05 June 2003, 14:34

Caucasian Civilization or Caucasian Culture?

Interest in the Caucasian affairs is traditional in the international sociology. Russian interest has been growing since the late 1980s, along with the efforts to preserve the country`s territorial integrity. No longer content with simply making forecasts of the Caucasus future in the 21st century, the West has declared it an area of its geopolitical interest and now bitterly criticizes Russia`s Caucasian politics.

The federal center`s policy in the Caucasus is based on coercion and short-sighted decisions which ignore the objective reality and specific character of the region. The Caucasus has been divided by the Russian politicians into two areas, the Russian (Northern) half and the non-Russian (Southern) half. However, the Caucasus is one whole due to its environmental and sociocultural integrity. Despite their ethnic differences, the peoples of the Caucasus share common spiritual values. These are the "Caucasian civilization", "Caucasian hospitality", "Caucasian mentality", etc.

Caucasian scholars have lately been making attempts at a new interpretation of the history of the Northern Caucasus. In his analysis of the existing civilizational approaches to this region, V.V. Chernous describes the Caucasian civilization as "polyethnic, religiously syncretistic (synthesizing local pagan cults with elements of Christianity and various forms of Islam), combining highlands, foothills and plains, where terrace agriculture, alpine cattle-breeding and equiculture coexist side by side, embodied in the highlanders` original ethical codes and psychological constitution, and where non-governmental forms of self-organization prevail"(1). However, the sociocultural process taking place in the Caucasus, particularly in its Northern moiety, have not yet been properly analyzed in philosophical, sociological and cultural terms. The arising negative attitude to the Caucasian civilization should be noted here. Saying that the Northern Caucasus is now being born as a distinct area, V.A. Avksentyev asserts that this process "may in the future lay the foundation for a common way of life which will be called the North Caucasian civilization" (2). The Caucasus is "..an area of the ongoing cross-cultural interaction, and the theory of a `Caucasian civilization` can not stand scientific criticism" (3).

Nevertheless, there is another viewpoint according to which the common "Caucasian civilization" does exist, finding its expression in the intensive interaction between many unique cultures and almost all of the world` s religions (4).

However, questions naturally arise: how does R.G. Abdulatipov understand civilization? What are the distinctive traits of the "Caucasian civilization" ? May the Caucasian etiquette be put into the foundation of the Caucasian civilization? Quite naturally, yes, if civilization is understood as a community of people sharing their spiritual values. In this sense, the philosopher`s opinion may be substantiated.

The Caucasian civilization may explain the civilizational processes which are now taking place in the Caucasus. On the other hand, it does not transmit the social experience gained by the Caucasian peoples. This function is performed by culture rather than civilization, which preserves and translates this experience from one generation to another. Culture also generates new programs for the life, behavior and communication of people which bring changes into the society`s life. Along with the biological genetic code which stores and transmits biological programs, man has another coding system, social code whereby the acquired social experience is shared by individuals and generations (5).

For this reason, coexistence of the concepts of "Caucasian civilization"  and "Caucasian culture"  seems possible. The question which naturally arises here is how correct the use of "Caucasian culture"  may be.

This phenomenon which is rarely addressed by Russian science is now examined by O.N. Damenia, Kh.G. Tkhagapsoyev and A.Yu. Shadzhe at the Laboratory of Social Ecology, Institute of Ecology of Mountain Areas, Kabardino-Balkarian National Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences. This team substantiates the ontology of the Caucasus`  sociocultural integrity by the long coexistence of the Caucasian peoples on highlands and foothills, common history, ethnogenetic kinship, etc.

Some foreign colleagues addressing the putative Caucasian identity say that nobody has so far managed to express it in concepts or make it a factor of politics (6). According to G. Nodiya, ''Caucasianness"  is associated with the ancient traditions of hospitality, highly ritualized behavior and the cult of military prowess (7).

We will try to give an outline of the Caucasian culture on the basis of evolutionary cultural anthropology. But first we will examine the concept of "Caucasian culture"  proposed by O.N. Damenia. At its center is the archetype which makes the Caucasian culture distinct from the Western and Eastern cultures. Western man lacks self-sufficiency in his subconscious. In his acts he tries to compensate it by perfecting himself in the outer world. The same phenomenon can be observed in the mentality of an individual belonging to the Eastern culture. He seeks the integrity of his being in himself rather than the external world. In the Caucasian culture, man is content with himself and the world and does not feel the need to seek a perfect being. The individual demonstrates the being as it is (8).

Indeed, when essential marks of a culture are set off, attention is traditionally paid to the models of people`s behavior and regulations of social interaction, because they show the culture`s true originality. Ethnicity presents itself as one of the important varieties of social code regulating the life of the Caucasians. Compared to the dynamic European culture, the culture of the Caucasus is rather static. To some extent it explains why ethnicity has not yet lost its actuality and importance here. On the contrary, it acts as a basic value of this cultural phenomenon, allowing it to exist.

Ethnic affiliation is understood by the Caucasian as the top rather than one of the rungs in the hierarchy of being. Ethnicity is a category of both individual and social identification. It is associated with such categories of value as verity, honor, justice and wisdom. This phenomenon shapes the individual`s particular ideas of dignity, truth and freedom. The Caucasian sees ethnicity as an ideal model for his life. It is the immanent regulator of the individual`s life, behavior and communication in the Caucasian culture. This is a phenomenon at work.

It should be noted that the influence of social and economic factors on ethnicity is insignificant. One of the leaders of Western applied sociology R. Inglegart notes that even in the mature industrialized society, "the key aspects of a culture which were assimilated by it at an early stage change but slightly"  (9). Ethnicity in the Caucasian culture which is a peculiar phenomenon has not changed at all; it is the sole explanation of the psychological and cultural universals of the Caucasian peoples.

Strictly speaking, ethnicity is not absolute. It neither suppresses individuality nor denies conscious choice. In the Caucasian culture, the individual realizes himself through ethnicity (unlike the individual in the European and American culture). "European"  suggests transethnic identification, while for the Caucasian ethnicity performs an important function in the individual, social and political life. Ethnicity indicates principles, ideals and norms of perfection. Condition of the Caucasian`s spirit (soul) correlates to his ethnic identity. For him, ethnicity has an axiological content, becoming his intentional essence. Value-oriented behavior, determined by the belonging to an ethnic community, is the individual`s specific characterization in this cultural phenomenon. In this aspect, ethnicity acts as an axiological paradigm determining the individual`s orientation in life.

Though the Caucasus is a polyethnic area, its existence as a sociocultural whole is not impossible. This is not an attempt to mythologize or absolutize the Caucasus` cultural past. The Caucasian culture which finds its expression in the unity of various ethnic cultures is a complicated phenomenon of history and culture which is identical neither to the Western nor to the Eastern culture.


1. Chernous V.V. Russia and the Peoples of the Northern Caucasus: Problems of the Dialogue of Cultures and Civilizations // Scientific Thought of the Caucasus. 1999. No. 3. P. 154-167.

2. Avksentyev V.A. Theoretical Aspects of the Research of Ethnic Processes in the Northern Caucasus // Ethnic Processes on the Eve of the 21st Century. Conference Proceedings (15-20 September, 1998). Stavropol, 1998. P. 11.

3. Avksentyev V.A. Problems of the Formation of a New Non-conflict Ethnic Relationship in the North Caucasian Region // Contemporary Ethnic Problems. Issue 5. Problems of Harmonization of Interethnic Relations in the Region: Conference Proceedings (14-15 September, 1999). Stavropol, 1999. P. 19.

4. Abdulatipov R.G. Caucasian Civilization: Originality and Integrity // Scientific Thought of the Caucasus. 1995. No. 1. P. 56.

5. See Stepin V.S. Culture // Voprosy Filosofii. 1999. No. 8. P. 61-71.

6. Koppiters B. Introduction. Georgians and Abkhazians // Way to Reconciliation. M., 1998. P. 14.

7. Nodiya G. Conflict in Abkhazia: National Projects and Political Circumstances // Way to Reconciliation. M., 1998. P. 32.

8. Damenia O.N. Problem of Identification of the Caucasian Culture // Herald of the Adygh National University. Maykop, 1998. No. 1. P. 57.

9. Inglegart R. Cultural Shift in the Mature Industrialized Society // New Post-industrial Wave in the West. Anthology / Ed. by V.L. Inozemtsev. M., 1999. P. 252.

14 April, 2000

Author: A.Yu. Shadzhe, Doctor of Philosophy, Professor, Department of Philosophy and Sociology, Adygh National University; Senior Researcher, Laboratory of Social Ecology, Kabardino-Balkarian Institute of Ecology of Mountain Areas; Source: Scientific Thought of the Caucasus: Scientific and Political Magazine. - Rostov-on-Don: North Caucasian Research Center of Higher Learning, 2000. No. 2 (22).

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