lowlands of the North Caucasus were conquered by the Mongols. After throwing off the Mongol yoke in the 14th to the 15th centuries several independent states formed in Georgia and Azerbaijan. As regards Armenia, its feudal statehood was abolished by the conquerors and the territory was incorporated with the adjacent states.

The independent state formations also were in Daghestan, though along with the feudal principalities free communities of the mountaineer peasants, the so-called "free highland communities" existed there for centuries. As for the numerous Adygei (Circassian) tribes, headed by the martial feudal nobility, they expanded their territory and occupied the area from the Black Sea in the west to the lower reaches of the river Terek in the east. The Ossets and ancestors of the Karachai - Balkarian ethnic group found themselves driven away in the mountains. In the north the Adygeis controlled a significant part of the Caucasian lowland to the outfall of the river Don. However, the advance of the Adygeis to the east was held back by the Daghestan feudals. The steppes lying between the rivers Kuban and Don were submitted to the Crimea-Tatar Khanate, which had recognized the protectorate of the Ottoman Empire and actively championed the Osman policy in the North Caucasus.

In the 16th to the 18th centuries Transcaucasia suffered from intestine strives and devastating invasions of the Iranian and Turkic conquerors. An outstanding role in the struggle against the conquerors was played by Georgia succeeding in upholding the national statehood in the most part of the country. However, under the conditions of feudal break-up it was impossible to resist the oppresors. The Georgian politicians who had failed to gain the assistance of Western Europe, began to seek the support of coreligious Russia, comprising part of the North-Caucasian Lowland up to the Terek river from the middle of the 16th century.

The acceding of the Caucasus to Russia was not a peaceful process. It was Peter I, Emperor of Russia, who began (first quarter of the 18th century) to conquer the lands of the Caucasus, southward of the river Terek along the Caspian Sea coast. But the Russians were not able to hold out on the joined territories for a long time. The offensive against the Northern Caucasus was recommenced in the 60s of the 18th century during the reign of Katharine II. The skirmishes between the Russian troops and detached forces of the mountaineers grew into the systematic military operations in the 70s - 80s. It was the beginning of the Caucasian war, which lasted scores of years and cost much blood both of the parties. Simultaneously the political influence of the Russian Empire spreads to the south of the Caucasus Range. In 1783 the Kingdom of Western Georgia, weakened as a result of incessant wars against the Turkish and Iranian oppressors and devastated by the invasions of the Daghestan feudal lords, joined the Russian Empire on condition that internal independence would be retained.

In 1801, under the pretence of defending the Georgian people from the foreign invaders the Russian tsarism annexed the kingdom of Eastern Georgia. Soon the political formations of Western Georgia were also conquered, and as a result of successful wars waged against Iran and Turkey, part of Southern Georgia, Northern Azerbaijan and Eastern Armenia were incorporated into the Russian Empire.

After acceding of Transcaucasia to Russia the peoples of the highlands found themselves encircled by the territories of the Russian Empire, though this fact did not break the mountaineers, quite on the contrary, it made them fight for the independence of their native land more persistently.

The Chechens, Adygeis, Ubikhs, the peoples of mountainous Daghestan and the tribes of the Abkhazian Highland took an active part in the Caucasian war and kept on fighting to 1859 - 1864. This protracted war of liberation is at present still a symbol of the anti-colonial struggle, the experience of which was studied even by the European and North-American revolutionaries of the 19th century. Tsarist Russia managed to crush the opposition of the Caucasian mountaineers owing to the numerical superiority of the forces, though this victory had cost the Russians serious losses in manpower. Shamil, a far-famed leader of the liberation movement of the Daghestan and Chechen peoples, sustained a defeat and surrendered in 1859, yet the peoples of these countries as well as other natives of the Caucasus still have a profound respect to this person.

In 1864 the opposition of the mountaineers in the West Caucasus was suppressed. May 21, 1864, the day when the tsarist troops captured the last strong point of the Western Abkhazian tribes in one of the gorges not far from the Black Sea, is considered to be the date of final subjugation of the Caucasus and termination of the Caucasian War. But after this the peoples of the Northern Caucasus several times rose in rebellion against the tsarism. Of particular significance was the armed revolt in Chechnya and Daghestan in 1877.

The severe colonial oppression, established by the tsarism, caused several armed actions in the Southern Caucasus as well, and namely, the uprisings of the Georgians (1804, 1810, 1812-1813, 1819-1820, 1841), Abkhazs (1821, 1824, 1840-1842, 1866, 1877), Transcaucasian Avars (1830), Talishes (1831), Lezghes and Azeris (1837).

The most irreconcilable elements of the Muslim population abandoned their native land and migrated to Osman Turkey. Among them were the Muslim Georgians and some groups of the Azeri nomads(2). A significant number of mountain peoples emigrated after the failure in the Caucasian War. Especially the Adygei - Abkhaz peoples suffered from the mass migration of the last century, as the number of those who fled from the country (about 60,000 people) is much higher than that of a total remaining population. As a result, the Ubikhs, people who inhabited the locality of the present-day town of Sochi, have disappeared from the ethnical map of the Caucasus. The territory of settlement of the Adygei, Abkhaz and Abaza peoples has been sharply reduced. Tens of thousands of the Chechens and Daghestans have emigrated to Turkey. Among the emigrants are the Noghais, who had been the citizens of Russia for a long time.

This tragedy of the Caucasian people was furthered in every possible way by the government of tsarist Russia aiming at clearing out of the newly annexed territories from the freedom-loving inhabitants who caused inconvenience to them, as well as by sultanic Turkey which reckoned on reinforcing the armed forces of the country with the martial mountaineers.

The accession to Russia, at the same time, had certain positive consequences for the peoples of the Caucasus, and namely, the abolition of feudal disintegration, the economic upsurge, as well as the accession to the Russian and European civilization had a wholesome effect on the development of the native peoples of the Caucasus.

After the wreck of tsarism in 1917 the Caucasian peoples lived in a hope of restoration of the national sovereignty. In May Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan became the independent republics. In the Northern Caucasus also appeared the national governments. However, in 1920 - 1921 the armed forces of Soviet Russia resolutely suppressed the arisen independence of the Caucasus. The republics and autonomies, formed in the framework of the USSR, practically enjoyed the rights of rather limited self-government. As a result of the total political repressions, carried out in the Soviet Union in the 1920-1930s, several hundreds of thousands of representatives of the Caucasian peoples were put to death or exiled to the concentration camps by the punitive bodies. Particular suffering was inflicted on the former noblemen, intellectuals, and the representatives of the clergy and working peasantry.

During the Soviet-German war (1941 - 1945) the peoples of the Caucasus made a ponderable contribution to the victory of the Soviet Union. Yet by the end of 1943 and in 1944 quite a number of peoples, blamed for complicity with the enemy, were deported to Central Asia and Siberia. The deported also included the Karachais, Balkarians, Chechens, Ingushes and "Meskhetians" from the Caucasus. At the same time, the sons of these peoples were at the front fighting against fascism. In the second half of the 1950s when the deported peoples of the Northern Caucasus were recognized politically rehabilitated and were allowed to return to their homeland, tens of thousands of the deported were dead.

However, when speaking about the offenses of the Soviet regime, it would be unfair to hold back the truth that during the Soviet period a great deal had been done for the economic and cultural development of the Caucasus. It concerns the not numerous nations in particular, who got a written language and, consequently, the literature in their native language, owing to which favourable conditions have been provided for creation of the national scientific and technical as well as creative intelligentsia.

The "Perestroika" and disintegration of the USSR have revealed a great deal political and social-economic problems gnawing the Soviet society. It is a regrettable fact, but the Caucasus has turned out to be that "point" in the post-Soviet area where breaking of the former social and political system proceeds most painfully. This fact has its explanation but it is a special subject. It may be only added that the century - old traditions of good-neighbour relations and popular wisdom will favour the establishment of just peace and prosperity in the Caucasus.


(1) The legend about Titan who was chained to a rock, apparently came into existence in the Caucasus. Later it was mentioned by the Greeks. This image is met in legends of the Georgians, Abkhazians, Adygeis, Ossets, Armenians.

(2) The Azeri tribes emigrated to Turkey as well as to Iran.

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