Whoever loses homeland loses all (Abkhazian proverb)
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.
Kartvelians, apart from the Laz and the Georgians of Ajaria (bordering Turkey) or Zakatala (in Azerbaijan), who are Muslim, are Orthodox Christians. Islam came early to Daghestan in the 8-9th centuries, from where it was relatively recently (16-19th centuries) adopted by the Chechens and Ingush, for both of whom it remains an essential component of their self-identity. The activities of the Ottoman Turks along the eastern coast of the Black Sea from the 16th century introduced Islam to locals who had hitherto been superficially Christian. However, religion today plays little role in the lives of North West Caucasians (particularly Abkhazians) still domiciled in the Caucasus, be they nominally Christian or Muslim -- indeed, all over the Caucasus one finds remnants of pagan beliefs intermingled with these younger mythologies. Despite what certain Georgian and Russian propagandists may scream in paranoid American ears, religion has no relevance to their conflicts with Abkhazians and Chechens, respectively.
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