caucusus

Clouds over mount Elbruz

Nebulosity, both near and far, is hanging in the skies above the tallest peak in the Caucasus. Condensed moisture is creeping up the flanks of the mountains and bleeding over the edge as the atmosphere cools during the night or a layer of moister warmer air passes over the relief. The observatory in the foreground is the Peak Terskol Observatory boasting a 2 metre telescope located on Elbruz’s flanks. High above towers the plane of our galactic home amidst speckled foreground stars, the milky way, a sight that always makes goosebumps stand up on my skin. 

Loz

Image credit: Boris Dmitriev via APOD
http://nightscape.ru/

Кавказский пленник/Prisoner of the Mountains

Не любят нас здесь. А после войны……ещё больше любить не будут. А кто на войне друг друга-то любит? Да что это за война такая? То наступай, то отступай, то мирись, то дерись.

They don’t like us here. And after the war…? They won’t like us any better. And who at war likes one another? So what kind of war is this? One that advances, then retreats, at one moment reconciles, at another fights.

slate.com
Chechnya. Kyrgyzstan. The Caucasus.

The hunt for Boston Marathon terrorist suspects Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev is reintroducing the American public to the confused ethnic, linguistic, religious, and political history of the Caucasus region. A few questions and some answers. What Is the Caucasus? Roughly speaking, the region is the land mass between the Black…

The hunt for Boston Marathon terrorist suspects Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev is reintroducing the American public to the confused ethnic, linguistic, religious, and political history of the Caucasus region. A few questions and some answers.

What Is the Caucasus?

Roughly speaking, the region is the land mass between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. The isthmus between these bodies of water is bisected by an east-west mountain range. The generally arduous terrain, as well as its location at the intersection of Turkic, Persian, and Slavic cultures, gives it a very fractured and diverse ethnic landscape. On the south side of the mountains are three independent states—Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan—that were politically organized as constituent republics of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Entities on the north side of the mountains—among them Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia—were organized as subordinate political elements of the Russian SSR and thus became part of the post-Soviet Russian Federation. This northern area contains many non-Russian ethnic groups and several associated independence movements.

Where’s Chechnya? What’s a Chechen?

Chechnya is in the North Caucasus and is a province (“republic”) of Russia with a population of about 1.3 million people. Its primary inhabitants are Chechens, a predominantly Muslim population with their own language. Chechnya was the site of two brutal wars in the 1990s, the first of which established de facto Chechen independence from Russia and the second of which essentially crushed it. The conclusion of the second Chechen war was followed by a prolonged insurgency that saw a nationalistic battle take on increasingly Islamist overtones. As a result of the conflict, many Chechens were displaced and now live in nearby regions.

How About Ingushetia? Is that the same thing?

The Republic of Ingushetia is directly to the west of Chechnya. It was never a center of regular warfare the way Chechnya proper was, but there was significant spillover fighting. The Ingush ethnic group is considered distinct from, but closely related to, the Chechens. In recent years there’s been substantial insurgent violence in Ingushetia.

And Dagestan?

Dagestan is directly east of Chechnya and like Ingushetia was a site of spillover violence during the Chechen Wars. There is no Dagestani ethnic group. Instead, the plurality of Dagestan’s residents belong to a predominantly Muslim ethnic group known as the Avars. Over the past year, Dagestan has been the most violent place in the region with assassinations of moderate religious leaders playing a prominent role in Islamist efforts to polarize the area.  

What’s the Connection to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan?

The Tsarnaev family seems to have lived for some years in Kazakhstan before coming to the United States and  Dzhokhar  appears to have been born in Kyrgyzstan. That’s not an unusual trajectory for Chechens displaced by the war. Many Caucasian Muslims joined an anti-Soviet insurgency during World War II, and following its defeat in 1944, Stalin forcibly deported hundreds of thousands of people—mostly Chechen—often to Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan. Most returned once given permission to do so in 1957, but the experience left Chechens with family and personal connections in Central Asia, so many fled there during the wars of the ’90s. Chechen refugees were not well-treated in Kazakhstan  and often border-hopped back and forth between there and Kyrgyzstan on temporary permits while seeking the ability to settle elsewhere. Chechen refugee have tended to relocate much more often to Western Europe than to the United States.