Michael B. Bishku

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online December 2009 | | DOI:


The Caucasus refers to both a mountain range that physically divides Europe and Asia and a larger region consisting of two parts: the North Caucasus in Russia; and Transcaucasia, or the South Caucasus, comprising Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. The North Caucasus includes seven republics—Adygea, Karachay-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya, and Dagestan—while the South Caucasus also includes three breakaway states: Abkhazia and South Ossetia (in Georgia) and Nagorno-Karabakh (in Azerbaijan). Ajaria, located on the border with Turkey, tried unsuccessfully to break away from Georgia. The region is one of the most diversely populated in the world, both linguistically and religiously. Dozens of ethnic groups speak Caucasian, Indo-European, and Altaic languages. The majority of inhabitants are Muslim (predominantly Shia in Azerbaijan and Sunni in the North Caucasus) with smaller numbers of Russian and Georgian Orthodox, Armenian Gregorian, Catholic and Protestant Christians, Jews and Yazidis. During the 4th century CE, first the Armenians and later, the Georgians converted to Christianity. In the 7th century, the Umayyad Caliphate established control over the South Caucasus with many in present-day Azerbaijan embracing Islam. The North Caucasus was under the influence of the Turkic Khazars, whose nobility had converted to Judaism during the 8th century. From about the early 9th century through the mid-11th century, the Bagratid Dynasty ruled over Armenia, and it continued to do so with varying degrees of autonomy in Georgia until the early 19th century. By the 10th century, first Turkic settlers moved into the South Caucasus, followed two centuries later by the Mongols. Thus, by the 14th century, a distinct Azeri Turkish language had evolved. By the 16th century, the Caucasus was a battleground between the Sunni Ottoman Empire and the Turkic Shia Safavid Dynasty of Persia, and over the course of the 19th century, the Russians conquered the entire Caucasus region. From 1918 to 1920 (or 1921 in the case of Georgia), the South Caucasus states were independent for the first time in the 20th century, only to be brought under Soviet control.

Article.  6920 words. 

Subjects: Islam

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