These Fourteen European Countries are Disappearing

[See end notes for sources, inclusions and exclusions]

These countries are currently losing population (sorted by population growth rate):


[Note: Fertility Rate is the ratio of ‘total children born’ to ‘all women’ in a given population. In order for a given population to remain constant (not counting net migration) the ratio needs to be 2.0 to 2.1.]

What can we intuit from correlating these figures with what we see happening in the world today?

Intuition No. 1: Germany needs to increase the number of its permanent immigrants in order to maintain or grow its population, despite that it already has a relatively high net migration rate: 1.5 net new migrants per 1000 population. But, politically, there is currently a movement away from increased immigration which has created a problem for the current leadership of the country. Note that Germany records the highest median age and the largest percent of the population over 64, in the list above.

Intuition No. 2: Greece’s high net migration rate (2.3 per 1000) is barely adequate to keep its population stable. But the ability of Greece to accommodate large numbers of new residents and citizens is problematical, given its current economic distress. What is not known at this point, is the long term effects of the tens of thousands of refugees who have recently arrived in Greece. Despite recent waves of immigration, the age measures for Greece are only slightly under Germany’s.

screenhunter_453-oct-16-09-36Intuition No. 3: The three, small Baltic Sea countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are seriously losing population (0.5% to over 1% annually, currently). Further, their fertility rates are low (1.5-1.6), and immigration from elsewhere is not occurring. What can be the future of these countries if they continue to fade away? [Note: they all share a border with Russia.] Despite different cultures and ethnicities in these three countries, their age measures are almost identical. In that they were dominated and occupied by the Soviet Union, I wonder if there is a uniting thread resultant from this. There are no separate measures available for the entity named ‘Kaliningrad’, a Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, around one-third the size of the neighboring Baltic States. According to the 2010 Census, its population was 431,902

Intuition No. 4: The neighbor countries of Bulgaria and Romania, like the Three Baltic states, are losing population and are not gaining immigrants. Their current populations are much larger than the Baltics, so it will take longer for them to “disappear.” In that they border the Black Sea, Russians flock to these countries during the tourist season and have bought many properties along the coast. Russians are a palpable presence in these two countries, which unofficially affects national politics. Their net migration rates are only slightly negative, but their fertility rates are very low, below 1.5.


Intuition No. 5: Five of the six former provinces of the united Yugoslavia, which have reverted to their former independent states, are losing population: Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, and Bosnia & Herzegovina. The other, Macedonia (not in the above chart), is slowly growing due, apparently, to positive net migration, despite its fertility rate being 1.6. The bottom line: the former Yugoslavia is slowly fading away, as are Bulgaria and Romania, above. [Note: The present day state of Kosovo was, until recently, a province of Serbia. We have no data for Kosovo, other than population: 1,883,0189]. The population of these five seems to be slightly younger than others on this list, but they are not reproducing. Their fertility rates are at or near the bottom of the list.

Intuition No. 6: The remaining two states in the above chart are Hungary and Poland. Both are currently aligned politically to resist immigration from non-European countries. But, unless they reverse this position, they will fade along with the others mentioned here. Hungary’s fertility rate is 1.44 and Poland’s is a very low 1.34.

On the other hand: These 13 countries in Europe are currently growing at an annual rate between 0.5% and 2.0% (sorted by population growth rate):


Why are these countries not fading away like the others?

The quick answer is: immigration. The Net migration rates for all are relatively high, ranging from 2.5 in the United Kingdom to 16.3 in Luxembourg. The highest fertility rates are in Sweden and Ireland; the are lowest in Austria, Cyprus and Spain. In the latter three, if their current fertility rates and immigration rates continue, the native born ethnic Austrians, Cypriots, and Spaniards will be in the minority within a lifetime. Is this a problem? I guess it depends on the person viewing the situation. Such things have happened many times in the past, peacefully and otherwise.

Not Reproducing

Only two European countries in the forty studied have a positive fertility rate:


I intuit that France is the picture of the future for most European countries. France has had waves of immigration of people from North Africa in the past and, more recently, from the Near East whose birth rates are higher than the indigenous population.

rvxnf4bujdek3kcm2dwdq6jy These people, in my intuition, are responsible for France’s high fertility rate, compared to other European countries. Nonetheless, France’s annual population growth rate of 0.41% is not remarkable or significantly different from other European countries. The non-immigrant residents are reproducing at a much lower rate than the immigrant population. The accompanying chart was for the year 2004, and the ensuing twelve years have seen a significant rise in the immigrants from ‘Asia.’

Iceland seems to be a special case about which I have no useful remarks.

WHY are European countries Not Reproducing?

The answer is given by Col. Robert de Marcellus (Ret.) in an article “Falling Fertility: The World at the Tipping Point,” in the online magazine of the Population Research Institute:

  • The great increase in the number of wives who must work in the paid economy to help support the family due to the loss of the “family wage” concept
  • The increasing cost of raising children
  • High taxation that reduces family disposable income
  • Educational debt
  • Lifestyle changes that increasingly cause luxuries to be considered necessities
  • More years spent by young people in higher education. delaying family formation
  • Older average marriage ages, which greatly reduce wives’ childbearing years
  • Less family support as young couples relocate at a distance from family members

Please read the entire article for a lucid discussion of these and other factors.

My Final Intuitive Statement

The spirit of ‘Europe’ is depressed. Depressed spirits decline to reproduce.

Perhaps there is no more ‘Europe.’ It seems to be an idea, an abstraction, without a basis.

We can point to European Culture, starting from its putative origins in Ancient Greece and Rome, then The Renaissance, then The Enlightenment, and so on—Art, Music, Literature, Philosophy, Science… and the relationship of the Church to any of these.

It seems all a museum now.

The European ‘Union’ is reeling, nationalism on the rise, tribalism more evident.

Popular arts are declining, public figures ever more ridiculous.


Perhaps the above is necessary for a rebirth of something more beautiful?

“Without mud, there can be no lotus,” Thich Nhat Hanh, renown Buddhist teacher.

The data are taken from the current listings, by country, in the CIA World Factbook.

I analyzed all countries in Europe (40), not just those in the European Union (28)

I excluded Russia and Turkey, even though some parts of these nation-states are in what is recognized as Europe, geographically.

I excluded five other “European” countries because they are dominated politically and/or economically either by Russia or Turkey: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine.

The Republic of Turkey: Her Role in the World’s Geopolitical Balance


Turkey emerged as a secular republic, in 1923, from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire which was partitioned into several countries by the allied victors of the First World War. Turkey has since become a important strategic partner with the USA and the European Union. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor to US President Jimmy Carter, sees Turkey as a vital part of a newly-defined “West” in creating and maintaining a healthy balance of power between the world’s eastern and western spheres of influence. I use Mr. Brzezinski’s book Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power as one major source for this discussion.

Flag of The Republic of Turkey

In addition, Turkey has embarked on a mission to help resolve the many dangerous and economically debilitating conflicts in the region of the Caucasus—areas adjacent to the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Turkey also is encouraging political amity and economic cooperation among the now-independent republics of the former Soviet Union in Central Asia. To support this discussion I use the comments of Ambassador Fatih Ceylan who presented his paper “Protracted Conflicts in the South Caucasus and Central Asia” at a June 15 lecture at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Stockholm, which I attended.

There are currently many forces in play which may alter these plans and hopes, however, and I will present a few major developments based on recent news articles and opinions.


From Islamic Empire to Secular State

The geographic boundaries of the Republic of Turkey encompass the heart of the former Ottoman Empire which ruled a significant part of Europe and most of the Near East or Middle East (definitions vary) for hundreds of years until the end of World War I in 1918. The Empire’s Asian lands were taken by nations on the winning side—primarily Great Britain and France—governed for a while, then partitioned and allocated, over a number of years, to new political entities: Lebanon, Mesopotamia (Iraq), Palestine, Syria, Transjordan, and lands that became the Republic of Turkey. Other lands were ceded to Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Soon after partition, Turkish nationalists waged a War of Independence against the Allied Powers, during which Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his colleagues formed a Turkish Grand National Assembly. In July 1923, after the end of the Turkish-Armenian, Franco-Turkish, and Greco-Turkish wars, the Treaty of Lausanne was signed and the Republic of Turkey was established in October of the same year.

(Please click on all images  for greater clarity)

Ottoman Empire, 1672 (

The first president of the Republic was Atatürk who embarked upon a program of political, economic, and cultural reforms. The new government adapted the institutions of Western states such as France, Sweden, Italy, and Switzerland to the needs and characteristics of the Turkish nation. Atatürk capitalized on his reputation as an efficient military leader, and spent the years until his death in 1938 transforming Turkish society from perceiving itself as a Muslim part of a vast Empire into a modern, democratic, and secular nation-state. (Source).

The Role of the Military

In the new Turkish republic, serving military officers who were elected to parliament were obliged by law to resign from the army. The aim of Kemel Atatürk was twofold: to prevent the military from exercising direct political influence, and to protect the military from the everyday struggles of the political arena. However, he also saw the role of army as the guardian of the secular republic. As a result, the army has felt, until very recently, a responsibility for the protection of the Kemalist principles of the republic. This principle was written into the Turkish Armed Services Internal Service Code, which states that “the duty of the armed forces is to protect and safeguard Turkish territory and the Turkish Republic as stipulated by the Constitution.” Three interventions by the military against the government have been justified on this legal basis, in the years 1960, 1971, and 1980. (Source).

However, the last such intervention in 1997 resulted, later in April 2012, in the arrest and pending trial of nine military officers.  A major importance of this action against the actors in the coup is that it helps Turkey in its ongoing attempts to meet certain requirements in its application to become a member of the European Union (EU).

The Republic of Turkey and Adjacent Countries in The Caucasus and Black Sea Areas (

Turkey’s Pending Membership in the European Union

The prospect of Turkey becoming a member of EU is a critical factor, according to Brzezinsski, in the strategic balance of power between eastern and western spheres of influence.

… (B)road geopolitical trans-European stability… will require US engagement in shaping a more vital and larger West while helping to balance the emerging rivalry in the rising and restless East. This undertaking needs a sustained effort over the next several decades to connect, through institutions like the EU and NATO, both Russia and Turkey with a West that already embraces the EU and the United States.” (P. 131, Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power).

Turkey… has been modeled from its start on Europe. In 1921, Atatürk (Mustafa Kemal), the leader of “the young Turks” movement, began to transform the dismembered Ottoman Empire into a modern European-type secular nation-state… In more recent times it… evolved into democratization, a process to a significant degree driven by Turkey’s interest in becoming… a part of the unifying Europe. This aspiration was encouraged by Europeans, and it resulted in Turkey’s official application for membership (in the European Union) in 1987. The EU started formal negotiations in 2005. (P. 128, Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power).

EU Member Countries, Candidate Countries, and Potential Candidate Countries (

Membership has been slow in coming, and it is still not certain. In 2011, Chase Cavanaugh wrote an article for the Washington Review of Turkish and Eurasian Affairs discussing the difficulties in EU’s acceptance of Turkey’s application for membership:

… (T)here are several reasons that Turkey is finding it difficult to enter the European Union (including) a series of obligations that new member nations must satisfy, known as the “Copenhagen Criteria”. The first criterion states that candidate countries must have achieved “stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities.”  Turkey already has difficulties with several parts of this criterion, beginning with stability.

In Turkish politics, the army has a privileged place in the state power structure, seen as heritors and defenders of the secular “Kemalist” state… Historically, they have launched several coups against the government when they felt that it has been threatened by parties that were either too Islamist, or did not adequately conform to Ataturk’s ideology…

Kemal Atatürk (

Though there has been no major coup since 1980, the army has forced an Islamist coalition in 1997 led by Necmettin Erbakan to resign, as they felt he was leading the country toward “increasingly religious rule”… The constant threat of coups by the military is not conducive to a stable democratic regime and hurts Turkey’s image as a stable democracy… (Source)

However, since Mr. Cavanaugh’s article was published, Article 35 of the Turkish Armed Services (TSK) Internal Service Code is slated to be emended by parliament to limit the duty of the TSK “to protect the Turkish motherland from external threats.”

Current Status of Turkey’s Application for Membership in the EU

Despite Turkey’s application for membership in the EU was in 1987, twenty-five years ago as of this writing, there seems no probable date by which this application will succeed. The Journal Insight Turkey reported this, earlier in 2012:

… (N)either the negotiation process, nor the so-called political dialogue between the EU and Turkey on a variety of issues from Syria or Eastern Balkans to NATO-EU cooperation, is proceeding. The primary reason for this state of affairs is the lack of a clear European perspective for Turkey.

Nonetheless,  Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis expresses optimism:

Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s Minister for European Union Affairs and Chief Negotiator

ISTANBUL, 27 June 2012 (Reuters) – Turkey expects France to unblock talks that are essential if it is ever to join the European Union, now that Socialist President Francois Hollande has replaced Nicolas Sarkozy… “We are entering a new period in relations with France after Hollande’s election”…

Hollande has backed away from Sarkozy’s stark opposition to Turkey entering the EU but any shift in position from Paris will have more symbolic resonance than practical effect. Turkey… has only completed one of the 35 policy “chapters” that every candidate must conclude to join the EU…

While Hollande has stopped short of endorsing Turkey’s EU candidacy, he has said it should be judged on political and economic criteria – a contrast to Sarkozy’s position that Turkey did not form part of Europe…

Despite the slow progress, Turkey still expects to join the EU before 2023…

The stated goal of achieving membership by 2023 indicates Turkey’s continued desire, and patience, for this outcome. To keep up-to-date on the progress and current status of Turkey’s application for membership in the EU, go to these two websites:


The Republic of Turkey is not putting its ambitions on hold while awaiting the final outcome of its application for EU membership. I now turn to the remarks of Ambassador Fatih Ceylan who presented his paper “Protracted Conflicts in the South Caucasus and Central Asia” at a June 15 lecture at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Stockholm.

Main Points Addressed in Ambassador Ceylan’s Presentation

  1. The protracted conflicts in the areas of interest to the Organization for Security and Co-Operation (OSCE):
    a. Nagorno-Karabakh (NK)
    b. Abkhazia
    c. South Ossetia
    d. Transnistria
  2. The “normalization” process between Armenia and Turkey
  3. “Normalization” in the South Caucasus
  4. “Innovative approaches designed for the future of the South Caucasus”
  5. The Central Asian Republics (formerly “Socialist Republics” within the USSR), and Turkey’s relations with them

(Please click on the image for clarity)

LEFT: Transnistria CENTER: Abkhazia and South Ossetia RIGHT: Nagorno-Kharabakh

In foreign relations Turkey is guided by the principle established by its founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk: “Peace at home and peace in the world”.

The primary objective of Turkish foreign policy is to create a peaceful, prosperous, stable, and cooperative environment in our close vicinity which is essential for sustainable social, ecenomic, cultural, and political development of our region…

Turkey’s foreign policy places special emphasis on the region of the South Caucasus and the Black Sea basin.

The region is located at the intersection of major energy and transport projects of global importance such as the ‘contract of the century’ and the first great engineering project of the 21st Century, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum Gas Pipeline, and the key component of the “Iron Silk Road”, Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway.

Note that the pipelines bend around a gray area on the map which is the unidentified country of Armenia

Ambassador Ceylan noted that the situation in the South Caucasus is “volatile and fragile”. The so-called “frozen conflicts” of the South Caucasus are not, in fact, frozen and can translate into open conflicts on Europe’s outskirts in a short time.  Ceylan pointed to the five-day war between Georgia and Russia, in 2008, as an example.

There are multi-governmental commissions and other official groups attempting to reach resolution of these conflicts:

While these groups and other less visible diplomatic efforts continue to struggle with the protracted and sometimes volatile conflicts mentioned above, Turkey is attempting to create a positive incentive for cooperation in a sphere that is rooted neither in territorial history, politics, religion, or ethnicity—namely, economic opportunities thorugh collaboration. Ambassador Ceylan elucidated:

We have suggested the establishment of a Regional Development Agency serving as an umbrella institution to implement regional projects, including the reconstruction and development of the energy and transport infrastructure and telecommunication networks. We believe that transportation may be a major component of long-term sustainable cooperation in the South Caucasus. The Regional development Agency could give priority (first) to integrated regional transport corridor projects, including railways and highways, covering Turkey, Azerbaijan, and the Russian Federation, (then) countries beyond the region…

From a political perspective, the project we are proposing would present opportunities to ll stakeholders to leave behind their counterproductive rhetoric and urge them to adopt a more result-oriented approach in the negotiation process.

In 1989 Nagorno-Karabakh was an ethnic Armenian autonomy within the Azerbaijan SSR of the Soviet Union. The territory is now internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

The major sticking point in “normalizing” relations in the region, especially between Turkey and Armenia, is the issue of Nagorno-Kharabak. As Ambassador Ceylan stated. “A significant part of the Azerbaijani territory is still occupied by Armenia as a result of a gross violation of international law and in breach of United Nations Security Council resolutions”. He went on to emphasize that Turkey is committed to the normalization process with Armenia and that disputes be resolved through dialog and conciliatory approaches by the parties.

We are determined to promote our relations on the basis of mutual confidence and respect and to create a “belt of prosperity” in the South Caucasus…

The Turkic Connection in Central Asia

Ambassador Ceylan marked the 20th anniversary of the independence, from the USSR, of the republics of Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

After presenting a detailed analysis of the security and other risks confronting these new republics which lie between the two great powers of Russia and China, and are adjacent to the troubled nation of Afghanistan, he stated that “the region definitely does not want to be strangulated in yet another struggle for hegemony.”

The Republics of The Southern Caucasus and Central Asia which were formerly part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)

While recounting some of the difficulties these newly independent republics have had and continue to have in creating stable and more democratic polities, he also pointed out what progress has been made. He counseled patience to interested parties in the West and in the region, and recited Turkey’s resolve to support their progress toward “integration with the Euro-Atlantic structures.”

Turkey played a leading role in contributing to the adoption of free market rules by the Central Asian countries. A network of Turkish businessmen is actively engaged with the Central Asian Republics. There are more then two thousand registered Turkish companies and several thousand joint ventures with local partners in the region. Turkey is also a prominent trade partner of these countries…

There are two Turkish universities in Central Asia and many private and state schools run by the Turks throughout the region…

During the last twenty years we have also have accomplished to deepen solidarity and mutual support with the Turkic speaking countries on international and regional issues. With this understanding, in 2010 we established with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States.

By virtue of the commonality of language, ethnicity, and culture in the states of the region, Turkey is a key player, along with Russia and China, in maintaining stability in the region.


Other Issues

This ends my summary and comment of the two presentations mentioned at the head of this article. Now to mention briefly and illustrate other issues not developed by either speaker, which are relevant to the security of the region surrounding Turkey:

  • Ferment in Islamic states in the region
  • The issue of “Kurdistan”

Ferment in Islamic states in the region

Here is a map of countries in the region where a significant proportion of the population are of the Islamic Faith, with the percent of the Shia denomination shown (please click on the image):

Percent Shia Muslims in Countries of North Africa and Western Asia

Although people of the Shia and Sunni denominations live together harmoniously in most areas, there are regions where their differences arise to armed conflict. There are other sources of conflict, as well, such as has arisen in Syria, at the southern border of Turkey. And, there is uncertainty regarding Iran’s growing belligerence in the region, another country bordering Turkey.

The issue of “Kurdistan”

There has never been a formal nation of Kurdistan, but there are many references to such an entity by virtue of so many Kurdish people having resided for centuries in contiguous regions of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Kurdish holds official status in Iraq as a national language alongside Arabic, and is recognized in Iran as a regional language.

Contemporary use of Kurdistan refers to parts of eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, northwestern Iran and northern Syria inhabited mainly by Kurds. Iraqi Kurdistan first gained autonomous status in 1970 agreement with the Iraqi government and its status was re-confirmed as an autonomous entity within the federal Iraqi republic in 2005. There is also a province by the name Kurdistan in Iran, although it does not enjoy self-rule. Kurds fighting in the Syrian Civil War were able to take control of large sections of Northeast Syria as forces loyal to al-Assad withdrew to fight elsewhere. Having established their own government some Kurds called for autonomy in a democratic Syria, others hoped to establish an independent Kurdistan. Some Kurdish nationalist organizations seek to create an independent nation state of Kurdistan, consisting of some or all of the areas with Kurdish majority, while others campaign for greater Kurdish autonomy within the existing national boundaries. (Source).

An Imagined “Kurdistan”

Turkey says (it) won’t allow PKK to benefit from authority vacuum in Syria: Turkey’s top security council has threatened the presence of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Syria, vowing that Turkey will not allow the terrorist organization to benefit from the authority vacuum in the war-torn country (News Article Source, 29 August 2012).


The Republic of Turkey is in a position, by virtue of her history, economic strength, political stability and geographic location, to play a key geopolitical role in its region and beyond. The hopes of Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the dreams of The Republic of Turkey, as expressed by Ambassador Fatih Ceylan, may well play out as they envision, but there are known and unknown impediments to these, some revealing themselves and playing out at this moment.

What is it to be “Caucasian,” and…

…what and where is The Caucasus?

When I was quite young I learned that the word “Caucasian” somehow applied to me and my family as types of humans who were “white,” or at least not “Negro” or “Oriental,” but that was all. I never thought of myself as “white,” or any color, but identified with the ethnicity of the three of my grandparents who emigrated from Greece to San Francisco in the early 1900s. I didn’t know I was “white” until I joined the US Navy in 1954 at age 17.

Previous to this, “white” was reserved in my mind for “White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants,” or WASPs. Dad had explained what Anglo-Saxon meant, but I could never retain the history of the various invasions which Western and Northern European peoples visited upon each other in ancient times. And further, I couldn’t understand what Dad or anyone could tell me about the origin of the word “Caucasian,” other than it came from people living in a remote in-between place in Europe or Asia.

I haven’t thought of myself as “Caucasian” or “white” for quite a while now, just considering myself a human with roots in Europe in the short-term (20,000-40,000 years ago) and recognizing that all humans are rooted in Africa from around 130,000 to 200,000 years ago.

What took me back to thinking about “Caucasian” was my reading of a new book, The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus, by the historian Charles King whose previous book The Black Sea: A History was the basis for an article in these pages on the Black Sea.

King’s new book clarified for me the origin, use, and misuse of the concept of “Caucasian Race,” and about the complicated and terrible history of the original peoples who have inhabited the region named “The Caucasus.” In writing this article I also used Russia: A History, edited by Gregory L. Freeze. Additional resources are under the links listed throughout the article.

“Caucasian” as a “Race”

Female and Male “Caucasian Bodies” (©2010 Zygote Media Group. Inc.)

The concept of a Caucasian race was developed around 1800 byJohann Friedrich Blumenbach, a German scientist and anthropologist. Blumenbach named it after the peoples of the Caucasus region, whom he considered to be the archetype for the grouping. He based his classification of the Caucasian race primarily on craniology. Blumenbach wrote: “Caucasian variety—I have taken the name of this variety from Mount Caucasus, both because its neighborhood, and especially its southern slope, produces the most beautiful race of men, I mean the Georgian; and because all physiological reasons converge to this, that in that region, if anywhere, it seems we ought with the greatest probability to place the autochthones (birth place) of mankind.”

Blumenbach’s… ideas lead to the widely(-held) conclusion that the purest and most beautiful whites were the Circassians, one tribe of the Caucasian region of Russia, a mountainous area on the Black Sea close to Turkey…

In the United States, the term Caucasian has been mainly used to describe a group commonly called White Americans, as defined by the government and Census Bureau. (Source: Wikipedia).

“Caucasian,” as applied to a “race” of people, is clearly based in discredited anthropological notions and in racist tendencies which are slowly, but certainly, being recognized and addressed. Caucasian, now no longer appearing here between quotation marks, is properly applied to those people, past and present, living in the region designated The Caucasus.

The Caucasus Region

For perspective, here is a chart showing the relationship of size and population of the Caucasus Region to the US State of California and the Kingdom of Sweden.

Click on image for greater clarity

The Caucasus Region is divided geographically, and for the most part politically, north and south with respect to the crest of the Greater Caucasus Mountains, as can be seen in the map immediately below. All the territory north of the crest is in Russia, divided among several political entities. The number of people in both the North and South Caucasus is roughly equal, with the North containing nearly 60% of the total area of the Region.

Caucasus Region, 1994 (Bureau of Intelligence and Research, U.S. Dept. of State) Click on the map for detail.

All Caucasia, which embraces not only the Great Mountains of Caucasus proper but also the country to the north and to the south of the Great Caucasian Range, is… designated by the common term “Caucasus.” This is a Latinized form of the ancient Greek name for this region “Kaukasos,” (which)… may in turn be traced back to Old Iranian “kap kah” (or) “Big Mountain.” Ancient Greeks made the Great Mountain Range the scene of the mythical sufferings of Prometheus, and (of) the Argonauts (who) sought the Golden Fleece in the mysterious land of Colchis on the Black Sea coast, south of the Range. Thus, geographically, the term “Caucasus” represents a definite territory located between the Black and Caspian Seas, a wide isthmus separating these seas and divided by the Great Caucasus Mountain Range into two parts — North Caucasus and South Caucasus. (Source)

The Northern Caucasus
What cannot readily be seen, even if you click twice on the above map for greater detail, is that there are now nine Russian Provinces, Russian Republics and Russian Territories (Krais) along the northern borders of Georgia and Azerbaijan. Before there were names for these polities and their predecessors, the original people of the Caucasus lived throughout the mountains (including the “Lesser Caucasus” to the south), their foothills, valleys and plains.

These northern political jurisdictions are, from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea:
Stavropol Krai
Krasnodar Krai
North Ossetia-Alania

Altogether, these nine political entities have a population of 14,672,000 and comprise an area of 254,000 square kilometers, for a population density of around 58 people per square kilometer.

The Mountains—Greater Caucasian Mountain Range

They stretch for about 1200 km from west-northwest to east-southeast, between the Taman Peninsula of the Black Sea to the Absheron Peninsula of the Caspian Sea: from the Western Caucasus in the vicinity of Sochi on the northeastern shore of the Black Sea and reaching nearly to Baku on the Caspian.

The range is traditionally separated into three parts:

Here is a map of the area surrounding the highest peak in the Caucasus and, therefore in Europe (because this region is in Europe, not Asia), Mount Elbrus (Elbruz in the map) which straddles the common border of the Russian Republics Karachay-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria :

Mt. Elbrus (“Elbruz”) Region of Mountains (Click twice on image for largest size)

The Mountains—Lesser Caucasian Mountain Range

The Lesser Caucasus Mountains are shared by Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. They lie south of the Greater Caucasus and run parallel to that range. The Lesser Caucasus Mountains extend about 350 miles (565 km) from near the mouth of the Rioni River on the Black Sea to near Azerbaijan’s border with Iran. The range is less rugged than the Greater Caucasus. Peaks rarely exceed 10,000 feet (3,050 m). (Source)

The Greater Caucasus Range runs diagonally from upper left to lower right. The Lesser range runs from the lower left corner, curving up toward the center then back toward the lower right. The Kura River Valley lies between them.

The River Valley Between the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Ranges

Starting in north-eastern Turkey, the Kura River flows through Turkey to Georgia, then to Azerbaijan, where it receives the Aras River as a right tributary, and enters the Caspian Sea. The total length of the river is 1,515 kilometres (941 mi).

People have inhabited the Caucasus region for thousands of years, and first established agriculture in the Kura Valley over 4,500 years ago. Large, complex civilizations eventually grew up on the river, but by 1200 CE, most were reduced to ruin by natural disasters and foreign invaders. The increasing human use, and eventual damage, of the watershed’s forests and grasslands contributed to a rising intensity of floods through the 20th century. In the 1950s, the Soviets started building many dams and canals on the river. Previously navigable up to Tbilisi in Georgia, it is now much slower and shallower, as its power has been harnessed by hydroelectricity stations. The river is now moderately polluted by major industrial centers like Tbilisi and Rustavi in Georgia. (Source)

A Brief History of the Caucasian Peoples

I now quote excerpt extensively from Charles King’s Book.

‘Circassian wife and husband, 1860s – during Russian & Ottoman perpetrated holocaust’ (

In the Russian Empire (1721 – 1917) the generic term “highlander” or “mountaineer” was applied to any indigenous person living anywhere except on the steppe (prairie) or in lowland river valleys, people we might now classify as Chechens, Avars, Lezgins or Georgians. The equivalent term in English was “Circassian.” In its narrowest sense, however, Circassian specifically refers to speakers of Adyga languages, the major linguistic group of the northwest Caucasus…

By the time the Russian Empire finally conquered the last of the highlanders, another process of appropriation was already underway: the conceptualization of the Caucasus as a distinct place by generations of Russian and foreign writers, artists, and travelers. The mountains became metaphors for both love of liberty and unspeakable barbarism. Tribal allegiances were evidence of both inchoate national feeling and the inherent primitivism of local societies. The Caucasus was cast as either the fount of civilization (and of its highest representative, the “Caucasian Race”) or the antithesis of civilization itself. Today these visions still play a powerful role in politics, foreign relations, and communal interactions. National self-conceptions are wrapped up in them. Rights to territory are justified by reference to them. Notions of alien, friend and enemy, flow logically from them…

Classifying people—whether based on race, language, culture, or any other criterion—is always more complicated that it might seem. Words signify different things in different contexts. The English term “Caucasian,” for example, today denotes a racial category developed by an eighteenth-century German anatomist to identify the allegedly primordial form of mankind, with light skin and round eyes. Yet the equivalent term in Russian refers to a person having family ties to the Caucasus, with perhaps dark hair and olive skin. Virtually any other identification that might have currency today—Georgian, Chechen, Muslim, Sufi—was imbued with different meanings in the past. The collective categories that would eventually come to be used for ethnic groups, nationalities, and religions in the Caucasus were not present, fully formed when the Russians arrived. They were products of the imperial system itself—negotiated, reworked, and in some cases wholly invented as part of the process of imperial absorption and administration…

Throughout the nineteenth century, as more and more Europeans became familiar with the Caucasus they were fascinated by the physical appearance of the Circassians. The men were said to be tall, dark, and lithe. Their long mustaches, silver-studded weaponry, and close-fitting clothing…enhanced their noble, war-like mien.

[Post-publication addition: click on this link to read a review in the British newspaper, The Independent, of the book Let Our Fame Be Great: Journeys among the defiant people of the Caucasus, By Oliver Bullough. For more information regarding the resistance in Dagestan to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games to be held in Sochi, go to this website.]

South Caucasus Countries

These three countries, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, are readily discerned in the first map displayed above.

What is not seen is that the borders and internal areas are not yet settled as to legitimacy, at least according to certain ethnic minorities, and by Russia and a few of its political allies.

Please click on the image for greater clarity

In addition, there are five small Azerbaijani exclaves within Armenia that appeared following the disintegration of the USSR in 1991. Their present status is unclear since the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute in 1992-94 over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. At this time they were unilaterally annexed by Armenia. Their economies are primarily based upon agriculture.

Four enclaves are found in north-eastern Armenia near the town of Kazakh.

  • Upper Askipara begins 1 km west of the Armenian village of Voskepar.
  • Azatamut begins about 1 km from the Azerbaijan border near the Kazakh to Idshevan highway.
  • The other two enclaves are tiny pieces of farmland southwest of the Azerbaijani town of Tatly . They cover 0.12 and 0.06 km².
  • Karki is found north of the Nakhichevan area about 4.5 km northeast of the town of Sadarak. It covers about 7 km².

In 1994 Nagorno-Karabakh declared itself an independent republic. If this is recognised by the international community, there may be about half a dozen new international enclaves – both Nagorno-Karabakhian exclaves in Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani exclaves in Nagorno-Karabakh. (Source)

Pausing for a deep breath

For you who have read this far, this seems quite a lot to digest about The Caucasus to me as well. But I can’t finish this article until I point out that there is rich history among all the many peoples currently and formerly living in this area that is not quite the size of Sweden. Much of this history will be found under the many links, above. To provide a glimpse into this history, please consider this final chart I created to show the major ethnic and linguistic groups currently found in the Russian (northern) part of the Caucasus. Please click on it to see the detail more clearly, or view it here:

Ethnicities of the North Caucasus.jpg

Chechnya as a Current Example

Many parts of the Region remain unsettled, with intermittent guerrilla warfare in some parts, notably Chechnya after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.

Islamic fundamentalism… posed a growing threat not only to the newly independent states of central Asia, but also to the Caucasus (above all, Chechnya)…

… (T)he Chechen conflict enabled (prime minister and candidate for President of Russia) Putin to demonstrate his mettle in an all-out military campaign to establish control over Chechnya and eradicate terrorism… (A)fter relentless artillery bombardment, Russian forces stormed the Chechen capital of Groznyi–from which they had been so ignominiously expelled earlier—and launched search-and-destroy operations against pockets of guerrilla resistance…

The ongoing war in Chechnya, which initially raised Putin’s popularity, began to arouse mounting criticism, especially from Western governments and human rights organizations. Although Russian forces established some semblance of control, they failed to crush all resistance or to end devastating terrorist attacks. And the war took a heavy toll—on the Russian military (around 20,000 casualties), insurgents (around 13,000) and civilians (between 30,000 and 40,000). This carnage eroded popular support in Russia itself [note: year 2005]… impelling the Kremlin to “Chechenize” the conflict by putting pro-Moscow Chechens in charge and relying on Chechen, not Russian, forces. Moscow arranged for Ramzan Kadyrov to succeed his father (killed in a terrorist attack) as the president of Chechnya.; the young Kadyrov quickly earned a reputation for brutality and the ‘disappearances’ of 2,000 to 3,000 fellow Chechens. The repression in Chechnya, even if provoked by criminal acts of terrorism, elicited sharp criticism in Western circles and reinforced criticism of Putin for ‘authoritarian’ tendencies. (Source).

[News of violence in Chechnya, 29 August]
[News of violence in Dagestan, 6 September]
[News of violence in North Ossetia, 9 September]

Location, Location, Location

Unfortunately for the settled peoples in the Caucasian isthmus, this great strip of land linking, historically and currently, the empires of the north and east and south—Russia, The Ottomans, Persia, The Mongols, among others—is a place to go to, or through, in search of new places or new opportunities, or through which to attack competing empires. As a result of various ambitions, the people of The Caucasus have been uprooted, dispersed, tortured, raped, slain and forcibly converted to other religions or ‘nationalities’ over the centuries. For example, there are very few real Circassians left anywhere in The Caucasus, although there are a great many who identify themselves as Circassian throughout the world. The same can be said for other population groups. Note, in the chart immediately above, that in many “republics” there are more Russians than original people, or the Russians are the largest minority. Only in Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia are there a large majority of people who can rightfully be called, generically, Caucasian.

I have not written here anything substantive about those Caucasians who identify themselves as Georgian. The Georgians are a whole story unto themselves and I encourage those with an interest to look at these links for further information:

The World Factbook of the CIA

History of the Georgian People (WikiPedia)

Republic of Georgia, by Georgi Kokochashvili

Back in the USSR

Been away so long I hardly knew the place
Gee, it’s good to be back home
Leave it till tomorrow to unpack my case
Honey disconnect the phone
I’m back in the USSR
You don’t know how lucky you are, boy
Back in the US
Back in the US
Back in the USSR

(Lyrics by John Lennon & Paul McCartney)

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) dissolved 25 December 1991, almost 18 years ago. There were 15 “republics” in the union. What, now, are the names of these countries? How are they doing?

I asked myself these questions as I prepared to write an article on Uzbekistan, a former republic of the USSR.

As for how the fifteen, individually, are “doing,” the answer has to be, in part: “compared to what?” I chose to compare a few demographic statistics with The World as the reference point. As I have so often in these pages, I went to the The World Factbook of the Central Intelligence Agency of the USA.

I chose seven demographic measures:

  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita
  • Life expectancy at birth for females
  • Life expectancy at birth for males
  • Net migration per 1000 population (number of immigrants minus number of emigrants)
  • Infant mortality (usually within 30 days of birth) per 1000 live births
  • Fertility rate (number of births per year, per the number of all women)
  • The live birth rate per thousand population, minus the death rate per 1000

I arrayed these seven measures by country and compared each characteristic to that of the world, whether more, or less, favorable.

demography former USSR republics 2009

[Please click on the image for clearer detail]

For the specific data in each country and the world, click here

I then gave a score to each country by subtracting the number of negative results, compared to world averages or ratios, from the number of positive results (a positive number shows a positive comparison to the world, and the converse for negative number):

  • Countries Scoring “+3”: Belarus, Kyrgyzstan
  • Countries Scoring “+1”: Armenia, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Uzbekistan
  • Countries Scoring “-1”: Turkmenistan
  • Countries Scoring “-3”: Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Ukraine

So what makes Belarus and Kyrgyzstan so special—at least with respect to world averages and ratios? (One must keep in mind that probably none of the readers of this article would care to live in an area where these demographics are at or near World averages and ratios; and, that the data aggregation agency, in this case the CIA, is at the mercy of the quality of data collection and reporting in each country).

Despite low fertility and high overall death rate, Belarus has high GDP per capita, low infant mortality, high life expectancy at birth for both females and males, and more people are entering the country than leaving it. So, the overall population is growing. It does seem counter-intuitive for the population to be growing despite low fertility and high death rate, but perhaps there is still some in-migration of ethnic Belarusians from the other former republics who were dispersed during the Soviet era.

“Since 1996, Belarus has been negotiating with Russia to unify into a single state called the Union of Russia and Belarus.” [Source]

In looking at the nature of Belarus’s government before and since the dissolution of the USSR (see under the “Belarus” link, above), there is much room to doubt the accuracy of information coming from, essentially, a totalitarian state in existence for 70 years.

More people leave Kyrgyzstan than enter it, as residents, and GDP per capita is low, but all the life and health data are high. “Kyrgyzstan has undergone a pronounced change in its ethnic composition since independence [1991]. The percentage of ethnic Kyrgyz increased from around 50% in 1979 to nearly 70% in 2007, while the percentage of European ethnic groups (Russians, Ukrainians and Germans) as well as Tatars dropped from 35% to about 10%. The Kyrgyz have historically been semi-nomadic herders, living in round tents called yurts and tending sheep, horses and yaks. This nomadic tradition continues to function seasonally as herding families return to the high mountain pasture in the summer.” [Source]

Nine countries are scored “+1.”
Rather than list and discuss them individually, I will present what they have in common.

Statue of Lenin, founder of the USSR, in Tiraspol, Moldova [Source]

  • The life expectancy at birth for females is higher than The World average.
  • Other than for Kazakhstan and Russia, the life expectancy at birth for males is higher than the world average. Russia is lowest at 59.3 years, compared to the world average at 64.5 years. It is remarkable that the life of expectancy at birth for females in Russia is 73.2 years, almost 14 years more than for males.
  • All, except Russia, have more people leaving than entering the country as residents. Note, again, that there has been a general migration of expatriates toward their countries of origin after the dissolution of the USSR.
  • The infant death rate for all 15 countries is lower than the world average. The three Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) are lowest in this measure, by far (a good thing), between 6.5 and 8.8 deaths per thousand births. The world average is 40.9. Armenia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are highest, at 20.2, 23.4 and 25.7 infant deaths per thousand births, respectively.
  • The fertility rate of all 15 countries is well under the World average of 2.6 children per woman. A country needs around 2.1 live births per woman in order to maintain the country’s population at a given level.
  • Except for Uzbekistan, the difference between the birth rate and the death rate (BR minus DR) is lower than the world average of 11.8 per thousand population (not good). Russia is lowest at a difference of (negative) 5.0 per thousand people.

Turkmenistan (“-1”)
The only three positive factors for this country are life expectancy for males and females, and the birth rate minus the death rate. “The former Communist Party, now known as the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, has been the only one effectively permitted to operate. Political gatherings are illegal unless government sanctioned. Turkmenistan is among the twenty countries in the world with the highest perceived level of corruption …” [Source]

Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Ukraine at “-3” score
The GDP per capita of all three countries is below the World average of $10,400, with Tajikistan by far the lowest at $1,800. Life expectancy for males born today is less than the World average, for all three. Except for Ukraine (at 8.9) the infant death rate is above the world average of 40.9 deaths per thousand live births. The fertility rate for Azerbaijan and Tajikistan is well above the World average, but Ukraine is among the lowest countries at 1.3 births per woman. Similarly, the birth rate far exceeds the death rate in Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, but Ukraine is the lowest of all fifteen countries in this measure at (negative) 6.2; that is, the there are 6.2 more people dying than being born, per thousand population, in the current year.

1 Armenia
2 Azerbaijan
3 Belarus
4 Estonia
5 Georgia
6 Kazakhstan
7 Kyrgyzstan
8 Latvia
9 Lithuania
10 Moldova
11 Russia
12 Tajikistan
13 Turkmenistan
14 Ukraine
15 Uzbekistan

There is hard living almost everywhere in the former USSR. Look at the averages of these seven measures for the 27 countries of the European Union vs. those of Russia, the largest country, by far, of the former SSRs, and the most dominant, politically and economically:

European Union
GDP per capita: $33,700
Life expectancy, female: 82.0
Life expectancy, male: 75.5
Net migration: 1.5
Infant death rate: 5.7
Fertility rate: 1.5
Birth rate minus death rate: -0.4
GDP per capita: $16,100
Life expectancy, female: 73.2
Life expectancy, male: 59.3
Net migration: 0.3
Infant death rate: 10.6
Fertility rate: 1.4
Birth rate minus death rate: -5.0

I have been to two countries of the former USSR: Estonia and Latvia. Despite the obvious enthusiasm of the people for their freedom from totalitarianism, and the resultant social and economic progress, the ravages of the Soviet rule are still quite apparent.

With all respect to the poetry of Messrs. Lennon and McCartney, let’s not go back to the USSR.