Soviet Union Table of Contents
In addition to the three major nationalities in the Caucasus region, about two dozen other nationalities and numerous subgroups resided there. Most of these nationalities lived in the Dagestan Autonomous Republic located northeast of the Caucasus Mountains in the Russian Republic. In 1989 the more than 2 million people of the Dagestan Autonomous Republic were among the most diverse populations, ethnically and linguistically, in the world. The nationalities ranged in size from almost half a million Avars to barely 12,000 Aguls and even smaller groups. The great majority of the Dagestan people were Sunni Muslims; but small numbers of Shia Muslims, Christians, and Jews were also present.
Soviet Central Asia, a vast area of over 3.9 million square kilometers, is made up of the Kazakh, Kirgiz, Turkmen, Uzbek, and Tadzhik republics. In 1989 some 49 million people, or over 17 percent of the population of the Soviet Union, lived there. About 37 million people, or over 75 percent of the population of Soviet Central Asia, belonged to nationalities that were traditionally Islamic. In the 1980s, they, like Muslims in other parts of the Soviet Union, have been very resistant to the process of Russification. In 1989 some 98 percent of Soviet Central Asian Muslims spoke primarily their own languages, and their fluency in Russian was low in comparison with other Soviet nationalities.
The five nationalities of Soviet Central Asia shared a number of common characteristics. They had similar ethnic origins, experienced similar historical development, and, most important, were all part of an Islamic society. But regional and cultural differences were also present, especially between the Tadzhiks, who speak an Iranian language, and the rest, who speak Turkic languages with various degrees of commonality. The life-styles of the five peoples also differed, from the Tadzhiks, who have an ancient urban tradition, to the Kazakhs, some of whom were still nomadic as late as the 1920s.
Data as of May 1989