Ethnicity, Nationalism and Conflict in the South Caucasus: Nagorno-Karabakh and the Legacy of Soviet Nationalities Policyby Ohannes Geukjian

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  • Ethnicity, Nationalism and Conflict in the South Caucasus: Nagorno-Karabakh and the Legacy ofSoviet Nationalities Policy by Ohannes GeukjianReview by: Brian Glyn WilliamsSlavic Review, Vol. 72, No. 2 (SUMMER 2013), pp. 407-408Published by:Stable URL: .Accessed: 22/06/2014 22:49

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  • Book Reviews 407

    Ethnicity, Nationalism and Confl ict in the South Caucasus: Nagorno-Karabakh and the Legacy of Soviet Nationalities Policy. By Ohannes Geukjian. Post- Soviet Politics. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2012. xi, 247 pp. Appendixes. Notes. Bib-liography. Glossary. Index. Maps. $114.95, hard bound.

    Ohannes Geukjians work is a history of the Armenian-Azerbaijani confl ict over the disputed ethnic enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, based largely on secondary English-language sources and a sprinkling of interviews carried out in Armenia proper by the author in 2000. Its strength lies in its even-handedness in describing the confl ict be-tween these two nations, its weakness in the lack of fi eldwork in Nagorno-Karabakh and the authors lack of access to primary Azerbaijani, Armenian (aside from a very few citations), and, most importantly, Russian sources. In this respect the book does not off er much that is new to those who are familiar with the confl ict. For those who do not know the story of this confl ict, the book serves as a useful primer.

    Geukijians book begins by analyzing the two countries competing historic claims to this contested land that was ultimately conquered by Armenia in 1993. Each side has made claims to this territory traceable to the dawn of history. There is nothing groundbreaking in this basic recital of ancient historic claims to land; these are typical of the claims of many of the nations constructed by the Soviets in the twentieth century from preexisting tribes, clan conglomerates, or ethnic groups. That is a shame, for in unquestioningly reciting this history, Geukjian misses a won-derful opportunity to critically explore the way these competing national claims to this territory were deliberately rooted in the Soviet policy of korenizatsiia (literally rooting, that is, the Soviet policy of using the sciences of history and anthropol-ogy to territorialize and scientifi cally root nations within the parameters of their artifi cially constructed Soviet homelands). Because this question is unexplored, the reader is left asking why the Azerbaijanis, who were a mere 25 percent minority in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, fought so ferociously for this land that they collectively felt was part of their Vatan (national homeland).

    These issues aside, the books later chapters provide a balanced overview of the spiral to violence between Azerbaijan, which had been granted control of the Armenian- dominated ASSR enclave by the Soviets in the 1920s, and Armenia. In a nutshell, the problem began in the late 1980s glasnost period when nationalists in Nagorno- Karabakh began clamoring for the transfer of this enclave from the Azerbai-jan SSR to the Armenian SSR. The fi rst blood was spread when Azerbaijanis slaugh-tered twenty-three Armenians in the town of Sumagit in 1988.

    Interestingly, the Soviet government sided with the Azerbaijani authorities at this time. Unwilling to set a precedent for redrawing republic frontiers due to grass-roots pressure, the Kremlin backed the Azerbaijani authorities in clamping down on the Armenian protestors. But as Moscows power waned in the fi nal days of the USSR, the local Armenians seized Soviet weapons depots and established self-defense units made up of armed irregulars. As Azerbaijani units were formed to combat them, co-habitation in the province became increasingly impossible la the Balkan model.

    At this time Azerbaijan terminated Nagorno-Karabakhs autonomy and launched Operation Ring with Russian troops to subdue the self-declared Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (as many as twenty-three Armenian villages were cleansed at this time). In response, the Armenian majority of the province voted for independence. At roughly this time (December 1991) the last Soviet troops and authorities left Azerbaijan and with it Nagorno-Karabakh, and the Azerbaijani authorities launched a blockade of the rebellious Armenian enclave/republic. They also began a campaign to retake the breakaway provinces capital of Stepanakert.

    As tensions rose, the local Armenians slaughtered some 200 Azerbaijanis and broke the Azerbaijani siege on Stepanakert. They did so with the help of post-Soviet

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  • 408 Slavic Review

    Russia and of the wealthy Armenian diaspora community, who were reminded of the 1915 genocide and saw the Azerbaijanis as Turks. Although the Azerbaijanis launched a briefl y successful counteroff ensive in 1992, the Armenians were victorious in 1993 because they were fi ghting to defend their own territory and because the Azerbaijani offi cer corps lacked fi ghting experience. In fact the Armenians went on the off ensive into Azerbaijan and seized some 9 percent of Azerbaijani territory. Close to a million Azerbaijanis became refugees at the time.

    Peace was declared in 1994, and today the frontiers remain tensely frozen with Nagorno-Karabakh joining Moldovas Transdniester and Georgias Abkhazia and Ossetia as de facto independent statelets. Just one of the many national genies re-leased from the bottle when the great Soviet druzba narodov (friendship of nations) collapsed in 1991.

    Brian Glyn WilliamsUniversity of Massachusetts, Dartmouth

    The Petrine Instauration: Religion, Esotericism and Science at the Court of Peter the Great, 16891725. By Robert Collis. Aries Book Series: Texts and Studies in Western Esotericism, vol. 14. Leiden: Brill, 2012. xx, 583 pp. Appendixes. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Illustrations. Photographs. Figures. $251.00, hard bound.

    The title of this big monograph is certainly intriguing. Instauration, an archaic Lat-inism meaning a renewal or restoration (or renovation) of some kind, followed by the words of the subtitle, suggests that religion along with occult knowledge and prac-tices were somehow combined with science to provide the driving force behind what happened of importance in Russia under Peter the Great (always thus identifi ed, never simply Peter I). Sure enough, a mass of data, most of it apparently gleaned from the rich collections of Russica maintained at the National Library in Helsinki, Finland, is marshaled in support of this periodically asserted thesis. The focus is on four foreign-ers who assisted Peter the prophetic instaurator (522) in implementing his divine mission (359) of scientifi c reform in Russia (405): the Ukrainian divines Stefan Ia-vorskii and Feofan Prokopovich, the Scottish medic and iatrochemist (121) Robert Erskine, and the Russian-born Scottish soldier of fortune and scientifi c sorcerer (49) James Bruce, here called Jacob from the Russian Iakov. The surviving records of the libraries of Erskine and Bruce together with related documents are subjected to minute description and analysis, always with the books overall thesis in mind, as are the library and writings of the eclectic (271) Prokopovich and the sermons of that esoteric wordsmith (211), Iavorskii. Lastly, drawing on the same and other sourcesnotably the testimonies of foreigners who met him, the objects in his cabinet of rari-ties, and various printed images generated by his regimethe religion and esoteric interests (405513) of Peter himself are studied, the whole supplemented by 61 illus-trations from contemporary sources, 6 appendixes highlighting the esoteric works in the collections of Erskine, Bruce, and Prokopovich, and an exhaustive bibliography.

    Robert Collis, at the time of publication a research fellow at Sheffi eld University in England, must be applauded for amassing in a single well-indexed volume so much primary material relating to lesser known aspects of the Russian and larger European cultural world at a critical time in its history. The careers of Iavorskii and Prokopo-vich, like the biography of Peter, had been thoroughly investigated before, of course, if not from this sometimes revealing perspective; but the detail on the two Scotsmen, some of it drawn from British repositories, is frequently fresh and arresting. In these respects Collis has given interested students a valuable new work of reference as well

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