The settlement of Germans in the South Caucasus was the last settlement plan that was completed in the tradition established by Catherine II. Whilst Tsar Peter I (1672–1725) had overwhelmingly concentrated on the North in his concept of foreign policy, the interests of Russia during the 18th century shifted constantly to the South. In this Catherine not only supported scientific research in more remote areas, but also initiated the settlement of farmers there and drew up official invitation contracts in 1762/1763 which established the legal framework for future colonisation.
At first, Catharine’s plans concerned the Lower Volga. But after the Russian conquest of the Crimean Khanate in 1783 and the Treaty of Jassy in 1792 there followed a second major colonisation movement into the Black Sea region, to the Crimea, to Bessarabia and to the area around Odessa. Other migrants to »New Russia« included Swedish peasants, but mainly Dutch, Frisian and Gdansk Mennonites, who had first come to Prussia twenty years earlier at the invitation of Frederick II (1712–1786) but after a change of regime had then feared a violation of their principles of faith along with the lifting of their exemption from military service.
Conquest of the Caucasus
During the 18th century the Russian border had already been pushed into the Caucasus. A system of connected fortresses (e.g. Vladikavkas and Mozdok) called the "Caucasian Line" secured the border on the rivers Terek, Malka and Kuban and offered vantage points for expeditions into the South. Paul I annexed the kingdom of Kartli-Kachetien in 1801, calling back to the treaty of Gorgievsk, in which Russia guaranteed aid to the king of Eastern Georgia. In the following years, Alexander I establisted a protectorate over the principalities of Western Georgia and incorporated the khanates Gändschä, Baku, Kuba, Talysch, Schirwan, Karabach and Schäki with the treaty of Gülistan in 1813.
In 1826, Persia tried and fail to gain back its Caucasian possessions. In the ensuing treaty of Turkmenchay in 1828 the khanates of Eriwan and Nachitschewan were handed over to Russia. After the Russo-Turkish war of 1828-1829 the treaty of Adrianopol granted Russia the Achalziche area as well as fortresses along the eastern coast of the Black Sea between Anapa and Poti.
Stability through immigration and colonisation
Immigration rights for Armenians and Greeks as well as the settlement of German colonists and Russian sectarians were aimed at strengthening the Christian population in the region. The (majority Muslim) resistance in the mountains of the North Caucasus had only been defeated in 1959, or rather with the mass expulsion of Circassians.
As a result of the Russo-Turkish wars the Treaty of Berlin in 1878 moved the borders of the Russian Empire further into the Ottoman empire. Two German settlements (Paşaçayır and Karacaören) were thereafter established in the region of Kars,
Under Alexander I, not only this southwards expansion but also the systematic settlement policy of Catherine II underwent a re-launch. His manifesto of 20 February 1804 laid down more stringent requirements on the new settlers: they must be good farmers, specialists in winegrowing, silk-making and livestock farming, or else village craftsmen, and be able to demonstrate a minimal level of property ownership, including wife and children. The number of immigrants was limited to 200 families per year, until in 1819 mass immigration was completely stopped. All of this led to the emergence of 181 mother colonies in the Black Sea region, in Bessarabia and in the South Caucasus.
Considering the question what Western Europeans in the 19th century knew about this region brings us to the topic of explorers. German scientists not only contributed to the scientific exploration of the region, they also influenced the perception of the region in Moscow, Petersburg and Western Europe. For educated emigrants, the Caucasus should therefore not have been "terra incognita".