Reviews

This companion book on the geography of the former USSR and the latter’s European zone of influence is divided into two parts: on the first hand, “Eastern Europe,” on the other one, “Russia and neighbouring countries.”  A rather marginal room is devoted to the Caucasus and Central Asia (the latter still including Mongolia, but not Xinjiang that has been integrated into another volume of the same collection).  For reasons of editorial commodity, the Caucasus and Central Asia have been reunited in a common entity, and described in four short chapters of a dozen of pages each: “The Split of Asia (412-21);” “The Fires of Caucasia (422-33);” “Oases Asia (434-48);” “In the Central Asian Steppes (449-61)”.  The first of these chapters is a historical overview of the nomadic and sedentary worlds, with two particular paragraphs on natural resources (water and gas) and on the Aral – Caspian complex.  The second chapter shortly describes the human geography of the Southern Caucasus (“The Green Setting of Colchidia,” “Erevan and the Armenian Diaspora,” “The Oil-Based Wealth of Baku,” etc.); the Northern Caucasus has been isolated in a previous chapter on the south of the Federation of Russia (pp. 306-17, with one page only on “The Unappeased Terek Caucasus”).  The third chapter summarises the main economic resources of sedentary Central Asia: hydrocarbons in Turkmenistan; cotton in Uzbekistan; . . . the countryside (!) in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.  The last chapter sketches a picture full of contrasts on Kazakhstan’s regional diversity and on the difficult relations between cities and rural zones in Mongolia.  Based for the most part on popularisation works, the book, although rich of acute notations, is also sprinkled with cut-and-dried assertions that reveal the authors’ lack of familiarity with some of the regions that they have had to deal with.  For sure, these assertions will poorly contribute to the correction of current stereotypes on the Muslim-background populations of the Caucasus and Central Asia (see: “un Azerbaïdjan inchangé et convoité, pays d’islam et de pétrole égaré par les chants discordants des sirènes turques, iraniennes, russes et occidentals [an unchanged and coveted Azerbaijan, a country of Islam and oil, led out of its way by the discordant Turkish, Iranian, Russian and Western sirens],” 422; “En octobre 1995, un incendie dans le métro de Bakou fait plus de 300 morts. L’Azerbaïdjan est dangereux. [In October 1995, a fire in the metro of Baku killed more than 300 people. Azerbaijan is a dangerous country],” 430; etc.).

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-2.1-116