Prof. George Hewitt

Review of Sebastian Smith Allah's Mountains

Review of Sebastian Smith Allah's Mountains (I.B. Tauris, 1998), in Central Asian Survey 17.4, 722-28, 1998.

Working for Agence France-Presse, Sebastian Smith  was a distinguished contributor to the Western media's impressive coverage of the Chechen war (1994-96), winning two prizes, including France's highest journalistic award (named after  Albert
Londres). Vividly reliving here the events of the conflict, he by  no means restricts himself to an account of Russo-Chechen relations. In order to contextualise this latest in the catalogue of miseries to afflict the Chechen nation,  Smith naturally incorporates a history of Russia's relentless drive to conquer the various North  Caucasian mountaineers. He draws parallels between tactics employed by the 19th century Murid movement under Imam Shamil (an Avar) and latter-day Chechen military leaders -- the Russian leadership's total disregard for the lives of both the native Caucasians and its own cannon-fodder conscripts is a further constant in the equation. But also described are more current problems facing the remaining North Caucasian regions. This broader scope is the main factor differentiating the present book from the more concentrated 'Chechnya: a small victorious war' by Carlotta Gall and Tom de Waal (vid. my review in CAS 17.1, 185-188, 1998), which preceded it by almost a year.

Like his colleagues, Gall and  de Waal, Smith has thoroughly researched the background to his topic, as confirmed by his selected  bibliography (274-78), divided into the sections: Ancient History, Russian Conquest, Soviet Period and Deportations, Soviet  and Post-Soviet History, Religion, Chechen Conflict, Travel Writing and Ethnography, General. I would suggest adding, along with Gall/de Waal, the pamphlet 'Chechnya.  One Year of War' by R. Smeets and E. Wesselink (Pax Christi International, Dec 1995) in the section 'Chechen Conflict', and a similar pamphlet 'The Ingush-Ossetian Conflict in the Prigorodnyj Raion' (Human Rights  Watch/Helsinki, 1996) in the section 'Soviet and Post-Soviet History', where readers should note  that Bruno Coppieters is the editor of 'Contested Borders in the Caucasus', whilst Suzanne Goldenberg wrote 'Pride of Small Nations', not vice versa, as printed.

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