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Where Is the Caucasus?

Submitted by on January 11, 2012 – 10:25 pm 40 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, Armenia, and Azerbaijan), three mostly unrecognized self-declared states (Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh), and seven internal Russian republics (Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia-Alania, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachai-Cherkessia, and Adygea); in addition, Islamist insurgent have declared a virtual “Northern Caucasus Emirate” in the Russian-controlled part of the region. Struggles in the Caucasus have global ramifications, as was made evident in the summer of 2008 when the Russian military triumphed over the U.S-backed government of Georgia. In world historical terms as well, the Caucasus is surprisingly significant. Several Caucasian ethnic groups—particularly the Ossetians, the Circassians, and the Armenians—have played major roles on a vastly wider stage.

Despite the importance of the Caucasus, the region is often overlooked in the international media. When noticed, it is often portrayed as a remote and violence-plagued place, a jumble of mountains situated at the periphery of some other region: the Russian extreme south, the Middle Eastern extreme north, or the European extreme southeast. The region is also often misconstrued. Confusion can be generated by something as simple as replicated place names. As was recently explored in GeoCurrents, the country of Georgia and the U.S. state of Georgia are often mixed-up in web-searches, while the historical Caucasian kingdoms of Iberia and Albania are sometimes taken for the European peninsula and country of the same names. Befuddlement even attaches to the term “Caucasian,” which in some circumstances refers to the peoples and features of the region, yet in others denotes a supposed biological race more generally associated with Europe.

Satellite Image of the Caucasus The peripheralization of the Caucasus, however, is an artifact of conventional ways of dividing the world, not a reflection of the region’s intrinsic position. By changing the frame of reference, the Caucasus is revealed as a key place, one that historically linked the Black Sea and Caspian Sea basins, and, more broadly, the greater Mediterranean world with the Central Asian realm of the Silk Roads. The region may have formidable mountain barriers, but it also contains a broad swath of lower lands sandwiched between the Greater and Lesser Caucasus ranges, which long formed an important trade corridor and is now a major oil-pipeline route. And if one steps back a little further to examine all of Western Eurasia—the zone from Europe to India—the Caucasus appears as a central place. The direct line, or great circle route, from London to Mumbai passes directly through the lowlands of Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Map of the Larger Caucasus Eco-RegionDefinitions of the Caucasus vary, although most regionalization schemes encompass the same general area. A maximal Caucasus, visible in the map posted here, stretches from the Kuma–Manych Depression in the north to northeastern Turkey and northwestern Iran in the south. A more common definition excludes much of the northern plains as well as the southern highlands in Turkey and Iran, essentially covering the area bracketed by the Greater and Lesser Caucasus ranges along with their adjacent lowlands. The Caucasus as a whole is commonly split into two sub-regions: the Ciscaucasus, which encompasses the Russian-controlled area to the north of the main mountain crest, and the Transcaucasus, which takes in the area to the south (Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, essentially). Such terminology, however, is rejected by some for perpetuating a Russian imperial perspective, since the Latin word “cis” means “this side of” where “trans” refers to “the other side of.”

Map of Religion in the CaucasisThe Caucasus does not fit comfortably into any of the basic units of global geography. In the conventional continental scheme, the division between Europe and Asia runs along the crest of the Great Caucasus Range, putting the Ciscaucasus in Europe and the Transcaucasus in Asia. Georgians and Armenians, however, often take offense at this definition, preferring a European over an Asian designation for their homelands.* This continental distinction, some argue, inaptly places the region’s mostly Christian southwest in Asia and its mostly Muslim north in Europe. Yet in practice, the standard Europe/Asia divide means little these days, and few people even realize that the European “continent” officially terminates at the crest of the Great Caucasus. Southwestern Asia, moreover, has gradually been written out of Asia and instead placed in the quasi-continent of the Middle East—but the Middle East rarely includes the Caucasian countries.

Where then does one place the Caucasus, if it does not fit into Europe, Asia, or the Middle East? The default option is to group it with Russia.** Spanning the supposed continental divide, Russia is commonly conceptualized as the core of its own world region, one that also includes Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan as well as a few other former Soviet states. This scheme makes a certain amount of sense. The Caucasus was dominated by Russia from the early 1800s to the late 1900s, and its northern swath is still part of the Russian Federation. Yet when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Armenians and especially Georgians began to seek regional reassignment, wanting clear differentiation from the Russian realm.

Most Georgians and Armenians would prefer to have their countries grouped with Europe. Although Europe as a supposed continent does not include the Transcaucasus, there is no reason why all or part of the region cannot be slotted into a politically or economically defined Europe. In fact, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan already belong to the Council of Europe. All three are also officially tied to the European Union through its Eastern Partnership (EaP), along with Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine. Evidently, leaders of some EU states see the Eastern Partnership as a stepping-stone for actual membership, whereas others hope to avoid such a possibility. Public opinion polling shows that a substantial majority of Armenians want their country to eventually join the European Union, while key politicians in Georgia have expressed a more immediate desire for membership.

The question of where the Caucasian countries should be regionally classified cannot be clearly answered: it is simply not feasible to divide all parts of the world into ideally demarcated, non-overlapping regions. As far as I am concerned, Georgia can simultaneously be regarded as part of Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and a Russian-focused region. Certain regional frameworks work better than others for certain issues. But it is also true that some parts of the world do not fit well into any of our standard regions, the Caucasus among them. As a result, it is often best to regard the entire area as forming its own distinctive world region. Doing so helps place the Caucasus on the map of the world, positioning it not as an interstitial zone “between” Europe and Asia or Russia and the Middle East, but rather as an important and fascinating place in its own right.

* See the comments in this About.com geography page, which takes on the question: “Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan in Asia or Europe?”

** Five of the six leading college-level world regional geography textbooks in the United States, for example, place Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan in the following regions: Russia, the Russian Realm, Russia and the Post-Soviet States, Russia and Its Neighboring Countries, and Russia and the Near Abroad. The sixth text, my own co-authored Diversity Amid Globalization, takes a different strategy, putting Azerbaijan in Central Asia while slotting Armenia and Georgia into a Russian-based region. I have never been happy with this expedient, which divides the Caucasus and tends to offend Armenians and Georgians.

 

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  • Matthew McDevitt

    Professor Lewis,

    I must ask the most cliche question when referring the Caucasus. What is the history  of the term Caucasian as a descriptor of White?

    -Matt McDevitt

    • http://www.pereltsvaig.com Asya Pereltsvaig

      Let me answer this one, Matt. The short answer is that the concept of “Caucasian race” goes back to the German physician, physiologist and anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, who divided humanity into five races. He did consider people from the Caucasus region as the archetype of the white race, hence the term. Ironically, today most people from the region are not considered “Caucasian” because they are not light-skinned enough… The longer version of the answer in my other blog:

      http://languagesoftheworld.info/russia-ukraine-and-the-caucasus/are-caucasians-from-the-caucasus.html

      • http://forwhattheywereweare.blogspot.com/ Maju

        The proper term is “Caucasoid” (i.e. Caucasian-like) but for some reason people forget and uses Caucasian instead. Similarly some (usually poorly literate) people use “Mongol” instead of “Mongoloid” with similar inappropriateness.

        Never mind using “Negro” instead of “Negroid” (the third classical “race”) – that almost never happens. Or “Australian” instead of “Australoid”. So don’t say “Caucasian” when you mean “Caucasoid” either.

        • http://www.pereltsvaig.com Asya Pereltsvaig

          I am explaining the use of “Caucasian” (quite wide-spread even in official documents, at least here in the US) as I was asked. You are correct that the technical term is Caucasoid, but it’s barely ever used…

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Rosa/1593565364 Peter Rosa

            Every now and then there’s a proposal to use “European American” as a replacement for “Caucasian,” inspired no doubt by the increasing use of “African American,” but they never seem to catch on.

          • http://www.pereltsvaig.com Asya Pereltsvaig

            This is an interesting term. I must admit I’ve never heard it used though… And it might prove to be as problematic since the boundaries of Europe are rather poorly defined (as Martin Lewis discusses in his book “The Myth of Continents”).

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Rosa/1593565364 Peter Rosa

            Not that many changes in the boundaries of Europe would be needed in order to use using “European American” as a synonym for “white person.”  The biggest change would be moving the southeastern boundary to the Greek-Turkish border from the Bosporus, in order to exclude the people living in what is now the European part of Turkey. 

            Pertinent to this posting, Armenia and Georgia present a bit of a problem, as people from those countries generally are considered white (except for the Armenians in Los Angeles, to an extent).  Extending the European border to include them would not work, as doing so would include the non-white Azeris in Europe.  Finally, there are some scattered European American/white people native to places* outside any possible European boundary, most notably the Israelis and Lebanese Christians.  But by and large, widespread adoption of the term European American would not present significant geographical challenges.

            * = the millions of white people in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Asian parts of Russia aren’t an issue, as they are native to Europe though now living elsewhere.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Rosa/1593565364 Peter Rosa

            Not that many changes in the boundaries of Europe would be needed in order to use using “European American” as a synonym for “white person.”  The biggest change would be moving the southeastern boundary to the Greek-Turkish border from the Bosporus, in order to exclude the people living in what is now the European part of Turkey. 

            Pertinent to this posting, Armenia and Georgia present a bit of a problem, as people from those countries generally are considered white (except for the Armenians in Los Angeles, to an extent).  Extending the European border to include them would not work, as doing so would include the non-white Azeris in Europe.  Finally, there are some scattered European American/white people native to places* outside any possible European boundary, most notably the Israelis and Lebanese Christians.  But by and large, widespread adoption of the term European American would not present significant geographical challenges.

            * = the millions of white people in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Asian parts of Russia aren’t an issue, as they are native to Europe though now living elsewhere.

          • http://www.pereltsvaig.com Asya Pereltsvaig

            Thank you for your comment! This is all a very tricky issue though. For example, are Armenians and Georgians considered white? Perhaps it depends on who’s considering. In Russia, neither is considered truly white (and as you point out, perhaps not in LA either). Besides, Armenians and Georgians do not look that much “whiter” than Azeris, and genetically Armenians and Azeris are not that different from each other (as I explore here: http://geocurrents.info/cultural-geography/peoples-languages-and-genes-in-the-caucasus-an-introduction).

            And as for Israelis, which you’ve mentioned, some look white/European, others look more Middle Eastern yet others are black (Ethiopian) and so on.

            More generally, using the term “European” as a racial designation would be really misleading because it would conceal the differences between, say, Swedes and Greeks. But then again, the whole concept of a white race is very misleading…

          • http://forwhattheywereweare.blogspot.com/ Maju

            “Caucasian” (=Caucasoid or white) in US racialist census standards includes all people from West Eurasia, including Central Asia, Siberia, Afghanistan (but not Pakistan) and North Africa.

            What some neonazi Russians think about the “racial identity” of Caucasians should not be echoed in the benevolent terms you do Asya, because in Russia there’s no racialist classification system, as there is not in most of Europe (people is people and full stop).

          • http://www.pereltsvaig.com Asya Pereltsvaig

            Maju, you are incorrect about the use of the term “Caucasian” in the US: it does not include most groups that you’ve mentioned.

            As for the Russian classification, I am not talking about neonazis, just regular people and the standard usage, which I am very familiar with…

            And I think by now it’s pretty clear that GeoCurrents does not endorse any racial classification schemes as meaningful in any way. We simply examine usages that other people make of these terms and provide background information that shows why such usages are problematic.

          • http://forwhattheywereweare.blogspot.com/ Maju

            I’ll reply separately. (Unintending)

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Rosa/1593565364 Peter Rosa

            Armenians are considered a slightly exotic but nonetheless white ethnic group in the United States.  The Armenians in Los Angeles are a bit different, partly because of sheer numbers and partly because they are distinctly lower on the socioeconomic scale than the area’s white population  (and lower than Armenians elsewhere in the country).   Georgians would be considered white too, if there were enough of them in the country to attract notice.

            Azeris don’t qualify as white in America because they are Muslim. It’s similar to the racial classification of Middle Eastern people: Lebanese Christians and Jewish Israelis are white, Muslims are not, even if physical differences are minimal.

          • http://www.pereltsvaig.com Asya Pereltsvaig

            I will start a new thread, so as to avoid the massive indent…

          • guest

            If a blonde blue eyed swedish girl becomes muslim, she becomes non white and a negroid guy from nigeria becomes christian he is white.. heil hitler racist..

      • Martin W. Lewis

        Hi Matt — I’ll add a bit as well. Asya is absolutely right about Blumenbach, whose work was extremely important in the history of physical anthropology.  Predating him, however, was the idea of a “Japhetic” race or stock, based on the biblical story of the sons of Noah, which also gave us the terms “Semitic” and “Hamitic.” The idea, long discredited, was that Noah’s arc came to rest in the Caucasus, and Japheth and his descendants stayed in the region and developed particular racial characteristics that they later took to Europe in their migrations. Many Europeans considered themselves Japhetic people, and some took Genesis 9:27 (“God shall enlarge  Japheth”) as a warrant for imperial expansion!. The great linguist William Jones even used the term “Japhetic” to describe the Indo-European language family. 

        Also significant was the idea that the people of the Caucasus are unusually good-looking, which appealed to European vanity.  Before Darwin, many thought that humankind was declining, and that less “degeneration” had occurred in the Caucasus than elsewhere.  Why the idea of “Caucasian” beauty?  It may be linked to the fact that beautiful Circassian women of the NW Caucasus were often recruited as highly elite slaves (yes!) for the Ottoman Imperial harem.  More on that later….     

        • http://www.pereltsvaig.com Asya Pereltsvaig

          Martin is absolutely correct about the use of the term “Japhetic” as a sort of link between racial and linguistic classifications. James Parsons (an older contemporary of William Jones) even wrote a book titled The Remains of Japhet, being historical enquiries into the affinity and origins of the European languages. Curiously enough, Parsons used the term “Japhetic” purely linguistically, to designate a family of languages that included English, French, Irish, Greek, Russian, Bengali, etc. Although Parsons did make many other mistakes, he knew better than to include languages of the Caucasus into the Indo-European family — as we’ll see in the forthcoming posts, the languages of the Caucasus are quite different from Indo-European ones. 

          • Matthew McDevitt

            Thank you for the responses Professors. I do remember you mentioning the beauty of Circassian women in your lectures Professor Lewis. It seems the Darwinstic thinking about the future of humanity today would state the opposite in that people are getting more attractive not less attractive. 

          • http://www.pereltsvaig.com Asya Pereltsvaig

            It’s an interesting question for sure, but if the overall appearance of humanity is changing, so is the notion of what is beautiful. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all…

  • http://profiles.google.com/johnwcowan John Cowan

    I particularly like the Arabic name of the area, jabal al-lughat, the mountain of languages.  (Also the name of Lameen Souag’s excellent blog.

    • http://www.pereltsvaig.com Asya Pereltsvaig

      John, you pre-empted my today’s post (coming soon), so stay tuned!

  • http://forwhattheywereweare.blogspot.com/ Maju

    I honestly think that the false debate about the Europeanness of Georgia and very specially Armenia is ridiculous and only makes sense in a religious-dominated mindset by which Europe is somehow associated with Christianity and medieval stuff like that. You mention that Armenia and Georgia are part of the Council of Europe but you ignore that also do all five Central Asian republics (mostly Muslim traditionally) and Armenia’s “hated” (Muslim) neighbors: Azerbaijan and Turkey.

    If Armenia is Europe, so is Australia or Canada or Cuba or even Cape Verde and South Africa, why not? Of course we can debate about whether Europe is a continent or rather a subcontinent (my opinion) and about the cultural ideological tenets of “europeanness” (which IMO have more to do with acceptance of homosexual marriage and such than with Ratzinger’s golden scepter – in other words with the humanist values (equality, freedom, solidarity) grown against religion than with religion itself).

    In this regard I strongly prefer to select new candidates for EU by the solidity of their human rights record (something that Georgia is really poor at and Armenia not much better) than by their religion: I prefer to incorporate tolerant and democratic Senegal (even if “Muslim” and African) than intolerant West Asian or even Central-East European sectarian and ethnically intolerant madness. We may end up with fascist Hungary and catholic fundamentalist Poland in EU, go figure! (Oops, we already did – what a shame!)

    Personally I find quite a pity that a geography article on the Caucasus revolves about the narcissitic pseudo-europeanness of Armenia and Georgia almost alone (grow up guys and assume what you are) and does not even mention the rich linguistic diversity (three language families), the possibly interesting genetic peculiarities (which is within the West Asian broader regional continuum anyhow, even in the North Caucasus, mind you) or the ongoing wars such as Chechnya or the broader “islamist” NE Caucasian uprising, or the various important genocides (Circassians, Armenians, etc.)

    It’s like I’m going to say something but I’m going to totally fall inside the cliché. Sorry, Martin but that’s how this article looks: very mediocre. Luckily you are much better in other cases.

    • http://www.pereltsvaig.com Asya Pereltsvaig

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Maju! Actually, we are going to cover many of the topics you mention towards the end of your comment: e.g. more on linguistic diversity in my today’s post (coming soon) — so stay tuned!

    • http://kevinmorton.me Kevin Morton

      Re your last two paragraphs: Maju, did you read the first sentence? “For the next two weeks or so, GeoCurrents will examine the Caucasus.”

      The title of this first post in the series suggests that it is centrally concerned with location and placement. Since it’s a two-week series, I imagine linguistics, wars, and maybe even genetics will be covered in more detail in subsequent articles of the series, and that this post is not meant to be comprehensive.

    • Martin W. Lewis

      I agree that the issue of whether Georgia and Armenia actually belong in Europe is not significant, as the final paragraph of the post indicates. But I do think it is important to note how such issues are conceptualized in the region. By noting that most Georgian and Armenians prefer a European designation, I am not agreeing (or disagreeing) with that preference, only stating what appears to be a fact, based on public opinion polling.

      You are quite right that the Council of Europe includes Azerbaijan and Turkey, as well as Russia (but not the five former Soviet Central Asian states). I contemplated mentioning as well the fact that the “Europe” of the Eurovision song contest also brings in North Africa!  The overarching point of this discussion is that regional designations such as “Europe” are not ultimately fixed by geographical reference points, but rather can take very different shapes in different contexts. More important, however, is the final point on the Caucasus as a whole forming a distinctive region in its own right, which I do not think is adequately recognized outside of the region. 

      At any rate, I do appreciate your comments, critical though they may be!

      • http://forwhattheywereweare.blogspot.com/ Maju

        Actually I want to apologize because I think that the comment was unnecessarily harsh and angry. Also I did not realize it was the introduction of a series.

  • http://heinerbuhr.blogspot.com/ grijsz

    Have a look here :) to get a glimpse 
    http://kaukasus.blogspot.com/

    • http://www.pereltsvaig.com Asya Pereltsvaig

      Thank you for the link — the pictures are stunning!

  • http://www.pereltsvaig.com Asya Pereltsvaig

    Thank you for your comments (and for starting a new thread — good idea!). Regarding the US usage, in my experience “Caucasian” doesn’t include people from “Central Asia, Siberia, Afghanistan (but not Pakistan)”, as you said in an earlier comment. Sometimes, Near Easterners and Arabs and North Africans are set apart as a different category too. One thing to note is that different forms, censuses etc. will use different categorization schemes even within the US.

    As for the Russian classification, I wouldn’t say that it is any more “snobbish” or “Hitler-like” than any other racial classification scheme, or any less misguided (e.g. Russians do not consider themselves Mongoloid though the genetic contribution of such peoples to the Russian gene pool is significant). However, it is quite different from the schemes used in other places. “Caucasian” in Russian is far from being synonymous with “white”. It would include Georgians, Armenians, Chechens etc. As for anti-Caucasian thinking (or should it be “feeling”?) in Russia, you are correct in that it has been strengthened by nationalist forces in recent years. But this phenomenon is nothing new, and the anti-Caucasian sentiments run deep in the Russian psyche for centuries. Perhaps Martin and/or I will write a separate post on the history of the Russian involvement (embroilment!) in the Caucasus.

    • Martin W. Lewis

      Interesting thread on “Whites” and “Caucasians’Caucasoids.” I have not examined this issue in depth, but I can say, based on examining many maps of “The Races of Man” produced in the United States and Britain, that definitions of “White” varied tremendously, and were often confused with language. I own a 1944 atlas that classifies all of Somalia and Ethiopia as racially “White,” based, presumably on the fact that most peoples here speak Semitic and Cushitic languages. Also of note is the fact that some writers concluded that the Ethiopians were actually sun-darkened White people after they defeated the Italian at the battle of Adwa in 1896, based on the racist idea that Blacks could could never defeat Whites! In an earlier post I explored the fact that Finns and Hungarians were often classified as Yellow or Mongaloid based on their Uralic languages. 

      An interesting place to look would be Australian immigration policy during the “White Australia” period,  I has thought that Afghans  were classified as “White,” as they played an important role as camel drivers in opening up the outback. But that is not true.  According this website
      (http://www.dulwichcentre.com.au/afghan-histories-in-australia.html), “By the end of the nineteenth century, racial intolerance swept across Australia directed primarily at the Chinese, the Pacific Islanders in Queensland, and the Afghans. Acts of violence and harassment at the local level, linked with the national policies of The Immigration Restriction Act, later to be known as the White Australia policy, and refusals to grant Afghan people naturalisation (even those who had been living in Australia for up to thirty years) gradually debilitated the Afghan community in Australia. Many Afghans were forced to leave the country and gradually the role of the camel trains was replaced by trains and trucks”.

      • http://forwhattheywereweare.blogspot.com/ Maju

        My parents own an encyclopedia in which, when dealing with races, they describe Ethiopids (roughly Horners) as Caucasoid. This is an old contention among anthropometrists, surely because they are actually somewhat intermediate in their genetics in fact. Even claims on the Maasai being diffusely somewhat Caucasoid have found in these last years of genetic research some support (they consistently appear as apparently mixed with Caucasoids at levels of maybe 15%, much like Finns and some Russians do in relation with Siberians).

        There was after all some back-flow into Africa from West Asia and Europe and while in most places the African aboriginal genetics still dominate, in North Africa the Eurasian ones clearly do and in the Horn, specially the Semitic-speaking areas of Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Caucasoid influence may be I guess of 40% or so (although it’s such an old mix that a Ethiopian-specific identity  eventually shows up and replaces both continental affinities).

        However what you say about “sun-darkened whites” seems to be a populist construct. And that only whites could win battles had been debunked earlier by the Zulus in South Africa for example. Though sure, I can imagine that not too bright people could hold such ideas: there’s always something oddly comforting in saying “we” when it’s others who actually win the battles, as happen with sports’ teams.

        More intriguing anyhow is why Pakistanis and Indians are not considered Caucasoid… when genetically they are most close and in classical anthropometry they were (excepted a minor component that was considered “Australoid” the catch-all category for all others).

        But you’ll meet people who consider ‘white’ and ‘caucasoid’ to be different concepts. I don’t think that is any construct with any resemblance of objectivity to be worth discussing: they are just populist ideas often dangerously loaded with racist connotations.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Rosa/1593565364 Peter Rosa

          On a while back on another forum I read that people of mixed Ethiopian and white origin often look quite white.  Curious, I did a Google Images search, and indeed it is very often the case.  In general, I would say that a person who is 1/2 Ethiopian and 1/2 white is more white-looking than a person who is 1/4 West African and 3/4 white.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Rosa/1593565364 Peter Rosa

      Racial classifications in the United States have little to do with biology and even less to do with logic. Most notably, there’s the One Drop Rule, under which even a single ancestor several generations in the past conclusively determines one’s racial identity.  And then there’s the way that all people of Spanish-speaking background are classified as a single, separate race with no regard whatsoever for physical appearance.

      As for people from the Caucasus and West Asia in general, whatever the Census Bureau definitions may say, the rule in general use is non-Muslim usually means white, Muslim always means non-white.

      • http://www.pereltsvaig.com Asya Pereltsvaig

        Of course, not everybody considers Israelis and for Lebanese/Syrian Christians as white persons…

  • http://www.pereltsvaig.com Asya Pereltsvaig

    Thank you for your comments (and for starting a new thread — good idea!). Regarding the US usage, in my experience “Caucasian” doesn’t include people from “Central Asia, Siberia, Afghanistan (but not Pakistan)”, as you said in an earlier comment. Sometimes, Near Easterners and Arabs and North Africans are set apart as a different category too. One thing to note is that different forms, censuses etc. will use different categorization schemes even within the US.

    As for the Russian classification, I wouldn’t say that it is any more “snobbish” or “Hitler-like” than any other racial classification scheme, or any less misguided (e.g. Russians do not consider themselves Mongoloid though the genetic contribution of such peoples to the Russian gene pool is significant). However, it is quite different from the schemes used in other places. “Caucasian” in Russian is far from being synonymous with “white”. It would include Georgians, Armenians, Chechens etc. As for anti-Caucasian thinking (or should it be “feeling”?) in Russia, you are correct in that it has been strengthened by nationalist forces in recent years. But this phenomenon is nothing new, and the anti-Caucasian sentiments run deep in the Russian psyche for centuries. Perhaps Martin and/or I will write a separate post on the history of the Russian involvement (embroilment!) in the Caucasus.

  • http://www.pereltsvaig.com Asya Pereltsvaig

    Thank you for your comments (and for starting a new thread — good idea!). Regarding the US usage, in my experience “Caucasian” doesn’t include people from “Central Asia, Siberia, Afghanistan (but not Pakistan)”, as you said in an earlier comment. Sometimes, Near Easterners and Arabs and North Africans are set apart as a different category too. One thing to note is that different forms, censuses etc. will use different categorization schemes even within the US.

    As for the Russian classification, I wouldn’t say that it is any more “snobbish” or “Hitler-like” than any other racial classification scheme, or any less misguided (e.g. Russians do not consider themselves Mongoloid though the genetic contribution of such peoples to the Russian gene pool is significant). However, it is quite different from the schemes used in other places. “Caucasian” in Russian is far from being synonymous with “white”. It would include Georgians, Armenians, Chechens etc. As for anti-Caucasian thinking (or should it be “feeling”?) in Russia, you are correct in that it has been strengthened by nationalist forces in recent years. But this phenomenon is nothing new, and the anti-Caucasian sentiments run deep in the Russian psyche for centuries. Perhaps Martin and/or I will write a separate post on the history of the Russian involvement (embroilment!) in the Caucasus.

  • http://www.pereltsvaig.com Asya Pereltsvaig

    In response to Peter Rosa’s comment: thank you for your interesting comment! It underscores very clearly the point I have been trying to make, as well as Martin Lewis’s point below: that racial designations, such as white/European/Caucasian and others, often confound racial concepts of physical nature (e.g. skin color, hair color/structure, etc.) with social factors such as language, religion and socio-economic status. While such social factors are very important in defining ethnic identity, it is hardly sensible to confound the social notion of ethnicity (itself an immensely complex matter) with the physical issue of race, especially now that genetics has shown conclusively that such physical racial divisions have no genetic underpinnings…

  • http://caravanistan.com Steven

    How about using the term Eurasia to describe the area of Central Asia and Caucasus? I notice it’s a term that people in Central Asia like to use to say that they are not “Asian”, nor “European”, but something in between. I understand Eurasia also means the whole continent, but to me it makes sense.

    • http://forwhatwearetheywillbe.blogspot.com/ Maju

      IMO misleading: Eurasia is Asia with Europe included (in Japan and other places they just consider all to be Asia). So I am as Eurasian as they are and so are Japanese, Indians, etc.

      In fact, in the prehistory and genetic contexts I even use the term Eurasia(n) sometimes (or Eurasia-plus) to indicate all the peoples that descend from the Out-of-Africa migrants, including Australasian and American Aborigines (and North Africans as well).

    • http://geocurrents.info Martin W. Lewis

      “Eurasia” is increasingly used for Central Asia, but the problem is that it is an ambiguous term; strictly speaking it includes Europe, as you note.  Also, the Caucasus is quite distinctive from Central Asia per se.  My preference is thus to regard the Caucasus as a small world region in its right. 

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