1902 Encyclopedia > Transcauscasia


TRANSCAUCASIA, the name given to that portion of Russian emplre (in Caucasus, Armenia, and Asia Minor) which lies to the south of the main Caucasus ridge. It comprises the governments of Kutais (inclusive of the province of Batum), Tiflis, Elisabethpol, Erivail, and Kars, with parts of Daghestan and most of Baku, and the separate military districts of Tchernomorsk and Zakataiy. Sometimes Transcaucasia is identified with Southern Caucasus, and then it is intended to include the whole of Daghestan. So defined, it would have an area of 95,930 square miles, and a population of 4,173,380.
Three regions must be distinguished :—(1) the narrow strip of land between the main Caucasus ridge and the Black Sea (TCHERNOMORSK district, q.v.) ; (2) the broad valley, watered by the Rion in the west and the Kura in the east, which separates the main Caucasus ridge from the region next to be mentioned; (3) the highlands, mountains, and plateaus' of Lazistan, Kars, and Armenia.
The valley referred to, which crosses the isthmus from the Black Sea to the Caspian, consists of two widely different sections,—the drainage-area of the Rion, which is Mediterranean in its physical characteristics, and the valley of the Kura and Araxes, which slopes to the Caspian, and in its lower parts becomes purely cis-Caspian. The Mesques or Meshik Mountains (3000-5000 feet), a ridge running south-west to north-east, and probably a con-tinuation of the Black Sea coast ridge (Tchorokh Moun-tains), separate the two. The drainage area of the Rion, which corresponds approximately to the government of Kutais, includes the former provinces of Imeritia, Min-grelia, Guria, and Swanetia on the upper Ingur and Tshenis-tshali. With the exception of the valley of the Rion (some 25 miles broad), and the sandy and marshy littoral, it is wholly occupied by spurs of the main Caucasus ridge, the Meshik, and the Wakhan Mountains; the last-named rise to 10,000 and 11,000 feet above the sea in their highest summits, and are intersected by deep and fertile valleys. The region is characterized by a heavy rainfall and a moist maritime climate. The vegetation, which is luxuriant, is of a circum-Mediterranean character : fine forests of de-ciduous trees clothe the mountain slopes, and the high-land villages nestle amid thickets of azalea, almond, and rhododendron. Maize, the mulberry, the vine, and a great variety of fruit trees are cultivated. Mingrelia and Imeritia are the real gardens of Caucasus ; but the high valleys tributary to the Ingur, inhabited by Swanians, are wild and difficult of access ; in some of them, which are narrow and marshy, fevers and scurvy prevail. The Rion is not navigable, and of its tributaries only the Tshenis-tshali and the Kvirila are worthy of mention. Several lakes (such as the Paleostom, surrounded by marshes at the mouth of the Rion) occur in the coast region. The popu-lation consists of Imeritians, Mingrelians, Gurians, and Swanians, all belonging to the Kartvelian branch of Caucasians (see vol. x. p. 433), with a few Ossetians, Jews, Armenians, and Tartars. Russians are not numerous.
The pass of Suram, by which the Transcaucasian railway now crosses the Mesques Mountains, leads from the valley of the Rion to that of the Kura. Spurs from the Caucasus and the Anti-caucasus fill up the broad longitudinal depression between these, so that above Tiflis the bottom of the valley is but a narrow strip. But below that city it suddenly widens, and stretches for nearly 350 miles eastward towards the Caspian with a steadily increasing breadth, until it becomes nearly 100 miles wide in the steppe of Mugan on the Caspian littoral. The snow-clad peaks of the main Caucasus, descending by short steep slopes, fringe the valley on the north-east; wdiile a huge wall, much lower, and having the characters of a border-ridge of the Armenian plateau, bounds the valley on the south-west. The floor of the valley gently slopes from 1200 feet at Tiflis to 500 feet in its middle, and to 85 feet below the level of the ocean on the Caspian shore; but a plateau ranging from 2000 to 3000 feet in height, very fertile along the Alazán, a left-hand tributary of the Kura, stretches along the southern hill-foots of the main ridge. In its lower course the Kura is joined by the Araxes, a river nearly as large as itself, which brings to it the waters of the Armenian plateau.
The highest mountains of the Caucasus enclose the upper parts of the valley (now the government of Tiflis). An unbroken series of peaks, from 10,000 to 12,600 feet in height, mostly snow-clad and separated by but slight depressions, is seen in profile as one looks from some height of the Anticaucasus towards the main chain and the broad valley of the Kura. Deep short gorges and valleys indent the steep slopes which are inhabited by Ossetians, Tushes, Pshavs, and Khevsurs in the west, and by the various tribes of the Lesghians in the east. Every available patch is used in these high and stony valleys for the culture of barley, even at heights of 7000 and 8000 feet above the sea; but cattle-breeding is the chief resource of the mountaineers, whose little communities are separated from one another by passes in few cases lower than 10,000 feet. The steppes which cover the bottom of the valley are for the most part too dry to be cultivated without irrigation. It is only nearer the hillfoots in Kahetia, where multitudinous streams supply the fields and the gardens of the plateau of the Atazañ, that wheat, millet, and maize are grown, and orchards, vineyards, and mulberry-tree plantations are possible. Lower down the valley cattle-rearing becomes the chief source of wealth, while in the small towns anil villages of the former Georgian kingdom (see GEORGIA) various, petty trades, testifying to a high development of artistic taste and technical skill, are widely diffused. Further down the Kura, in the government of Elizabethpol, and especially on the right bank of the river, a population of Russian agriculturists—chiefly Nonconformists —is rapidly springing up, so that corn is exported from the villages on the Ganja. The slopes of the Anticaucasus are covered with beautiful forests, and the vine is grown at their base, while in the broad and wide steppes the Tartars rear cattle, horses, and sheep. The lower part of the Kura valley, which belongs mainly to the province of Baku, assumes the character of a dry steppe where the rainfall hardly reaches 13'7 inches at Baku, and is still less in the Mugan steppe (in most striking contrast with the moistness of the Lenkoran region close by). The steep slopes of the Great Caucasus are still covered with thriving forests ; but forests and meadows dis-appear in the steppe, whose scanty vegetation has a Central-Asian character. Only tugáis, or thickets of poplar, dwarf oak, tama-risk, and so on, follow the actual course of the Kura, whose delta is covered with impenetrable growths of rushes. The Mugan steppe, however, does not deserve its ancient evil reputation; the serpents with which it was said to abound are entirely fabulous, and in the winter it is full of life; herds of antelopes roam over it, and its southern irrigated parts promise to become the granary of Caucasus, although its unirrigatei parts will probably never recover their former richness, the Kura having'excavated its bed to a much greater depth. The Apsheron peninsula, in which the Great Caucasus terminates at Baku, to be continued farther south-east by a sub-marine plateau of the Caspian, is the seat of those remarkable naphtha springs which have recently given rise to an important industry and now supply most of the Volga steamers with fuel; while the western shores of the wide Kizil-agatch Bay—the Talysh, or Lenkoran district on the slopes of the Armenian plateau—on account of their rich vegetation, fertile soil, and moist climate, are one of the most beautiful possessions of Russia in Asia.

The population includes only a few Russians (about 16,000); the majority are Tartar shepherds, next to whom come the Iranian Tates and Talyshes (the latter probably aborigines of Baku), who constitute 23 '1 per cent, of the population; some 27,000 Armenians, chiefly about Shemakha, and 35,000 Kurins, or Lezghians, on the slope of the Great Caucasus, must be added, as also some Jews and Arabs.
A mining industry of some importance has been growing up of late in this part of Transcaucasia. The copper works of Kedabek in Elizabethpol yield from 10,000 to 15,000 cwts. of copper annually; nearly 300,000 cwts. of manganese are extracted in Kutais, and 30,000 cwts. of sulphur in Daghestan and Baku ; the coal-mines of Kutais, the alum ores of Elizabethpol, and the fire-clay and cement of Tchernomorsk, are but recently opened up.
The highlands of Transcaucasia, which extend from north-west to south-east for nearly 375 miles, with an average width of 160 miles, must in their turn be sub-divided into two sections—the Armenian plateau, including the provinces of Erivan and Kars and parts of Baku, and the Black Sea coast-region, including the former province of Batum (now the Batum and Artvin districts of Kutais).
The former of those is an immense plateau separated by the valley of the Araxes from the highlands of Adherbaijan and of Turkish Armenia, which belong to the drainage-areas of the Euphrates or those of Lakes Van and Urmia. All over Kars and Erivan is a series of plateaus ranging in altitude from 5000 to 6500 feet, sometimes quite flat, sometimes broadly undulating, covered with rich meadows, and for the most. part available for agriculture. Dome-shaped mountains, isolated, or grouped into relatively low ridges, rise from these plateaus to heights which range from 8000 to 9500 feet, and occasionally reach 10,000 or 11,000 above sea-level. Several summits in the east exceed that height, and the Alaghoz reaches 13,436 feet.
This plateau region is bounded on the south by the valley of the Araxes, the river which forms the frontier with Turkey, except where it is crossed by Russia in the south of Kars and west of Erivan. There the river flows in a broad valley 4500 feet above sea-level, and the Kars plateau falls towards it by a steep slope, while on the other side a steep, rocky ridge of exceedingly wild aspect rises as the northern border-ridge of the South Armenian (Alashkert) plateau and the water-parting between the Caspian Sea and the Indian Ocean. This ridge, which includes the Allah-dagh and Kbsa-dagh (10,720 and 11,260 feet respectively), as also the Great and Little Ararats (17,100 and 12,990 feet), has no general name, but is described under the names of Shah-ioly, or Agri-dagh.
A number of lakes occur on the plateau, especially along its northern border-ridge, the chief being that of Goktcha, an extensive alpine basin (500 square miles 6310 feet above sea-level) sur-rounded by wild mountains. Most of the depressions of the plateau bear traces of having been under water during the Lacustrine (Post-Glacial) period. Granites and othe- unstratified rocks constitute the nucleus of the Armenian and Kars plateaus. These are covered with Azoic slates, and partly with Devonian and Carbonifer-ous deposits; Jurassic and Cretaceous are wanting, but the Tertiary (Eocene and Miocene) are widely spread both in the valley of the Rion and Kura and in the depressions of the plateau. Rocks of volcanic origin are widely diffused all over Erivan: the Alexandropol plateau, surrounded by extinct volcanoes, is all covered with volcanic products, which overlie the Tertiary deposits and in turn are covered with Glacial boulder-clay.
The Alaghoz, the Ararats, and the peaks around Lake Goktcha are huge trachitic masses surrounded by volcanic rocks. Iron and copper ores are widely spread; alum and rock-salt are obtained, the latter at Kulpi and Nakhichevan. Mineral springs are numer-ous. The region is watered by the upper Araxes—too rapid and rocky to be navigated—and its tributaries, most of which flow at the bottoms of deep gorges. The upper Kura waters western Kars. The climate presents all the varieties which might be expected in a region of so varied altitudes. While cotton grows in the dry and hot climate of the valley of the lower Araxes, the winter is severe on the plateau, and Alexandropol (5010 feet) has an average temperature of only 41°'5 (Jan. 12°-8; July, 73°-6). The difference between summer and winter is still more striking at Erivan (3210 feet), which has in January an average of only 5° while that of, August reaches 77°'7. On the Kars plateau the winter is still more severe. Kaghyzman (4620 feet) and Sary-kamysh (7800 feet) have the winter temperature of Finland, and the latter place, with an annual mean the same as that of Hammerfest (36° F.), has frosts of
27° and heats of 99°. The vegetation of the Kars plateau reflects these extremes of climate, and, besides the alpine vegetation of the high yailas (alpine meadows), we find there the Anatolian, Armenian, and Pontic floras meeting. The population of Erivan consists of Armenians (54 per cent.), Tartars (40 per cent.), some 28,000 Kurds, and some 4400 Russians, together with a few Greeks and Jews. In localities under 4000 feet cotton and rice are the chief crops, oil-yielding plants, the vine, the mulberry, and fruit trees being also cultivated. Higher up wheat and barley are grown, while at altitudes above 6000 and 7000 feet the Tartars and Kurds support themselves by rearing cattle. Many petty trades are developed in the towns among the Armenians, and the trade of Erivan with Persia and Turkey amounts to about 10,000,000 roubles.
The population of the province of Kars (167,610 in 1883) is very mixed. In a remote antiquity it was inhabited by Armenians, whose capital Ani, Mren with its beautiful ruins of a grand cathedral, and several other towns now in ruins testify to the former wealth and populousness of the country. After the fall of the Armenian empire the Turks occupied the region ; Kurds from Kurdistan and Diarbekr invaded the alpine pasturages of the valley of the Araxes ; later on, Kabards, Circassians, Osses, and Karapapakhs found refuge there ; and finally, after the last war the Mohammedans emigrated to Asia Minor (82,760 in 1878-81), while Christian Armenians, Greeks, Russian Raskolniks, and some Yezids took their place. The population consists now of Turks, Armenians, Turcomans, Greeks, Kurds, Adherbaijan Tartars, Gipsies, and Russians. The Kars sanjak, which was one of the granaries of Turkey, has lost this reputation ; but the crops (chiefly wheat and barley) are now again increasing where the early frosts do not interfere with agriculture. Cotton is raised in the Olty region; and in the valley of the Araxes gardening and the culture of the silkworm are widely diffused; while cattle-rearing is the chief source of income in the highlands, especially with the Kurds, who move their felt tents on the yailas to higher levels as the summer sun burns up the vegetation.
The western part of the Transcaucasian highlands com-prises the Batum and Artvin districts, which now belong to Kutais. The whole of the region is occupied by alpine ridges—the Pontic ridge in the west, and those of Arjar and Arsian in the east, whose highest peaks rise to 10,000 and 11,000 feet, without, however, reaching the limits of perpetual snow. The Tchorokh and its tributaries, moun-tain streams enclosed in deep valleys, water the region ; the Tchorokh is navigable by small boats for 60 miles.
The coast region enjoys an excellent climate; the average yearly temperature at Batum is 65° F., that of the coldest month (February) being 41°'5, and that of July 76°'5. During the last four years the thermometer never fell lower than 39°'5 at Batum. The rainfall is excessive (93'4 inches), and days are recorded on which the amount of rain exceeded 10 inches. The region has accordingly a very luxuriant and subtropical vegetation, and even higher up the hills the villages are literally buried amidst gardens. The higher hills have luxuriant meadows. Rice is cultivated in the coast region, and millet, barley, tobacco, and a variety of fruit-trees on higher altitudes. The inhabitants (about 90,000 in 1884) are chiefly Georgians, approaching the Gurians most nearly. The Lazes number about 2000 and the Kurds about 1000. A few Khemshilli, or Mohammedan Armenians, have found refuge in the gorge of Makrial.
Towns.—The chief towns of Transcaucasia are more important than those of northern Caucasus. TIFLIS (q.v.), with 104,024 in-habitants in 1883, is the capital of Caucasia. KUTAIS (g.v.) (13,000), to which tradition assigns an age of 4000 or 5000 years, has grown rapidly of late, owing to its situation at the head of the alluvial plain of the Rion and the proximity of the Tkvibula coal deposits and the Kvirila manganese mines. Khc^ri (4000) and Orpiri are mere administrative centres of Kutais. Redut-kale (620) has lost its importance as a seaport, and Poti (3110), at the mouth of the Rion, has not yet become an important port, notwithstanding efforts to improve its roadstead and its railway connexion with Tiflis and Baku. The chief Black Sea port of Transcaucasia is BATUM (q.v.), wdrich has been diligently fortified of late, and has now a popula-tion of 12,000. Artvin (5860) and Ardjari are the two other chief towns of the Batum region. The chief towns of the government of Tiflis besides its capital are Gori, capital of Georgia (population 4800), Mtzhet (770) at the junction of the Vladikavkaz highway with the Transcaucasian railway, Telav (7020), Dushety (3600), Zakataty (1080), chief town of a separate military district, and Sig-nakh (10,340), which are built in the spurs of the main chain; while Akhaitsikh (18,270), on the upper Kura and on the Kars plateau, is a busy centre for petty trades. The old city of Ahatkatuki (3200) on the same plateau is now a Russian fort. ELIZABETHPOL, NUKHA, and SHUSHA (qq-v.) are the principal towns in the province of Elizabethpol. BAKU (q.v.). the terminus of the Transcaucasian

railway, and in regular steamer communication with Mikhailovsk
in the Transcaspian region, derives its importance from the naphtha
wells which surround it. SHEMAKHA {q.v.) (28,810), and Saliany
(10,170), at the head of the delta of the Kura, and notable for its
fisheries, are the only places of importance in the province of Baku.
ERIVAN (q.v.) (12,450), capital of the province of Erivafi, and the
chief city of the Armenian plateau, is one of the oldest cities of the
country, and, owing to its position, would be much more important
than it is, but for its climate. Etchmiadzin, or Vagarshapad (2910),
is the real capital (the Rome) of Armenia, for its antiquities, mon-
astery, library, and printing offices. Nakhitehevan (5390)—the
Naxuana of Ptolemy—is another centre of Armenia. The most
populous town of the region, however, is Alexandropol (23,010) or
GUMRI (q.v.), the chief Russian fortress of Transcaucasia,—the
other towns of Erivan being Ani, or Oni, Novobayazet at Lake
Goktcha, and Ordubad (3600). The long-disputed EARS (q.v.),
which has now 7340 inhabitants, is the chief town of the new
Russian province of the same name, annexed in 1878. Kaghyzman
(3700), on the upper Araxes, is but a collection of clay houses sur-
rounded by rich gardens; Ardahan (1270), on the upper Kura, and
Olty (530) are the only other towns of Kars worthy of notice as
administrative centres. (P. A. K.)


No Russian sea shows so rapid a growth of navigation as the Caspian Sea during the last fifteen years. In 1884 no less than 1945 steamers (611,000 tons), engaged in foreign trade, entered the Russian ports of the Caspian, as against 409 (113,000 tons) in 1876.

For this valley and the contrasts between the Caucasus and Anti-caucasus, see Radde s Ornis Caucásica, Cassel, 1884.

W. Massalsky, "Government of Kars," in Izvestia of Russ. Geogr. Soc., vol. xxiii., 1887.

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