Religious divisions

Religious divisions in the Caucasus overlap with ethnic divisions, but do not coincide fully with them. For example, most Georgians and Ossets are Christian, but there are Georgian Muslims (in Ajaria) and also a minority of Muslim Ossets. Among the Tats, there are Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities.

Strong attachment to religion

Some Caucasian peoples have been strongly attached to a particular religion for many centuries. The Armenians and Georgians have been Christian ever since the 4th century, while most of the inhabitants of Dagestan have been Muslim since the 9th century. Other ethnic groups have switched formal religious allegiance in response to changing external pressures. Thus the Abkhaz professed Christianity when Byzantium was the dominant power in the Black Sea region, but adopted Islam when Byzantium fell to the Ottomans— all the while continuing to worship their sacred mountains and copses. Further to the north, the Circassians remained Christian until the 17th and 18th centuries, when they converted to Islam largely with a view to securing Ottoman aid in the face of impending Russian conquest.

Ethnic conflicts and religious differences

To what extent can recent ethnic conflicts in the Caucasus be explained in terms of religious differences? Religious attitudes (for instance, Armenia’s traditional self-image as an outpost of Christianity in the Muslim East) may have contributed to some ethnic conflicts, but religion has not played a central role. In some conflicts it cannot have played any role at all, because the sides were not divided by religion, as in the case of the Georgian-Osset conflict, in which both sides were mainly Orthodox Christian.