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Articles in The Caucasus

South Ossetia Gains Recognition

By Martin W. Lewis | December 27, 2009 | 2 Comments

South Ossetia is a self-declared independent country located in what the United States and most of the international community regards as Georgian territory. It has functioned as an autonomous client state of Russia ever since the breakup of the Soviet Union in

Kalmykia: The Republic of Chess

By Martin W. Lewis | January 16, 2010 | One Comment

Certain parts of the world are so closely associated with a specific issue or activity that other matters tend to fade from view, at least as far as the international media are concerned. Consider, for example, Kalmykia, a Russian internal republic located northwest of the Caspian Sea. Larger in area than the Republic of Ireland

Caucasus Emirate: A Self-Proclaimed Virtual State Entity

By Martin W. Lewis | February 3, 2010 | One Comment

In the global hierarchy of polities, a “self-proclaimed virtual state entity” occupies a lowly position, being little more than a dream. But such dreams must be taken seriously if they are accompanied by violent actions intended to make them come true, as is the case in regard to the Caucasus Emirate. This Islamist “virtual state

Circassia and the 2014 Winter Olympics

By Martin W. Lewis | February 4, 2010 | One Comment

Yesterday’s post referred to the Ossetians as a people of “profound world-historical significance,” a phrase that fits their neighbors, the Circassians, even better. That members of the so-called White race are called “Caucasians” stems largely from the widespread nineteenth-century European notion that the Circassians, natives of the northwestern Caucasus, somehow represented the ideal human form

What’s in a (Country) Name: The Georgia/Grúziya Controversy

By Martin W. Lewis | December 12, 2011 | 23 Comments
List of YouTube Languages

Names of countries in foreign languages (exonyms) often bear no relationship to the names of the same countries in their own official language or languages (endonyms). Such differences are generally accepted without complaint; the fact that English speakers refer to Deutschland as Germany and Nihon as Japan is not a problem for the governments or the people of those countries.
Occasionally, …

Where Is the Caucasus?

By Martin W. Lewis | January 11, 2012 | 41 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 | 27 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 | 29 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 | 27 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 | 32 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 | 17 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
The Role of the Caucasus in Russian Cultural and Intellectual History

(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 …

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