Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Allah's Mountains: The Battle for Chechnya, Sebastian Smith

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Allah's Mountains: The Battle for Chechnya, Sebastian Smith

Article excerpt

The literature on the contemporary wars in the Caucasus continues to grow. There have been two excellent English language studies--Anatol Lieven's Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power and Carlotta Gall and Thomas de Waal's Chechnya: Calamity in the Caucasus. Sebastian Smith has just converted this to a trilogy of excellent studies. All three deal with the 1994-96 war, all three are by respected journalists who covered the war from as far forward as reasonably possible, and all three highlight each author's particular strengths. Lieven's book is a detailed, analytical study of the conflict that sets the standard. Gall and de Waal's book provides a good synopsis of issues surrounding the conflict. Smith's book puts the conflict within the context of the entire Caucasus region and shows how the entire region, not just Chechnya, is a powder keg of nationalism and separatism.

Sebastian Smith, a Moscow-based correspondent for the English language service of Agence France Presse, covered the war by often accompanying both Russian forces and Chechen boyeviki as they performed their duties and prepared for combat. Yet Allah's Mountains is not just another "I was there-war tourist" book. The strength of Smith's book is that he provides an ample introduction to the entire Caucasus region before delving into the war itself. The introduction is based on personal interviews and thorough research. By describing the larger arena--and the major issues within that arena--Smith shows the logic and seeming inevitability of the conflict. In fact, Smith takes 144 pages to get to the conflict and then spends only 122 pages on the conflict itself. The book is more about the regional dialectic than it is about the war. Indeed, much of the conflict description is anecdotal and eye-witness rather than explanation. The book stops abruptly after the 1994-96 war and provides no data on the interwar period or the ongoing conflict. The book manuscript apparently sat awhile in an editor's in-box and was initially published as a hardcover book in 1998. It has now been heavily revised and reissued as a paperback, but it still carefully avoids the current conflict or even the events leading to it. …

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