Which populations feel that their country is on the wrong track?

Which populations feel that their country is on the wrong track?

Explanatory map: the Caucasus region

The Caucasus region has been embroiled in a territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region for decades. Although the outbreaks of the conflict are recent, the origins of the violence date back to the 1980s.

But this map allows us to step back and look at the region in its larger context.

While most media has focused on the tensions, this map breaks down the entire Caucasus region, providing key facts and information. Which countries make up the region? What is the main economic activity in the region? How is the population distributed? Let’s start.

The basics

The Caucasus region is characterized by vast mountain ranges, which have long separated peoples and created distinct ethnic, linguistic and religious identities for thousands of years. Today, the region spans three main countries: Armenia, Azerbaijanand Georgiaand is bordered by Russia, Turkey and Iran.

Focusing on the top three, here’s an overview of some basic demographics:

  • 🇦🇿 Azerbaijan Population: 10.4 million
  • 🇦🇲 Armenia Population: 3.0 million
  • 🇬🇪 Georgia Population: 4.1 million

Home to about 20 million, the Caucasus region touches the Caspian Sea in the east and the Black Sea in the west. It is an area distinctly located between Europe, Asia and the Middle East, but defined by most categorizations as Central Asia.

🇦🇿 Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan is the largest country in the region, both in terms of land mass and population. The Nagorno-Karabakh The region is located within the official borders of Azerbaijan and is inhabited almost entirely by ethnic Armenians.

The majority of Azeris are Muslims, however, the country is considered one of the most secular Muslim countries in the world. Azerbaijani or Azeri is the most widely spoken language with more than 92% of people who speak it. Just over 1% in the country speak Russian as their first language and 1% speak Armenian as their main language. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, a similar percentage sets the number of ethnic Russians and Armenians in Azerbaijan at 1.5% and 1.3% respectively.

🇦🇲 Armenia

Like its two neighbours, Armenia gained independence with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Unlike its neighbours, however, it is entirely landlocked.

The country is a predominantly Christian nation, with an ethnic composition of nearly 98% Armenians and the most spoken language being Armenian, according to the government. The population count has fallen since the collapse of the USSR and has remained relatively stable in recent years.

🇬🇪 Georgia

Georgia is slightly smaller in size than Azerbaijan; the country shares a long border with Russia to the north and has a long coastline on the Black Sea.

Georgia’s population growth shares a similar story to many other former Soviet republics. While the total population has slightly decreased in recent years, the growth of ethnic nationals (Georgians) has actually increased. The country is predominantly Christian and Georgian is the most popular language.

Where do people live in the Caucasus region?

So how are these populations concentrated throughout the region? These World Mapper cartograms, broken down by country:


caucus region

Most people live in and around the capital Baku, a port city on the Caspian Sea. However, a number of people also live inland, closer to the Armenian and Georgian borders.


caucus region

In Armenia, the population is strongly oriented towards its capital, Yerevan, which has a population of 1.1 million.


caucus region

The distribution of the population of Georgia is slightly more homogeneous than that of its neighbors with a preference for the capital Tbilisi.

The economy of the Caucasus region

Now let’s dive into the economic activity of the Caucasus. In parts, the region is oil-rich with access to resources such as the vast Caspian Sea oil fields off the Azerbaijani coast. In fact, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline transports almost 1 million barrels of oil oilfields to Turkey every day.

Taking a step back, here is an overview of regional GDPs:

  • 🇦🇿 GDP of Azerbaijan: 42.6 billion dollars
  • 🇬🇧 Georgia: $15.9 billion
  • 🇦🇲 GDP of Armenia: 12.7 billion dollars

Azerbaijan is the largest economy in the Caucasus region. It is the most economically developed country of the three, having experienced rapid GDP growth since its transition from a Soviet republic. At its peak in the early 2000s, national GDP was growing at annual rates of 25%-35%. Today, its oil and gas exports are proving extremely lucrative given the European energy crisis due to the war in Ukraine. Fossil fuels account for about 95% of the country’s export earnings.

The economies of Armenia and Georgia are considered emerging/developing and dependent on many different Russian imports. However, according to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, both economies are expected to grow 8% This year.

Georgia’s economy has recovered from the pandemic thanks to its booming tourism industry, largely attracting Russian visitors. Additionally, in Georgia and Armenia, the influx of Russian companies and technology professionals has boosted the economies.

A brief history

The three countries that encompass the region, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, were each republics under the Soviet Union until its fall in 1991. Additionally, the regions of Dagestan and Chechnya in Russia, also located within the geographical sphere of the Caucasus, each maintaining a distinct Russian identity. Both regions are predominantly ethnically non-Russian and still face regular violence over their power struggle with the regional heavyweight.

In fact, many of the tensions in the region can be linked to Russian oppression, experts say.

“Russia’s crackdown on national resistance in the Caucasus has encouraged fundamentalist movements.”
– Dr. James V. Wertsch (Caucasus specialist, Washington University, St. Louis)

In recent history, Russia invaded Georgia hours after the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics kicked off, sparking conflict in the Ossetia and Abkhazia regions. The Russo-Georgian war is considered the first European war of the 21st century.

While the history of the Caucasus goes back a long way – for example, the Kingdom of Armenia dates back to 331 BC. – more recent events have been shaped by the Cold War and the fallout from the dissolution of the USSR.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

The tension around the Nagorno-Karabakh region started in the late 1980s and escalated into a full-scale war in the 1990s. During the first years of the conflict, around 30,000 people died. Since then, ceasefires and violence have erupted intermittently⁠ – with the most recent end to fighting in 2020. At least 243 people have been killed since then.

The conflict began when newly independent Armenia demanded that the region be removed from Azerbaijan, which was still a Soviet state at the time, as the population there was (and still is) predominantly Armenian. Although not recognized internationally, a splinter group declared part of Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state called the Republic of Artsakh.

Here is a very brief timeline:

  • 1988-1994: First Nagorno-Karabakh War
  • April 2016: Four days of violence at the separation line
  • September-November 2020: The war was reignited until Russia negotiated a ceasefire
  • September 2022: new clashes break out, killing hundreds

The conflict has spread across the region – Russia is on Armenia’s side and Turkey is on Azerbaijan’s side. But new allies could enter the scene as evidenced by Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Armenia in mid-September. Today, the region is divided between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russian peacekeepers, but it is still officially Azerbaijani.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated that the 2008 Russian invasion took place during the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. We’ve since adjusted this to “within hours of the games kicking off”, as the exact time varies between sources.

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