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Bezengi, Russia & Georgia: Zentraler Kaukasus



The map is probably the first Western survey of the Bezengi Massive in the Caucasus, Russia, made in 1962 by the Austrian expedition. This photograph of the map was used by the Yugoslavian expedition in cooperation with the Soviet mountaineers during the height of the Cold War. 

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A detailed, separately published map, reproduced in photography embraces the area of the Bezengi Group in the Caucasus, between Bulungu in Russia on the north, and Adiši, in Georgia, on the south. The Bezengi glacier is marked vertically in the middle of the map.

The Bezengi Massive is a mountain group in the Caucasus on the border between Russia and Georgia. In the 1960s and 1970s it was, with its 5000m peaks in undisturbed nature, an important experience for the mountaineers, who wanted to conquer the peaks in Tian Shan, Pammir and the Himalayas.


Yugoslav Mountaineers in the Soviet Union during the Cold War


The map was made by an Austrian mountaineering expedition in 1962 and was used a year later by a Yugoslavian mountaineering expedition, in cooperation with the Soviets. A contemporary article from 1963 explains a complicated story of exchanging mountaineering experiences in the Eastern Bloc, which were slowed down by tensed political relationship between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union (Dr. Miha Potočnik, Prezidij Kavkaza. In: Planinski vsetnik 1963, pp. 198-203).

In 1948, the Yugoslavian president Josip Broz Tito had a massive fallout with Stalin, what caused a complete breakup of all the contacts between the two countries. Only after Stalin’s death in 1952 the tensions started slowly softening.

In 1956, the Yugoslav mountaineers were invited by the Soviets for the first time after the war to visit the Caucasus. In the same year the tensions between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union escalated again and the expedition had to be postponed for seven years, when the Moscow gave permission to Yugoslavians to survey the Bazengi region in 1963.  

A partial survey at the time was made a year before, in 1962, by an Austrian team. The Yugoslavians used the Austrian map as a basis for their surveys, as well as maps and images from the private collection of the Soviet mountaineer Viktor Vasiljevič Žirnov.

The Soviets and Yugoslavs proved to be a good match. According to a contemporary report they both went through a rough physical training before mountaineering and could slowly travel with heavy equipment, which helped them surviving in unexpected snow storms and reach higher peaks. On the contrary many other nations, such as Austrians and Poles, travelled with lighter equipment, which enabled them to travel faster, but could not fight storms and low temperatures, and could therefor mostly conquer lower peaks.

Until the late 1960s the Soviets and Yugoslavs made many expeditions to the Bezengis, conquering new mountain peaks , which were often named by the Yugoslavians. This is the first correct printed map, we could find on the region. The first printed book with maps on the region was published in 1967 under a Russian title Centralnij Kavkaz: Rajon Bazengi (Центральный Кавказ: район Безенги) by Aleksandr Fedorovich Naumov.

The map comes from an estate of a member of the Yugoslavian mountaineering team, which made surveys in the Caucasus from 1963 on and in the Himalayas in the early 1970s.


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