Violence in the Caucasus

Caucasia is a unique and unusual region.  Straddling the Caucasus Mountains, nestled between Russia, Turkey, and Iran, the region is home to many ancient competing ethnic and religious groups.  This competition has bred several wars, including the First and Second Chechen Wars, the Nagorno-Karabakh War, the War in Abkhazia, and the Ossetian-Ingush Conflict.  Today’s remarkable map demonstrates the scale and geographic distribution of violence over time during the Second Chechen War, which began in 1999 and continues today, nine years later.

The map above is actually a series of maps showing the distribution of violence across Caucasia over time resulting from the Second Chechen War.  The map shows the borders of Russian provinces and international borders, and indicates the scale of a violent act based on the size of the red circle representing it on the map.  The largest circles represent violent events with up to 175 victims.  Progressing in three-month increments, the map also plots the mean center of all the violent events, showing that despite the wide area over which violence was occurring, the center of the violence remained squarely in Chechnya.  Click here or on the image above to see the time series map.

This map was created by John V. O’Loughlin and Frank Witmer as part of a paper entitled The Geography of North Caucasian Conflicts (1999–2007): Analysis of 14,000 Violent Incidents presented in March of this year.  Although the map plots violence on a regional level, the O’Loughlin was able to plot each violent act precisely–sometimes down to the level of an individual street corner:

All violent events in and around Chechnya from the beginning of the second war in August 1999 to the present (over 14,000 incidents) have been precisely geo-located and cataloged by actor, scale of violence, date, and target. Cartographic and spatial-statistical analysis of these events shows that the usual descriptions of the conflict as diffusing beyond Chechnya has empirical support. The pattern of violence is related to political and economic targets and to insurgent bases and strategies.  

Incredibly, all the data in the maps was complied from publicly-available newswire sources, which described each violent act in detail.  The author defines violent events as “arrests, weapons cache finds, bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, murders of security personnel, attacks on politicians, etc.”  Click here to read O’Loughlin’s presentation, including additional maps of the conflict. 

As with many of the conflicts in this region of the world, the origins of the Second Chechen War are complex and varied, clouded by the results of previous wars over similar causes.  Officially, the War began as the result of a series of bombings in Russian apartment buildings which were blamed on Chechen separatists, and on the military activities of a Chechen militia group in the neighboring province of Dagestan.  Chechnya had gained de facto independence after the First Chechen War which had ended with a ceasefire in 1996.  Click here to read a detailed history of the Second Chechen War.

As these maps suggest, Chechnya is one of the most heavily militarized regions in the world today, with approximately 300,000 military and police operating in the province–or nearly 1,200 troops or security forces per 100,000 people.  The Second Chechen War alone has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Russian and Chechen soldiers and civilians.

Thanks again to Claire for the recommendation!

1 Response to “Violence in the Caucasus”


  1. 1 Mike May 20, 2008 at 8:24 am

    Don’t forget the conquest wars against Shamil and the countrless other wars going back all the way to our friends the Khazars… who still exist, btw.


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Cartographia is a blog about how we use maps to represent the world around us, and how people interpret maps today and throughout history. Please feel free to send any questions, comments, or recommendations directly to me at cartographia.blog@gmail.com.

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