The Caucasus: An Overview by George Hewitt

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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