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The Caucasus: An Introduction 1st Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195399776
ISBN-10: 0195399773
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Editorial Reviews

Review


"A compact but rich book examining the southern side of the range, where combustible difficulties afflict three small post-Soviet countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. ...If ever there was a place that needed a competent and even-tempered guide, this was it. Mr. de Waal provides one. Currently an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, he has traveled through and written of the Caucasus more than most any outsider since the Kremlin's grip over the region loosened during the Soviet collapse. His book contains history and knowing flair:..will likely have many lives. Why? The wars that broke out in the 1990s are not over. Mr. De Waal's book is welcome now, and most useful. If one of the wars flares up again, it will be essential."--The New York Times War Blog


"Assiduously researched and lucid primer. While it may be easier for the distant academic to be dispassionate, de Waal is more than that. Through the past two decades, he has written extensively on, and from, the region for British newspapers and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. He is also the co-author of Chechnya, probably the best contemporary volume on that violent Russian republic. The Caucasus reflects a depth of understanding of the region that doesn't stray into the didactic. In recent years, other volumes have appeared on the South Caucasus, notably Charles King's The Ghost of Freedom, and Thomas Goltz's diaries of Georgia and Azerbaijan. But de Waal has produced the most important work. And, as with any good book, it leaves the reader hungering for more."--Foreign Policy


"Nobody has dealt with today's Transcaucasia as lucidly as Thomas de Waal."--Times Literary Supplement


"Well-written, accessible and engaging...[De Waal's] magisterial histories are an essential part of a comprehensible explanation of the intractable problems that beset the region."--International Affairs


"Thomas de Waal has written one of the most vivid, clear-minded accounts of the history and current troubles of the lands between Russia and Turkey. The Caucasus defines easy explanation, and de Waal deftly untangles the webs of mystification and obfuscation that have so often marred our understanding of why this rich and beautiful region, a cradle of diverse civilizations, has failed so miserably to realize its promise."--Ronald Grigor Suny, Professor of Social and Political History, and Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan


"Europe and Asia, mountains and flatlands, Christians and Muslims, ancient cultures and modern states--the Caucasus has long been a classic borderland in many senses. Blending first-hand reporting, historical narratives, and original research, The Caucasus is an indispensable guide to the fractious politics and complicated histories of the region's nations and peoples."--Charles King, Professor of International Affairs and Government, Georgetown University, and author of The Ghost of Freedom


"This is the definitive text for anyone interested in this complex region. De Waal describes the deep roots of current conflicts and his analysis of the present situation is right on target. It should be required reading for anyone involved in Caucasian affairs."--Richard Miles, former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan and Georgia


"The Caucasus is a mini-encyclopedia, and de Waal a peerless guide for navigating this mountainous maze of tangled enmities and ethnicities."--Andrew Meier, author of The Lost Spy: An American in Stalin's Secret Service






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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195399773
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195399776
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 0.7 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #350,308 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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In the stench of crude state-sponsored propaganda war surrounding the region's modern history De Waal's book is a much needed breath of fresh(er) air. The Author rightly mentions in the beginning of the book that "The whole picture is deeply complex and makes the Balkans seem simple by comparison". Indeed, way too often we witness overly amateurish and simplistic (thus mostly wrong) views on the region expressed in various publications - both online and in print - as well as on some international forums from OIC through EU up to UN. De Waal's book - despite all its drawbacks (some highlighted below) - is one of the best independent references for anybody who is genuinely interested in the region and its immediate future.

To all fairness to the Author, he seems to get closer to "calling a spade a spade" in "The Caucasus: An Introduction" compared to his previous landmark publication "Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War". For example, he seems to have adjusted his somewhat simplified view of Karabakh conflict as a war between "Russian-supported" Armenian and "pro-Turkish" Azerbaijan. Instead, in "The Caucasus..." he calls Russian assistance "erratic" and highlights important facts about Azeris inheriting from the Soviet Army substantially more weaponry and ammunition than Armenian side did.

However, De Waal still misses three fundamental factors shaping the core essence of the current Armenian-Azeri conflict which in turn determines the division of the region.

1) The Big Elephant in the room - which De Waal chooses not to notice - is perceived imbalance in force - in terms of wealth, population, unconditional political, diplomatic, economic and military support from at least one local power - between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
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I find myself agreeing with many of the points listed in the extensive review posted by reviewer VA. I have had the opportunity to read and review Mr. De Waal's previous book, Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War, and his new one largely does not differ from it, with the exception of the chapters it reserves on Georgia and the role of oil politics in the region. As one of the reviewers has aptly put it, Mr. De Waal does come much closer to "calling a spade a spade", distancing himself from a frustrating decision to present, equivocate and justify actions and events in the "Black Garden". The book starts off with a basic introduction to the Caucasus, providing concise summaries on the geography and the bewildering variety of peoples who inhabit the region. The focus of the book, it should be said, is on the South Caucasus, that is, the Republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Consequently, readers who are keen on learning about Russia's problems with the Chechens, Daghestanis and other minorities living in the North Caucasus should look elsewhere, toward more specialist literature. But with this aside, De Waal does excel in presenting the history of the modern Caucasus and his early chapters on Russian rule in the region and Soviet nation-building truly stand out.

He does have difficulties, however, in presenting the more darker, politically incendiary sections on the history of the Caucasus in regards to Armenia.
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Geography is destiny, as de Waal lays out in his opening chapter. The Caucasus is defined by the so-named mountain range, and the Lesser Caucasus which runs through Armenia and western Azerbaijan.

The mountains have historically presented a formidible barrier. Only in the last couple of centuries, under the Russians, has there been a road passage north to Russia, or even an east-west internal link within Georgia. There is water to the east and west, mountains to the southwest, desert to the southeast. These natural boundaries frame an area which corresponds in size and population to Florida.

These barriers have limited trade, warfare and migration. The result is numerous pockets of small populations of diverse people. De Waal says the Arabs called it Djabal al-alsun, the "mountain of the languages." They include the remanants of once widespread ancient peoples such as the Sarmartins and several others which have resisted, in their hidden valleys, the sweeps of armies and empires. On the other hand, however, seaborne trade has been a dominant factor along both the Black Sea and Caspian coastlines. The waters brought pockets of trading peoples such as Pontic Greeks and Jews.

It is the meeting place of civilizations and religions: the southern boundary of the Russian Empire, the Western boundary of the Ottomans, and the northern boundary of the Persians. It is a patchwork of Christian and Muslim. Although each has claimed political authority off and on over the centuries, and traces of their influence linger, de Waal makes a strong case that the peoples of the Caucasus have retained their own individual characteristics, and that there are several traits unique to the Caucasus which characterize many or most of the peoples.
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