Reviews

According to the author of this book, motivation for its writing came from the awareness of the paucity of interethnic conflict (in the historical meaning of this denomination) in the Northern Caucasus till the late nineteenth – early twentieth century. As to confrontations occurring between ethno-political entities or groups in the pre-modern period of the region’s history, despite the complex social and economic conditions characteristic of the whole area, they used to find solutions satisfactory for all the parts. Moreover at critical moments of their common history, Northern Caucasian peoples used to unite in order to face together the common threats coming from the outside world. In modern-day Caucasian realities, this historical experience of good neighbourhood relations and cooperation should be studied from a rich combination of viewpoints, and to be revived in the most varied spheres of social life.

The present book provides the reader with a tentative ethno-political history of the Central Caucasus (a territory which encompasses nowadays the Karachay & Cherkess, Kabard & Balkar, Northern Ossetian and Ingush Republics of the Federation of Russia) in the two centuries preceding their conquest by Russia. The main issues tackled by the author are: the peculiarities of inner relations between the political entities of the region; their relations with external powers; and the destruction of the mutual political and economic links between Northern Caucasian peoples. The author’s position is clearly formulated in the book’s introduction: it opposes the ideas, common in modern historical literature, of a submission of mountaineers’ élites to Kabard princes and of a Kabard “yoke” in the Northern Causasus. Although the attempts by the masters of Kabardia to establish their dominance appear as a particularity of the period of time, it remains to be observed that the respective territories of the Karachay & Balkar, Ossetian, Abazian, and Vainakh (Chechen) societies preserved a full autonomy in matters of inner as well as of outer policy.

Mountaineer societies were closely linked with each other, as well as with their neighbours the Western Adyghes, the peoples of Georgia, Chechnya and Dagestan, not forgetting the steppe nomads, Noghays and Kalmuks. Kabardia herself did not assume the role of a warrant of their political independence and territorial entity. The author defines this system of interrelations as a Central Caucasian—or Kabard & Mountaineer— confederation, which transformed itself under influence under the stabilising or disintegrating influence of a combination of factors. The peace treaties of Belgrade (1739) and Küçük-Kaynarca (1774) between Russia and the Russian Empire, followed by Tsar Alexander I’s Manifesto on the inclusion of Georgia into the Russian Empire (1802) became the most influent external factors of the confederation’s destiny. The incompleteness of ethnic consolidation of the region and the massive military operation led by Russia in 1821-2 were the events that led to the annihilation of Kabardia’s independence and to the fall of the Central Caucasian Confederation. The Islamic factor, a key element in the life of the region since the mid-eighteenth century, was playing during all this period a dual role ― on the first hand reinforcing the Confederation, on the other hand fuelling inter-confessional contradictions and conflicts. Based on a large and varied documental basis, and on a systematic critic of exiting historical literature, this important study led its author to the formulation of global theoretical conclusions that go well beyond the frame of its subject.

Julietta Meskhidze, Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, St. Petersburg
CER: II-3.3.B-209