Caucasus Mountains

   The Caucasus is a 1,000-kilometer-long mountain system between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea; its watershed serves as one of the divides between Europe and Asia. The chain is divided between the northerly Greater Caucasus Range and the parallel Lesser Caucasus Range, which lies approximately 100 kilometers to the south. Mount Elbrus (5,642 m) is the highest peak in the range, as well as Europe’s tallest mountain.
   The chain, which includes a number of stratovolcanoes, is prone to earthquakes, and in 1988 the Spitak earthquake killed more than 25,000 Armenians. There are extensive deposits of rare minerals in the range, as well as oil and natural gas fields. The mountains define two geopolitical regions: the North Caucasus (Ciscaucasia), which includes the Russian regions of Krasnodar and Stavropol Krais, Adygeya, Karachay-Cherkessiya, Kabardino-Balkariya, North Ossetiya, Ingushetiya, Chechnya, and Dagestan, and the South Caucasus (Transcaucasia), comprised of the newly independent republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.
   The terms “Caucasus” (Kavkaz) and “Caucasian” (kavkazskii) are often used in the Russian language to denote all indigenous peoples of the region, often with derogatory undertones. Many Russians associate the Chechens, Azeris, and Georgians with the mafia and/or terrorism.
   Russian expansion into the region began with the Caucasian War (1817–1864), and continued with the incorporation of Ottoman territories in the southern zones during the second half of the 19th century. The region is historically part of the Muslim world and has been the scene of intense civilization conflict for nearly two centuries. Russian literature has long represented the region as a wild but noble environment. As the Russian Orient, the Caucasus was romanticized in the works of Aleksandr Pushkin, the Russian national poet, and later became a focus of many of the works of Leo Tolstoy. Seemingly unending conflict in the region is the key theme of contemporary Russian cinema.
   The landscape is highly variable, consisting of glaciers, marshlands, steppe, and alpine meadows. Snowfall is particularly high in the northerly range. Geographic challenges presented by the steep topography make transportation and commercial activity quite difficult. The Caucasus is rather poor and underdeveloped in terms of industry when compared to other parts of the former Soviet Union.
   See also Ethnic violence; Immigration; Islam; Islamism.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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