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4.0 out of 5 stars Largely excellent guide to an obscure region that's about to hit the news, 22 July 2013
This review is from: Let Our Fame Be Great: Journeys among the defiant people of the Caucasus (Paperback)
This is an excellent account of how over the last 200 years or so Russian and then Soviet forces crushed the various ethnic minorities living in and near the Caucacus mountain range that divides Russia from Georgia and why this still resonates today. Regardless of whether there was a tsar or Communist Party boss in charge, Moscow had little time for the rebellious free-spirited peoples of the Caucasus and preferred to drive them out of the area, most notably expelling the Circassians in the 1860s and deporting the Chechens and others in the 1940s during World War Two on the grounds they had cooperated with the Germans and couldn't be trusted. The authorities' brutal methods killed hundreds of thousands of people, forced millions more into exile and set aflame hatreds that last until today.

So why does this matter? Because next February the Russian city of Sochi will host the Winter Olympics and many of the sporting facilities in the mountains lie on what used to be Circassian lands. Members of the community regularly mount protests against what they see as the IOC's decision to ignore the "Circassian genocide" and give the games to Russia. More importantly, militant groups opposed to Moscow are now calling on followers to disrupt the games. Anyone going to Sochi to cover the Games needs to take a copy of this book.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, the Chechens declared independence and Russian then fought two nasty wars to bring them under control (I happened to be in the Chechen capital Grozny when the first war started in December 1994). Chechen rebels responded with a series of bloody hostage takings and suicide bombings in the early 2000s, which prompted more repression. The centre of the insurgency has now moved east to Dagestan, where police are attacked almost every day.

There is much to like about this book. Bullough (who like me used to work in Russia for Reuters news agency, my current employer, although we never met) is a dedicated researcher and cites from an impressively wide number of historical documents. He takes takes us from what was once Circassia to Turkey and Israel, where many of the exiles settled. The Chechens were deported to the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan and he goes there too, followed by trips to Poland and Austria to visit Chechen refugees.

The only reason I give "Let Our Fame Be Great" four stars rather than five is that Bullough ignores the collaboration between various North Caucasian peoples and the Nazis, which took two main forms. One was working with the Germans on the ground and the other was volunteering to fight for the Nazis, who created the Mountain Caucasus and North Caucasus divisions from Chechens, Ingush, Ossetians, Circassians, Cherkessians and various other ethnic minorities from the mountains, many of whom were in prisoner of war camps (please note I am not talking here about the units formed from Georgians, Armenians, Azeris, Kalmyks, Cossacks and Turkish-speaking minorities). The Caucasus divisions fought, sometimes with distinction, mainly in western Europe. You can argue the people in the mountains and the camps didn't really have much of a choice, caught as they were between two homicidal dictatorships. The Germans also had some contact with the leaders of the 1940-1944 Chechen insurgency although efforts to create an alliance came to nothing. None of this in any way excuses the Soviet deportations and other atrocities but might possibly help explain why Beria and Stalin thought, or more accurately found it convenient to think, of the various ethnic groups as traitors.
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