bitter choices. loyalty and betrayal in the russian conquest of the north caucasus

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries]On: 21 December 2014, At: 18:44Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Europe-Asia StudiesPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:

    Bitter Choices. Loyalty and Betrayalin the Russian Conquest of the NorthCaucasusJames White aa European University InstitutePublished online: 02 Nov 2012.

    To cite this article: James White (2012) Bitter Choices. Loyalty and Betrayal in theRussian Conquest of the North Caucasus, Europe-Asia Studies, 64:10, 1942-1944, DOI:10.1080/09668136.2012.730875

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  • authoritarian party politics in the South Caucasus. This is an excellent contribution to this

    anthology, as anyone who needs to grasp party politics in this part of the world will find it here.

    Party politics in the South Caucasus has been characterised by a great degree of contingency and

    volatility, although the author notes that almost no serious scholarly research has been

    conducted on party politics in the South Caucasus republics. Moving on from a focus on party

    politics, Oliver Reisner highlights the importance of ethnicity and the ways it is tied to

    nationalism and nationhood in present-day Georgia. The second chapter by Francoise

    Companjen examines the War in South Ossetia in August 2008 from the perspectives of the

    four major players: Russia, Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Although these perspectives

    are more or less generalised, they provide a good starting point for anyone who wants to

    penetrate beyond the surface of this conflict.

    With the collapse of the Soviet Union and a continuous fight for independence, some republics

    in the Caucasus, such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno Karabakh, are self-declared

    independent republics, which are not fully internationally recognised and therefore present

    interesting legal cases for international law. Charlotte Hilles chapter addresses this question by

    focusing on the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from an international legal

    perspective. Since the negotiation process between the parties involved plays an important role in

    creating solutions for still pending conflicts, the mediation efforts by the UN are analysed to see

    why it is so difficult to find common ground regarding the international legal status of Abkhazia

    and South Ossetia (p. 195). In her chapter Lia Versteegh continues the legal theme by comparing

    freedom of speech in Azerbaijan and Armenia. She provides interesting insights into the

    obligations of the national authorities to guarantee freedom of expression in accordance with

    Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights. In the final chapter,

    Eva Navarro provides a personal account of memory and time as themes on the subject of art in

    the Caucasus, which undeniably incorporates both the past and the present. Navarro highlights

    the differences yet similarities of Azeri as well as Armenian art and demonstrates the historical

    tension between the artist as an individual defending total freedom of creativity against any

    system, authoritarian or not (p. 22).

    In conclusion, this interesting introduction to the Caucasus should be of value to any reader,

    whether student, policy maker, practitioner or academic, wishing to obtain greater insights on

    the Caucasus.

    University of Winchester ULRIKE ZIEMER 2012

    Michael Khodarkovsky, Bitter Choices. Loyalty and Betrayal in the Russian Conquest of the

    North Caucasus. Ithaca, NY & London: Cornell University Press, 2011, xii 200pp., $35.00h/b.


    imposing mountain ranges have caused many an imperial giant to stumble: both the Ottoman

    Empire and the Persian Shahdom found themselves unable to assert meaningful control over the

    peoples living in the valleys, hillsides and coastal strips. The Russians were more successful but

    such success came at an enormous price: the enduring bitterness caused by the conquest lies at

    the root of the problems that today have turned Dagestan and Chechnya into battlegrounds. As

    such, the Caucasus is a symbol of the limits of Russian imperial rule, the point at which the

    ambition of the designs outstripped the means to achieve them.

    Michael Khodarkovskys book takes us into the midst of one of the most acrimonious

    struggles for control over the region, the Caucasus War of 18171864. To do so, he makes use

    of the career of a Cossack soldier on that frontier, one Semen Atarshchikov. Following the

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  • scant traces that this individual left in the archives, Khodarkovsky paints an illuminating

    picture of the North Caucasus, capturing both its varied geography and its diverse peoples in

    some detail, before moving on to examine the Russian advance into the region and the bloody

    conflict that it engendered. Frequently under the spotlight are the tactics that the Russians

    deployed to assert their rule: assimilation by trade, taking hostages, bribery, intentional

    misinterpretation of loyalty oaths and brute violence. As Khodarkovsky shows, it was the

    latter tactic that frequently predominated. We also gain an understanding from his text of the

    vacillation that existed in Russian strategy, as it swerved between pragmatism and bloody


    In choosing Atarshchikov as a lens, Khodarkovsky reveals the other purpose of his book, to

    study the complicated nature of identity on this imperial frontier. Atarshchikov was the son of a

    Caucasian hostage: he was born in Russian territory and raised as a Christian. At an early age,

    his father dispatched him to be brought up by an ataluk (foster father) in a North Caucasian

    settlement, where he spent his formative years. Now fluent in both Russian and several native

    languages, Atarshchikov returned to be a translator for the Russian army and served with them

    as they desperately tried to suppress the fledgling Dagestan imamate. Despite earning the trust

    and respect of his superiors, Atarshchikov defected from the Russian side not once but twice: on

    the last occasion, he converted to Islam and tried to wage war on the Russians before being

    murdered by his manservant. Atarshchikov was an individual born of two worlds, neither of

    which he was comfortable in: it is such individuals, and their role in the Caucasus War, that

    Khodarkovsky tries to emphasise in his history.

    Khodarkovsky deserves most credit for his considerable talent as a storyteller. Indeed, the

    book blurs the line between history and novel, frequently verging between sensitive and

    interesting analysis, suspenseful action and evocative description. The violence and destruction

    of the war is captured poignantly and with sympathy for the suffering on both sides. He is able to

    provide much needed clarity when it comes to elaborating on the complicated tribal politics that

    accompanied the Russian invasion and further divided the loyalties of the natives: indeed, one

    would expect no less from the author, given his previous works on steppe politics. In doing so,

    Khodarkovsky is immensely successful in shining a light on the conflict in the North Caucasus

    and the limits of Russian imperialism.

    Regrettably, the same cannot be said of his attempt to understand the position of imperial go-

    betweens like Atarshchikov. In recent years, such individuals and groups have been the subject

    of a substantial number of studies, some of which have prod