Reviews

This book by a collective of authors from Moscow and the republics of the North Caucasus is a part of new series of books on the “Periphery of the Russian Empire” edited by Aleksei Miller, Alfred J. Rieber and A.V. Remnev. It is the first attempt to produce an introductory text on the history of one of the most troubled frontiers of the Russian Empire. Unlike the traditional approach to the subject that usually entirely focuses on the Caucasian war, this work instead tries to present a comprehensive history of the region, including developments in the social, administrative and religious spheres. The work addresses a variety of topics ranging from the place of the North Caucasus in the Russian foreign policy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to the early interaction of mountaineers and Cossacks, as well as the course of the Caucasian war and the last mountaineers’ rebellions in its aftermath. Of particular interest are the parts on the Russian experiments with the administration of the region and with the land reforms, both topics usually overlooked in the traditional treatment of the subject. A special place is devoted to the interaction of Islam and Christianity, as well as to limited Russian missionary attempts. Two chapters deal with the cultural development of the second half of the nineteenth century, and to the Revolution of 1905-07 in the North Caucasus. A final chapter addresses the notion of Orientalism in the treatment of the North Caucasus.

In terms of criticism, some minor points are to be mentioned. First, the work deals with the North Caucasus, but it is clear that imposing a strict geographical limit on the historical narrative would be wrong since developments in the South Caucasus were often affecting the events in the North. The work therefore addresses relevant issues in the South Caucasus ― notably in the Zakataly district which had in many respects more similarities with the North than with the South Caucasus. However, developments in such an important region as Abkhazia are hardly dealt with. Abkhazia in many respects had a great deal of similarities and intricate connections with the Northwest Caucasus ― serving as an important supply route for mountaineers, retaining a system of administration similar to that in the North Caucasus until the end of the Caucasian war, and being heavily affected by the Muhajir (‘Migrants’) movement. The detailed historical narrative does not go beyond the events of Russia’s Revolution of 1905-07. It is understandable that touching on the events of 1917 would necessarily require exploring the history of the civil war in the North Caucasus (1917-20), which is a tremendously complex subject requiring a separate volume. However, more details on the developments in the North Caucasus during the First World War would have been useful. The few fine points on the famous “Savage Division” do not do justice to this period. Otherwise the book is richly illustrated and contains numerous maps (four pages of colour maps are provided from a well-known atlas of A. Tsutsiev) that are of crucial importance for understanding the complex history of the region. A special word should also be said of the appendixes that offer a wealth of useful information: statistical data on the territory and its population, detailed list of Russian official rulers with their official titles and time in office. To conclude, the work is a very useful introduction to the history of the North Caucasus and can be recommended for anyone who strives to understand the historical complexity of the region.

Arsène Saparov, Centre for the Russian, Central European, and Caucasian Worlds, Paris
CER: II-3.3.C-216