Review of Edgar O'Ballance Wars in the Caucasus 1990-95

Review of Edgar O'Ballance Wars in the Caucasus 1990-95 (Macmillan Press, xxviii + 238 pages, 1997), in Central Asian Survey 18.2, 1999, 257-261.

In recent years I have reviewed some seven titles on the Caucasus emanating from the pens of journalists and/or travel-writers. Of these only one (Carlotta Gall and Tom de Waal's 'Chechnya: A  Small Victorious War', Pan Original, 1997) proved to be unreservedly recommendable. The difference between this work and the others is  that Gall and de Waal concentrated on one specific event, the Russo-Chechen war of 1994 -96, much of  which they personally chronicled at the time for their respective news-organisations. Their combined account of the conflict itself was supplemented by some essential background-material on  Russo-Chechen relations drawn from recognised authoritative sources. The essential failing of the other volumes perhaps stems from the fact that their compass is more (and, thus, too) widely drawn -- viz. the peoples of the Caucasus and their mutual relations (prior to the Chechen war) by Suzanne Goldenberg ('The Pride of Small Nations. The Caucasus  and Post-Soviet Disorder', Zed Books, 1994); Chechenia and neighbouring North Caucasian regions (including Abkhazia) by Stephen Smith ('Allah's Mountains', I.B.  Taurus, 1998); late-/post-Soviet Caucasian (especially Transcaucasian) conflicts by Charles van  der Leeuw ('Storm over the Caucasus', Curzon Press, 1999); the peoples and problems  of Georgia by Mary Russell ('Please Don't  Call It Soviet Georgia', Serpent's Tail, 1991) and, in two publications, Peter Nasmyth ('Georgia: A Rebel in the Caucasus',  Cassell, 1992; 'Georgia. In the Mountains of Poetry',  Curzon Press, 1998). The present work belongs with this latter, broad-canvas group and shares the same faults, which also tend to vitiate so many of the reports from this part of  the world across the media --books, written articles  or verbal reports should aim to be informative and factual; factual inaccuracies mislead and, thus, items containing  them cannot ex vi termini  be entirely  informative (or recommendable). The Caucasus is one of the most complex ethno-linguistic  regions in the world, and this complexity can so easily overwhelm. Georgia and its plethora of misfortunes, however, seem to have a particular capacity to perplex outside commentators, as proves to be the case with the present volume.

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