Books for the News, Politics and Current Events

Unveiling the Caucasus

The subway blasts that killed dozens of people in central Moscow this morning, carried out by insurgents from southern Russia’s Caucasus region, have brought the long conflict between Chechen nationalists and Russia back to the forefront of the global consciousness. Though the brutal conflict over control of the Caucasus—far to the southwest of the Russian capital—has continued to quietly rage since Russia gained control over the region in 2000, the often repressive political atmosphere of post cold-war Russia, and the desire to suppress the many accusations of human rights abuses leveled against both sides, has helped to keep many of the details of the conflict from public scrutiny, especially in the west. The following are a few titles from the press that attempt to rectify that situation:
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Before her mysterious assassination in 2006, Anna Politkovskaya, a correspondent for the liberal Moscow newspaper Novaya gazeta, was the only journalist to have constant access to the region, and in her book A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya she offers a rare insider’s view of life in Chechnya, centered on stories of those caught—literally—in the crossfire of the conflict. Her book recounts the horrors of living in the midst of the war, examines how the war has affected Russian society, and takes a hard look at how people on both sides are profiting from it. Politkovskaya’s unflinching honesty and her courage in speaking truth to power combine here to produce a powerful account of what is acknowledged as one of the most dangerous and least understood conflicts on the planet.
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Placing the conflict in context, Georgi M. Derluguian’s Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus: A World-System Biography offers a gripping account of the developmental dynamics involved in the collapse of Soviet socialism through the life story of Musa Shanib—a dissident Chechen intellectual who became a nationalist warlord. Derluguian contextualizes Shanib’s personal trajectory—from de-Stalinization through the nationalist rebellions of the 1990s, to the recent rise in Islamic militancy—masterfully revealing not only how external economic and political forces affect the former Soviet republics, but how those forces are in turn shaped by the individuals, institutions, ethnicities, and social networks that make up those societies.
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And in Caucasus: A Journey to the Land between Christianity and Islam, award-winning author Nicholas Griffin recounts his journey to this war torn region to explore the roots of the ongoing conflict, centering his travelogue on Imam Shamil, the great nineteenth century Muslim warrior who commanded a quarter-century resistance against invading Russian forces.
Delving deep into the Caucasus, Griffin transcends the headlines trumpeting Chechen insurgency to give the land and its conflicts dimension: evoking the weather, terrain, and geography alongside national traditions, religious affiliations, and personal legends as barriers to peaceful co-existence. In focusing his tale on Shamil while retracing his steps, Griffin compellingly demonstrates the way history repeats itself.