One of the most culturally diverse land expanses in the world, the North Caucasus spans the northern and western regions of the Caucasus mountain range, which functions as an unofficial border between Central Asia and Europe. The North Caucasus' intercontinental ambiguity and tumultuous political history lend to its almost universal identification as a politically, religiously and ethnically volatile region. Constituting the North Caucasus are the Russian republics of Adygea, Karachay-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia-Alania, Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan, as well as the Tusheti, Khevsureti and Khevi regions of Georgia.
While the regions of the North Caucasus gained a greater degree of autonomy following the dissolution of the USSR, many of the republics remain embroiled in bitter conflict with Russia. The entrenched resentment of Russia retained by many native people groups stems from the Soviet Union's enforced deportation of native Caucasians under accusations of Nazi support following WWII. Russian invasions and clashes with separatists in the last two decades only widen the chasm. Situations in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan are particularly volatile, and the violence generated by these conflicts has spread to the other republics.
Widespread poverty and unemployment, militant religious and political separatism, and government corruption continue to plague the North Caucasus. The most tragic manifestation of this region's aggravation was the 2004 Beslan school siege. On the first day of school in the North Ossetia town of Beslan, Chechnyan separatists took over 1,200 children and adults hostage in a three-day siege that resulted in over 300 deaths. The Russian military has fought two wars with separatists over the past 10 years in Chechnya, and the hostage-takers demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from the republic.
Healthy family systems are extremely difficult to engender in communities characterized by instability. Bombings, shootings and other violence are a very real element of the lives of children and families of the North Caucasus. Massive unemployment prompts the continual emigration of citizens, and the remaining youth inherit a legacy of extremism and violence. In its establishment of a Russia-based development program, USAID (the United States Agency for International Development) has identified the North Caucasus as "an ethnically, historically, economically and politically distinct region … which manifests characteristics one would expect in a fragile (and even failed) state." Keystone Service Systems, Inc. was able to partner with USAID/Russia in their health initiative, providing an opportunity for the Keystone Foundation for Social Assistance to Children and Families to develop a two-year comprehensive system of care program in the North Caucasus.