In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Caucasus

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Reference Works
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Islam in the Caucasus
  • Works on Russian/Soviet Involvement in the Caucasus
  • Works on Relations Between the Independent Caucasus States and With Other Countries

Islamic Studies Caucasus
Michael B. Bishku
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0014


The Caucasus refers to both a mountain range that physically divides Europe and Asia and a larger region consisting of two parts: the North Caucasus in Russia; and Transcaucasia, or the South Caucasus, comprising Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. The North Caucasus includes seven republics—Adygea, Karachay-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya, and Dagestan—while the South Caucasus also includes three breakaway states: Abkhazia and South Ossetia (in Georgia) and Nagorno-Karabakh (in Azerbaijan). Ajaria, located on the border with Turkey, tried unsuccessfully to break away from Georgia. The region is one of the most diversely populated in the world, both linguistically and religiously. Dozens of ethnic groups speak Caucasian, Indo-European, and Altaic languages. The majority of inhabitants are Muslim (predominantly Shia in Azerbaijan and Sunni in the North Caucasus) with smaller numbers of Russian and Georgian Orthodox, Armenian Gregorian, Catholic and Protestant Christians, Jews and Yazidis. During the 4th century CE, first the Armenians and later, the Georgians converted to Christianity. In the 7th century, the Umayyad Caliphate established control over the South Caucasus with many in present-day Azerbaijan embracing Islam. The North Caucasus was under the influence of the Turkic Khazars, whose nobility had converted to Judaism during the 8th century. From about the early 9th century through the mid-11th century, the Bagratid Dynasty ruled over Armenia, and it continued to do so with varying degrees of autonomy in Georgia until the early 19th century. By the 10th century, first Turkic settlers moved into the South Caucasus, followed two centuries later by the Mongols. Thus, by the 14th century, a distinct Azeri Turkish language had evolved. By the 16th century, the Caucasus was a battleground between the Sunni Ottoman Empire and the Turkic Shia Safavid Dynasty of Persia, and over the course of the 19th century, the Russians conquered the entire Caucasus region. From 1918 to 1920 (or 1921 in the case of Georgia), the South Caucasus states were independent for the first time in the 20th century, only to be brought under Soviet control.

Introductory Works

Most introductory works on the Caucasus in the English language have been published either during the last years of the Soviet Union, when indigenous nationalism was becoming more pronounced, or since the end of the Cold War in 1991, when the three states of the South Caucasus achieved their independence and territories either within those countries or Russia sought self-determination. A number of books and articles on Central Asia include Azerbaijan because of its Turkic background, similar to that of predominantly Muslim-populated Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and even Chinese-dominated Xinjiang, but not Persian Tajikistan. King 2008 is the first general history available in English of the modern Caucasus and is very readable. de Waal 2010 is the best brief overview of the modern history of the South Caucasus. Matveeva 2002 is especially useful for understanding the issues that affect minority ethnic groups in the region. Although somewhat dated, Curtis 1995 is a wonderful source for understanding the problems of the early years of independence. Van der Leeuw 2000 is the only general history of Azerbaijan in the English language, while Lang 1981 is a good primer on the Armenian people and culture. Redgate 1998 is great for ancient and medieval history, while Walker 1991 is an excellent primer on the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Suny 1996 provides the most comprehensive account of the history of the South Caucasus region.

  • Curtis, Glenn E. Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia: Country Studies. Washington, DC: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1995.

    This book is part of the Area Handbook Series sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Army.

  • de Waal, Thomas. The Caucasus: An Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    An excellent survey and analysis of events in the South Caucasus with emphasis on modern times.

  • King, Charles. The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    This is the first general history of the modern Caucasus from the beginnings of Russian encroachment in the region to the present.

  • Lang, David Marshall. The Armenians: A People in Exile. London: Unwin Hyman, 1981.

    A brief survey of the Armenian people and culture.

  • Matveeva, Anna. The South Caucasus: Nationalism, Conflict and Minorities. London: Minority Rights Group International, 2002.

    A concise study of the history and politics of the three independent states, the breakaway regions, and minority ethnic groups.

  • Redgate, A.E. The Armenians. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.

    A survey of the history of the Armenian people, with an emphasis on ancient and medieval times.

  • Suny, Ronald Grigor, ed. Transcaucasia, Nationalism, and Social Change: Essays in the History of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Rev. ed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.

    This volume, edited by an eminent scholar of the region, is the only account in English of the entire South Caucasus from ancient times to the present.

  • Van der Leeuw, Charles. Azerbaijan: A Quest for Identity. New York: St. Martin’s, 2000.

    This is the only general history of Azerbaijan in the English language from antiquity to the present.

  • Walker, Christopher J., ed. Armenia and Karabagh: The Struggle for Unity. London: Minority Rights Publications, 1991.

    The author explains how the issue of the Nagorno-Karabakh region has become an important factor in the national politics of Armenia and the Armenian diaspora.

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