One of the oldest centres of world civilization, the Caucasus is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual1 and multi-confessional area bordering the states of Russia, Turkey and Iran in their post 1991 form. Its inner and outer political frontiers constitute a matter of intense controversy, whilst cultural demarcation is almost impossible. Nevertheless, despite this high level of diversity, the geographical nature of the region has established this strategically important land bridge between the Black and Caspian Seas as a historical unity.2 Despite such geographical clarity, a cultural taxonomy of the Caucasus remains highly difficult. The French geographer and engineer Félix Leprince-Ringuet (1873–1958) for example classified the entire region as "l'Asie Russe".3 In his classic English-language account of Russian history published in 1967, the British historian Hugh Seton-Watson (1916–1984) included a map entitled "The Caucasus and Transcaucasia" depicting the region as stretching between Stavropol and Maykop in the North and Artvin, Kars and Erzurum in the South.4 Arguably of greater interest is Caucasian self-conception, in which historical experience during the 20th century has produced an interesting consensus, locating Georgia in the South of the European part of the Soviet Union. The Soviet-Georgian historian Šot'a Mesxia (1916–1972) classified its territory as part of the Caucasus, establishing it on the border between Europe and Asia.5
The Caucasus has long been transected by a number of important trade routes such as the silk road. Incorporated into powerful empires (such as the Roman, Ottoman, Persian, Russian and Soviet empires), the geo-political status of the region remains a matter of intense dispute between a number of powerful regional actors.6
Politically, the cultural region known as the Caucasus7 includes the three South-Caucasian states Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia as well as the Northern Caucasus, which has been incorporated into the Russian federation under the appellation Južnyj Federal'nyj Okrug (The Southern Federal Okrug).8 This in turn is subdivided into the republics of Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkar, Karachay-Cherkessia, North Ossetia-Alania, Chechnya and Adygea.9
From Antiquity to Russian Rule
To this day, the Caucasus continues in its role as constituting a meeting point for a number of cultures and providing the arena for a process of permanent migration.10 This is especially clear in the regional pattern of religious distribution. The Caucasus of the 4th and 3rd centuries BC was dominated by natural religions and Zoroastrianism, the majority faiths at the time of Alexander the Great’s (356–323 B.C.) Persian campaign. Christian missionaries reached the Caucasus in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. and the Georgian,11 Albanian12 and Armenian13 Churches were established by the 4th century. Whilst the first two adopted dyophysitism (the acceptance of Christ’s dual natures) at the Council of Chalcedon in the 5th century, the Armenian Church retained a firmly monophysite teaching. The Caucasus remained overwhelmingly Christian up to the 7th Century, with observance of the natural religions restricted to the mountainous regions of Northern Caucasus. The population of Baku on the other hand, remained Zoroastrian. The Arab invasion of the 7th and 8th centuries resulted in the partial introduction of Islam and as a result, both Zoroastrianism and the Caucasian-Albanian Church lost their previously dominant roles. Large swathes of present-day Azerbaijan became Muslim. Although defending their Christian heritage, the Armenian and Georgian Churches gradually came under a strongly Arabic cultural influence, to be followed in the 10th century by Persian overlordship. These influences are especially clear in Georgian literature. The strongest centres of this new Islamification and later dominant Arabic-Persian influence were located in the areas of former Zoroastrian faith and the sphere of influence of the Albanian Church in Azerbaijan. Persian literature, its motifs and styles exercised an influence on a number of artists such as the Georgian-language poet from Tiflis Šot'a Rust'aveli (1172–1216).14 The poet Niẓāmī Gangawī (1140–1203)15 from the Azerbaijani town of Gence wrote predominantly in Persian. Literature and scholarship flourished during this period.16
This high-point of literature and scholarship was brought to an abrupt end by the Mongol invasion of the 13th century. After laying waste to vast areas of the region, the new colonizers proceeded to establish a heavy economic yoke in the form of tribute payments. A further incursion from Khwarezm (Central Asia) by Djalāl al-Dīn (died 1231) resulted in intense fighting between his forces and those of the Mongols, transforming much of the region into a battlefield. Only under the rule of King Giorgi V (1314–1346) did Georgia achieve political independence, which was to last until the arrival of a new enemy in the form of the Central Asian conqueror Tīmūr (1336–1405).17
Tatar rule was finally put to an end by a period of Persian and Ottoman dominance and the entire region was incorporated in the sphere of influence of a succession of Islamic empires (the Ottoman empire and Persia), a development which represented a particular challenge to the non-Muslim population of the Caucasus. Forced to pay a special tax, Christians soon became a religious minority. Many of the Tatar tribes remained in the region and mixed with the indigenous population, as did the Persian officials and merchants who came to the Caucasus from the South.
The 15th century saw the integration of the local Muslim population in the Eastern and South-Western Caucasus into the newly-developed feudal states ruled by a network of Muslim dynasties (the largest included were the Qara-Qoyunlu and Ağ-Qoyunlu).18 This new religious unity also effected a certain degree of reconciliation between the conquerors and their subject populations. Improved relations between the Northern Caucasian and Azerbaijani Muslims however did not bring relief for the Christians in the Caucasus; Christian Georgia for example collapsed at the turn of the 16th century into a number of small feudal units (Kartli, Kacheti, Imereti, Samcche, Guria, Abchazeti and others).
The Caucasus on the Eve of Russian Conquest
Weakened by Tatar rule, the Caucasus had been subject to raids from the West (the Ottoman Empire) and the South (Persia) from the 12th century. In the 17th and (especially) the 18th century, danger now came from the North in the form of Russia.19 Bandied about between a number of different states and empires, the Caucasus always remained a peripheral imperial possession, a status which was not affected by the advent of the 19th century and the appearance of a new colonial power in the shape of Tsarist Russia. Victorious against both Turkey and Persia, the Russian empire moved to fill the resulting power vacuum.
On the eve of the Russian conquest, the Caucasus comprised an area ruled by two Georgian kingdoms (the Imereti to the West and Kakheti in the East of contemporary Georgia), a number of North-Caucasian principalities and a range of Muslim Chanats (Muslim principalities). The population was heterogeneous in its composition, especially to the South. Muslims and Georgians made up the clergy, aristocracy and the peasantry, whilst the Armenians provided the lion’s share of the population in Tiflis. In Yerevan, they constituted only a minority presence. Over the course of the 19th century, Caucasian towns such as Baku, Ganca, Kutaisi, Derbent and above all Tiflis20 developed into local centres, i.e. locations within a greater context, with a "concentration of people, power, creativity and symbolical capital".21 Such a development was particularly noticeable in Baku and Tiflis.22 Located on the periphery of the empire, they had developed into centres developed into centres of both cultural reception and transmission. The impulses in this process came from the new imperial metropolis St Petersburg and the old cultural centres Istanbul and Tehran; the newly-acquired influence of the Caucasian centres now, in turn, reached the "old" cultural towns.23 The situation was different in the Northern Caucasus, where a number of town and settlements developed around newly-constructed Russian fortifications. The colonial character of these settlements found clear expression in their names.24
The Caucasus as a Province of the Tsarist Empire
Apart from a short phase of independence between 1917/1918 and 1921, the Caucasus was to remain under first Russian imperial and then Soviet rule between the turn of the 19th century and 1991. The areas subject to Russian conquest came to be dominated by patterns of confrontation, adaptation and interdependence. The immediate implications of Russian rule also manifested themselves in the religious structure of the area. Muslims in the territories formerly annexed by Persia lost their dominant position and the Armenian middle classes gradually assumed greater social significance.25 Granted additional autonomy in 1836, the Armenian Gregorian Church was initially tolerated by St. Petersburg (not least due to the Russian desire to strengthen Armenian immigration from the Middle East); the Georgian Church on the other hand lost its independence in 1811.26 Observant Muslims were now subjected to a number of restrictions such as a ban, issued in 1821, on embarking on the Hağğ, the pilgrimage to Mecca.27
None of these developments meant that the Caucasus developed anything approaching sustained and socially broad-based resistance to Russian occupation. Rather, Caucasian interaction with their Russian overlords presents a complex picture of adaptation and rejection, representing as it did, the interaction not only between heterogeneous cultural spheres but imperial metropole and periphery. Highly mutable, Tsarist policy (or better policies) pursued a number of different agendas. Whilst imperial policy-makers envisaged the integration of the Caucasian elites at the turn of the 19th century,28 the transition to mid-century saw the launch of a strict policy of Russification involving the suppression of national sentiment.
The ambivalent nature of interaction between Tsarist Russia and its imperial possession is well illustrated by a consideration of the life of the Baku noble intellectual Abbasqulu ağa Bakıxanov and the history of the teachers’ seminary in Gori. It is important that these be considered in their historical context: the former representing a biography from the first half of the nineteenth century, whilst the second is designed to illuminate fin de siècle Russian empire and its transition to the 20th century.
Abbasqulu ağa Bakıxanov (1794–1847)
Just as the Azerbaijani author Mirzä Fätäli Axundov (1812–1878),29 Abbasqulu ağa Bakıxanov numbers amongst one of the most prominent representatives of the Muslim Enlightenment in the Russian Caucasus. Born into a noble family living near to Baku in 1794, Bakıxanov was of mixed parentage; a descendant of the Baku Chane dynasty, his father had married a Georgian convert to Islam. After dividing his childhood between Baku and the North Azerbaijani town of Quba, the young Bakıxanov studied theology and oriental languages before following a summons (issued around 1820) to service on the staff of General Aleksej Petrovič Ermolov (1776–1861) at Tiflis, where he worked as an interpreter and translator. In addition to his military duties, Bakıxanov also studied Russian and French during this time. One notable episode of his duties as interpreter to the Russian armed forces saw his participation in the Russian-Iranian negotiations over the partition of the Azerbaijani settlements along the River Araxes in 1828. Bakıxanov was awarded the order of the Holy Anna third class in the same year. A thinker in the tradition of the Enlightenment, he acted as both a chronicler of his time and a cultural arbitrator. Whilst in Tiflis, Bakıxanov met the most prominent Georgian and Russian intellectuals and poets and travelled to the Baltic, Warsaw and St Petersburg. Steeped in his oriental-Azerbaijani culture, Bakıxanov was also a product of the multi-ethnic atmospheres of Tiflis and St Petersburg. Whilst in Tiflis, Bakıxanov wrote poems, works of historical philosophy, academic tracts and a Russian-language book of Persian grammar, which he dedicated to the Russian Tsar.30 Later, he was to write a Persian-language history of the Eastern Caucasus.31 Bakıxanov returned to his family estate close to Quba in 1835 where he busied himself with one of his major works, The Secrets of the Heavens (written in 1839/1840) and which he translated into Arabic himself. Granted permission by the Russian authorities to embark on a pilgrimage to Mecca in the mid-1840s, he travelled first to Istanbul, where he presented this volume on astrology at the court of the Sultan.32 He died on the route to Medina and was buried in the Vadi-Fatima in present-day Saudi Arabia.
The Teachers’ Seminary in Gori (1876–1917)
Active in both cultures, the noble Bakıxanov can be viewed as a mediator between Tsarism, which he served voluntarily, and Caucasian Muslims, whose culture he shared. For their part, the Tsarist authorities attempted to promote the integration of the non-Russian population of their imperial periphery into the Russian-dominated structures. Establishing a number of institutions of education in the Caucasus, they sought to establish a broad-based caste of intellectuals loyal to Russia.
One such example of this cultural imperialism was the teachers’ seminary (Zakavkazskaja Učitel'skaja Seminarija) in the Georgian town of Gori.33 Opened in 1876, the seminary survived until the outbreak of the Russian revolution and the collapse of the Russian empire.34 Boasting both a Muslim and a Christian section as well as a music school, the seminary trained the music teachers for the schools of the Caucasus. The seminary was visited above all by the offspring of the middle and upper classes from the North and South Caucasian peoples. Its graduates included the founder of national composition in Azerbaijan, Üzeyir Hacıbeyli (1885–1948), the Azerbaijani linguists Firidun Köçerli (1863–1920) and Reşid Efendiyev (1869–1942), the Azerbaijani writer Celil Memmedquluzâde (1866–1932) and the Azerbaijani composer and conductor Muslum Maqomayev (1885–1937). The prominent Georgian writer Važa Pšavela (1861–1915), the Enlightenment thinker Iakob Gogebašvili (1840–1912), the doctor Micheil Cinamdzgvrišvili (1882–1956) and the composer Ia (Illia) Kargareteli (1867–1939) also studied at the seminary in Gori. The school was of great significance for the Georgians and Muslims of the Northern and Southern Caucasus; the Armenians attended their own institutions – the well-known Nersessian Institute founded in Tiflis in 1824 and the Lazarev Institute35 in Moscow, established in 1815.
The primary task of this institution was to provide a supply of trained teachers for the schools in the region. Students financed their studies themselves or could apply for a central or local government scholarship. Although the language of instruction was Russian, students were able to learn Georgian, Armenian and Azerbaijani. Teaching a number of subjects including pedagogy, mathematics and geometry, the seminary numbered amongst the best in the Russian empire. It even received an award at an international educational exhibition in Paris.36
Partially through the influence of the Russian intellectual Aleksej O. Černjaevskij (1840–1897)37 and the Azerbaijani Enlightenment thinker Mirzä Fätäli Axundov an Azerbaijani department was established in 1879, three years after the foundation of the school. Nevertheless, although Azerbaijani was now part of the curriculum, lessons were still held in Russian only not in Azerbaijani. The seminary became the target of strong criticism at the beginning of the 20th century. The Azerbaijani intellectual Ahmet Ağaoğlu (1869–1939) criticized what he saw as the missionary nature of the school, decrying its director as an agent of Russification. In 1906, Baku intellectuals called for the Azerbaijani department to be relocated to Baku. The result was the foundation of separate teachers' seminaries in Ganca (1914) and Baku (1916). Finally, the Musavat government decreed that the Azerbaijani department be relocated to the small Azerbaijani town of Qazax (close to Ganca). Criticism also came from Georgian intellectuals, who demanded a Georgian University in Tiflis to promote an independent Georgian identity and further national emancipation from the Tsarist authorities.
Patterns of Confrontation and Co-existence in the Second Half of the 19th Century
Although Bakıxanov provides a good example of the successful integration of a Muslim noble in Tsarist society, the majority Muslim population was characterized by a different reaction. The 19th century saw a number of anti-Russian uprisings in the Southern Causacus38 as well as a number of anti-Tsarist conspiracies amongst the Georgian aristocracy.39 These attempts at sedition were matched in the Northern Caucasus by an armed uprising of long duration lead by the Muslim cleric Imam Šāmil (1798–1871).40 As a consequence, the Northern Caucasus was subdued completely only in 1859. The aftermath of the rebellion saw the emigration of hundreds of thousands of North Caucasian Muslims to the Ottoman Empire.41
This resurgence of traditional ethnic and religious conflicts was accompanied by the gradual spread of nationalist sentiment within the region. In all central Balkan regions national sentiment and agitation for nation states was on the rise. This phenomenon also affected the peripheries of the Tsarist Empire, for example in the Baltic region (parallels can be drawn to the peripheries of the Ottoman empire in the Balkans).42 The move to the establishment of political parties, a process which began in the 1880s reached its zenith at the turn of the century.43 Well-networked with other peripheral nationalities within the Tsarist empire (such as the Poles, the Baltic provinces and the Crimean Tartars),44 these groupings established a wide regional presence and articulated their cause – above all greater independence – with a comprehensive press campaign. Whilst political life in Georgia was characterized by a thriving Social Democratic movement; the equivalent discourses in Azerbaijan45 and Armenia46 were dominated by nationalism.
1917–1921: Short-lived Independence
The convolutions of 1917/1918 transformed the cities of the Caucasus into a hotbed of the revolution. With the disappearance of Russian military and political control, the various ethnicities were finally able to give form to their national ambitions. Nevertheless, the creation of four independent nation states, The North Caucasian Mountain Republic, Georgia,Armenia and Azerbaijan, served only to increase ethnic tensions, which soon reached an unhappy peak.47 Sending delegates to the peace conference at Versailles, the newly-independent states sought to establish a diplomatic presence at the European capitals. Germany, Poland, Turkey, Italy and a number of other states opened consulates in the region. The new national governments attached considerable importance to this exchange of missions48 and their statesmen identified closely with Europe. Having studied vetinary medicine in Warsaw in the 1890s, the Georgian head of state Noe Žordanija (1869–1953) for example maintained close ties to the German-Czech Social Democrat Karl Kautsky (1854–1938) and followed the development of the labour movement in Great Britain with close interest. Others were no less international in their orientation: the Georgian politician Giorgi Gvazava (1868–1941) had studied Law in Moscow and Paris, whilst the Armenian Prime Minister Hovhannes Kačaznuni (1867–1938) followed up his studies in St Petersburg with an intensive programme of European travel in 1919/1920.
The first national universities established in Tiflis, Yerevan and Baku in 1918/1919 followed the European model closely. The Caucasians saw Europe as the counter-model to the newly-emerged Soviet Union. The impending legal reforms were also to follow European practice. All assuming a republican form, the new Caucasian states established the separation of religion and state.
The Soviet invasions of 1920/1921 were followed by a mass exodus of intellectuals to Europe and both Žordanija and Gvazava followed the Azerbaijani politician Ali Mardan Topçubaşi (1862–1934) in his departure for France. The Parisian suburb Leuville-sur-Orge soon became a centre of the Caucasian exile community. With a high number of Georgians, it soon acquired the soubriquet la petite Georgie.
This independent intermezzo49 was followed by Soviet occupation, first in Azerbaijan (April 1920) and then in November in Armenia. The Soviet occupation of Tiflis (February 1921) was especially bitter, preceded as it had been by the signature of a Soviet-Georgian peace treaty in May 192050 and taking into account that Georgia enjoyed a certain level of international sympathy – especially amongst European Social Democrats. The Sovietization of the complete Caucasus in 1920/1921 ushered in what many now see as "the second period of Northern dominance in the Caucasus".51 The completion of the measures of Sovietization were met with numerous anti-Bolshevik uprisings including that in Gäncä (May 1920),52 and a whole series in Georgia (1924). In subsequent years, the region was subject to ever-closer integration in the political and economic system of the USSR. After an initial policy of "taking root" (Korenizacija), Moscow policy-makers continued the traditional Tsarist emphasis on Russification and exploitation of the regional economy. The immigration of Russians, Ukrainians and Byelorussians to the region increased markedly, who were recruited to help with the industrialization of the region.53 The Caucasian intellectuals were divided by the new developments; those with fond memories of the years of independence were matched by supporters of the Bolsheviks. Many of the Caucasian intelligentsia – men of letters,54 "old Communists"55 and others – did not survive the 1930s and the accompanying Stalinist purges, a development which affected all the Caucasian nations with equal measure.56
An exogenous ideology, the establishment of Communism in the Caucasus was clearly the effect of military defeat and occupation.57 Nevertheless, a considerable proportion of Caucasians were Marxist sympathizers at the turn of the century58 and played a significant role in the extension and institutionalization of the new system both in their own region and throughout the Soviet Union. The "Asiatic professional revolutionary"59 Joseph Stalin (1879–1953), and others such as Anastas Mikojan (1895–1978), Năriman Nărimanov (1870–1925),60 Sergo Ordžonikidze (1886–1937),61 Mir-Džafar Bagirov (1896–1956),62 Stepan Šaumjan (1878–1918),63 Nikolaj Marr (1864–1934)64 were of considerable significance in the establishment of Soviet Communism.65
Caucasians fought in the Second World War on both sides. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Georgians and Dagestanians fought and died as soldiers of the Red Army, whilst the Wehrmacht maintained a number of Caucasian exile battalions drawn from the ranks of the prisoners of war.66 At the same time, a great deal of North Caucasian ethnicities (above all Chechnyans, Ingush), the Volga Germans and other groups were deported to Siberia and Central Asia during the war.67
The Post-Stalinist era saw the rise of Ėduard Ševardnadze (1928–2014),68 Gejdar Aliev (1923–2003)69 and Karen Demirčjan (1932–1999),70 who established a corrupt system of paternalist rule. After the fall of the Soviet Union, they managed a comeback in the politics of their home states. The 1970s also saw the development of a strong dissident movement in the Caucasus: the scholar of English Zviad Gamsakhurdia (1939–1993)71 and the music teacher Merab Kostava (1939–1975) in Georgia, the Orientalist Äbülfäz Elçibäy (1939–2000) in Azerbaijan, and Parujr Hajrikian (*1949)72 in Armenia exercised strong criticism of Moscow’s programme of Sovietization and Russification.73 Caucasians were thus both the agents and victims of Soviet Communism; indeed, elite participation in the Russian-dominated system reached higher levels during the Soviet era than at any time during Tsarist rule. This applied to Party apparatchiks and artists in equal measure.
The complicated lives of the Caucasian intellectuals are well illustrated by the example of two artists – the Georgian painter Elene Akhvlediani (1901–1975) and the Armenian film director Sergej Paradžanov (1924–1990) during and after the period know as the "thaw" initiated by Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971). A particular focus in the present consideration of these examples is placed on the contribution which Achvlediani and Paradžanov made to intellectual transfer and cultural exchange.
Elene Akhvlediani (1901–1975)
Born in 1901 into a poor, yet well-educated Georgian family in Telawi (Georgia), Elene Akhvlediani sketched and painted from an early age. Throughout her life, Tiflis and its streets and parks remained her most important source of inspiration. First Contributing to an exhibition held in Tiflis (at the time the capital of the Democratic Republic of Georgia) in 1919, Akhvlediani was accepted into the Tiflis Academy of Art in 1922, a year after the Sovietization of Georgia. Supervised by the prominent Georgian painter Gigo Gabašvili (1862–1936), himself a graduate of the Munich Academy of Art, her talent was soon recognized and she was despatched to France and Italy to continue her studies. Akhvlediani was to remain outside Georgia until 1927. Taking advantage of the opportunity to study a number of different urban themes including the streets of Paris and Venice, she was to remain influenced by this formative experience for the rest of her life. Returning to Georgia, Akhvlediani contributed to a number of exhibitions in a number of Georgian cities and advanced to become a popular theatre painter. Her later work concentrated on representations of Georgian provincial towns and mountain landscape.
Generally held to be a pupil of French and Italian painting, Akhvlediani’s personal experience made her one of the key agents of the reception of European thought. Despite being accorded the freedom to travel and stay in Europe, she chose to return to her home country. Exhibiting a certain level of conformity to Stalinist cultural policy, a number of her paintings from this period portray Soviet prestige projects, and during the Second World War she focussed on depictions of Moscow. Akhvlediani did not show any signs of dissidence and integrated herself in the Soviet cultural scene. Her work was received well in the leading Soviet art journal Iskusstvo and her position enabled her to act as a mediator between European and Georgian art. In this way, Akhvlediani influenced several generations of Soviet-Georgian painters and artists, not least thanks to her status as one of the very few Caucasians who maintained immediate contacts to European artists.
Sergej Paradžanov (1924–1989)
Sergej Paradžanov is a representative of a younger generation of Caucasian artists. Born in 1924 into a wealthy Armenian family living in the Georgian capital of Tiflis, he moved to Moscow in 1945 to study at the renowned Soviet film academy Vsesojuznyj gosudarstvennyj institut kinematografii (VGIK).74 Eventually completing his studies in 1951, he had been arrested in 1947 on the charge of homosexuality. Serving the resulting prison sentence of several years in Georgia, Paradžanov presented his first short film following his release entitled Moldavskaja skazka ("Moldavian Tale"). Following this, he travelled to Ukraine to engage with the indigenous traditions and topics of Western Ukraine. These studies came to fruition in his 1961 work Ukrainskaja rapsodija ("Ukrainian Rhapsody") followed in 1964 by Teni zabitych predkov ("Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors").75 Held by many to be the "most incisive event of Soviet cinematography in the early 1960s",76 this film was compared to Sergej Ejzenštejn’s (1898–1848) masterwork Bronenosec Potjemkin ("The Battleship Potemkin").77
Travelling to Armenia in 1966, he presented his first film dealing with his experiences there the following year. Entitled Akop Ornaťjan, it is often understood as the preparatory work for his masterpiece Sayat Nova.78 Heavily censored by the Soviet authorities, the film was first released in 1972/1973 under the title Cvet granata ("The Colour of Pomegranates"). Living in Kiev at the time, he was arrested for criticism of the regime and sentenced to five years imprisonment in 1973. The intervention of the writer Louis Aragon (1897–1982) and the director Federico Fellini (1920–1993) contributed to his eventual release in 1977. Returning to Tbilisi, he was arrested again in 1982. 1984 saw the release of his next masterpiece, Legenda o suramskoj kreposti ("The Legend of Suram Fortress") focussing on Georgian mythology and history. Paradžanov’s third masterpiece followed in 1988. The film adaption of an Azerbaijani legend, Ashiq-Gerib as described by the Russian poet Michail Lermontov (1814–1841), it was screened at the Venice film festival and awarded the European Film Academy's Felix Award. Isolated and ill following his years in prison, Paradžanov was finally accorded the opportunity to meet European colleagues and conduct a European tour. Paradžanov died in 1990, and is buried in the Cemetery of Honour in Yerevan.79 Speaking in one of his last interviews, he said "it is common knowledge that I have three homes. Born in Georgia, I worked in Ukraine and wish to die in Armenia."80
Paradžanov’s artistic socialization took place at the VGIK-Academy in Moscow, where he was influenced heavily by his co-operation with the Ukrainians Aleksandr Dovženko (1894–1956) and Igor' Savčenko (1906–1950). Taking as his subject the folklore of the various Soviet peripheries, he accorded particular attention to Moldova and Ukraine. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of his notes, collages and even his memoirs Ispoved' were composed in Russian.81 The central focus of his work was the Caucasus with its myths and legends; he drew inspiration from the streets of old Tbilisi and its history. Paradžanov was successful in his integration of specifically Caucasian themes and motifs in the wider Soviet film tradition. Persecuted by the Communists, he acted as an agent of transfer between the Russian and the Caucasian worlds.
Towards a Summary: Two Centuries of Caucasian History
The title of a collection of essays published in 1994 A Good Place to Die (Dobre miejsce do umierania)82 dealing with the history and politics of the Caucasus made clear reference to the ethnic conflicts which plagued the region at the end of the 1980s.83 These conflicts were essentially a continuation of the regional history in the 19th and 20th centuries, during which the Caucasus came to be a Russian province. If imperial history is a story of conquest and occupation,84 then the history of an imperial periphery is that of resistance and co-operation. The various nationalities in the region found themselves in repeated confrontation with the colonizers: aristocratic Georgian conspiracies; armed Muslim uprisings; the North Caucasian Šāmil movement of the 19th century; the Armenian campaign against the confiscation of their Church treasury 1904/1905; the anti-Soviet revolts in Georgia and Azerbaijan 1920–1924; the dissident movement of the 1970s; the accelerated secession from the USSR in 1989/1990 and the wars in Chechnya of the 1990s.85 Traditional hostilities were passed down within the intellectual class. Although the Caucasian intelligentsia maintained close ties with their Russian counterparts in the mid 19th century, its members retained a strong national and regional orientation. Although acting as the arbiters of Russian culture, the intellectuals did not become a part of it. Forming a bridge between St Petersburg, Moscow and their own region, Caucasian artists translated both Russian and European literature, yet at the same time remained vociferous in their protest against the Tsarist policies of Russification of the 1880s and its Soviet pendant 1950–1970. In the last two centuries, Caucasians came into very close contact with Russia and its culture, but the search within the different nationalities for their own identity and self-assertion also loomed large.
A figure such as Bakıxanov was necessarily multi-faceted: making a contribution to Russian Oriental studies he also acted as a mediator between the Tsarist authorities and Muslim Caucasians. Serving the Russian state, he assumed a firm place within the fabric of the imperial aristocracy. Yet despite such Russophile tendencies, he eventually left the Caucasus, saddened at what he saw as its capitulation to Russian culture. Georgian intellectuals underwent a similar set of experiences.86 Educated in St Petersburg, Warsaw and Dorpat (today Tartu), they maintained extensive contacts with the Russian elite, but still campaigned for greater autonomy as early as the 1860s–1880s.
The level of Caucasian-Russian contacts increased over the course of the 20th century. The early Caucasian Communists moved to Moscow in the 1920s, from where once unleashed, the Red Terror devoured the intellectual class indiscriminately in both the Russian Caucasus and other Soviet republics alike. Even in the 1940s, the Muslim peoples of the Caucasus were forced to adopt the Cyrillic alphabet.87
The 1950s saw the launch of a massive programme of linguistic Russification throughout the regions; after Stalin’s death cultural networks also grew. The building programmes of the 1960s and 1970s were conducted in the spirit of "Socialist Realism", a factor effecting considerable change to the urban landscape and amounting to what has been termed "architectural Sovietization". At the same time, the Caucasus developed into a spa region of some considerable significance, attracting large numbers of visitors from across the Soviet Union and especially from Russia. This was accompanied by emigration from the region as thousands of Caucasians left for Kiev, Moscow and Minsk to live, work and study.
Despite such population exchanges, this period saw a general decrease in the number of Russians in the region and an increase of the autochthon population. The 1970s witnessed a "silent revolution" in the expansion of educational provision and the heyday of the novel. Music, literature and culture were all dominated by the national motif. In a fashion similar to that of the 19th century as the Russians developed a fascination for the Caucasus,88 the two cultures now exerted a mutual influence on each other. The Caucasian and above all, the Georgian film industry and singing culture acquired considerable popularity throughout the Soviet Union.89 At the same time, the Southern Caucasus in particular began to secede from Russia – a trend which was to last until the collapse of the USSR.
The history of the Caucasus is one of a multi-national, confessionally heterogeneous region subject to long periods of foreign domination. The interaction of the Caucasus with its neighbouring countries and its successive incorporation into a number of imperial units are the key factors which served to shape the region. Teetering on the periphery of the Ottoman, Persian, Russian and Soviet empires, the cultural and social elites alternated between adaptation to the imperial system and resistance to its religious, linguistic and religious policies. The cultural and power elites in the Caucasus of the 19th and 20th centuries became mediators between St Petersburg (and later Moscow) and their home societies. Acting within this function, the culture elites became the cipher for the transfer of European ideas coming from Paris and Berlin to Russia and then from there to the Caucasus. This applied to a range of figures such as Bakıxanov and the Georgian and Armenian intellectuals discussing their conception of Europe and the Caucasus in the coffee and tea houses of Tiflis. Nationalism and Marxism were the most important European imports to the region in the late 19th century, both of which exercised a formative influence on nearly the entire educated elite of the region, and the teachers' seminary in Gori developed into the prototype forum of the nationalist awakening. Also participating in the Russian Marxist discourse, Caucasian intellectuals came into contact with European Social Democrats and as such were integrated in the wider European Socialist discourse as early as the end of the 19th century.
Whilst the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia, the Caucasian republics chose the path of the nation state, the domestic course of which fluctuated between European-style Social Democracy and Nationalism. Europe remained the focal point around which these republics oriented themselves during their short-lived period of independence. The Caucasus and Europe converged on a foundation of anti-Bolshevism and anti-Communism.
The Sovietization of the Caucasus forced Europhile intellectuals from the region to continue their discovery of Europe and its ideas in European exile, whilst the Soviet Union transformed their homes into part of the "political unit of Greater Eastern Europe". Just as in the Baltic and Western Ukraine, the Sovietization of the Caucasus never achieved total cultural Russification and local languages remained firmly anchored in the population. The development of the Soviet Caucasian cultures within the framework of Socialist Realism imposed from above continued to be shaped by political and cultural dissidents such as the artist Elene Akhvlediani and the film producer Sergej Paradžanov. As with hundreds of other artists, they remained the products of their Soviet contexts and cultivated an intimate familiarity with Russian culture. Despite such cultural affinities, they never accepted or worked according to the Bolshevik formula of a "national form with a Socialist core", itself a variation of Stalin’s 1925 dictum of "a proletarian message in a national form".90 Caucasian intellectuals continued to operate in parallel worlds right up until the fall of Soviet Communism in 1991. Switching between the Soviet-Russian and local spheres - each with their own rules and forms – to a certain degree, such a life was imposed on all Caucasians, both Communists and members of the general public alike.
Every aspect of the history of the Caucasus confirms this one precept – nothing formed this region more than its nature as a border-region sandwiched between a number of great powers and the competing influences of different cultures – Ottoman, Russian, Persian and European culture.