Karelian traditional




What is Karelia?


Text and map by Andrew Andersen



When a Finn and a Russian say “Karelia” they often mean two different areas.


Finns call Karelia (Karjala) the green-colored area on the below map, the one that has been under strong Swedish influence since 1200 -1300. It was part of Swedish-Finnish Kingdom from 1323/1617 to 1721/1743, part of the Grand Duchy of Finland between 1809 and 1918 and part of independent Finland in 1918-1939 and 1941-1944. As a result of World War II, most of what the Finns define as Karelia was incorporated into the USSR to become parts of Leningrad province and semi-autonomous “Karelian Republic” its population been withdrawn to Finland. As of today, the area still remains in Russian Federation.


When Russians say “Karelia” they usually mean the “Republic of Karelia” which is one of the subjects of Russian Federation (click here to see the map and political structure of Russian Federation). Most of this territory was traditionally under Russian influence: first being part of Novgorod trade empire and after the incorporation of Novgorod into Russian Czardom it ended being one of Russian provinces. In Finland, this area (on the below map it is orange-colored) is referred to as “East Karelia” (Itä-Karjala).


During the 20th century, East Karelia lost most of its indigenous population and was settled by ethnic Russians, Byelorussians and other Russian-speakers.