The very first question we should ask ourselves before we consider the Southern Caucasus in our West Asia/Middle Eastern session is whether three countries really are part of Western Asia at all. As you’ll see from the several hundred comments on this About.com page in response to that question (most of which are respectful and able to be shared with kids, but be aware, some are not), there is certainly room for debate. Most often geographers cite the Caucasus as a boundary between Europe and Asia, with land north of the mountains being European and below it Asian. Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia are mainly in the mountains…but they’re on the southern side of the Caucasus, below the highest peaks. Which would mean they’re in Asia, right? Or is the Southern Caucasus still the Caucasus and therefore on the line…? The three countries in question
boast many cultural and religious ties to Europe–for example, Georgian and Armenian
citizens are primarily Christian–and there is much to the argument that primary elements of the nations’ economies are similar to those in place in Europe, not to mention the countries want to join the European Union…but does shared culture and even desire to be part of a continent make that inclusion so?
All Around This World doesn’t have any interest in taking sides. Still, for our purposes we’re including Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia in West Asia so we can focus on them a bit more than would have been been possible if we tried to lump them into our session on Eastern Europe. If you’re Azeri, Georgian or Armenian and you also you’re also firmly European…right on!
Now that we’ve made that call, let’s get on with it….
If you’re shopping for a place to locate your small country you may very well consider plunking it down in picturesque mountains, or next to a bountiful sea, or, if you have the chance, both. If you’re particularly crafty, you’ll also place your country above a massive pool of oil, or at least right in between oil fields and hundreds of millions of people who want to use it. Of course to keep your claim on such prime real estate you may have to face some challenges, perhaps deal with some raucous neighbors…but really, who doesn’t?
Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia are located in just that kind of neighborhood, way up in the Caucasus mountains between the Black and Caspian Seas. In many ways, that’s not a bad place to be. (Azerbaijan is the one with the oil. Lucky Azerbaijan…?) On the other hand, the “raucous neighbors” in question were historically three of the world’s most powerful (and most-prone-to-conquer) empires: the Persians, the Ottomans and the Russians. Each nation of the Caucasus has spent centuries under Persian, Ottoman and/or Russian rule. Even so, the countries of the South Caucasus are now independent and the Persian, Ottoman and, to a lesser extent, the Russian Empires are a thing of
the past. With the many difficult times these nations have faced because of their location, is holding on to one’s homeland worth the struggle? Read through the below and you’ can be the judge.
Each of the three nations of the Southern Caucasus has its own language, its own culture and its own history. Each also has its own long list of historic struggles, and each has had to face them and press ahead in its own unique way. The three have often had the inclination to unite–first in an unsuccessful attempt after World War I to form the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic, then, within the USSR, as part of the Transcaucasian Federation, which disbanded in 1936–but unfortunately, as of late, each of these little countries has also had a hard time getting along with each other.