The Caucasus

The Caucasus

An Introduction

Book - 2010
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In this fascinating book, noted journalist Thomas de Waal--author of the highly acclaimed Black Garden--makes the case that while the Caucasus is often treated as a sub-plot in the history of Russia, or as a mere gateway to Asia, the five-day war in Georgia, which flared into a major international crisis in 2008, proves that this is still a combustible region, whose inner dynamics and history deserve a much more complex appreciation from the wider world.

In The Caucasus, de Waal provides this richer, deeper, and much-needed appreciation, one that reveals that the South Caucasus--Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, and their many smaller regions, enclaves, and breakaway entities--is a fascinating and distinct world unto itself. Providing both historical background and an insightful analysis of the period after 1991, de Waal sheds light on how the region has been scarred by the tumultuous scramble for independence and the three major conflicts that broke out with the end of the Soviet Union--Nagorny Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. The book examines the region as a major energy producer and exporter; offers a compelling account of the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the rise of Mikheil Saakashvili, and the August 2008 war; and considers the failure of the South Caucasus, thus far, to become a single viable region. In addition, the book features a dozen or so "boxes" which provide brief snapshots of such fascinating side topics as the Kurds, Turkish-Armenian rapprochement, the promotion of the region as the "Soviet Florida," and the most famous of all Georgians, Stalin.

The Caucasus delivers a vibrantly written and timely account of this turbulent region, one that will prove indispensable for all concerned with world politics. It is, as well, a stimulating read for armchair travelers and for anyone curious about far-flung corners of the world.
Publisher: Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2010
ISBN: 9780195399776
Branch Call Number: History 947.5 DeW


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Sep 06, 2015

The book should have been called “The South Caucasus”, as its subject is the states of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, not the Russian Caucasus. While the author sees it as a natural region, events since he wrote the book have split rather than united the region, with Armenia joining the Eurasian Union while Georgia has signed an association agreement with the EU.
Most Western readers know Azerbaijan the least of the three countries, although it is by far the most important, with close to three quarters of the economic output of the South Caucasus. Mr. de Waal notes that it was the first ever Moslem democracy, a country that gave women the right to vote before they had it in the UK. He neglects to mention that it was also the first, and so far, the only European country with a central bank that targets a consumer price series with a net acquisitions approach to owner-occupied housing, although by 2018, the European Central Bank is likely to emulate Azerbaijan.
Mr. de Waal waxes poetic in describing the Rose Revolution, which to him resembled the popular movements that unseated Communist dictatorships in 1989. The analogy rings false, given that the president deposed, Eduard Shevardnadze, was democratically elected. Although he ran a nepotistic regime he was far less autocratic than his successor proved to be. He denies that President Shevardnadze was the victim of a US coup. He says the US NGOs played only a subsidiary role in throwing a democratically elected president out of office before his term expired. So that’s all right then. No mention is made of George Soros personally paying the salaries of the members of the Georgian cabinet following the so-called Rose Revolution.
Mr. de Waal makes it clear that both Russia and Georgia were at fault in the build-up to the Russo-Georgian War. Russia engaged in thuggish sanctions against Georgia to try to keep it in line. President Saakashvili was from 2004 forward clearly planning the assault on South Ossetia that finally happened in August 2008. Mr. de Waal nitpicks about the policy statements of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and such that may have led to President Saakashvili’s rash move, but in no way questions the wisdom of NATO trying to extend NATO partnership to countries on Russia’s periphery like Georgia and Ukraine. The US sanctions against Russia that followed the Russo-Georgian War are neither described nor condemned, although they were clearly unfair given that Georgia started the war.
The book has many helpful maps, and a wealth of fascinating side-articles on subjects of interest, like how Georgian was Joseph Stalin. Mr. de Waal is a lucid, graceful writer, who never indulges in rhetorical excesses and has a good sense of humour. So It is regrettable that the book is chock full of typos, repeated words and similar errors, which any decent copy editor would have noticed and removed.


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