Peoples of the Caucasus

For caucasian in the racial sense, see Caucasian race.

The peoples of the Caucasus are diverse comprising more than 50 ethnic groups throughout the Caucasus region.[2]

Caucasus-ethnic en
Ethno-linguistic groups in the Caucasus region[1]

By language group

Shatili village, Georgia
The medieval Georgian village of Shatili
Geschichte des Kostüms (1905) (14744198946)
Ethnic groups inhabiting the Caucasus region
Tindi, Daghestan (M. de Déchy, late 1890s)
The village of Tindi, in Dagestan, in the late 1890s

Caucasians who speak languages which have long been indigenous to the region are generally classified into three groups: Kartvelian peoples, Northeast Caucasian peoples and Northwest Caucasian peoples.


Northeast Caucasian

Northwest Caucasian

Northwest Caucasian languages

The largest peoples speaking languages which belong to the Caucasian language families and who are currently resident in the Caucasus are the Georgians (7,000,000), the Chechens (1,500,000 (according to 2010 Russian Census)), the Lezgins (about 800,000 (source Lezgins)), the Kabardins (600,000) and the Avars (500,000), while outside the Caucasus, the largest people of Caucasian origin, in diaspora in more than 40 countries (such as Jordan, Turkey, the countries of Europe, Syria, United States) are the Circassians with about 3,000,000-4,000,000 speakers. Georgians are the only Caucasian people who have their own undisputedly independent state—Georgia. Abkhazia's status is disputed. Other Caucasian peoples have republics within the Russian Federation: Adyghe (Adygea), Cherkess (Karachay–Cherkessia), Kabardins (Kabardino-Balkaria), Ingush (Ingushetia), Chechens (Chechnya), while other Northeast Caucasian peoples mostly live in Dagestan.


Komaroff. Carte ethnologique du Caucase, dressée. 1887
Ethno-linguistic groups in the Caucasus region 1887.

Caucasians that speak languages that belong to the Indo-European language family:

Armenians number 3,215,800 in their native Armenia, though approximately 8 million live outside the republic, forming the Armenian diaspora. Elsewhere in the region, they reside in Nagorno-Karabakh (which is de facto independent republic, though not recognized internationally), Georgia (primarily Samtskhe-Javakheti, Tbilisi, and Abkhazia), and the Russian North Caucasus. The Ossetians live in North Ossetia–Alania (autonomous republic within Russia) and in South Ossetia, which is de facto independent, but de jure is part of Georgia. The Yazidis reside in the western areas of Armenia, mostly in the Aragatsotn marz, and in the eastern areas of Georgia. An autonomous Kurdish region was created in 1923 in Soviet Azerbaijan but was later abolished in 1929. Pontic Greeks reside in Armenia (Lori Province, especially in Alaverdi) and Georgia (Kvemo Kartli, Adjara, the Tsalka, and Abkhazia). Pontic Greeks had also made up a significant component of the southern Caucasus region acquired from the Ottoman Turkish Empire (following the 1878 Treaty of San Stefano) that centred on the town of Kars (ceded back to Turkey in 1916). Russians mostly live in the Russian North Caucasus and their largest concentration is in Stavropol Krai, Krasnodar Krai, and in Adygea. Georgia and the former south Russian Caucasus province of Kars Oblast was also home to a significant minority of ethnic (Swabian) Germans, although their numbers have become depleted as a result of deportations (to Kazakhstan following WWII), immigration to Germany, and assimilation into indigenous Christian Orthodox communities.


Caucasians that speak languages that belong to the Semitic language family

  • Assyrians in the Caucasus number approximately 35,000 people, and live in Armenia, Georgia,[3] Azerbaijan and Southern Russia. There are up to 15,000 in Georgia,[3] 3500 in Armenia, up to 15,000 in southern Russia and 1400 in Azerbaijan. They descend from the ancient Mesopotamians. They are Eastern Rite Christians, mainly followers of the Assyrian Church of the East, and speak and write Mesopotamian Eastern Aramaic dialects.
  • Caucasus Jews of two sub-ethnic groups Mountain Jews and Georgian Jews. There are about 15,000–30,000 Caucasus Jews (as 140,000 immigrated to Israel, and 40,000 to the US).
  • Arabs in the Caucasus: a population of nomadic Arabs was reported in 1728 as having rented winter pastures near the Caspian shores of Mughan (in present-day Azerbaijan). In 1888, an unknown number of Arabs still lived in the Baku Governorate of the Russian Empire. As well as descendants of Sayyid and Siddiqui – the people with Arabian origin, but mostly assimilated by other Caucasian peoples. However, some people identify not just as Sayyid or Siddiqui with non-Arabian ethnicity, but as Arabs.[4][5]


Caucasians that speak languages that belong to the Turkic language family:

The largest of the Turkic-speaking peoples in the Caucasus are Azerbaijanis who number 8,700,000 in the Republic of Azerbaijan. In the Caucasus region, they live in Georgia, Russia (Dagestan), Turkey and previously in Armenia (before 1990). The total number of Azerbaijanis is around 35 million (25 million in Iran). Other Turkic speakers live in their autonomous republics within Russian Federation: Karachays (Karachay–Cherkessia), Balkars (Kabardino-Balkaria), while Kumyks and Nogais live in Dagestan.

By location

This gives ethnic locations about 1775 before the Russians came.[6] All of these peoples were Sunni Muslims unless otherwise noted. In the mountains there were some pre-Islamic customs. NWCLS means Northwest Caucasian Language speakers and NECLS means Northeast Caucasian Language speakers. The linguistic nationalities that we now recognize are somewhat artificial. Two hundred years ago a man’s loyalty was to his friends, kin, village and chief and not primarily to his language group. The difference between steppe, mountain and plain was far more important than difference of language. Only the southern half (and the southernmost part of Dagestan) had organized states, usually Persian or Turkish vassals and few, if any, of these states corresponded well to language groups.

Northern Lowlands: The Turkic-speaking Nogai nomads occupied almost all of the steppe north of the Caucasus. In the nineteenth century they were pushed far southeast to their present location. Formerly part of the eastern steppe was occupied by Kalmyks – Buddhist Mongols who migrated from Dzungaria about 1618. In 1771 many returned to their original homeland and they contracted to their present location in the far northeast, Nogais temporarily taking their place. In the southeast were the isolated Terek Cossacks. Their settlements later grew into the North Caucasus Line. There were a few Turkmens in the center of the steppe.

North Slope: The western two thirds was occupied by Circassians – NWCLS divided into twelve or so tribes. They long resisted the Russians and in 1864 several hundred thousand of them were expelled to the Ottoman Empire. To their east were the Kabardians – NWCLS similar to the Circassians but with a different political organization. The term Lesser Kabardia refers to the eastern area. South of the eastern Circassian-Kabardians were three groups that seem to have been driven into the high mountains about 500 years previously. The Karachays and Balkars spoke similar Turkic languages. East of the Balkars were the Ossets – Iranian speakers descended from the ancient Alans who controlled the future Georgian Military Highway and had a growing Christian minority. East of the future highway was a north-south band of Ingush – NECLS similar to the Chechens. The numerous Chechens to the east were later to wage the long Murid War against the Russians. For the small groups south of the Ingush-Chechens see South Slope below. To the east along the coast were the Turkic Kumyks.

Mountain Dagestan: All the peoples of mountain Dagestan were NECLS except the Tats. In the northwest were a number of small language groups (Tsez people (Dido) and Andi people), similar to the Avars. To their southeast were the numerous Avars with a khanate at Khunzakh who fought in the Murid War. Southeast were the Dargwa people and west of them the Laks who held the Kumukh Khanate. Southeast along the Samur River were the Lezgian people with many subgroups and then the Iranian-speaking Tats down to Baku.

Caspian Coast: From Astrakhan to the Terek River there were the Buddhist Kalmykh nomads. Along the Terek were the isolated Terek Cossacks. From the Terek to Derbent were the Turkic-speaking Kumyks with a state at Tarki. The town of Derbent itself had a majority Persian (Russian: персы) population, as it had for many centuries, until the late 19th century.[7] On the coastal plain south of Derbent was a mixed population, mostly Azeri ("Transcaucasian Tatar"), and further south to Baku were the Iranian-speaking Tats. When Baku became a boom town the Tats retained a majority only in the mountains. The Mountain Jews, who had a number of villages inland from the coast, spoke a form of Tat called Judeo-Tat. The lowlands south of Baku were held by Azeris, Turkic-speaking Shiites. On both sides of the current Iranian border were the Iranian-speaking Talysh. Based on genetic studies the Gilaki and Mazanderani ethnic groups in northern Iran (near the Caspian Sea) have been proven to be genetically similar to Armenians, Gerogians and Azeris. This indicates that the Gilaki and Mazanderani ethnic groups are people that immigrated from the Caucasus region to what is now northern Iran.[8]

South Slope: Black Sea coast: In the northwest the mountains came down to the sea and the population was Circassian. Southward the coastal plain broadened and the population was Abkhazian – similar to the Circassians but under Georgian influence.

South Slope proper: On the south side of the Caucasus the mountains fall quickly to the plains and there is only a small transition zone. The inhabitants were either Georgians with mountain customs or northern mountaineers who had moved south. The Svans were Georgian mountaineers. In the center the Iranian Ossets had moved south and were surrounded on three sides by Georgians. East of the Ossets and south of the Ingush-Chechens were three groups of Georgian mountaineers on both sides of the mountain crest: Khevi, Khevsurs, and Tushetians. The Bats were NECLS entangled with the Tushetians and the Kists were Chechens south of the mountains. Near the Georgian-Azeri linguistic border there were some Avars and Tsakhurs (Lezgians) who had crossed the mountains. Associated with the Tsakhurs were the Ingiloy or Georgian-speaking Muslims. In the north Azeri area were a few Udins or southern Lezgians and Lakhij or southern Tats.

Southern Lowlands: The western two thirds were occupied by Georgians – an ancient Christian people with a unique language. The eastern third was Azeri – a group of Turkic-speaking Shiites under Persian influence. On the fringe of the Georgian area were Georgian speakers who had either adopted Islam or mountain customs.

Further South the land becomes higher. In the west were the Laz people or Georgian Muslims. In Kars province there were Turks, Kurds and Armenians. The Armenians were somewhat concentrated in modern Armenia but were mostly spread out as a minority all over Asia Minor. There were groups of Azeris west of their main area who tended to blend with the Turks. The Kurds were semi-nomadic shepherds with small groups in various places and concentrations in Kars province and Nakhchivan. In the far southeast were the Iranian Talysh.

Genetic history

Language groups in the Caucasus are closely correlated to genetic ancestry.[9]


Ramonov vano ossetin northern caucasia dress 18 century

Ossetian warrior

Pontic Greek militia fighters

Pontic Greek militia fighters from the Transcaucasus region

Tipy Mingreltsy. Types of Life The Mingrelians (1865) (A)

Mingrelians, 1865

Dagestani man and woman

Dagestani (1904)

Caucasusian Jews with chokha

Mountain Jews, c. 1898

Azeri Female from Baku 1897

Azerbaijani female from Baku (1897)

Russian settlers, possibly Molokans, in the Mugan steppe of Azerbaijan. Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii

Russian settlers in Azerbaijan, c. 1910

Richard Cosway - Portrait of an Armenian - Google Art Project

Richard Cosway's Portrait of an Armenian

Khevsur clansmen, ca. 1910

Khevsur clansmen in Georgia, c. 1910

Group of men from Laza

Group of Lezgi men, 1880

Gorskii 03967u

Mullahs at the Mosque near Batumi, c. 1910

Адыгский воин

Circassian warrior


A raid by Kurdish

Nagorno Karabakh guerilla fighter Grigor Tumiants, early 20th century

Armenian from Shusha, Nagorno Karabakh, early 20th century


Groom wearing a chokha at a Tushetian wedding

Caucasus Greek family from Magaracik, circa 1900

Family of Caucasus Greeks from the former Russian Caucasus province of Kars Oblast, circa 1900.

Full-length portrait of Armenian man, seated, facing front LCCN99615600

Portrait of an Armenian, 1900

Armenian woman in national costume (crop)

Portrait of an Armenian, 1912

Ногайцы 01

Nogai (mongoloid Caucasian)

See also


  1. ^ "ECMI - European Centre For Minority Issues Georgia". Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  2. ^ "Caucasian peoples". Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  3. ^ a b "The Yezidi Kurds and Assyrians of Georgia : The Problem of Diasporas and Integration into Contemporary Society" (PDF). Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  4. ^ " - is for sale (Ta Basaran)". Archived from the original on 16 December 2008. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  5. ^ Stephen Adolphe Wurm et al. Atlas of languages of intercultural communication. Walter de Gruyter, 1996; p. 966
  6. ^ Arthur Tsutsiev and Nora Seligman Favorov (translator) Atlas of the Ethno-Political History of the Caucasus, 2014, Map 4 supplemented by Maps 12,18 and 31.
  7. ^ "население дагестана". Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  8. ^ Nasidze, Ivan; Quinque, Dominique; Rahmani, Manijeh; Alemohamad, Seyed Ali; Stoneking, Mark (April 2006). "Concomitant Replacement of Language and mtDNA in South Caspian Populations of Iran". Curr. Biol. 16 (7): 668–73. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2006.02.021. PMID 16581511. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  9. ^ O.Balanovsky et al., "Parallel Evolution of Genes and Languages in the Caucasus Region", Mol Biol Evol00 (2011), doi:10.1093/molbev/msr126.
Adyghe people

The ethnonym "Adyghe" (Adyghe: Адыгэ/Adygè, Russian: Ады́ги) is used as an endonym by the Caucasian-speaking Circassians of the North Caucasus and as a demonym for the inhabitants of the Republic of Adygea, a federal subject of Russia located in the southwestern part of European Russia, enclaved within Krasnodar Krai, where it is also rendered as Adygeans (Russian: Адыгейцы). The Adygeans (of Adygea) speak the Adyghe language.

Bagvalal people

The Bagvalal (also called Bagulal, Kwantl Hekwa, Bagolal, Kwanadi, Bagulaltsy, Kvanadin, and Kvanadintsy) are an Avar–Andi–Dido people of Dagestan, speaking the Bagvalal language. Since the 1930s they have been largely classed as and assimilated by the Avars. However there were still some people reported separately in the 2002 census. Most Bagvalals are Sunni Muslims.


The Balkars (Karachay-Balkar: Малкъарлыла, таулула Malqarlıla, tawlula) are a Turkic people of the Caucasus region, one of the titular populations of Kabardino-Balkaria. Their Karachay-Balkar language is of the Ponto-Caspian subgroup of the Northwestern (Kipchak) group of Turkic languages.

Bezhta people

The Bezhta (also Kapuchi) are an Andi–Dido people living in the Tsuntinsky region in southwestern Dagestan. In the 1930s along with the rest of the Andi-Dido peoples they were classified as Avars. However, some people identified themselves as Bezhta in the 2002 census of Russia. They speak the Bezhta language, but many of them also speak Avar, Russian or other Tsezic languages of their region.

The Bezhta are primarily Sunni Muslims. They numbered 1,448 in 1926. According to the Russian census in 2002, there were 6184 self-identified "Bezhtins", though the real number is probably higher.

Botlikh people

The Botlikh people (also known as Bótligh, Botlig, Botlog or Buikhatli) are an Andi–Dido people of Dagestan. Until the 1930s they were considered a distinct people. Since that time they have been classified as Caucasian Avars and have faced a campaign to have them assimilate into that population.

The Botlikh are primarily Sunni Muslims. They numbered 3,354 people in 1926. They speak the Botlikh language, which belongs to the Northeast Caucasian language family. According to the Russian Census (2002) only 16 people in Russia declared themselves as Botlikhs (none of them in Dagestan), and 90 people declared speaking the Botlikh language. The number of speakers is higher, about 5,500, according to a survey by Koryakov in 2006.

The village of Botlikh is just north of the Andi Koysu River. During the Murid War Russian forces gathered here for their final push against Shamil. During the Dagestan Uprising (1920) the Reds were defeated here several times.

Budukh people

The Budukhs (Budukh: Будад, Budad) are an ethnic group primarily from the mountainous village of Buduq in northwestern Azerbaijan, one of the Shahdagh peoples. They speak the Budukh language, which is a Northeast Caucasian language of the Lezgic branch. The Azerbaijani language is widely spoken.

The Budukh people are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims.

Chamalal people

The Chamalals are an indigenous people of Dagestan, Russia living in a few villages in the Tsumadinsky District on the left bank of the Andi-Koisu river. They have their own language, Chamalal, and primarily follow Sunni Islam, which reached the Chamalal people around the 8th or 9th century. There are about 5,000 ethnic Chamalals (1999, Kubrik). They are culturally similar to the Avars.

Neighboring peoples are the Godoberi, Avars, Bagvalals, and Tindis.

Circassians in Iraq

Circassians in Iraq are people of North Caucasian origin in Iraq, including Adyghes, Chechens and Dagestanis.

The name "Circassian" usually denotes speakers of Northwest Caucasian languages only, however in Western Asia the name may denote North Caucasus peoples in general, including Chechens and Dagestanis, who speak Northeast Caucasian languages.

Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus

Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus (Russian: Конфедерация горских народов Кавказа) was a militarised political organisation in the Caucasus, active around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, between 1991 and 1994. It played a decisive role in the 1992–1993 war between Abkhazian and Georgia, rallying militants from the North Caucasian republics. Its forces have been accused by Georgia of committing war crimes, including the ethnic cleansing of Georgians. The Confederation has been inactive since the assassination of its second leader Yusup Soslambekov in 2000.


The Dargwa or Dargin people (Dargwa: дарганти, darganti; Russian: даргинцы, dargintsy) are a Northeast Caucasian native ethnic group originating in the North Caucasus, and who make up the second largest ethnic group in the Russian republic of Dagestan. They speak the Dargwa language. The ethnic group comprises, however, all speakers of the Dargin languages; Dargwa is simply the standard variety.

According to the 2002 Census, Dargins make up 16.5% of the population of Dagestan, with 425,526 people. They are concentrated in the Kaytagsky District, Dakhadayevsky District, Levashinsky District, Akushinsky District and Sergokalinsky Districts.

The Dargins have lived in their present-day location for many centuries. They formed the state of Kaitag in the Middle Ages and Renaissance until Russian conquest. Today, the Dargins are one of the most powerful in Dagestan (an amalgamation of many of the historical peoples in the region), and the second most numerous behind the Avars.

Hunzib people

The Hunzibs are an indigenous people of Dagestan, Russia living in three villages in the Tsuntinsky District in the upper regions of the Avar-Koisu river area. They have their own language, Hunzib, and primarily follow Sunni Islam, which reached the Hunzib people around the 8th or 9th century. The only time that the Hunzibs were counted as a distinct ethnic group in the Russian Census was in 1926, when 105 people reported to be ethnic Hunzibs. Subsequently, they were listed as Avars in the Russian Censuses. In 1967, it was estimated that there were about 600 ethnic Hunzibs (E. Bokarev).

Ingush people

The Ingush (, Ingush: ГIалгIай, Ghalghaj, pronounced [ˈʁəlʁɑj]) are a Northeast Caucasian native ethnic group of the North Caucasus, mostly inhabiting their native Ingushetia, a federal republic of Russian Federation. The Ingush are predominantly Sunni Muslims and speak the Ingush language.


The Karachays (Karachay-Balkar: Къарачайлыла, таулула Qaraçaylıla, tawlula) are a Turkic people of the North Caucasus, mostly situated in the Russian Karachay–Cherkess Republic.

Karata people

The Karata people are a small people from Dagestan, Russia. They primarily speak the Karata language.

Kryts people

The Kryts (self-designated хърыцӏаь) or Gryz (Azerbaijani: qrızlar) are a people of Azerbaijan reside in several villages in the Quba, Khachmaz, Ismayilli and Gabala regions, as well as in the cities of Baku and Sumgait.

In 2005, the number of Kryts was between 10,000 and 15,000. They speak the Kryts language, which belongs to the Lezgic branch of the Nakh-Dagestan language family. In addition, all speak the Azerbaijani language.


The Mingrelians (Megrelian: მარგალი, margali; Georgian: მეგრელები: megrelebi) are an indigenous Kartvelian-speaking ethnic subgroup of Georgians that mostly live in Samegrelo region of Georgia. They also live in considerable numbers in Abkhazia and Tbilisi. In the pre-1930 Soviet census, the Megrelians were afforded their own ethnic group category.The Mingrelians speak the Mingrelian language, and are typically bilingual also in Georgian. Both these languages belong to the Kartvelian language family.

Northcaucasian race

Northcaucasian race (also Caucasionic race) is a term

for a proposed sub-race of the larger Caucasian race prosed by Carleton S. Coon (1930).

It comprises the native populations of the North Caucasus, the Balkars, Karachays and Vainakh (Chechens and Ingushs).

Tabasaran people

The Tabasarans are an ethnic group who live mostly in Dagestan, Russia. Their population in Russia is about 150,000. They speak the Tabasaran language. They are mainly Sunni Muslims. Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva and Kamal Khan-Magomedov, the 2015 European Games champion in men's Judo -66 kg, are half-Tabasaran.

Tsakhur people

The Tsakhur or Caxur (Azerbaijani: saxurlar, Russian: цахурский) people are an ethnic group of northern Azerbaijan and southern Dagestan (Russia). They number about 30,000 and call themselves yiqy (pl. yiqby), but are generally known by the name Tsakhur, which derives from the name of a Dagestani village, where they make up the majority.

Peoples of the Caucasus

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