Monday, December 21, 2015

The Caucasus: An Introduction

Although Thomas de Waal is a bit of scholarly hero of mine I put off reading one of his latest books because of its title The Caucasus: An Introduction. I assumed there wouldn't be much new in it, especially considering it was attempting to cover the entire Caucasus in just over 200 pages. Fortunately, I was wrong on multiple accounts. The book only covers the southern Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) and there is quite a bit of good information in it.

The history of Armenia and Azerbaijan is better covered in his more famous book Black Garden, but until this book Waal had not written a book on Georgia. I found these chapters most illuminating. His description of the start of the civil war with Abkhazia was far different that that of Svetlana Chervonnaya's Caucasus: Abkhazia, Georgia and the Russian Shadow. I haven't read enough books about this topic to make my own judgment yet, but Waal's take is far less forgiving of Georgia. I also particularly liked the handful of "sidebars" the book contained, covering topics like Stalin's personal history in the Caucasus, the Greek subculture in Abhkazia and the almost conflict of Ajara. I wish the book covered Zviad Gamsakhurdi and the Zviadists more, but the book is after all just an introduction. The book closed out with 20-30 pages that discussed the recent history of Georgia (at least up until 2010). This section definitely made me want to read up on the short Russo-Georgia war of 2008. It'd be a bit strange to paint up figure for a conflict that only lasted a week, but the mix of US and Russian equipment the Germans used sure would be interesting. Who knows? Perhaps in 2020? Like all of Waal's book I have to recommend this one, especially if one is just started to learn about the region.

Thomas de Waal

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