06 June 2003, 01:20

The Concept of the North Caucasian Civilization as a Modern Paradigm of Caucasian Studies

The Northern Caucasus has been and remains a place where many cultures and peoples coexist. Christianity and Islam meet here, along with other world religions. This makes the development of this region in the past and in the present complicated and contradictory.

The historian`s task in this connection is to objectively describe the social, political, economic, historical and cultural roots of the contemporary events in the Northern Caucasus. This would be impossible without examining some theoretical problems and observing certain moral and ethical norms in the history of the North Caucasian peoples. What is meant here is first of all the dialectics of the national history and culture and the contemporary globalization and universal values, second, problems of the North Caucasian civilization. The questions are asked, and scholars, politicians and intellectuals in the Northern Caucasus are seeking answers to them.

So, the first aspect is the relationship between national cultures and the contemporary globalization. The growing separatism in the Northern Caucasus requires a clear answer from us. It is evident that, on the one hand, the traditions of national cultures should be revived and their best elements should be used in educating the younger generation. At the same time separatism should be curtailed with the use of the humanity's best achievements (1).

The role which the region's historians should play in this connection is evident. The ethnic psychology and consciousness of the North Caucasian peoples are determined by their history. The veneration of forefathers and the deep historical memory finding its expression in chronicles, legends, genealogies and epic songs are marks of their history-oriented mentality. This makes history so popular in the Caucasus. It may be said without exaggeration that history has become an instrument of ethnic and cultural self-identification and one of the factors of public conscience (2).

The history of the multinational Caucasus in the 19th century became an ideological battlefield where national interests clashed. One of the episodes of this battle was the discussion between Georgian and Armenian authors initiated by the book Armenian Scholars and the "Crying Stones" of the prominent Georgian writer and public figure I.G. Chavchavadze to which Kh.A. Vermishev answered with his book Materials for the History of Georgian-Armenian Relations, published in 1904. The parties in this discussion accused each other of an attempt to disparage their peoples and national histories "in the civilized world's eyes".

Now that the national consciousness of the Caucasian peoples is on the rise after the collapse of the USSR, such discussions acquire an especially bitter tone, in particular, in the North Caucasian republics. This phenomenon may be considered as an unavoidable by-product of sovereignty, as a "childhood state" of the public conscience which has not yet assimilated universal values of humanity. However, its effects may be disastrous. That is why the high moral and civil responsibility of all professional and amateur historians is to refute pseudoscientific populist theories and ideas which may have an adverse effect on the Caucasian studies in particular and the public conscience and interethnic relations in general.

Caucasian scholars have collected and analyzed a great number of facts about the ethnogenesis of the region's peoples. The works of Ye.I. Krupnov, R.M. Munchayev, V.I. Abayev, Kh.O. Laypanov, V.I. Markovin and many others may be cited in this connection.

The revival of such an important science as ethnology has brought with it the rising tide of articles, brochures and books about the historical roots of the North Caucasian peoples, published during the last 10 years. Some authors find their ancestors among the Ancient Greeks, others among the Aryans or Sumerians. A detailed analysis of these ideas is given in the article History and National Consciousness of V.A. Kuznetsov and I.M. Chechenov(3).

We are not going do decide whether these theories are scientific (or pseudoscientific). However, it should be noted that many of them are excogitated by nationalistic intellectuals with the purpose to rediscover and reinterpret their ethnic past as an instrument of separatism. We think that the historian's task now is to overcome the inert and destructive positions in the Caucasian studies with the use of the best achievements of the Russian and international academic science.

The science of history should not be subservient to politics or used as a political tool. This is an axiom. It is also quite evident that the latest achievements of the Caucasian studies should not be overlooked. Some ideas and conceptions should be further developed. First of all, this is the North Caucasian civilization as a new paradigm in the Caucasian studies. This conception was proposed at the International Congress "Peace in the Northern Caucasus though Languages, Education and Culture"which took place in Pyatigorsk. The Congress discussed the history, culture, economy and sociology of the Northern Caucasus. Unfortunately, both the first and the second Congresses failed to analyze properly the empirical material presented to them.

On the whole, the idea of the North Caucasian civilization may be useful, since the civilizational method allows to analyze the past with the use of various ideological and theoretical systems, construct alternative variants and models of the history of particular countries and peoples and determine national and universal paradigms of development. In ontology, this method shows that the humanity as a biological species is "doomed to civilization" and that civilization is a social form of the historical progress. In gnosiology, the civilizational method suggests dialogue and mutual understanding rather than the merely logical idea of knowledge. It does not disallow the hermeneutical circle or models whose veracity may be restricted.

This method may determine the typology and criteria of the North Caucasian civilization. First of all, on the level of everyday conscience this civilization should be understood as a conscious organization of the human community. The term "community" is often used by historians as one of the synonyms of civilization. Further, the North Caucasian civilization should be determined as a purely social form of organizing individuals` life, based on universal principles (law, duty, faith, money, etc.)(4).

The next level of abstraction (juxtaposing history with natural processes) determines the North Caucasian civilization as the society` s way of being and developing. In this sense, the peoples of the Northern Caucasus are "doomed"  to civilization. As a matter of fact, they became one of the branches on the mankind` s tree when they embarked on the path of civilization. As soon as civilization arose, the process of adapting to nature was supplanted by the process of historical development.

An essential event in the development of the human civilization was the birth of the world religions which, as was noted by K. Jaspers, almost coincided with the birth of the universal principles of civilization: "Thou shalt not kill", "Thou shalt not steal" , "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image" and others, which were written down into the humanity`s cultural code as unconditional imperatives (5).

Examination of the North Caucasian civilization with the use of the foregoing criteria makes evident that this region with its varying climatic conditions is an imminently interesting object of research, as a "solar plexus" of many cultures and peoples with their polyethnic and tempestuous history.

Specific facts which confirm these assertions are well known(6). Here are some of them. The Caucasus was one of the foci where the human civilization was born. In world religions and mythologies it is associated with Noah`s Ark, the story of Heracles and Jason`s expedition for the Golden Fleece. The Caucasus is the birthplace of the chief corn, wheat. In the modern and contemporary history, the Caucasus has been an important geopolitical area and the scene of many battles (Russian-Turkish War of 1768-1774, Battle for the Caucasus in 1942-43, two Chechen campaigns of the 1990s).

The Northern Caucasus remains the arena where political, military, economic and other interests clash. All this shows how important the correct understanding of this region`s role in the history of the world civilization is.

The following problems of the North Caucasian civilization`s history seem to be the most important:

1) place of the Caucasus in the history of ancient civilizations;

2) ethnogenesis of the North Caucasian peoples during the Middle Ages;

3) formation of the North Caucasian civilization in the 16th-17th centuries;

4) development of the Northern Caucasus in the 18th-19th centuries;

5) relations of the North Caucasian peoples with Russia in the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries;

6) ethnic and geopolitical problems of the Northern Caucasus in the end of the 20th - beginning of the 21st centuries.

Historians in cooperation with other specialists (archeologists, ethnographers, philosophers, linguists) should develop a typology of the North Caucasian civilization and determine the time of its birth and the factors of its development. Quite naturally, this task will require a new approach to the basic research paradigm, along with the use of numerous sources, system method and tolerance on the part of Caucasian scholars.

It is evident that the concept of the North Caucasian civilization should not be applied indiscriminately, for it may provoke the reaction of rejection. Neither should the Slavs be opposed to the Highlanders. What should be sought is the peoples`  mutual enrichment and consistent civilized development.


1. See Zhdanov Yu.A. Report to the Parliament: Legal Regulation of the Common Educational Space in the Northern Caucasus, Rostov-on-Don, 15 June, 1999. Shorthand record. P. 17.

2. Kuznetsov V.A., Chechenov I.M. History and National Consciousness // Problems in the Contemporary History of the Northern Caucasus. Pyatigorsk, 1998.

3. Peace in the Northern Caucasus through Languages, Education and Culture: 1st International Congress, 11-14 September, 1995. Abstracts. Pyatigorsk, 1996.

4. Anikeyev A.A., Krikunov V.P., Nevskaya V.P. The North Caucasian Civilization: Problems of Typology // Actual Problems in Historiography and Methodology of History. Stavropol, 1997. P. 4.

5. Jaspers K. The Origin and Goal of History. M., 1994. P. 451-452.

6. See History of the North Caucasian Peoples from the Beginning to the Late 18th Century. M., 1988. Vol. 1; History of the North Caucasian Peoples (Late 18th Century - 1917). M., 1988. Vol. 2.

14 April, 2000

Author: A.A. Anikeyev, Doctor of Philosophy, Professor, Department of Modern and Contemporary History, State University in Stavropol; 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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