The Caucasus: an Overview

The Caucasus: an Overview (New Statesman) (commissioned but not printed)

Whoever loses homeland loses all (Abkhazian proverb)

The  northern  Caucasus,  currently  part  of  the  Russian  Federation,  plus  the  newly independent  Transcaucasian  republics  are  home  to  speakers of over  50  languages. Some are obvious  immigrants:  Indo-European speaking Armenians, Greeks, Ossetes (isolated  in  the  centre  of  the  main  range, their  language  is  cousin  to  Persian  and Kurdish,  which  is  also  attested  in  Georgia  and  Armenia),  Gypsies  and,  naturally, Slavs (Russians and Ukrainians); Turkic speaking Azerbaijanis, Kumyks (in the NE), Karachay-Balkars (in the NW) and Nogais.

The  indigenous  peoples  themselves  speak  upto  40  languages  that  fall  into  three families:  the South Caucasian  (Kartvelian)  family  is centred on Georgia but extends into Turkey, where both Georgians and virtually  the entire Laz community  reside  -- within  Georgia  there  live  upto  3  million ethnic Georgians,  perhaps  750,000 Mingrelians and around 50,000 Svans, all of whom (plus a tiny number of Laz) have been officially classified since circa 1930 as ‘Georgians’, producing a total Kartvelian population  for  the  last  Soviet  census  (1989)  of  3,787,393;  from  the  North  West Caucasian family the 100,000 Abkhazians  live  in sub-tropical Abkhazia between  the Black Sea and the southern slopes of the main chain, whilst their cousins, the 28,000 Abazinians  and  half-million  Circassians,  live  over  the  mountains;  the  North  East Caucasian family has a number of sub-divisions: east of the (North) Ossetians are the Ingush  and  their  close  relatives,  the  Chechens,  most  of  whose  1989  1  million population were  settled  in  and  around Chechenia, whilst  the  remaining  tribes, who may  number  from  under  1,000 with  their  language  restricted  to  a mere  handful  of isolated villages (such as  the Archi)  to  the most populous Lezgians and Avars (each over  half  a  million),  are  largely  confined  to  the  rugged  mountains  of Daghestan (bordering  the Caspian),  though  some  inhabit  both  northern Azerbaijan  and  eastern Georgia. 

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