Thomas de Waal
University Press 2010
On August 8, 2008 many Americans learned that Russia had gone to war with a mysterious country called Georgia over an even stranger territory called South Ossetia. Both Georgia and South Ossetia were located not on the southeastern seaboard of the United States, but in a mountainous region south of Russia called the Caucasus. The war was short, a mere four days, but during that time it became an campaign issue between Barack Obama and John McCain, a moment made memorable when McCain declared “We are all Georgians now.” For the Cold Warriors of yesteryear the world was remade familiar: Russia was enemy no. 1 again, Mikheil Saakashvili’s was a victim of Russian imperialism, and the Cold War was back as if it had never left.
Those familiar with the South Caucasus know that the region is allergic to Cold War binaries. Its ethnic, linguistic, and religious complexity defy even the best social scientific models. Persistent conflicts mark the region. Azerbaijan and Armenia are at odds over Nagorno-Karabakh. Georgia has had to contend with separatist movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both Russian protectorates. Of course, we can’t forget that the region also hosts two important energy pipelines–the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline–making the South Caucasus a geopolitical focus of the United States, the EU, and Russia.
The 2008 South Ossetian War might have brought the region to the attention of many, but its origins have deep roots in the intricacies of the region’s history. Luckily, to make sense of the South Caucasus’ complicated past and volatile present, we have Thomas de Waal‘s The Caucasus: An Introduction (Oxford UP, 2010). De Waal clearly and succinctly outlines the morass that is the South Caucasus by laying out the histories, relations, and issues that drive present day Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan and their place in the world. Whether as a refresher or an initiation, The Caucasus: An Introduction is an important primer.