Why Are There So Many Conflicts in Mountainous Regions?


Mountains stand as a symbol of both solidarity and isolation. This is particularly true for the various rebel groups and militias that have used rugged terrain to resist central governing authorities. (World Policy Blog)

Where have mountain ranges helped define ongoing political conflicts?

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources, including today’s MapMaker Interactive map.

Where have mountain ranges helped define ongoing political conflicts?

Discussion Ideas

  • Take a look at today’s MapMaker Interactive map. Where are some ongoing conflicts taking place in and around mountain ranges?
    • Mexico: The Zapatista rebellion in the state of Chiapas is based in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas mountain range.
    • Colombia: The FARC rebels, longtime antagonists of the Colombian government, were based in the northern Andes mountains.
    • Russia: The Caucasus mountains in Eastern Europe are home to two major conflicts—insurgents in Chechnya (Russia) and Azerbaijan and Armenia tussling over the debated territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
    • Democratic Republic of Congo: Rebels from the DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda use the mountains of western Albertine Rift as home bases.
    • Afghanistan: The insurgent Taliban has taken root in the intimidating Hindu Kush ranges of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    • India: The disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir is contested by India, Pakistan, and China.
    • Philippines: The Abu Sayyaf terrorist group is based in the mountainous jungles of Mindanao Island.



  • Read through the interesting Talking Policy interview on the role of geography in conflict zones. What is geographic determinism?
    • Geographic determinism describes a way of thinking that prioritizes the physical features of a region in explaining its culture, history, and development. Geographic determinism is also known as environmental determinism or climate determinism. Judith Matloff, the author interviewed in the article, says “I think I would prefer the term ‘geographic humanist,’ or perhaps ‘environmental possibilist.’ However, without a doubt, geography is something you can’t discount.”


  • Besides environment and geography, what other factors contribute to the development of a region?
    • Human activity and agency, including language, religion, and trade customs, contribute to a region’s development and culture.


  • What are some reasons mountainous areas may be more prone to conflict than elsewhere?
    • A mountain stands in the way of things,” isolating residents in a number of different ways.
      • physical isolation. Mountains are often the most remote areas of a nation, with the least infrastructure. “If there had been roads and there’d been more cross-pollination of ideas, if people had received the same education that others received elsewhere in the country, if they traded more, if they had not been so cut off and isolated, these customs would have died out or they would have become more assimilated.”
      • cultural independence. Often, mountain residents interact less with outside culture, allowing their own customs to develop and thrive even as they become assimilated elsewhere. The article, for instance, notes that the Zapatista movement in southern Mexico was rooted in preserving the indigenous Maya culture of the region. “However,” the author reminds us, “it’s not as if there is complete isolation; the Zapatistas drink a tremendous amount of Coca-Cola.”
      • economic isolation. Mountains help create alternative economic systems when residents feel underserved by the infrastructure of the larger government. “If you look at every major illicit production area of poppies or marijuana, it tends to be mountainous.” Mountainous regions’ physical environment and isolated infrastructure contribute to this contraband economy.
      • natural-resource independence. Mountainous cultures are often unusually self-sufficient, but the infrastructure needs of the greater populace may threaten their way of life. The article points to the Himalayas, where climate change is radically altering the runoff and meltwater that southeast Asia relies on. “[T]here will be a lot of flooding. There’s a huge rush at the moment to dam up a lot of the Himalayas … People’s livelihoods are going to be changed by the melting.”


  • How can governments reduce the potential for conflict in the mountains?



World Policy Blog: Talking Policy: Judith Matloff on the Role of Geography in Conflict Zones

Nat Geo: Mountain-Based Conflicts MapMaker Interactive map

Nat Geo: What’s Going on in Nagorno-Karabakh? study guide

Nat Geo: The Khyber Pass study guide

Nat Geo: Mapping the Conflict in Kashmir study guide

World Mountain People Association

One thought on “Why Are There So Many Conflicts in Mountainous Regions?

Leave a Reply