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Thursday, 16 March, 2000, 15:25 GMT
The Caucasus: Troubled borderland
Map
stephen mulvey

The Caucasus mountains form the boundary between West and East, between Europe and Asia, and between the Christian and Islamic worlds.

They have lain for centuries on the frontiers of empires and their rugged highland peoples have never been completely subdued by conquering armies.

The linguistic and ethnic map of the region is a complex mosaic. An area the size of California is home to dozens of nationalities.

Click here for an at-a-glance guide to the region

That is one reason why it is regarded as a potential tinderbox.

Some communities have troubled relations with their neighbours, others with central governments in Moscow, Tbilisi or Baku.

Conflict zones
1998-1994: Nagorno Karabakh
1990-1992: South Ossetia
1991-1992: Georgia
1992: North Ossetia/Ingushetia
1992-1993: Abkhazia
1994-1996: Chechnya
1999: Dagestan
1999 to present: Chechnya
What these governments fear most is the possibility of a chain reaction: separatism in Chechnya, Dagestan, or Abkhazia spreading the length and breadth of the mountain range.

The Russian empire spread south of the main Caucasus mountain ridge at the end of the 18th Century, but highlanders on the northern slopes continued to fight for several decades.

Russia's eventual victory led to the flight of thousands of Circassians from the western end of the mountain range. Countless numbers perished en route to Turkey.

This mass movement of people was repeated by Stalin's deportations in the 1940s. The Chechens, Ingush, Karachai and Balkars, among others, were deported en masse to Central Asia.

These episodes are deeply imprinted on Caucasian historical memory. At the same time many Caucasians look back fondly on a brief period of independence at the time of the Russian Revolution. Some are still waiting to re-live it.

For a quick guide to Caucasus flashpoints, past and present, and an explanation of the underlying tensions,click the guide below:

The Caucasus at a glance

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