The Caucasus figured greatly in the legends of ancient Greece; Prometheus was chained on a Caucasian mountain, and Jason and his Argonauts sought the Golden Fleece at Colchis. Persians, Khazars, Arabs, Huns, Turko-Mongols, and Russians have invaded and migrated into the Caucasus and have given the region its ethnic and linguistic complexity. The Russians assumed control in the 19th cent. after a series of wars with Persia and Turkey. The people of Georgia and Armenia, then predominantly Christian, accepted Russian hegemony as protection from Turkish persecution. In Azerbaijan, Dagestan, and the historic region of Circassia, the people were largely Muslim. They bitterly fought Russian penetration and were pacified only after the uprising led by Imam Shamyl. In World War II the invading German forces launched (July, 1942) a major drive to seize or neutralize the vast oil resources of the Caucasus. They penetrated deeply, but in Jan., 1943, the Soviets launched a winter offensive and by October had driven the Germans from the region. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, demands for smaller, ethnically based nations in the Caucasus, both in Russian North Caucasia and in the newly independent nations of Transcaucasia, have given rise to a number of disturbances and armed rebellions. Largely Muslim areas (Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan) in the region have also suffered from Muslim extremist violence; Chechnya was devastated in the 1990s as a result of civil war.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.