Difference between revisions of "Caucasus"

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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 [[Europe|Eastern Europe]] suffering from the same ethnic-hatred and tension that has plagued the Balkans including recent wars in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Chechnya.
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{{pagebanner|Caucasus Banner.jpg}}
  
<br clear="all" />
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The '''Caucasus''' is a mountainous area nestled between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, consisting of southern [[Russia]], [[Georgia]], [[Armenia]], and [[Azerbaijan]]. This transitional region has a foothold in both Eastern Europe and Western Asia, but is generally viewed as part of modern [[Europe]]. Covered in some of the world's most stunning alpine landscapes, Caucasus is home to Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain peak in Europe.
== Countries ==
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In many ways, Caucasus is comparable to the [[Balkans]]: it is a patchwork of ethno-linguistic groups, sits at the intersection of Christian and Muslim cultures, and has suffered ethnic instability for most the 1990s and early 2000s. At present, these lingering geopolitical issues are strategic and long-term in nature, so they do not ordinarily affect the day-to-day safety of visitors, which can vary from country to country.
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Today Caucasus is an emerging tourist destination but this, too, varies by area. Although Russia receives more visitors than any other country in the region, only a small fraction of this vast country is in the Caucasus. Among countries entirely in the Caucasus, as of 2015 Georgia leads the pack in terms of the number of visitors received.
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== Countries ==
 
{{Regionlist
 
{{Regionlist
 
| regionmap=Caucasus regions map.png
 
| regionmap=Caucasus regions map.png
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| region1color=#d194bd
 
| region1color=#d194bd
 
| region1items=
 
| region1items=
| region1description=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.
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| region1description=An mix between an ancient, millennia-old civilization with stark mountain landscapes and remote canyons and the modern bustling cultural hub of Yerevan. Home to amazing world heritage sites, hidden monasteries and boasting a wonderfully laid back and friendly culture and cuisine.
  
  
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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&mdash;oil and salt spreading across the surface, and world-class hikes in the lush heavily forested, mountainous north and south.
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The richest state of the Caucasus, its capital awash in oil wealth and international business, historical palaces of the Shirvan Shahs in [[Baku]] and [[Sheki]], Zoroastrian fire temples, barren landscapes&mdash;oil and salt spreading across the surface, and world-class hikes in the lush heavily forested, mountainous north and south.
  
 
| region3name=[[Georgia (country)|Georgia]]
 
| region3name=[[Georgia (country)|Georgia]]
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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
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The lush, green heart of the Caucasus, with fabulous cuisine and culture, and incredibly diverse landscapes ranging from high mountain peaks and wine-growing valleys to Black Sea resorts. A wealth of ancient churches, cathedrals and monasteries, some recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
  
| region4name=[[Russia]]'s [[North Caucasus]]
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| region4name=[[Russia]]
 
| region4color=#c16161
 
| region4color=#c16161
| region4items=[[Chechnya]], [[Dagestan]], [[Ingushetia]], [[Kabardino-Balkaria]], [[Karachay-Cherkessia]], [[North Ossetia]]
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| region4items= [[Krasnodar]], [[Stavropol Krai]], [[Rostov Oblast]], [[Kabardino-Balkaria]], [[Karachay-Cherkessia]], [[North Ossetia]], [[Chechnya]], [[Dagestan]], [[Ingushetia]],
| region4description=A beautiful region of extraordinary mountains and river gorges, delicious food, stunning stone mountaintop villages, legendary hospitality, and a seemingly endless cycle of violence
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| region4description=A beautiful region of mountains and river gorges, ethnic food, stunning stone mountaintop villages and a seemingly endless cycle of violence. Contains both ethnic Russian-majority regions, like Krasnodar, as well as unique ethnic minority areas like Chechnya.
 
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}}
 
}}
  
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==Cities==
 
==Cities==
 
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*[[Tbilisi]] &mdash; [[Georgia (country)|Georgia]]'s capital city with eclectic architecture, surrounded by mountains, and filled with rich food and wine. Historically, it has been the heart of the Caucasus both geographically and metaphorically - under the Russian rule, Tbilisi served as the administrative capital of the Caucasus and the seat of the Russian Viceroy for more than a hundred years.
 
*[[Baku]] &mdash; the region's largest city, international oil hub, and ancient capital of [[Azerbaijan]]
 
*[[Baku]] &mdash; the region's largest city, international oil hub, and ancient capital of [[Azerbaijan]]
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*[[Yerevan]] &mdash; [[Armenia]]'s capital is the region's most laid-back, with great places to eat, and within close distance of the country's principal attractions.
 
*[[Makhachkala]] &mdash; the largest city of the [[North Caucasus]] and capital of [[Dagestan]]
 
*[[Makhachkala]] &mdash; the largest city of the [[North Caucasus]] and capital of [[Dagestan]]
*[[Tbilisi]] &mdash; [[Georgia (country)|Georgia]]'s vibrant capital, surrounded by mountains, and filled with good food and wine
 
 
*[[Vladikavkaz]] &mdash; the [[North Ossetia]]n capital
 
*[[Vladikavkaz]] &mdash; the [[North Ossetia]]n capital
*[[Yerevan]] &mdash; [[Armenia]]'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==
 
==Other destinations==
 
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*[[Batumi]] — Georgia's second largest city, a mixture of classical buildings against the backdrop of rising skyscrapers and palm treas on the Black Sea coast.
 
*[[Dombai]] &mdash; Russia's premier Caucasian resort
 
*[[Dombai]] &mdash; Russia's premier Caucasian resort
 
*[[Central Armenia#See|Khor Virap]] &mdash; the most photographed place in Armenia, a spectacular monastery atop a huge rock, right at the border, at the foot of Mount Ararat  
 
*[[Central Armenia#See|Khor Virap]] &mdash; the most photographed place in Armenia, a spectacular monastery atop a huge rock, right at the border, at the foot of Mount Ararat  
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*[[Baku Region#See|The Petroglyphs at Qobustan]] &mdash; ancient petroglyphs, south of [[Baku]]
 
*[[Baku Region#See|The Petroglyphs at Qobustan]] &mdash; ancient petroglyphs, south of [[Baku]]
 
*Breathtaking '''Tsminda Sameba Monastery''' on the slopes of [[Kazbegi|Mount Kazbeg]], [[Georgia (country)|Georgia]]
 
*Breathtaking '''Tsminda Sameba Monastery''' on the slopes of [[Kazbegi|Mount Kazbeg]], [[Georgia (country)|Georgia]]
*[[Vardzia]] &mdash; one of [[Georgia (country)|Georgia's]] impressive cave cities, hewn from the rock of a river gorge in [[Samtskhe-Javakheti]]
 
  
 
==Understand==
 
==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.  
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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 the 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 ''de facto'' independence this way, but few nations recognize the legitimacy of these places. These geopolitical problems are strategic and long-term in nature, so they do not ordinarily affect the day to day safety of the region's visitors.
  
While traveling here expect to meet friendly locals, eat food like none other on earth, and witness breathtaking mountain vistas. But also expect expensive and bureaucratic visa procedures, crooked police and all the other blights. Armenia and Georgia are suffering from economic recession due to an economic blockade of Armenia by Azerbaijan and Turkey and of Georgia by Russia, and oil-rich Azerbaijan is essentially an old-fashioned dictatorship where the oil wealth is still not flowing to the entire population but to a small elite. The old ways of the Soviet Union are never far away when dealing with any kind of official person including immigration officers and police. And be very, very careful before you enter an area which is controlled by the Russian backed local militia or Russian border troops of the separatist regions in Georgia and by the Armenian backed local militia of the separatist region in Azerbaijan.
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While traveling to the region, expect to meet friendly locals, eat food like none other on earth, and witness breathtaking mountain vistas. But make no mistake - the area has its downsides. With the exception of Georgia, in most Caucasus countries you should expect bureaucratic visa procedures, corruption and ineffective police. Oil-rich Azerbaijan is essentially an authoritarian regime supported by oil wealth. Armenia is moderately free but nevertheless dysfunctional and often viewed as a Russian client state. In the region, Georgia is arguably the most democratic and safe, but you must stay away from the separatist regions, which are controlled by Russian border guards. For entry into Russia itself, expect extensive bureaucratic work to obtain a visa. Most Westerners will likely be under close scrutiny of the Russian government due to ongoing political tensions over [[Ukraine]].
  
 
==Talk==
 
==Talk==
 
[[Image:Caucasus ethno-linguistic map.png|thumb|300px|Ethno-linguistic groups of the Caucasus]]
 
[[Image:Caucasus ethno-linguistic map.png|thumb|300px|Ethno-linguistic groups of the Caucasus]]
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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. 
  
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.
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Since the Soviet collapse, national languages are becoming ever more important to travelers in the region but [[Russian phrasebook|Russian]] remains the most useful common language throughout. In Georgia the current trend is for English language study to displace Russian, especially among the youth. As a rule, across the region older people are more likely to speak Russian while younger people are more likely to speak basic 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.
 
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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 (country)|Georgia]] would benefit from [[Georgian phrasebook|Georgian]], a traveler to [[Azerbaijan]] - [[Azerbaijani phrasebook|Azeri]], a traveler to [[Armenia]] - [[Armenian]], etc.
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[[Russian phrasebook|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 phrasebook|Russian]], except in very small, isolated villages.
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Knowledge of [[Turkish phrasebook|Turkish]] is very useful for travel in [[Azerbaijan]] because [[Azerbaijani phrasebook|Azeri Turkish]] and Anatolian Turkish are closely enough related to be mutually intelligible.
 
Knowledge of [[Turkish phrasebook|Turkish]] is very useful for travel in [[Azerbaijan]] because [[Azerbaijani phrasebook|Azeri Turkish]] and Anatolian Turkish are closely enough related to be mutually intelligible.
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===Border Crossing===
 
===Border Crossing===
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Border crossing is generally difficult throughout the Caucasus. Both the Russian-Georgian border near Kazbegi (open since 2012) and the Russia-Azerbaijan border are only open for citizens of CIS countries. For non-CIS citizens, there is no way of entering/exiting Russia through the Caucasus.
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UPDATE: THIS IS NO LONGER THE CASE; both the border crossing at Verkhniy Lars (near Kazbegi, using the Georgian Military Road between Tbilisi and Vladikavkaz) and the border crossing between Azerbaijan and Dagestan, have been reopened for non-CIS/ex-Soviet citizens, providing at least two land based entry/exit points to/from Russia.
  
Border crossing is generally difficult throughout the Caucasus.  Both the Russian-Georgian border near Kazbegi and the Russia-Azerbaijan border are 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).
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Aside from flying, there are ferries between [[Sochi]], [[Russia]] & [[Trabzon]], [[Turkey]]; between Odessa, Ukraine and Batumi, Georgia; and [[Baku]], [[Azerbaijan]] & [[Aktau]], [[Kazakhstan]].
  
 
The Armenian-Azerbaijani border is closed because both countries remain at war. The Armenian-Turkish border is also closed due to tensions between both countries. To travel overland between Armenia and Azerbaijan and Armenia and Turkey, it is necessary to go through either Georgia or Iran.
 
The Armenian-Azerbaijani border is closed because both countries remain at war. The Armenian-Turkish border is also closed due to tensions between both countries. To travel overland between Armenia and Azerbaijan and Armenia and Turkey, 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 entering Georgia. However this cannot be guaranteed for Armenia and Azerbaijan.
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Georgia's borders with Turkey, Armenia, Russia (only in Upper Lars) 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 entering Georgia. However this cannot be guaranteed for Armenia and Azerbaijan.
  
 
Entering Azerbaijan with a used Armenian visa or vice versa could likely cause problems (suspicion) with border guards, but shouldn't prohibit entry. Nevertheless, it is recommended to visit Azerbaijan first and then Armenia, to avoid potential problems and a refusal of entry to Azerbaijan. 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), otherwise it would result with a permanent ban of entry to Azerbaijan.
 
Entering Azerbaijan with a used Armenian visa or vice versa could likely cause problems (suspicion) with border guards, but shouldn't prohibit entry. Nevertheless, it is recommended to visit Azerbaijan first and then Armenia, to avoid potential problems and a refusal of entry to Azerbaijan. 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), otherwise it would result with a permanent ban of entry to Azerbaijan.
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===How===
 
===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.
 
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.
  
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The Georgian "Khinkali" and "Khachapuri"!
 
The Georgian "Khinkali" and "Khachapuri"!
  
==Drink==
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The Azerbaijanian "Yarpaq dolmasi, goy qutab (green qutab), et qutabi (qutab with meat) etc." If you love meat, eat "Kabab, dushbara" (dushbara it's good to eat in cold weather).
  
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==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.
 
The drinks of note in the Caucasus are Georgian wines, Armenian cognac (brandy), and Russian vodkas.  Local beers throughout the Caucasus are excellent values.
  
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==Stay safe==
 
==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 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 the border between [[Azerbaijan]] and [[Armenia]], still officially at war over [[Nagorno-Karabakh]].
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The Caucasus is a tinderbox of age-old rivalries, some frozen, some very hot indeed. 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 the border between [[Azerbaijan]] and [[Armenia]], still officially at war over [[Nagorno-Karabakh]].
  
However safety is not a serious issue to worry in [[Armenia]] and [[Azerbaijan]] if you are not too close to the border between the two countries. It is safe to visit even [[Nagorno-Karabakh]] from the Armenian side. Georgia is trickier with regards to personal safety, with higher violent crime and carjacking rates in some of the bigger cities, and occasional kidnappings in some of the wilder off the beaten path locales.
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However safety is not a serious issue to worry in [[Armenia]] and [[Azerbaijan]] if you are not too close to the border between the two countries. It is safe to visit even [[Nagorno-Karabakh]] from the Armenian side.
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Outside of the areas close to the disputed territories  of [[Abkhazia]] and [[South Ossetia]], where the risk of violent crime and kidnapping is significantly higher, [[Georgia]] has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe. Georgians are a very hospitable people. That having been said, visitors are advised not to talk about [[Russia]] or the disputed territories. Hate against Russians is extremely high amongst Georgians, to the extent that such discussions may incite violence.
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Chechen, Georgian, Armenian and Azerbaijani ''mafia'' groups are considered to be notorious in the former Soviet Union but are mostly centered in the Caucasian expat communities and are far from noticeable in their home countries.  
  
 
{{outline}}
 
{{outline}}
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<!-- Before you change isPartOf, please read Talk:Caucasus -->
 
<!-- Before you change isPartOf, please read Talk:Caucasus -->

Latest revision as of 18:18, 8 September 2016

The Caucasus is a mountainous area nestled between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, consisting of southern Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. This transitional region has a foothold in both Eastern Europe and Western Asia, but is generally viewed as part of modern Europe. Covered in some of the world's most stunning alpine landscapes, Caucasus is home to Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain peak in Europe.

In many ways, Caucasus is comparable to the Balkans: it is a patchwork of ethno-linguistic groups, sits at the intersection of Christian and Muslim cultures, and has suffered ethnic instability for most the 1990s and early 2000s. At present, these lingering geopolitical issues are strategic and long-term in nature, so they do not ordinarily affect the day-to-day safety of visitors, which can vary from country to country.

Today Caucasus is an emerging tourist destination but this, too, varies by area. Although Russia receives more visitors than any other country in the region, only a small fraction of this vast country is in the Caucasus. Among countries entirely in the Caucasus, as of 2015 Georgia leads the pack in terms of the number of visitors received.

Countries[edit]

Caucasus regions
Armenia
An mix between an ancient, millennia-old civilization with stark mountain landscapes and remote canyons and the modern bustling cultural hub of Yerevan. Home to amazing world heritage sites, hidden monasteries and boasting a wonderfully laid back and friendly culture and cuisine.
Azerbaijan
The richest state of the Caucasus, its capital awash in oil wealth and international business, historical 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, and incredibly diverse landscapes ranging from high mountain peaks and wine-growing valleys to Black Sea resorts. A wealth of ancient churches, cathedrals and monasteries, some recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Russia (Krasnodar, Stavropol Krai, Rostov Oblast, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, North Ossetia, Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia,)
A beautiful region of mountains and river gorges, ethnic food, stunning stone mountaintop villages and a seemingly endless cycle of violence. Contains both ethnic Russian-majority regions, like Krasnodar, as well as unique ethnic minority areas like Chechnya.

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[edit]

  • TbilisiGeorgia's capital city with eclectic architecture, surrounded by mountains, and filled with rich food and wine. Historically, it has been the heart of the Caucasus both geographically and metaphorically - under the Russian rule, Tbilisi served as the administrative capital of the Caucasus and the seat of the Russian Viceroy for more than a hundred years.
  • Baku — the region's largest city, international oil hub, and ancient capital of Azerbaijan
  • YerevanArmenia's capital is the region's most laid-back, with great places to eat, and within close distance of the country's principal attractions.
  • Makhachkala — the largest city of the North Caucasus and capital of Dagestan
  • Vladikavkaz — the North Ossetian capital

Other destinations[edit]

  • Batumi — Georgia's second largest city, a mixture of classical buildings against the backdrop of rising skyscrapers and palm treas on the Black Sea coast.
  • Dombai — Russia's premier Caucasian resort
  • Khor Virap — the most photographed place in Armenia, a spectacular monastery atop a huge rock, right at the border, at the foot of Mount Ararat
  • The cathedral, churches, and museums of Echmiadzin, the center of the Armenian Apostolic Church
  • Davit Gareja Monastery — a cave monastery in the Georgian desert, full of beautiful old cave frescoes, and overlooking the vast empty expanse to the south in Azerbaijan
  • The Gates of Alexander at Derbent, Dagestan
  • Europe's three tallest mountains, of which the most famous is Mount Elbrus, all in Kabardino-Balkaria
  • The Petroglyphs at Qobustan — ancient petroglyphs, south of Baku
  • Breathtaking Tsminda Sameba Monastery on the slopes of Mount Kazbeg, Georgia

Understand[edit]

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 the 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 de facto independence this way, but few nations recognize the legitimacy of these places. These geopolitical problems are strategic and long-term in nature, so they do not ordinarily affect the day to day safety of the region's visitors.

While traveling to the region, expect to meet friendly locals, eat food like none other on earth, and witness breathtaking mountain vistas. But make no mistake - the area has its downsides. With the exception of Georgia, in most Caucasus countries you should expect bureaucratic visa procedures, corruption and ineffective police. Oil-rich Azerbaijan is essentially an authoritarian regime supported by oil wealth. Armenia is moderately free but nevertheless dysfunctional and often viewed as a Russian client state. In the region, Georgia is arguably the most democratic and safe, but you must stay away from the separatist regions, which are controlled by Russian border guards. For entry into Russia itself, expect extensive bureaucratic work to obtain a visa. Most Westerners will likely be under close scrutiny of the Russian government due to ongoing political tensions over Ukraine.

Talk[edit]

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.

Since the Soviet collapse, national languages are becoming ever more important to travelers in the region but Russian remains the most useful common language throughout. In Georgia the current trend is for English language study to displace Russian, especially among the youth. As a rule, across the region older people are more likely to speak Russian while younger people are more likely to speak basic 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.

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[edit]

Get around[edit]

Border Crossing[edit]

Border crossing is generally difficult throughout the Caucasus. Both the Russian-Georgian border near Kazbegi (open since 2012) and the Russia-Azerbaijan border are only open for citizens of CIS countries. For non-CIS citizens, there is no way of entering/exiting Russia through the Caucasus.

UPDATE: THIS IS NO LONGER THE CASE; both the border crossing at Verkhniy Lars (near Kazbegi, using the Georgian Military Road between Tbilisi and Vladikavkaz) and the border crossing between Azerbaijan and Dagestan, have been reopened for non-CIS/ex-Soviet citizens, providing at least two land based entry/exit points to/from Russia.

Aside from flying, there are ferries between Sochi, Russia & Trabzon, Turkey; between Odessa, Ukraine and Batumi, Georgia; and Baku, Azerbaijan & Aktau, Kazakhstan.

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

Georgia's borders with Turkey, Armenia, Russia (only in Upper Lars) 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 entering Georgia. However this cannot be guaranteed for Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Entering Azerbaijan with a used Armenian visa or vice versa could likely cause problems (suspicion) with border guards, but shouldn't prohibit entry. Nevertheless, it is recommended to visit Azerbaijan first and then Armenia, to avoid potential problems and a refusal of entry to Azerbaijan. 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), otherwise it would result with a permanent ban of entry to Azerbaijan.

Naxchivan (Azerbaijan) can be entered from Turkey and Iran.

How[edit]

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[edit][add listing]

Do[edit][add listing]

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[edit][add listing]

The Georgian "Khinkali" and "Khachapuri"!

The Azerbaijanian "Yarpaq dolmasi, goy qutab (green qutab), et qutabi (qutab with meat) etc." If you love meat, eat "Kabab, dushbara" (dushbara it's good to eat in cold weather).

Drink[edit][add listing]

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[edit]

The Caucasus is a tinderbox of age-old rivalries, some frozen, some very hot indeed. 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 the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia, still officially at war over Nagorno-Karabakh.

However safety is not a serious issue to worry in Armenia and Azerbaijan if you are not too close to the border between the two countries. It is safe to visit even Nagorno-Karabakh from the Armenian side.

Outside of the areas close to the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where the risk of violent crime and kidnapping is significantly higher, Georgia has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe. Georgians are a very hospitable people. That having been said, visitors are advised not to talk about Russia or the disputed territories. Hate against Russians is extremely high amongst Georgians, to the extent that such discussions may incite violence.

Chechen, Georgian, Armenian and Azerbaijani mafia groups are considered to be notorious in the former Soviet Union but are mostly centered in the Caucasian expat communities and are far from noticeable in their home countries.

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