The independent countries of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan make up the region of Transcaucasia. Although they are independent countries, they are included in this chapter because they have more ties to Russia than to the region of Southwest Asia to their south. They have been inextricably connected to Russia ever since they were annexed by the Russian Empire in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and they were all former republics within the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, these three small republics declared independence and separated from the rest of what became Russia.
Geographically, these three countries are located on the border between the European and Asian continents. The Caucasus Mountain range is considered the dividing line. The region known as Transcaucasia is generally designated as the southern portion of the Caucasus Mountain area.
The country of Georgia has a long history of ancient kingdoms and a golden age including invasions by the Mongols, Ottomans, Persians, and Russians. For a brief three years—from 1918 to 1921—Georgia was independent. After fighting an unsuccessful war to remain free after the Russian Revolution, Georgia was absorbed into the Soviet Union. Since it declared independence in 1991, the country has struggled to gain a stable footing within the world community. Unrest in the regions of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Adjara (where the populations are generally not ethnic Georgian) has destabilized the country, making it more difficult to engage in the global economy. Russia and Georgia had a military conflict in 2008, when Russian troops entered the South Ossetian region to support its move toward independence from Georgia. Georgia considered South Ossetia to be a part of Georgia and called the Russians an occupying force. Many other countries, including the United States, condemned Russia for their action. Russian troops pulled out of Georgia but supported the independence of South Ossetia and Georgia’s westernmost region of Abkhazia. Neither South Ossetia nor Abkhazia are considered independent states by most of the world’s countries.
Note: If you want to watch a video about the tensions between Georgia, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia, check the weekly schedule of Guest Hollow’s Geography & Cultures curriculum for a link.
A democratic-style central government has emerged in Georgia, and economic support has been provided by international aid and foreign investments. The country has made the switch from the old Soviet command economy to a free-market economy. Agricultural products and tourism have been Georgia’s main economic activities.
In 2010, Armenia, to the south of Georgia, had a population of only about three million in a physical area smaller in size than the US state of Maryland. It is a country with its own distinctive alphabet and language.
Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion, an event traditionally dated to 301 CE. According to tradition, the Armenian Church was founded by two of Jesus’ twelve apostles – Thaddaeus and Bartholomew – who preached Christianity in Armenia between AD 40–60. Because of these two founding apostles, the official name of the Armenian Church is the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Armenian Apostolic Church remains the country’s central religious institution, and the Old City of Jerusalem in Israel has an Armenian Quarter, an indication of Armenia’s early connection with Christianity.
The small landlocked country has experienced invasions from every empire that controlled the region throughout history. The geographic area of the country decreased when the Ottoman Empire took control of western Armenia, and that region remains a part of Turkey to this day. A bitter conflict between Turks and Armenians during World War I resulted in the systematic deaths of as many as a million Armenians. This genocide continues to be commemorated annually on April 24, the traditional date of the Armenian Martyrs’ Day, but Turkey still denies the events were genocide.
Like the other former Soviet republics, Armenia has shifted from a centrally planned economy to a market economy. Before independence in 1991, Armenia’s economy had a manufacturing sector that provided other Soviet republics with industrial goods in exchange for raw materials and energy. Since then, its manufacturing sector has declined and Armenia has fallen back on agriculture and financial remittances from the approximately eight million Armenians living abroad to support its economy. These remittances, along with international aid and direct foreign investments, have helped stabilize Armenia’s economic situation.
Azerbaijan is an independent country to the east of Armenia bordering the Caspian Sea. It is about the same size in area as the US state of Maine.
This former Soviet republic has a population of more than eight million in which more than 90 percent follow Islam. Azerbaijan shares a border with the northern province of Iran, which is also called Azerbaijan. Part of Azerbaijan is located on the western side of Armenia and is separated from the rest of the country.
Located on the shores of the Caspian Sea, Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan and is the largest city in the region, with a population approaching two million. During the Cold War era, it was one of the top five largest cities in the Soviet Union. The long history of this vibrant city and the infusion of oil revenues have given rise to a metropolitan center of activity that has attracted global business interests. Wealth has not been evenly distributed in the country, and at least one-fourth of the population still lives below the poverty line.
Azerbaijan is rich with oil reserves. Petroleum was discovered here in the eighth century, and hand-dug oil wells produced oil as early as the fifteenth century. Since the Industrial Revolution, the rising value of petroleum for energy increased the industrial extraction of oil in Azerbaijan. At the end of the nineteenth century, this small country produced half the oil in the world. Oil and natural gas are the country’s main export products and have been a central focus of its economy. Large oil reserves are located beneath the Caspian Sea, and offshore wells with pipelines to shore have expanded throughout the Caspian Basin. As much as the export of oil and natural gas has been an economic support for the country, it has not been without costs to the environment. According to US government sources, local scientists consider parts of Azerbaijan to be some of the most devastated environmental areas in the world. Serious air, soil, and water pollution exist due to uncontrolled oil spills and the heavy use of chemicals in the agricultural sector.
Key Takeaways for Chapter 7:
✎ The vast majority of Russia’s population live in the western core area of the country, the region around the capital city of Moscow.
✎ Most of the cities on the Barents Sea and in the Eastern Frontier were established for manufacturing or for the exploitation of raw materials
✎ The Volga River and its tributaries have been an important transportation network for centuries. The Volga is the longest river in Europe.
✎ Very few people live in Siberia, but the region is rich with natural resources.
✎ The most contentious region in Russia is the Caucasus Mountain region, especially the area of Chechnya. The Caucasus is characterized by ethnic and religious diversity and by a desire for independence from Russia
✎ South of Russia in the Caucasus is the region of Transcaucasia. It is ethnically, religiously, and linguistically diverse. Countries there are independent of Russia, although they have a long history of being part of the Russian and Soviet Empires. Some of the countries are rich in petroleum reserves.
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Next: 8.1: Middle East
Additional information and image credits for Chapter 7:
Russia size comparison map
By Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). – Map from CIA World Factbook, 2015., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64316843
By Stefan Ertmann & Lokal Profil – :wmc:Map_of_Russia_-_Time_Zones.svg, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22748147
Saint Basil’s Cathedral
By Alvesgaspar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15824660
By xndr – Я автор этого фото, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5925502
Northern Asia map
By unknown, cut and additions by Ulamm 12:25, 18 April 2008 (UTC) – Via en:Image:Asia-map.png: cropped from https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/reference_maps/pdf/asia.pdf, rendered at 250% magnification in Acrobat Reader —Veliath 18:21, 17 August 2006 (UTC), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3900410
By © Vyacheslav Argenberg / http://www.vascoplanet.com/, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78975685
By Envisat satellite – http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2008/03/Arctic_Northwest_Russia, CC BY-SA 3.0-igo, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56883804
By Ivan Shishkin – artchive.ru, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76574453
By Екатерина Васягина – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69960916
By Kmusser – Own work using Digital Chart of the World and GTOPO data., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6077796
By Insider – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12267766
Topographic map of the Caucasus
By Bourrichon – fr:Bourrichon) – Own work ;Topographic data from the NASA Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM3 v.2) (public domain) edited with 3DEM, reprojected in UTM with GDAL (GDAL), and vectorized with Inkscape ; UTM projection ; WGS84 datum ; shaded relief (composite image of N-W, W and N lightning positions) ;Reference used for the additional data :* Rivers, bathymetry : Demis add-on for World Wind (see the approval e-mail and the Demis forum) ;* coast : World data bank II ;Approximate scale of topographic data : 1:1,463,000 ;Note : The shaded relief is a raster image embedded in the SVG file., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5160199|
Caucasus Mountains map and Eastern Russia cities map and Russia physical map- Usage terms: https://www.freeworldmaps.net/about.html
Asia region map
By Cacahuate, amendments by Peter Fitzgerald, Globe-trotter, Joelf, and Texugo – Own work based on the blank world map, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22746259
By PM / P – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5114637
By Separation51 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29439369
Volga River map
CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1122527
By ugraland  – https://www.flickr.com/photos/ugra/448118784/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3651439
By NASA – https://www.flickr.com/photos/nasa2explore/48139665557/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=80624490
Kuzbas coal mining
By Rvetal – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7600976
By LxAndrew – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23286171
CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53725
By Rasul70 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29712102
Ethnic groups in the Caucasus
By I, Pmx, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2430263
By Michal Vogt  from Warsaw, Poland – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2182389
Lake Baikal map
By Kmusser – Own work using Digital Chart of the World and GTOPO data., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4792956
Traditional dress Georgians
By ritingon – https://www.flickr.com/photos/ritingonthewall/1577238983/in/set-72157602059123702/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2940525
By OCHA, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32738325
By 517design – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84985541
By Սէրուժ Ուրիշեան (Serouj Ourishian) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32500984
By Paata vardanashvili – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=70265975
Tatev monastery in Armenia
By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52484481
By OCHA, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31353690
Azerbaijan relief map
By Uwe Dedering – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10593786
By Original: Matthew Hadley (nickname diff_sky)derivative work: Ximonic (talk), Simo Räsänen – Azerbajiani_landscape.jpg, CC BY 1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15210060