Reviews

The present book by Walter Richmond is, to my knowledge, the first monographic study on the Northwest Caucasus published outside of the former USSR. Traditionally, this region has remained in the shade of the Northeast Caucasus, much better known to an international audience thanks to its separatist movements, and to the spectacular activity of radical Islamist organisations in a recent past. This does not prevent the western part of the Caucasus to display serious risks for present-day Russia, and specificities engendered by the impact of the successive Caucasian wars (especially by the Muhajir movement of Northwest Caucasian mountaineers in the 1850s-60s). The main part of the book consists of a treatment of the historical past of the peoples of the region, from the origins to the Crimean expeditions against Cherkessia and to the Cherkess-Russian relations in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. A particular analysis is devoted to the Russo-Ottoman rivalry in the region, and to a detailed description of the war between the Russian Empire and the Adyghes (or Cherkess). In our days, as W. Richmond properly puts it, the Northwest Caucasus has stopped to be a banal and unnoticed region for a lot of professional analysts, since the respective projects of revived Russia, of expanding Turkey, and of potentially expanding Iran become more and more obvious there. The Northwest Caucasus finds itself again at the crossroads of these powers’ respective geopolitical interests, since control over Northwest Caucasus provides possibilities for control over the North Caucasus as a whole; control over the North Caucasus opens ways for the control of the entire Caucasus; and control over the Caucasus allows the exercising of a dominant position in the wider Middle East. The present-day analytical map of the Northwest Caucasus contains issues necessary to understand for any projection of the region’s future. Among these issues must be mentioned the historical analysis of Russia’s military practice: If Russia’s academic traditions offer a wide range of diametrically opposed approaches to the question, as soon as in the 1990s the parliaments of the Adygheia and Kabardo-Balkaria, as well as many academic conferences have designated the policy of the Russian Empire in the region as a genocide of the vernacular populations. After several Western scholars, W. Richmond calls the events of the nineteenth century ethnic purification, and genocide according to present-day juridical categories. As to the new realities of early-twenty-first-century, the author astutely writes on the potentialities of the Cherkess diaspora, many members of which have acquired a political weight in their countries of adoption. He also evokes the possibilities of the Internet in the building of a new virtual Cherkess nation ― though he also overestimates the significance of the International Cherkess Association and ignores this organisation’s remoteness from most issues actually relevant to the bulk of the Cherkess population. W. Richmond sees the cause on the crisis of Russia’s present-day policy in the Caucasus in the fact that Moscow showed incapable of breaking with its colonial vision of the world, contrary to other former imperial powers which could change their relationship to their past possessions.

Naima Nefliasheva, Centre for Civilisational and Regional Studies, Moscow
CER: II-3.3.A-207