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Difference between revisions of "Caucasus"

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The Caucasus is a tinderbox of age-old rivalries, some frozen, some very hot indeed.  Much of the Russian [[North Caucasus]] is an active [[war zone safety|war zone]], and the rest suffers from extremely high crime rates.  Fragile ceasefires are more or less holding in Georgia's disputed regions of [[South Ossetia]] and [[Abkhazia]] (which are both quite dangerous), as well as between [[Azerbaijan]] and [[Armenia]], still officially at war over [[Nagorno-Karabakh]].
 
The Caucasus is a tinderbox of age-old rivalries, some frozen, some very hot indeed.  Much of the Russian [[North Caucasus]] is an active [[war zone safety|war zone]], and the rest suffers from extremely high crime rates.  Fragile ceasefires are more or less holding in Georgia's disputed regions of [[South Ossetia]] and [[Abkhazia]] (which are both quite dangerous), as well as between [[Azerbaijan]] and [[Armenia]], still officially at war over [[Nagorno-Karabakh]].
  
However safety is not a serious issue to worry in Georgia, [[Armenia]] and [[Azerbaijan]] if you are not too close to the border between that two countries. Feel confident visiting even [[Nagorno-Karabakh]] from Armenian side.  
+
However safety is not a serious issue to worry in [[Georgia]], [[Armenia]] and [[Azerbaijan]] if you are not too close to the border between that two countries. Feel confident visiting even [[Nagorno-Karabakh]] from Armenian side.  
  
 
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Revision as of 17:26, 13 December 2010

The Caucasus region is a mountain range lying between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, considered part of the natural boundary between Europe and Asia. Geographically it is usually considered part of Western Asia, adjacent to northeastern Turkey and northwestern Iran. But culturally, this portion of Russia and these small former Soviet republics are arguably part of Eastern Europe suffering from the same ethnic-hatred and tension that has plagued the Balkans including recent wars in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Chechnya.


Contents

Countries

Caucasus regions
Armenia
An ancient, millennia-old civilization amidst stark mountain landscapes and remote canyons. Home to amazing world heritage sites, forgotten monasteries and boasting a wonderfully laid back and friendly culture.
Azerbaijan
The richest state of the Caucasus, its capital awash in oil wealth and international business, wonderful old palaces of the Shirvan Shahs in Baku and Sheki, Zoroastrian fire temples, barren landscapes—oil and salt spreading across the surface, and world-class hikes in the lush heavily forested, mountainous north and south.
Georgia
The lush green heart of the Caucasus, with fabulous cuisine and culture, incredibly diverse landscapes, and an exceptional wealth of ancient churches, cathedrals, monasteries, and cave cities
Russia's North Caucasus (Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, North Ossetia)
A beautiful region of extraordinary mountains and river gorges, delicious food, stunning stone mountaintop villages, legendary hospitality, and a seemingly endless cycle of violence

For the regions of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh see their claming countries' articles. While the legitimacy of these governments is disputed, from a traveller's point of view they have de facto control of the country. This is not a political endorsement of claims by either side in the dispute.


Cities

  • Baku — the region's largest city, international oil hub, and ancient capital of Azerbaijan
  • Makhachkala — the largest city of the North Caucasus and capital of Dagestan
  • TbilisiGeorgia's vibrant capital, surrounded by mountains, and filled with good food and wine
  • Vladikavkaz — the North Ossetian capital, "Master of the Caucasus"
  • YerevanArmenia's capital is the region's most laid-back, with great places to eat, and within easy striking distance of the country's principal attractions

Other destinations

Understand

The countries and territories of the Caucasus are all isolated but ancient lands inhabited by what is likely the world’s most ethnically diverse region. All of places mentioned here were annexed by the Soviet Union at some point, only to gain independence in the 1990s. Unfortunately since then the area has witnessed several ethnic conflicts, civil wars, and other conflicts both between and inside states. Several regions such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh gained virtual independence this way, but few nations recognize the legitimacy of these places. While fighting continues in Russia's North Caucasus, countries here should be fairly safe.

While traveling here expect to meet friendly locals, eat food like none other on earth, and witness breathtaking mountain vistas.

Talk

Ethno-linguistic groups of the Caucasus

The Caucasus is one of the most complex linguistic regions in the world, containing more than 60 languages from five distinct language families. This linguistic diversity in and of itself is a major draw for anyone interested in linguistics, but it also lends the region one of its most alluring charms - cultural diversity.

Since the end of the Soviet Union, the Caucasus has become decidedly less cosmopolitan as ethnic groups have migrated to their "heritage" countries. This ethnolinguistic segregation has been especially deep where there has been ethnic conflict, such as between Armenians and Azeris, Abkhaz and Georgians, and Ossetes and Georgians. Because of this trend, there is less inter-ethnic interaction and therefore people are less multilingual than in the past. National languages are becoming ever more important to travelers in the region as fewer locals understand languages other than their own. Thus, a traveler to Georgia would benefit from Georgian, a traveler to Azerbaijan - Azeri, a traveler to Armenia - Armenian, etc.

Russian remains the lingua franca of the former Soviet nations of the Caucasus and the most useful language for any traveler intent on visiting multiple countries in the Caucasus. The current trend is for English language study to displace Russian, but the spread of English proficiency remains extremely limited in all four countries of the Caucasus. As a rule, older people are more likely to speak Russian while younger people are more likely to speak a little English or no foreign language at all. Similarly, citizens who are ethnic minorities within their country are more likely to speak Russian because it is a means of inter-ethnic communication. Travelers can expect that ethnolinguistic minorities within Russia, Abkhazia, or South Ossetia will speak Russian, except in very small, isolated villages.

Knowledge of Turkish is very useful for travel in Azerbaijan because Azeri Turkish and Anatolian Turkish are closely enough related to be mutually intelligible.

Get in

Get around

Border Crossing

Border crossing is generally difficult throughout the Caucasus. The Russian-Georgian border is closed to all traffic and the Russia-Azerbaijan border is only open for citizens of CIS countries. For non-CIS citizens, there is no way of entering/exiting Russia through the Caucasus. Aside from flying, there are ferries between Sochi, Russia & Trabzon, Turkey (near Georgia) and Baku, Azerbaijan & Aktau, Kazakhstan (near Russia).

The Armenian-Azerbaijani border is closed because these countries remain at war. To travel overland between Armenia and Azerbaijan, it is necessary to go through either Georgia or Iran.

Georgia's borders with Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan are all open, making the country somewhat of a regional transit hub for the Caucasus. Since 2003's Rose Revolution in Georgia, bribes are absolutely not necessary for foreign travelers crossing these borders.

Entering Azerbaijan with a used Armenian visa or vice versa could likely cause problems (suspicion) with border guards, but shouldn't prohibit entry. However, you will not be allowed entry to Azerbaijan with a Nagorno-Karabakh visa (you can ask to get the NKR visa on a separate piece of paper, though).

How

Overnight trains travel between Tbilisi-Yerevan and Tbilisi-Baku. When traveling by rail, you have the option of rooms containing 4 beds (coupe, pronounced koo-peh') or 2 beds (SV, pronounced es veh). SV is a bit more expensive, but more comfortable and generally considered more safe from pickpockets.

There are direct bus services between Tbilisi-Yerevan and Tbilisi-Baku. If taking the air-conditioned bus between Tbilisi-Baku, bring a jacket! Buses also operate across the Russian-Georgian border, but are not an option for non-CIS country nationals.

If you would prefer a more social mode of transport, minivans (marshrutkas) operate across all open borders and throughout the entire Caucasus region.

There are direct flights between Tbilisi to Baku, Tbilisi to Yerevan. Expect no trouble at the airports--they are small and efficient.

Car rental is more expensive in the Caucasus than in the West, but car hire with a driver is quite affordable. For international travel, however, it will be necessary to pay for your driver's lodging unless he was already planning to make the trip.

See

Do

Ski in two very beautiful ski resorts of Georgia. Bakuriani and Gudauri.

Relaxing on the Georgian beaches on the black sea in Batumi, Kobuleti, Ureki, Gonia etc.

Eat

The Georgian "Khinkali" and "Khachapuri"!

Drink

The drinks of note in the Caucasus are Georgian wines, Armenian cognac (brandy), and Russian vodkas. Local beers throughout the Caucasus are excellent values.

Especially tasty Georgian wines:

  • Red: Saperavi, Mukuzani, Khvanchkara (semi-sweet), Kindzmarauli (semi-sweet)
  • White: Tsinandali, Kakheti, Tbilisuri

Stay safe

The Caucasus is a tinderbox of age-old rivalries, some frozen, some very hot indeed. Much of the Russian North Caucasus is an active war zone, and the rest suffers from extremely high crime rates. Fragile ceasefires are more or less holding in Georgia's disputed regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia (which are both quite dangerous), as well as between Azerbaijan and Armenia, still officially at war over Nagorno-Karabakh.

However safety is not a serious issue to worry in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan if you are not too close to the border between that two countries. Feel confident visiting even Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenian side.

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