The Post-Soviet Wars: Rebellion, Ethnic Conflict, and Nationhood in the Caucasus

The Post-Soviet Wars: Rebellion, Ethnic Conflict, and Nationhood in the Caucasus

The Post-Soviet Wars: Rebellion, Ethnic Conflict, and Nationhood in the Caucasus

The Post-Soviet Wars: Rebellion, Ethnic Conflict, and Nationhood in the Caucasus


The Post-Soviet Wars is a comparative account of the organized violence in the Caucusus region, looking at four key areas: Chechnya, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Dagestan. Zürcher's goal is to understand the origin and nature of the violence in these regions, the response and suppression from the post-Soviet regime and the resulting outcomes, all with an eye toward understanding why some conflicts turned violent, whereas others not. Notably, in Dagestan actual violent conflict has not erupted, an exception of political stability for the region. The book provides a brief history of the region, particularly the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resulting changes that took place in the wake of this toppling. Zürcher carefully looks at the conditions within each region - economic, ethnic, religious, and political - to make sense of why some turned to violent conflict and some did not and what the future of the region might portend.

This important volume provides both an overview of the region that is both up-to-date and comprehensive as well as an accessible understanding of the current scholarship on mobilization and violence.


This book examines the causes of internal wars in the aftermath of the Soviet Union. Between 1988 and 1997, there were seven internal wars on the territory of the former Soviet Union. Five of them are examined in this book: the war between Armenians and Azerbaijanis over the territory of Nagorny-Karabakh, the wars between Georgia and its breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the civil war within Georgia, and Russia's war in breakaway Chechnya.

Every case of war is distinct and follows its specific trajectory shaped by a unique confluence of grievances, perceptions, and, above all, opportunities. But all cases of war covered in this book also subscribe to a common “script,” which is clearly shaped by the unique historical structures of the Soviet system—and by a historically unique event, the collapse of the Soviet Empire. Crucial elements of this script are the collapse of the Soviet system, which increased the incentives and opportunities for nationalist elites to capture the state and for nationalist secession; the institutional legacy of Soviet ethnofederalism, which predetermined ethnic cleavages; the lack of state capacities in the newly emerging states, which led to serious commitment problems; the weakness of the elites in the newly independent states, which led them to tolerate or even actively sponsor entrepreneurs of violence; and their failure to reimpose state control over entrepreneurs of violence, which derailed the consolidation of statehood and paved the way for new waves of violence.

The analysis of idiosyncratic features of individual cases of war does not, in the end, make the study of post-Soviet wars relevant, nor does the attempt to contribute to a specific theory of post-Soviet wars, although both are important endeavors in their own right. The study of post-Soviet wars is justified in bringing this important subclass of cases of war to the attention of theorists of internal wars. Hence, the guiding questions that this book seeks to answer are the following: How well . . .

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