The North Caucasus During the Soviet Union
By: Thomas Ranucci
Lying north of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, and spanning from the eastern coast of the Black Sea to the western shores of the Caspian Sea, this area remains unknown by most of the world despite its historical significance.
The strip of land plays a crucial role connecting northwestern Asia to the sought-out trade routes and resources brought by the Black Sea. In a traditional sense, the North Caucasus represents an area of foreign refuge that was sought out by necessity more than any desires.
Moreover, no great empires or kingdoms come to mind when there is mention of the North Caucasus. However, the region was known throughout history to be a battle ground–– Persians, Mongols, and Russians all participated in efforts of conquer for imperial expansion, and this trend has continued into the 20th century.
The native people of the North Caucasus include Chechens, Circassians, Avars, Ingush, Dagestani and many other demographics. These people were mostly of Muslim backgrounds, and did not share similar beliefs of their Russian counterparts to the north.
Inevitably, this religious and cultural difference spurred conflict between the two groups. Although outnumbered in many cases, the native people of the North Caucasus were known to be spiritually-driven protectors of their lands who held their ground well against Russian expansion.
The most well-known of these protectors was Shamil, the Chechen Imam, who although was successful for a brief time, surrendered to the Orthodox Russians in 1859.
Immediately after the gruesome fighting of World War I in 1918, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia became independent states, which only lasted until the the are was incorporated into the Soviet Union.
After that, the Soviet Union expanded into the North Caucasus mountain region and seized control over the 6 mountain regions of Adygey, Chechnya, Kabarda-Balkar, Karachay-Cherken and Dagestan.
Originally, these tribes were officially one autonomous region; but in 1922 the regions were declared separate entities.
The Soviet Union obstructed the cultural influence and growth of the ethnically-diverse regions they had claimed in various parts of eastern Europe and Asia–– the North Caucasus was no exception.
While the region had an extremely varied collection of groups, religions, and cultures, the communist wave that took over suppressed the people through political intervention.
The harsh “Russification” forced unalike groups to live with with each other, all while an unfamiliar and unwanted culture was urged upon them.
For example, in present-day Chechnya, it was frowned upon to use their native written language and instead traditional Russian was implemented in schools and everyday use. This artificial use of Russian culture even stretched to the dinner table.
Seeing food as a source of enjoyment and conversation was viewed as being bourgeois, so traditional culinary practices were replaced by meals being necessary nourishment and nothing more.
As World War II engulfed the globe, conditions in the North Caucasus did not improve. Mass deportations and exile were omnipresence throughout the region, with emphasis on the
Chechnya people because of alleged collaboration with the Nazis.
Much like what Nazi Germany orchestrated over the Jews, Stalin implemented similar genocidal-like efforts to deport Chechens and Ingush people to the outreaches of current-day Kazakhstan, to perish.
Overall, while this harsh time in history for the people of the North Caucasus does not receive the attention that other tragic historical events receive, the impact remains drastic on many.
Throughout the existence of the Soviet Union, the North Caucasus was an area of grievous misfortune for those who lived there; yet, their perseverance and willpower to keep going shows the limitless strength and pride of the various ethnic groups that call the area home.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the area remained in conflict, being plagued by war and disagreement that can be seen as a direct cause of the poor influence Russia had on the region.
Today however, the North Caucasus region remains a part of the Russian Federation. After a turbulent 1990s and large Russian government investment into the region, the Republics of the North Caucasus are largely peaceful and are considered some of the most beautiful in Russia.
Hays, Jeffrey. “CAUCASUS UNDER RUSSIA AND THE SOVIET UNION.” Facts and Details, 2016, factsanddetails.com/russia/Minorities/sub9_3d/entry-5091.html.