Friday, April 19, 2013

Quasi-Repost: What You Need to Know about the Russian Caucasus Ethnic Geography

In light of the Boston Marathon bombers coming from "near Chechnya" here is a repost from 2009 of a post I did about the complex conflict geography of Southern Russia, also known as the Northern Caucusus.  Basically, some ethnic groups thought they could become independent during the collapse of the Soviet Union but Moscow stated they could not because they were formally apart of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.  A series of wars and killings continue the haunt the region.

For more information I recommend the books The Caucasus: An Introduction and The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus.  Avoid "Chechen Jihad" and its many non-cited lies like the plague.

Click to enlarge.  Ethnic Russian in red, ethnic Muslim in green, ethnic Christian in blue, ethnic Buddhist in yellow

While most people are focusing on the War on Terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, things are picking up again on the Southern Russia front.  Russia is quadrupling its forces there after a failed experiment of relying on local, pro-Russian militias (thugs) against local, anti-Russian militias (thugs) who fight along side foreign Islamic radicals. (2013 note:  This has seemed to work as overall violence levels have been held in check.  However, militant Islamists from this region are active fighting in Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.  Eventually they will "come home".)

Few people fail to realize just how ethnically fractured Southern Russia is and how this has overflowed into international violence.  Not all areas have been trouble spots.  For instance Buddhist Kalmyks have gotten along fine with their Russian neighbors and the same goes Adygeya and Russians.  However, even before the collapse of the Soviet Union this has been a trouble spot.


  • Armenians-Azeris:  Technically outside the focused area but started off modern ethnic conflict in February 1988.

  • Ossetians-Ingush:  Started in 1992, this was probably the most personal of wars due to the low level technology and close fighting.  Ingush returning from Stalinist exile wanted their homes back taken by Russian-backed Ossetians.  Today there are still Ingush refugee camps in Ingushtia filled with Ingush with no place to call home.  

  • Georgians-Abkhaz-Ossetians: Not one, not two, not three, but four wars.

  • Chechens-Russians:  The most famous of the conflicts featuring two wars.  First one was a tie tht went to the Chechens while Putin helped Russia win the second.

  • Dagestan 1999:  Islamists based in Chechnya invaded Dagestan to expand their Islamic influence.  The war helped start the Second Chechen War.

  • Ingush v. Ingush:  Ingush angry at Russia and the world aligned themselves with outside Islamists.  A civil war which is part of the greater Chechen-Ingush-Dagestan Islamist War is currently on-going.

  • Currently Ethno-Islamic War:  Ethnic Muslim groups are currently backed by international Islamists who seek the defeat of Russia and also the local pro-Russian Muslim governments.

  • Trouble Spots to Watch: (2013 note:  Not so much.  Ethnic and Cultural Russians in Ukraine have won back power in the country and lines of control in Georgia seem set).

  • Eastern Ukraine and especially the Crimea:  Much of eastern Ukraine is either majority ethnic Russian or cultural Russian (ethnic Ukrainians who speak Russian as their first language).  While violence will probably not break-out, Moscow could insight problems if it wanted to.  A trouble spot within a trouble spot would be with the Crimean Tatars- ethnic Muslims who generally hate Russians.  They make up 12% of Crimea and provide a possible in for Islamic radicals.

  • Mingrelians in Gali, Abkhazia:  In the southeast of the breakaway region of Abkhazia is Gali where Mingrelians, an ethnic subset of Georgian live.  The Mingrelians have strong ties to Georgia but supported Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh when he ran for president without the endorsement of Moscow.  Now Mingrelians have been pushed further in the pro-Georgia camp but Russia may try to create Mingrelian nationalism to cause probelms for Georgia.
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