Chapter 16, Section 2

Transcaucasia

A Gateway of Migration

People have long used Transcaucasia as a migration route, especially as a gateway between Europe and Asia. Trade routes near the Black Sea led to the thriving commercial regions of Mediterranean Europe. And trade routes leading to the Far East began on the shores of the Caspian Sea.

A Variety of Cultures

Because of the presence of so many trade routes, Transcaucasia has been affected by many different peoples and cultures. Migrants brought a great variety of languages to the region. Arab geographers called the region Jabal Al-Alsun, or the "Mountain of Language." THE Indo-European, Caucasian, and Altaic language families are the region's most common.

Migration Brings Religions

The people of Transcaucasia follow a number of different regions. Today, the great majority of Azerbaijan's people are Muslim.

Conflict

The region's diverse population has not always lived together in harmony. The story of conflict is not new to Transcaucasia. It's history of conflict can be explained by its location.

A History of Outside Control

Over the centuries, Transcaucasia has been a place where the borders of rival empires have come together. Imperial armies have repeated invaded the region to protect and extend those borders.

Czarist and Soviet Rule

In the 18th century, the troops of the Russian Empire joined the list of invaders. By the early 1920s the Red Army - the name of the soviet military - had taken control of the region. In the decades following the Soviet takeover, the people of Transcaucasia experienced the same painful economic and political changes as the rest of the Soviet Union. The republics of Transcaucasia regained their political independence in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union. Since then, the region's leaders have struggled to rebuild their nations' economies.

Economic Potential

Today, economic activity in the Transcaucasian republics ranges from the tourism and wine industries of subtropical Georgia to large-scale oil production in Azerbaijan.

Agriculture and Industry

Although much of Transcaucasia's terrain is mountainous, each of the republics has a significant agricultural output. Transcaucasians have taken advantage of the region's climate and potential of the limited amount of land for farming. The humid subtropical lowlands and foothills of the region are ideal for valuable crops such as tea and fruits. Soviet planners transformed Transcaucasia from a largely agricultural area into an industrial and urban region. A number of industrial centers built by the Soviets continue to produce iron, steel, chemicals, and consumer goods for the region's economy. But today, the oil industry is most important. The oil industry has an impact not only on oil-rich republics, such as Azerbaijan. It also affects Armenia and Georgia because oil producers want to build pipelines across their territory to bring the oil to market.

Land of Flames

The significance of oil in the region has a long history. In fact, the name Azerbaijan means "land of flames." The republic's founders chose the name because of the fires that erupted seemingly by magic from both the rocks and the waters of the Caspian Sea. The fires were the result of underground oil and gas deposits.

Dividing the Caspian Sea

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan and the other four countries bordering the Caspian Sea have argued about whether the Caspian is an inland sea or a lake. The resolution of this argument will decide how resources are divided among the five countries. If the Caspian is a sea, then each country has legal rights to the resources on its own part of the sea bed. If it is a lake, the law says that most of the resource wealth must be shared equally among each of the countries. Azerbaijan, with large reserves off its coast, says the Caspian is an inland sea. Russia, with few off-shore reserves, insists that the Caspian is a lake. The oil industry has given the region's people hope for a better life. Many Transcaucasians still live in poverty.

Modern Life in Transcaucasia

Although time are tough for many, the region has to offer, including a well-educated population and a reputation for hospitality.

An Educated People

The educational programs of the Soviet Union had a largely positive impact on its people. Today, high quality educational systems remain a priority for Transcaucasians.

Hospiatlity

In their quest for a modern system of education, Transcaucasians have not forgotten the value of their traditions. Among the most important are the region's mealtime celebrations. The Georgian supra, or dinner party, is one of the best examples of such gatherings. Georgians take toasts at dinner parties very seriously because they show a respect for a tradition, eloquence, and the value of bringing people together - a goal of great importance for the future of the region.