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The North Caucasus

The region of Russia adjoining the north slope of the Caucasus range includes eight republics--Adygea, Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Kalmykia, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and North Ossetia. The North Caucasus retains its historical reputation as a trouble spot, although the majority of the region's republics are relatively peaceful and undeveloped.

The Adygh (or Adygey) Autonomous Oblast was established in 1922 as part of Krasnoyarsk Territory; between 1922 and 1928, it was known as the Cherkess (Adygh) Autonomous Oblast. It was redesignated as the Republic of Adygea in 1992. A landlocked sliver of land, Adygea occupies 7,600 square kilometers just inland from the northeast coast of the Black Sea, reaching southward to the northern foothills of the Caucasus Mountains. The oblast was formed by the early Soviet government for the Adygh people, who are one of three branches of the Cherkess, or Circassian, tribes--the other two being the Cherkess and the Kabardins. The general group from which these three peoples descend has occupied the northern border of the Caucasus Mountains at least since the Greeks began exploring beyond the Black Sea in the eighth century B.C. The Adyghs, most of whom accepted Islam early in the nineteenth century, speak a Caucasian language.

In 1995 the Adyghs constituted 22 percent of the population of Adygea, which was estimated at 450,400. The rest consisted of 68 percent Russians, 3 percent Ukrainians, and 2 percent Armenians. Adygea is the only Muslim republic of the Russian Federation where the Muslim share of the population has decreased in the last two decades. The official languages are Russian and Adygh. Rich soil is the basis for an agricultural economy specializing in grains, tobacco, sugar beets, vegetables, fruits, cattle, poultry, and beekeeping. Processing of meats, tobacco, dairy products, and canned goods is an important industry. The republic's only substantial mineral resource under exploitation is an extensive natural gas and oil deposit. The capital city, Maykop, is the main industrial center, with metallurgical, machine-building, and timber-processing plants.

Chechnya has been the scene of the most violent of the separatist movements against the Russian Federation (see Movements Toward Sovereignty, this ch.; Chechnya, ch. 9; Security Operations in Chechnya, ch. 10). The Chechens and Ingush belong to ancient Caucasian peoples, mainly Muslim, who have lived in the same region in the northern Caucasus Mountains since prehistoric times. The two groups speak similar languages but have different historical backgrounds. The Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Oblast was established in 1934 by combining two separate oblasts that had existed since the early 1920s. In 1936 the oblast was redesignated an autonomous republic, but both ethnic groups were exiled to Central Asia in 1944 for alleged collaboration with the invading Germans.

The republic was reinstated in 1957, and what was left of the original population was allowed to return. In the three decades following their return, the Chechen and Ingush populations recovered rapidly, accounting in 1989 for 66 percent of the population of their shared republic. At that time, the Chechen population was about 760,000, the Ingush about 170,000. This proportion reflects approximately the relative size of the two regions after they split into separate republics in 1992. (Ingushetia occupies a sliver of land between Chechnya and North Ossetia; in 1995 its population was estimated at 254,100.) In 1989 Russians constituted about 23 percent of the combined population of Chechnya and Ingushetia, their numbers having declined steadily for decades.

The most important product of what now is known as the Republic of Chechnya (and officially called the Republic of Chechnya-Ichkeria within the republic) is refined petroleum. The capital, Groznyy, was one of the most important refining centers in southern Russia prior to its virtual annihilation in the conflict of 1995-96. Several major pipelines connect Groznyy refineries with the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, and Russian industrial centers to the north. The republic's other important industries are petrochemical and machinery manufacturing and food processing. When the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic split in June 1992, Chechnya retained most of the industrial base.

Both the Chechens and the Ingush remain strongly attached to clan and tribal relations as the structure of their societies. Primary use of their respective North Caucasian languages has remained above 95 percent, despite the long period that the two groups spent in exile. Chechnya was fully converted to Islam by the seventeenth century, Ingushetia only in the nineteenth century. But the region has a two-century history of holy war against Russian authority. When the indigenous populations were exiled in 1944, Soviet authorities attempted to expunge Islam entirely from the region by closing all mosques. Although the mosques remained closed when the Chechens and Ingush returned, clandestine religious organizations spread rapidly.

Despite the close ethnic relationship of the Ingush and Chechen peoples, the Ingush opted to remain within the Russian Federation after Chechnya initially declared its sovereignty in 1991. In June 1992, Ingushetia declared itself a sovereign republic within the Russian Federation. At that time, Ingushetia claimed part of neighboring North Ossetia as well. When hostilities arose between the Chechens and the Ingush following their split, Russian troops were deployed between the two ethnic territories. Ingushetia opposed Russia's occupation of Chechnya, but it supported the regime of President Boris N. Yeltsin on other issues in the mid-1990s. The capital of Ingushetia is Nazran.

The Republic of Dagestan, formerly the Dagestan (or Daghestan) Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Dagestan ASSR), occupies 50,300 square kilometers along the western shore of the Caspian Sea, from the border with Azerbaijan in the south to a point about 150 kilometers south of the Volga River delta in the north. Arriving along the Volga, Russians first settled the area in the fifteenth century, but Dagestan was not annexed by the Russian Empire until 1813. During 1920-22 most of the Dagestani people joined the Chechens in a widespread revolt against Soviet power; some of the secret Islamic orders that led the revolt continued to practice terrorism through the Soviet period. Designated an autonomous republic in 1921, Dagestan lost some of its territory in 1941 and 1957; most of the original republic was restored in 1957. In the Soviet period, the Muslim majority suffered severe religious repression.

Unlike the other autonomous republics, Dagestan does not derive its existence from the presence of one particular group. Besides its Russian population (9.2 percent of the total in 1989), Dagestan is home to an estimated thirty ethnic groups and eighty nationalities, who speak Caucasian, Iranian, and Turkic languages and account for more than 80 percent of the population. The ten non-Slavic groups identified by Soviet censuses within the population of about 2 million are, in order of size, Avars, Dargins, Kumyks, Lezgins, Laks, Tabasarans, Nogay, Rutuls, Tsakhurs, and Aguls. Colonies of Azerbaijanis (4.2 percent in 1989) and Chechens (3.2 percent) also exist. Knowledge of Arabic and the teachings of Islam are more widespread in Dagestan than in any other Russian republic. In the 1990s, tension has existed among the many ethnic groups, accompanied by a debate over whether the republic should be organized on a unitary or federative basis.

The Avars, known for their warrior heritage, live mostly in the isolated western part of the republic, retaining much of their traditional village lifestyle. Numbering nearly 600,000, the Avars are by far the largest ethnic group in Dagestan. The Lezgins (also seen as Lezghins and Lezgians) are the dominant group in southern Dagestan; because of the Lezgins' location, their society has been more affected by foreign cultural influence than the other groups. Like the Avars, the Dargins, divided into several distinct groups, maintain their village communities in relative isolation. The Kumyks, the largest Turkic group in the republic, are descendants of the Central Asian Kipchak tribes; they inhabit northern Dagestan.

The Laks, a small, homogeneous group, occupy central Dagestan; their region was the original center of Islam on the upper Caspian coast. The Tabasarans, who live in southern Dagestan, are strongly influenced by the more numerous Lezgins, although folk practices such as vendettas persist. The steppe-dwelling Nogay of Dagestan, the second Turkic group in the republic, are descendents of one of two Nogay hordes of the Middle Ages; the second and larger group settled to the west, in Stavropol' Territory, and speaks a different language. The Tsakhurs, Rutuls, and Aguls are small, isolated groups of mountain people who lack a written language and largely have preserved their traditional social structures. The capital city, Makhachkala, is located in southern Dagestan, on the Caspian Sea, in a region dominated by the Lezgins.

Most of the rural population raises livestock in the republic's hilly terrain. Dagestan is rich in oil, natural gas, coal, and other minerals; swift rivers offer abundant hydroelectric-power potential. The polyglot nature of Dagestan has made linguistic unity impossible; among the major groups, only the Nogay language is said to be declining in usage. Besides Azerbaijani and Russian, six languages were recognized as official languages in the late Soviet period.

Kabardino-Balkaria, the territory of the Kabardin and Balkar peoples, is located along the north-central border of Georgia and the northern slope of the Caucasus Mountains. Occupying about 12,500 square kilometers, the autonomous republic was established in 1936 after fourteen years as an autonomous oblast. In 1944 the Balkars, like certain other North Caucasus groups, were deported to Central Asia because of their alleged collaboration with the Nazis, and the region was renamed the Kabardin Autonomous Oblast. Republic status was restored in 1957 when the Balkars were allowed to return. In 1992 both the Kabardins and the Balkars opted to establish separate republics within the Russian Federation, using an ethnic boundary established in 1863, but the incumbent parliament of the republic declared the separation unlawful. Since that time, the issue of the republic's configuration has awaited a referendum. In 1994 Kabardino-Balkaria signed a bilateral treaty with Russia defining respective areas of jurisdiction within the federation.

In the fifteenth century, Crimean Tatars and Ottoman Turks brought Sunni Islam of the Hanafi school to the territory that is now Kabardino-Balkaria, but Muslim precepts have been observed rather superficially since that time. A small group of Christian Kabardins remains. Despite Russian immigration into the republic, the Muslim Kabardins and Balkars now constitute nearly 60 percent of the republic's population, which was estimated at 800,000 in 1995. Of that number, 48 percent were Kabardin, 9 percent Balkar, and 32 percent Russian, according to the 1989 census.

Although the tribal system of the Kabardins disappeared with the first contact with Russians, some aspects of the traditional clan system persist in society, and family customs are carefully preserved. Unlike other ethnic groups in the region, the Kabardins were strongly pro-Russian in tsarist times; they did not participate in the numerous uprisings of Caucasus peoples between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. This affinity survived into the Soviet period despite the dominant position of the aristocracy in Kabardin society.

The economy of Kabardino-Balkaria is based on substantial deposits of gold, chromium, nickel, platinum, iron ore, molybdenum, tungsten, and tin. The main industries are metallurgy, timber and food processing, the manufacture of oil-drilling equipment, and hydroelectric power generation. The republic's capital is Nalchik.

The former Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Kalmyk ASSR) is located in the Caspian Lowland, on the northwestern shore of the Caspian Sea. It has an area of 75,900 square kilometers and a population of about 350,000 (in 1995).

The Kalmyks, also known as the Oirots, were seminomadic Mongol people who migrated from Central Asia in the sixteenth century. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, much of the Kalmyk population was dispersed or extinguished by Russian authorities, and the nomadic lifestyle largely disappeared during this period.

The republic was established in 1920 as an autonomous oblast. The Kalmyk ASSR was established in 1935, dissolved in 1943, then reconstituted in 1958, when its indigenous people were allowed to return from the exile imposed in 1944 for alleged collaboration with the Nazis. The republic officially changed its name to Kalmykia in February 1992. In 1989 the republic's population was 45 percent Kalmyk, 38 percent Russian, 6 percent Dagestani peoples, 3 percent Chechen, 2 percent Kazak, and 2 percent German. The Kalmyk economy is based on the raising of livestock, particularly sheep, and the population is mainly rural; the capital and largest city, Elista, had about 85,000 people in 1989.

Until 1992 an autonomous oblast, the Republic of Karachayevo-Cherkessia occupies 14,100 square kilometers along the northern border of Georgia's Abkhazian Autonomous Republic. A single autonomous region was formed in 1922 for the Cherkess (Circassian) and Karachay peoples; then separate regions existed between 1928 and 1943. The regions were recombined in 1943 as an autonomous oblast. The Cherkess converted to Islam after contacts with Crimean Tatars and Turks; the Karachay are an Islamic Turkic group. The Cherkess are the remnants of a once-dominant Circassian group of tribes that were dispersed, mostly to the Ottoman Empire, by the Russian conquest of the Caucasus region in the early nineteenth century. The original Cherkess now inhabit three republics, divided among five tribal groups: the Adyghs, Kabardins, Balkars, Karachay, and Cherkess (who inherited the original generic name).

The Balkars and the Karachay belong to the same overall Turkic group, although the latter live in the Republic of Karachayevo-Cherkessia immediately west of Kabardino-Balkaria on the north slope of the Caucasus Mountains. Like the Chechens and the Ingush, the Karachay were exiled to Central Asia during World War II. The Cherkess and the Karachay were reunited when the latter were returned from exile in 1957. Established in 1992, the republic is mainly rural, with an economy based on livestock breeding and grain cultivation. Some mining, chemical, and wood-processing facilities also exist. The population, which was estimated at 422,000 in 1990, was 42 percent Russian, 31 percent Karachay, and 10 percent Cherkess. The capital city is Cherkessk.

North Ossetia, called Alania in the republic's 1994 constitution, is located along the northern border of Georgia, between the republics of Kabardino-Balkaria and Ingushetia. The Ossetians are of Iranian and Caucasian origin, and they speak an Iranian language. In the first centuries A.D., Ossetia was occupied by the Alani tribe, ancestors of the modern Ossetians. In the thirteenth century, the Tatars drove the Alani into the mountains; Russian settlers began arriving in the eighteenth century. Russia annexed Ossetia in 1861. In 1924 North Ossetia became an autonomous region of the Soviet Union; in 1936 it was declared an autonomous republic. In 1992 the campaign for separation waged by Georgia's South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast directly to the south drew significant support from compatriots to the north. North Ossetia is the only Caucasus republic of the Russian Federation to give official support to Russia's occupation of nearby Chechnya.

In 1995 the republic's population was estimated at 660,000, of which 53 percent were Ossetian, 29 percent Russian, 5 percent Ingush, 2 percent Armenian, and 2 percent Ukrainian. The area of North Ossetia totals about 8,000 square kilometers. The outputs of industry and agriculture were of approximately equal value in 1993. The main industries, concentrated in the capital city of Vladikavkaz, are metalworking, wood processing, textiles, food processing, and distilling of alcoholic beverages. The main crops are corn, wheat, potatoes, hemp, and fruit. Lead, zinc, and boron are mined.

Data as of July 1996

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