The Urum Greeks of Tsalka, Georgia

The Google Map shows the former communities of the Urum Greeks of the Tsalka area of Kvemo Kartli in Georgia. This people is known as the Tsalkalides (in the Greek language) or Urumlar (in Turkish). Given that the Urum Greeks were and are Turkish-speaking, the latter name is probably more appropriate. The community is Greek Orthodox and identifies with the Greek ethnos even when not Grecophone.

The settlements shown on the map are those of the community’s heyday. It emerged by immigration in 1829/1830 following the withdrawal of Russian troops from eastern Anatolia after the Russo-Turkish War of 1828/29, when Christians feared reprisals and were granted permission to settle in Georgia (and elsewhere). It grew throughout the C19th and into the C20th. However, it is now sadly depleted by emigration to Greece and Russia.

The Urum Greeks’ neighbours tended to be Armenians, Azerbaijanis and Kurds for the most part, rather than Georgians; there were also Jews and Roma in this district.

In addition to the large number of villages around Tsalka, the map also shows a few communities slightly further afield, such as the former mining village of Opreti to the south and the cluster of villages around Jigrasheni to the east.

Place names given are the current official Georgian name (in transliteration, of course), followed by alternative names used by the Urumlar and others.

For further information, we recommend the Greek- and Russian-language website



The Udi

The Google Map shows the distribution of the Udi, an ancient relict ethnos of the Caucasus, the survivors of the formerly great Caucasian Albanian people.

Today, this Christian people is found primarily in two large villages in Azerbaijan (Nic and Oğuz, known until 1991 as Vartashen) and one small settlement in Georgia (Zinobiani). There are smaller numbers of Udi in a few other villages in Azerbaijan (and of course in its capital Baku) but most have assimilated or left the country for Armenia and, more especially, Russia. Most of the settlements in Azerbaijan marked with blue pins on the map therefore effectively show former rather than extant Udi communities.

As mentioned, there are numbers of Udi in diaspora dispersed across both cities and villages in southern Russia (shown with grey pins on the map) and elsewhere across Russia (not marked on the map).

Finally, there are also about 200 Udi refugees from Oğuz in a handful of villages in Armenia; these are marked with red pins.



The Kists of Georgia

This Google Map shows the heartland of the Kist people in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia. The Kisti are ethnic Chechens and speak the Kistian dialect of Chechen (as well as, these days, Georgian).

They migrated to the Pankisi valley from Chechnya in the mid-C19th, probably to avoid pressure to convert to Islam. At that time, they professed their own Vainakh faith, which contained syncretic beliefs with pre-monotheistic roots and an admixture of Christianity. The location of a pre-Christian Anatori Jvari shrine sacred to the Kists is shown, with a blue pin, on the map.

Kist villages are shown with green pins on the map. A high proportion of the Kists of the village of Birkiani are Christian. At Jokolo, there is a church dedicated to St George and there was formerly a chapel in Omalo. Kists attend the annual Alaverdobi harvest festival at the Georgian Orthodox monastery of Alaverdi each September. Those Kists who have left the Pankisi valley and settled in Georgian towns such as Telavi tend to assimilate as Georgian Orthodox Christians.

For the most part, however, today the Kists are Sunni Muslim, albeit with an unorthodox colouring. The Kists’ main place of worship is the Sunni mosque in Duisi. There are three other modern mosques, constructed from 1996-2001 with outside finance. Duisi also has a shariat court. In these circumstances, it is likely that there will be tensions within the Kist community between those wanting to apply a strict interpretation of Islam and those with syncretic leanings or who are Christian.


The Hunzibs of Dagestan & Georgia

This Google Map shows the distribution of Hunzib settlement in the Caucasus. The Hunzibs are ethnically Avar and Sunni Muslim highlanders. They have their own Hunzib language, although the number of speakers is under 5,000 and quite possibly under 2,500.

The heartland of the Hunzib people is in Dagestan, in the cluster of three villages, shown in blue, near Tlyadal: Garbutl, Gunzib and Nakhada. There were or are smaller settlements in this vicinity, either hamlets or neighbourhoods of the main villages (small as they themselves are) also occupied by Hunzibs: these are Gelo, Khelada, Novaya Nakhada, Novo Garbutl, Rodor, and Todor. It is possible that one or two of these are alternative names for one of the main villages, just as Gunzib, or parts of it, seems to have been known as Darbal or Darbali and/or Rodol at one time (or perhaps in a different tongue).

There is no letter “h” in Russian; it is replaced by “g”. Dagestan, as part of the Russian Federation, officially uses the Russian language and hence Hunzib (the ethnos) is identical with Gunzib (the village).

Hunzibs live additionally in two large villages in the Kizilyurt district of north-eastern Dagestan (marked with purple pins on the map). These places were not settled by Hunzibs until the C20th, possibly as a result of disruption and displacement during Soviet times.

The three villages in Georgia, marked with red pins, are home to numbers of Avars including Hunzibs – the village of Saruso is a majority Hunzib settlement. These places are shown on the map under their official Georgian names followed by their Avar/Hunzib names – for example, Saruso is the Georgian and Khaladukh the Hunzib name.


The Pshavi of Georgia

The Google Map shows the location of the villages of Pshavi, the historic inhabitants of which were the Pshavs or Pshavi, a highland Georgian people with their own distinct dialect and customs.

The villages in the traditional Pshavi heartland are indicated with blue pins, while the yellow pins plot villages in lower Pshavi.

While the larger villages can be placed with complete confidence, the location of some of the smallest settlements or hamlets is approximate only. Different sources and print and online maps show different sites for them and sometimes do not show them at all. In some cases, a hamlet is either very small or abandoned, perhaps comprising a few scattered ruins, and is not visible using satellite imagery such as Google’s, even at the highest available zoom.



The Georgian Jews

This Google Map shows the Jewish communities, past and present, of Georgia, including two sites in breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The mapping does not purport to be complete and comprehensive, although all the main centres of population and synagogues should be shown. It is likely that there were smaller communities, or one or two Georgian Jewish families, elsewhere across the country, for instance as part of trading networks along the routes of the so-called Silk Road.

Where possible, the exact locations of synagogues and cemeteries have been pinpointed; elsewhere, a pin has simply been dropped onto the town or village as a general marker. Synagogues are shown with a Star of David.

These days, there are more Georgian Jews (or Gruzinim) in Israel than there are in the Republic of Georgia. The Georgian Jewish diaspora extends to America and Russia, of course, but also Belgium, Germany and elsewhere. As well as the Gruzinim, there was a growing population of Ashkenazi Jews in Georgia (and especially the capital Tbilisi or Tiflis) following its incorporation into the Russian Empire. Formerly, there were also Mountain Jews and Persian or Iranian Jews too in Georgia, and the latter had for a while their own synagogue in Tbilisi.


The Batsbi of Georgia

The Google Map shows the Batsbi, or Tsova-Tushebi, a highland people who are thought to have moved into what is today Georgia from Ingushetia, possibly so as to avoid pressure to convert to Islam but equally possibly due to demographic pressures (population expansion and a need for grazing) or natural disaster.

Once in Georgia, initially they settled in the village of Chontio, which is situated within the Pirikiti community. Chontio is where the historic ancestral cemetery of the Batsbi was located.

From Chontio, they founded the Tsova community: the eight villages in the Tsova Gorge, shown with blue pins on the Google Map. From the early 1830s, following catastrophic flooding and an epidemic of disease (possibly plague), the Batsbi began abandoning their Tsova villages. Only four of the eight villages survived into the C20th: Etelta, Indurta (the largest), Sagirta and Tsaro. This movement followed the pattern of transhumance, initially with the the summer pasturing settlement at Tbatana, and then with the wintertime pasturing quarters in the (relative) lowland areas, increasingly being used as permanent places of abode. Ultimately, this culminated in the inhabitants of the four longest-surviving Tsova Gorge villages named above moving en masse to Zemo Alvani and settling in their own discrete neighbourhoods with their own places of worship. The Tsova Gorge settlements are all now in ruins.



For more information on the Batsbi and other peoples of the Caucasus, we recommend AJT Bainbridge’s excellent Batsav website.


Armenians in Abkhazia

The modern-day Armenian population of Abkhazia dates back to Russian occupation of this formerly Ottoman territory in 1864, and particularly the years following the 1878 Berlin Conference, which facilitated the movement of Christians from within the Ottoman Empire to the Russian Empire. There was a further influx following the 1915 Armenian Genocide within the Ottoman Empire and later movements during the Soviet era and at times of conflict and unrest in the Caucasus.

The Google Map shows the major known Armenian communities in Abkhazia, but does not purport to be complete or comprehensive. According to the 2011 census of the Republic of Abkhazia, there were 41,907 declared Armenians at that date, which is just over 17% of the total population (and makes the Armenians the largest ethnic group after the Abkhazians themselves). The number is declining (compare 44,870 in 2003 and 76,541 in 1989), mostly due to emigration to Armenia and to Russia for employment.


Dukhobors in Georgia

The Google Map shows the distribution and location of Dukhobor settlement in Georgia from the early 1840s (when the first settlers arrived) to the present day.

By the 1890s, after 50 years in Georgia, through hard work the Dukhobors had become wealthy by local standards and were among the major private landowners in their areas of occupation. However, they were dispossessed during the Soviet era (although their collective farms were successful, as the Dukhobor mindset was consonant with cooperative working – even if Soviet atheism was anathema to them).

The Dukhobors struggled after the collapse of the Soviet system and contentious issues around land ownership and rights. Their problems were exacerbated by political tensions between newly independent Georgia and Russia, with the Georgians identifying the Dukhobor with the Russian Federation and displaced Georgians being settled in Dukhobor areas.

By 2006, the Dukhobor population in Georgia had fallen beneath 1,000 (probably as low as 700-800), following emigration, mostly to Russia, and a declining birth rate in the elderly population. From 2007, more family groups were applying to relocate to Russia and only the largest village, Gorelovka, seemed to be thriving; it features in several beautifully photographed travelogues and ethnographic studies online.

The Hemshin

Official Turkish historiography claims that the Hemshin or Hemşin are Turks who, through an unfortunate proximity, took on elements of Armenian language and culture. The truth, universally accepted elsewhere, is that the Hemshin are ethnic Armenians who either voluntarily or forcibly converted to Islam. For the most part they inhabit mountain valleys inland from Trabzon east to Rize and beyond Çayeli and Pazar to Hopa up by the border with Georgia.

Some of the valleys, such as those of the rivers Karadere and Fırtına, are predominantly Hemshin in character. Their villages are loose clusters of homes, often scattered along a ridge or a winding access road, rather than focused nuclear settlements. Many villages have separate quarters (mahalle) with different names, which have been gathered into a single settlement for administrative purposes. The majority of settlements have been re-named, or have alternative names. In certain parts, villages are associated with traditional highland pastures called yaylas, to which entire communities decamp for the summer grazing season. The yaylas are summertime highland grazing camps rather than permanent year-round settlements.

The Hemshin have also dispersed within Turkey, and there are communities, generally thriving and successful, in big cities such as Ankara and Istanbul (where the Hemshin are famous as pastry cooks). As a result, the Hemshin villages are becoming depopulated, as part of a rural to urban movement pattern common to most developing states in the modern world. This threatens the very existence of the Hemshin as a distinctive people, especially within their context of the homogenising chauvinistic culture of Turkey. However, it is possible that their culture may be preserved through a mixture of urban Hemshin nostalgia and the development of tourism.

Most of the Hemshin are Sunni Muslim and nowadays speak Turkish; however, those in the Hopa district still speak Homshetsma, an Armenian dialect. The same Homshetsma language is spoken by Hemshin in Georgia and Russia where part of the Hemshin (or, rather, their Armenian forebears) migrated to escape conversion to Islam and remain Christian.

The Hemshin are also known variously as Hamshen, Hemşin, Hemşinli, Hemshinli, Homshentsi and Homshetsi.

The Google Map shows current settlements in Turkey and beyond which are known to be Hemshin today. Villages outside Turkey are under-represented on the map. Communities in the big Turkish cities are not shown.

The villages of the Turkish-speaking Hemshin in the western region of habitation are shown with dark blue pins. The villages speaking the Hemshinli language called Homshetsma in the eastern region are shown with the pale blue pins (note that these spill over into Georgia). Purple pins show villages established by displaced Hemshin in western Turkey (see page 2 of the map).

The villages of the Homshetsma-speaking Hemşin in Georgia and Russia who fled the Ottoman Empire and remain Christian are also shown.


A version of this article and map was originally posted on the bluebirdresearch site in 2012.