The nineteen articles of this collective book, by some of the best specialists of the region, present various aspects of religious revival among the various nations of the post-Soviet North and South Caucasus. The volume is the result of a project supported by the Caucasus Bureau, in Baku (then directed by Bayram Balci), of the French Institute of Anatolian Studies for the exploration of both domestic and external factors that can explain new national identity policies. For this purpose, the Caucasian ethno-confessional mosaic indeed offers an observatory of great value. Christianity and Islam in their variety of rites, as well as Judaism and minority faiths ― Molokans, Baha’is, Yezidis ― are presented.
The first part of the book is devoted to a general presentation of the tumultuous post-Soviet geopolitics of the region (with a paper on territorial conflicts by Jean Radvanyi: “Conflits et territoires dans le Caucase postsoviétique,” 35-46), the impact of the major regional powers’ policy: of Russia (Urjewicz Charles, “Moscou face au Caucase: fin de partie ou début d’une ‘reconquista’ impériale?” 47-56), Iran (Djalili Mohammad-Reza, “Le Caucase dans la stratégie eurasiatique de l’Iran,” 57-72), and Turkey (Aydin Mustafa, “Turkish Policy towards the Caucasus,” 73-84). Two other chapters focus on Turkey’s religious policy in the Turkish-speaking states of the Caucasus and Central Asia (Balci Bayram, “Entre islam et laïcité: La politique religieuse de la Turquie dans les républiques turcophones d’Asie Centrale et du Caucase,” 85-100) and of the Russian approach towards Dagestani “customary law” in the nineteenth century, using ‘adat against the shari‘a to install her control (Kemper Michael, “‘Adat against Sharia: Russian Approach towards Daghestani ‘Customary Law’,” 101-25).
The general framework having been thus set, the second part of the book deals with case studies. Two chapters propose an analysis of the situation in Azerbaijan. Altay Göyüshov (“L’élan brisé: les intellectuels azéris et l’enseignement islamique avant la soviétisation,” 125-36) underlines the paradox of the pre-Soviet secular trend of modern intelligentsia being reversed by Stalinist terror, when the repression not only eliminated intellectuals but also gave way to religious conservative tendencies as a symbol of national identify. Bayram Balci (“Islam et politique en Azerbaïdjan,” 137-52) presents his field work on the post-Soviet Islamic renewal. In another joint contribution with Raoul Motika (“Le renouveau islamique en Géorgie postsoviétique,” 229-54), he also gives some insights into the current renewal of Islamic practice in Ajaria, especially among the Shiite minority of this autonomous republic of Georgia. The current mutation Islamic practice is also the topic of some other papers devoted to Dagestan (Gammer Moshe, “Nationalisme(s), islam(s) et politique au Daghestan,” 153-66; Bobrovnikov Vladimir, “The Islamic Revival in a Dagestani Kolkhoz: Between Local Tradition and External Influences,” 167-86), in Chechnya (on the first- and post-Soviet wars: Vatchagaev Maïrbek, “L’islam en Tchétchénie : sur fond d’aggravation de la situation politique, analyse et témoignage (1990-2005),” 207-28), and in the North-West Caucasus (Babich Irina, “L’islam dans le Caucase du Nord-Ouest,” 187-206). The Georgian Orthodox Church as an ambivalent identity and political resource is presented by Silvia Serrano (“L’Eglise orthodoxe géorgienne: un référent identitaire ambigu,” 255-80).
In a long contribution (“In Search of Relevance: Church and Religion in Armenia since Independence,” 281-315), Hratch Tchilingirian gives a thorough view of the new relationship between the state and the Church in post-Soviet Armenia: Although Christianity is well rooted in Armenian identity, and it would be difficult to find an Armenian who does not define himself as a Christian, practice is much lower in Armenia than in the Diaspora. The author also argues that the Qarabagh conflict is not a religious war but a national confrontation. Lucine Japharova (“Les Yézidis du Sud Caucase: une communauté religieuse face à ses incertitudes,” 333-44) observes the difficulties of the dispersed Yezidi minority caught between various national identities and different state policies, with a certain degree of pressure for assimilation in Georgia, more tolerance in Armenia, and a tendency to integrate them into the Kurdish community elsewhere, which sometimes leaves them with only the choice of exile or isolation. As for this community which gives way to many speculations about the true nature of their religion often described and persecuted as “Devil’s worship” ― is it pre-Islamic faith or a sectarian branch of Islam? ―, the origin and Jewishness of Caucasian Jews have also been the subject of various theories. Vladimir Dimitriev (“Les Juifs des montagnes: un groupe ethnique et confessionnel stable,” 317-32) recalls that they are one of the most ancient population of the South Caucasus, quoted in mediaeval sources as the heirs of the Khazar empire. Some other authors link them to Israel’s “lost tribe”, or to more recent emigration from Iran. Relying on a field research in North-East Azerbaijan and in Southern Dagestan, V. Dimitriev stresses their historical role as intermediaries between highlander and lowlander social and national groups, a role that has contributed towards their preservation as a distinct community.
Two other contributions introduce the vestige of pre-Soviet imperial rule and policy in the region: the Molokans of Azerbaijan who where sent in exile to the Caucasus in order both to isolate them from the Orthodox Russian majority and to help colonising the region during and after the Russian conquest (Braux Adeline, “Les Molokanes d’Azerbaïdjan: rencontre et observation d’une sous-minorité russe,” 345-60) and the Baha’is who fled persecution in Iran in the nineteenth century (Jafarov Azer & Balci Bayram, “Les Baha’is du Caucase : B.A.-BA d’une communauté méconnue,” 361-8). All in all, this book sheds light to a series of well-chosen case studies in the region. The introductory chapter by B. Balci underlines the transnational issues of the religious factor, which does not escape the impact of globalisation. Naturally, the authors could not give an exhaustive view of all the current trends among all the numerous groups that cohabit in the ‘Mountain of Tongues’. A general conclusion opening some perspectives for further research, especially for those groups which are not dealt with here, and introducing, among other things, some comparative elements, as well as some socio-economical and public policy aspects in the analysis, would have been much welcomed.