Our Caucasus region extends from the Anatolian Peninsula and the nation of Turkey, bordered by the Mediterranean, to the Caucasus Mountains, which form its northern boundary along Russia’s southwestern edge. There, the nations of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are nestled in the highlands between the Black and Caspian Seas. In the south, it stretches from Syria to Iran, reaching all the way to the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea.
Its location has made the area a homeland for some of the world's most famous civilizations and empires. Cyrus the Great expanded his territories from his home in Iran to create the powerful Persian Empire, the largest in the world to that point (around 540 B.C.). Known for his religious and cultural tolerance, Cyrus freed the Jews from slavery to the Babylonians. Cyrus’s descendants Darius and Xerxes famously battled the Greeks at Thermopylae, Salamis and Marathon during the Greco-Persian Wars.
Turkey, in particular, has historically been at the crossroads of Eastern and Western cultures, beginning with the Trojan War. As famously narrated by Homer in his Iliad, Mycenaean Greeks laid siege to the ancient Lydian city of Troy, which was most likely part of the ancient Hittite Empire. The Roman Empire, ruling from Constantinople, spread Christianity and Greco-Roman culture throughout Anatolia. The arrival of Turkic peoples from Central Asia brought the Turkish language and Islam. Their eventual conquests in the Byzantine Empire and its territories in the Holy Lands of the Levant were the catalysts for the first Crusades.
Much of the Caucasus region is Muslim. Shia Islam is the official state religion of Iran, while the Sunni branch is predominant in the Caucasus groups of the north, such as the Nogay (also Nogai), Adyghe and Chechens. Modern-day Turkey is a secular nation, but the vast majority of the population is Muslim, including the Kurds in the southeast. Georgia and Armenia have a long history of Christianity, being two of the earliest nations to adopt it. Along with Azerbaijan, they were part of the former Soviet Union (USSR). Since the dissolution of the USSR, continual border disputes contribute to a tense atmosphere.