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The Caucasus: An Introduction Paperback – 9 Sep 2010

4.7 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, U.S.A. (9 Sept. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195399773
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195399776
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 1.8 x 15.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 151,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

Nobody has dealt with today's Transcaucasia as lucidly as Thomas de Waal. (Donald Rayfield, Times Literary Supplement)

Astute...Lucis and scrupulous account...De Waal [is] among [the region's] best interpretors. (John Lloyd, Financial Times)

As a clear, brief guide to the countries of south Caucasus, it would be hard to do better than this book. (The Economist)

A compact but rich book. (C. J. Chivers, New York Times Blog)

It is refreshing - almost starlting - to read a book of the Caucasus with such a cool, dispassionate take. (C. J. Chivers, New York Times Blog)

About the Author

Thomas de Waal is a Senior Associate on the Caucasus at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is the author of Black Garden and co-author with Carlotta Gall of Chechnya.


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Format: Paperback
I think (as the previous reviewer with his concern about the Georgian diaspora appears to have done) it is easy to forget how ground-breaking and important the whole of Tom de Waal's book is, and just get wrapped up in the details. The group of writers doing serious research into the Caucasus who present their findings in a neutral, clear and reliable way is minute, and he is at their centre. He wears his huge knowledge very lightly and most readers would gain no idea from this small, excellent book how much serious work has gone into it.

His previous books have focussed on specific parts of the region (Chechnya and Nagorny-Karabakh), but this time he has taken on the whole South Caucasus and thus given a secure foundation for anyone wanting to find out about the region, or to do further research into it. Almost all other works that I know are either biassed (pro-Soviet, anti-Russian, pro-American), good but spread too thin (Charles King's the Ghost of Freedom) or just rubbish. His patient debunking of myths and establishing of narrative may not seem a glorious task, but it is necessary, and extremely useful to anyone coming to the Caucasus for the first time.

Nationalists from all three (or six?) countries of the region will hate it, since it skewers their favoured myths and gives fair hearing to the complaints of the opposite side. But if the countries' politicians really wanted to help build a war-free future, they should translate this into Abkhaz, Armenian, Azeri, Georgian, Mingrelian, Ossetian, Russian and Svan and use it as a textbook in every school and university they have.
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I bought the book accidentally, while looking for something else in a London bookstore. Although I grew up in Georgia and now work in Azerbaijan, the book has fascinated me. I have actually witnessed significant part of the action and appreciate the authors description of the events in Georgia from late 20th century to these days. I greatly enjoyed the writing style, accuracy and analyses of events.
I am buying a few more copies for presenting to friends.
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This book is an excellent introduction to the complexities of a little-known region. Parallels can be found with the Balkans - a rugged topography, ethnically heterogeneous and history of intra-communal strife. But the Caucasus are a lot more complex: at least 10 major ethnic groups with many subdivisions and among them, and dozens of mutually unintelligible languages. But there are degrees of mutuality, such as the shared legacy of Russian/Soviet rule and, in some places, the glue of Islam. These commonalities mean that the Caucasus is not just an arbitrary geographical designation, unrelated to facts on the ground. This ought to be a basis for some sort of consensus among political actors for compromise but it isn't. Instead, the author laments, `zero-sum thinking prevails. The region suffers from a lack of inclusive thinking.' (p. 226). So what is perceived to be an opportunity in one part of the region is perceived as a threat elsewhere. For instance, the beginnings of a Turkish-Armenian rapprochement in 2009 provoked anger in Azerbaijan, which promptly stopped selling Turkey gas.

What is the root of all this? The old chestnut that used to come up in discussions about the wars in the ex-Yugoslavia in the 1990s was `ancient hatreds', the incorrigible tribal irrationality of the peoples themselves. In relation to the conflicts described in this book, de Waal shows that relations between communities were often cordial. In the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia, Georgian and South Ossetian villagers had cordial relations based on networks of mutual interests, right up until the 2008 Russian-Georgian war; Azeri-Armenian community relations in Nagorno-Karabakh record a great deal of concord.
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This book, and most of the author's writing, is fair, intelligent and enlightening. He is the voice of reason. Articulate, with a sound grasp of culture and history, the author steers his way through the minefield of the region's history, and allows outsiders to gain a better understanding of the region and the peoples who inhabit this part of the world. Inspirational.
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I have recently had to do some work related to the Caucasus region and for someone with little or no knowledge of the area this is a great book. A very interesting and easy to follow read, about the people, politics, industries etc. of a very diverse part of our plant. I now feel much better equipped to deal with the work I am doing and any conversations that I may get into about the region. So for me 5 stars, a real help!
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The caucasus - an unknown and exotic area, but still part of Europe; we should all understand it better, I told myself. Also, I collect antique rugs from this part of the world so have a special interest for that reason. So I bought this book, thinking that it dealt with both North and South Caucasus and despite initial disappointment that it did not cover such interesting areas as Chechnya and Dagestan, really enjoyed reading it. de Waal manages to transcend many of the complexities, historical, geographic and religious to present the three modern republics in a clear context and illuminates the internecine nature of the various wars and feuds that are, sadly, the most distinguishing characteristic of this region.
A few take-aways from me included the revelation that the Russkies are not, generally nowadays, the bad guys though there is some deeply unpleasant history in (Georgian) Stalinist times involving ethnic cleansing/forced migration of entire peoples and consequential genocide - what a tyrant that man was, arguably the most evil that ever lived. Later Russian regimes seemed positively enlightened about their treatment of these areas. The modern Georgians come across as the main instigators of a number of the problems in this area - Abkazia, South Ossetia, bickering with the Russians etc. - and are trying to up the stakes by involving the West in an area that is really Russia's backyard. This is relevant to the West for a number of reasons, not least being that this has partly given rise to the increasingly problematic nature of Chechnya. One has most sympathy with the Azeris who have been consistently outmanouevred by their Armenian rivals and one wonders why the West is not a little more careful about who it chooses as an ally.
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