In writing this book, De Waal was too modest. The title of the book is a gross understatement of the sophistication and richness of the literature in the book. Any scholar would be hard-pressed in finding another t-the-point, fair-minded, graceful yet compact exploration of the tormented, fascinating and the utterly complex region that Asia represents. The literature in the book is diverse in that his arguments do not just confine to the Russian great-power games but also explores the fault lines and many cross-cutting intricacies in the region.
In the start of the book, De Waal explores the ancient glories as enshrined in the history of Armenia and Georgia, the colonial experiences of Azerbaijan and the effect their recent history with Soviet had on the region. The Asia region in its contemporary form is reeling from the impact resulting from multiple conflicts. These are in the form of Georgia in its opposition of separatist territories, the tension between Armenia and Turkey, the conflicts of Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh and the Russia-Georgia war in 2008. While each of these components presents a minefield of inflamed emotions, De Waal explores the concepts with dispassion and candor as is exemplified in the review of the chapters below.
Review of Chapter One to Five and the Conclusion
In the first chapter of the book, the author gives different dimensions that characterize the lands of the South Caucasus. It is evident that there are other dimensions apart from the geopolitical dimensions that one would typically conceptualize. The conflicts between religions and democracy and dictatorship have been highlighted. This is testament of the situation in the present day society, especially before the Arab revolution in the Middle East. The author has depicted South Caucasus as geopolitical seismic zone where the quakes of conflicts between local politics and international interest cannot be muffed (De Waal 9).
The revelation that South Caucasus has attracted a lot of Western agenda is not only true but also a reflection of the situation in many of the countries in the Asian region. Additionally, De Waal highlights the politics and the history of the South Caucasus, where the current day Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan sit. He also outlines the geography of the region with a feel of the ethnic diversity and the linguistics that are hidden by the modern division of the region into states. In the introduction to the book, De Waal insists that his focus is solely on the South Caucasus. This is the case throughout the book.
However, it is hard to ignore the North Caucasus in the form of republics like Chechnya. These countries have an undeniable role and influence on the dynamics of the entire region. Including the North Caucasus into the book would have broadened the perspective by telling the deserving stories of the North Caucasus. For instance, the 2014 winter Olympic Games will be hosted by Russia in Sochi. This is a mere thirty kilometers from the contested territory of Abkhazian. These narratives and the underlying issues would have added more perspective to the book.
The second and the third chapters of the book trace the history of the South Caucasus from the early years of the nineteenth century. The region was part of Russia for a hundred years and part of the Soviet Union for another seventy years. This history is important in understanding the politics of the region, more so the knowledge on the foundations of the dissolution of the Soviet Union to bare republics in the South Caucasus.
Chapter four of the book deals with the relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The two countries have experienced numerous conflicts since the two countries gained independence from the Soviet Union. The book outlines the conflicts over Nagorny-Karabakh. This region is in Azerbaijan territory but is inhabited by an Armenian majority. An uneasy ceasefire left the region under the control of Armenia along with other different areas of Azerbaijan. The following chapter outlines the conflicts between Georgia and other two minority regions under its control. These two regions were backed by Russia in their resistance of the ruling government.
It is arguable that this is part of the reason why these two countries enjoy a strained relationship. Additionally, the act of resistance by the two minority regions undermines the spirit of nationalism in the country. The act also highlights the strides towards increased nationalism that the country has taken when the situation as of now is compared with that at the time of the resistance. The fact that Georgia is edging towards a democracy highlights the spirit of togetherness in the over four million citizens of the country. Additionally, the genuine efforts if the government is evident through the institutionalization of reforms in order to alleviate poverty and build a thriving economy.
Different issues arise from the literature in the book. Firstly, from an Armenian perspective, there is not enough coverage, more so in terms of the chapters of the book that are devoted out rightly to Armenians. However, the book covers the history of the Armenians and their involvement with Turkey, Russia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. From this history and their involvement, it is evident that Armenians are trapped in time. More precisely, they are unable to capitalize on the potential of the entrepreneurial spirit of Armenians. The tragedy of this is that they can only capitalize on this potential by re-engaging with neighbors like Turkey and Azerbaijan. The impediment to this is the fact that animosity still remains between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Secondly, Azerbaijan, a country that was the first Muslim democracy soon after World War One is sharply contrasted with Armenia by the author. The country ephemerally stabilized into a thriving democracy after the demise of the Soviet Union. Unlike Armenia that is not close to capitalizing on its potential, Azerbaijan is almost tapping out its immense oil wealth. However, the country is slowly sliding from democracy into autocracy. Thirdly, of the three, Georgia is closest to fully embracing democracy.
Nonetheless, it has had passionate lurches towards the wrong direction every now and then. This has been exemplified by the numerous strides it has made towards the enactment of key reforms in its governing policies. Additionally, the country has made numerous efforts to lifts its over four million citizens from the pangs of poverty. However, the country still remains a persistent hot zone due to the impact that the breakaway from the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia has had on its territorial integrity. The recent invasion by Russia also shows that this remains a searing issue for Georgia.
The concluding chapter of the book highlights the ailments of the region. The South Caucasus ails from the lack of an inclusive thinking. The republics in the region think individually, causing panic in the other. This results in reactive measures that only serve to aggravate the situation even further. Any local or regional initiatives developed in the last twenty years have not been inclusive. They have either locked out one of the member republics of the South Caucasus or other external powers. The author also intimates on the external forces in the politics of the region in the form of influence from the United States of America and Russia. In raising these points, the reader is able to form an informed opinion on the solutions to the ailments of the region (De Waal 225).
De Waal, Thomas. The Caucasus: An Introduction. Oxford University Press. New York. 2010. Print.