An Institute for War and Peace Reporting journalist debuts with a gripping, often sanguinary account of the history, culture and current status of the people for whom the Caucasus has been home, battleground and slaughterhouse.
Several times, Bullough confesses fear or anxiety in this harrowing history of a region he has come to know well and traverse many times, often in the company of people whose language he only partially knows, if at all. Nonetheless, this is a fearless examination of a brutal place, in which the Russians come off particularly poorly. Beginning more than two centuries ago, the Russians—then the Soviets, now the Russians once again—employed every weapon in the arsenal of human cruelty, including murder, massacre, relocation and ethnic cleansing, to subdue people who, according to the author, mostly desired to be left alone. Bullough begins with people less-known in the West—the Circassians—and, deftly maneuvering through history, legend and geopolitics, tells the story of their defeats and diaspora (many are now in Jordan). The author takes us to little-known sites of long-forgotten atrocities, places unknown now even to the local residents, and reminds us continually how victors write history books, erect memorials and control cultural memory. The author then turns to groups of mountain Turks—the Balkars and the Karachais—whose very existence the Soviets denied well into the 1940s. Finally, Bullough explores the complicated and tragic stories of the Chechens, a more familiar name. They, too, suffered unspeakably at the hands of those who wanted their land. The author notes that, in desperation, the Chechens have committed some unspeakably stupid and destructive acts of their own. In this final section, Bullough tells individual stories of people separated from land and loved ones.
A remarkably illuminating window into a world of neglected people and deleted history.