Two centuries ago, the Russians pushed out of the cold north towards the Caucasus Mountains, the range that blocked their access to Georgia, Turkey, Persia and India. They were forging their colonial destiny, and the mountains were in their way.
The Caucasus had to be conquered and, for the highlanders who lived there, life would never be the same again.
If the Russians expected it to be an easy fight, however, they were mistaken. Their armies would go on to defeat Napoleon and Hitler, as well as lesser foes, but no one resisted them for as long as these supposed savages.
To hear the stories of the conquest, I travelled far from the mountains. I wandered through the steppes of Central Asia and the cities of Turkey. I squatted outside internment camps in Poland, and drank tea beneath the gentle hills of Israel. The stories I heard amplified the outrages I saw in the mountains themselves. As I set out, in my mind was a Chechen woman I had met in a refugee camp. She lived in a ragged, khaki tent in a field of mud and stones, but she welcomed me with laughter and kindness. Like the mountains of her homeland, her spirit had soared upwards, gleaming and pure. Throughout my travels, I met the same generosity from all the Caucasus peoples.
Their stories have not been told, and there fame is not great, but truly it deserves to be.