Georgia’s North Caucasian Territories, 1944-1957

Georgia used to possess two regions in the North Caucasus. The “used to” part is no surprise. There are quite a few territories that were once controlled by Georgia but no longer are. Abkhazia and South Ossetia are the obvious ones, but there is also Sochi (Russia), Lori (Armenia), Saingilo (Azerbaijan), and Tao and Klarjeti (Turkey). What’s remarkable about these North Caucasian territories is just how Georgia came into possession of them. The story, which involves considerable human misery, goes back to World War Two.

georgian ssr 1944-1957 north caucasus

Note the two large protrusions along Georgia’s top edge.

Operation Barbarossa, Nazi Germany‘s first foray into Soviet territory, failed by the end of  1941. It was aimed at northern Russia, the main targets being Moscow and Leningrad (St. Petersburg). Neither city was captured, so in 1942 the Germans turned their attention southward, hoping to seize the oil fields in Maikop, Grozny, and above all Baku, which alone accounted for well over half of the Soviet Union’s oil production. Baku was initially the primary objective (of a plan called Operation Edelweiss), but German troops became increasingly diverted north as the Battle of Stalingrad raged. Ultimately the Germans made it as far east as North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz (then called Ordzhonikdze, which is mispronounced in the video below), but were unable to penetrate through the mountains into the South Caucasus.

Okay, the Germans didn’t make it over the mountains and Georgia was left untouched. So who cares? Well, German spies and saboteurs were able to make it past Soviet lines, and they were aided by rebels among the local populations. In particular, collaborators included (at least according to Soviet allegations) Chechens, Ingushetians, Karachays, and Balkars (the first two being Northeast Caucasian speakers and the latter two being Turkic peoples living west of North Ossetia). In 1944 all four groups were summarily packed up and shipped off to Central Asia. This left a lot of land depopulated, and it was mostly redistributed among the various North Caucasian ASSRs. But Georgia was  also a beneficiary of this process, receiving land formerly inhabited by Karachays and Chechens.

georgia north caucasus

The Karachay territory was called Klukhori (ქლუხორი), and it included Mt. Elbrus, the highest peak in “Europe”. The Chechen territory was called Akhalkhevi (ახალხევი). This included a tiny piece of land that had actually already been ceded by Georgia to Chechnya in 1922. As one would expect, toponyms were changed from local names to Georgian ones. Georgians were  moved into both areas, but they were never more than sparsely populated.

klukhori akhalkhevi

“Akhalkhevi” means “New Khevi”, but frankly old Khevi was nothing to write home about.

In 1957, four years after Stalin’s death, the exiles were allowed to return to their homes. Their districts were reestablished, and Georgia’s new territories were abruptly taken back. That’s about it as far as Georgian involvement in the issue goes, though the resettling of the exiles would lead to violence in 1992 between the Ingushetians and the North Ossetians over the East Prigorodny District.

NOTE: This topic has received very little attention from anyone (I was able to find just one substantial source in English and one in Georgian), probably because it isn’t especially interesting. If you, the reader, have more to add, please go ahead and comment. I myself learned about it only as a byproduct of my obsessive search to find a map showing Tskhinvali under the name “Staliniri” (see Notes on Terminology s.v. Tskhinvali). While browsing through the book A Modern History of Soviet Georgia by David Marshall Lang, I found one:

soviet georgia

This map gives a few other old Soviet names besides Stalinir (for instance, Makharadze instead of the modern Ozurgeti). It also features some systematically bizarre spellings (for instance, “Dsiteli-Dsqaro” instead of “Tsiteltsqaro”). But most importantly, it indicates two “areas annexed by Georgia 1944-1957”, though sadistcally these areas not mentioned anywhere else in the book.

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11 thoughts on “Georgia’s North Caucasian Territories, 1944-1957

  1. Pingback: Notes on Terminology | georgiasomethingyouknowwhatever

  2. Good story! A few days ago, I was in the Svaneti-region of Georgia, in the little village of Khaishi (the one that’s beeing plagued by the goverment because of this Khudoni hydropower plant they’re trying to build there). The history teacher there told me that the border of Abchazia had also been changed since the war in 2008, Svaneti used to much bigger, he said. Do you know if that’s true?

    • Probably he’s talking about the Kodori Gorge, a part of Abkhazia / Svaneti which was controlled by Georgia up until the 2008 war. (More specifically, it was controlled by a Svan warlord named Emzar Kvitsiani, who, it just so happens, was recently arrested in Georgia after returning from exile in Russia.) But the Karachay Georgian territory did border Svaneti to the north, so it’s possible he was referring to that.

  3. Pingback: Azeri (Turkish) | georgiasomethingyouknowwhatever

  4. I would not call this annexation really. Georgians and Chechens have maintained very warm relations precisely because of what happened in Chechnya when the refugees came back. Once the resettlement process started, there was famous episode when Georgian population living in Chechnyan villages voluntarily left not only their houses but also their stock and the resources to the repatriated population (to help them get started ). For the most part, Georgians simply saved the houses for Vainakhs until they would return back to their homes. That’s why there has been no disputes between Vainakhs and Georgians as opposed to Vainakhs and Ossetians.

    P.S. Just to clarify, Vainakh is a collective term and it is applied to certain Northeastern Caucasian populations (namely Chechens, Ingushs, and most of Dagestanians).

  5. sorry to inform you but informations here are not correct. These lands did belong to Georgia during medieval times such as North Tusheti, North Khevsureti, Dvaleti wich are now under the russian borders. They where inhabited by georgians, but because of persecutions in Vainakh country they moves south. Georgia did greet and helped a lot of chechens in Pankisi as well. When it comes to Mountain ELBRUS, this is a svanetian mountain. WHY ? beause of the followings: Svaneti is the highest inhabited area in the Caucasus. Elbrus did not have stable circassian or ossetian villages like the svanetians over there. According to the Treaty adopted by the georgian king Irakli II ერეკლე II and the Russian Empress Catherine II, the area of the mountain Passa/Ialbuzi (Elbrus) and the area situated even north of it including modern towns Georgi’s place/Georgievsk and Mineraluri tsqhalebi/Mineral Waters were to belong to king Irakli II and his nation/ethnicity – the Georgians. This Official Treaty was signed, ratified and published the same year 1783 in both languages in the official book of laws of the Russian Empire. It was published in both languages afterwards again several times. The Georgian text is kept in Tbilisi at the National Center of the Manuscripts at Aleqsidze Street, Building No. 3.
    Prof. Mose Janashvili has the most informative material on this theme in both published and unpublished writings. What was the northern border, northern area of the kingdom of his nation/ethnicity in king  Aeëtes days? Which nation/ethnicity had the earliest kingdom in that area of Elbrus? His answer is that king  Aeëtes of Colchis was the first known king there and in the adjacent vast area including the lowlands of the Don and the Volga rivers. (Janashvili 1906:8-56).

  6. ” As one would expect, toponyms were changed from local names to Georgian ones. ” I quoted this ! Why as one would expect ? toponyms there where georgian,because those territories did belong to medieval Georgia !

  7. Therefore, by means of Moscow’s venturesome policy, Georgia’s population had increased with 26 000 persons and its territory expanded by 74,4 thousand square kilometers by 1944 in return of the historical territories – Sochi region, Saingilo, Lore district, Artvini and Artaani regions – lost in 1919-1921.

  8. about Elbrus, well the paek of the mountain should have been given to the svanetians, because they are the closest people living near that mountain, at least the south slopes of Elbrus

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