Reinventing the Caucasus
By de Wall, Thomas
Publication: World Policy Journal Date: Spring 2002
Location: Armenia, Azerbaijan

Thomas de Waal is Caucasus editor for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting. His book, Black Garden, on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, will be published by New York University Press later this year.
In the winter of 1919 and the spring of 1920, the British journalist C. E. Bechhofer traveled around southern Russia and the southern Caucasus. His In Denikin’s Russia and the Caucasus, 1919-1920 is a classic and terrifying account of a region imploding. The White armies’ resistance to the Bolsheviks was crumbling and the newly independent states of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan were falling apart. Bechhofer witnessed floods of refugees, famine, typhus epidemics, and terrible massacres by all sides.
Bechhofer, a fellow freelancer, was an inspiration and guide for me as I spent much of 2000 and 2001 traveling through the south Caucasus and doing research for a book on the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Experiencing independence anew in the 1990s, the three Caucasian countries went through a depressingly similar descent into chaos and self-destructive nationalism. Ten years into their second round of independence, it frequently felt as though I was studying the sequel of the same conflicts Bechhofer had observed 80 years before. At the same time, I shared his love and excitement for a region that can be dangerous but is never dull. As he assures us in his foreword: “[L]est the reader should come to these pages in too gloomy a spirit, I venture to assure him that many of the incidents of Caucasian life during the past three years belong as much to the world of opera bouffe as to history.” 1

Full Text: Reinventing the Caucasus

1. C. E. Bechhofer, In Denikin’s Russia and the Caucasus, 1919-1920 (London: Collins, 1921, reprinted by Ayer, Salem, N.H., 1992), p. x.
2. Lucian Pugliaresi, Energy Security: How Valuable Is Caspian Oil? (Cambridge: Harvard University Caspian Studies Program, January 2001).
3. Bechhofer, In Denikin’s Russia, p. 44.
4. Nazarbayev, interview in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, February 24, 2000, quoted in Radio Liberty’s Caucasus Report.
5. For a stimulating discussion of the issues raised by the separatist statelets, see Dov Lynch, “Frozen Conflicts in Eurasian Security,” The World Today (London), August/September 2001.
Map (Azerbaijan and Armenia)


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