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Book Reviews - General (2 titles)

Aude Merlin and Silvia Serrano (Ed.), Ordres et désordres au Caucase [Orders and Disorders in the Caucasus]

Bruxelles, Editions de l’Université de Bruxelles, 2010, 228 pages
Giulia Prelz Oltramonti
Référence(s) :

Aude Merlin and Silvia Serrano (Ed.), Ordres et désordres au Caucase [Orders and Disorders in the Caucasus], Bruxelles, Editions de l’Université de Bruxelles, 2010, 228 pages

Texte intégral

1It is usually the full-intensity phases of conflicts that draw most scrutiny, and this is true for the conflicts of the Caucasus too. Much has been written on the wars that took place in Nagorno Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the early 1990s, on the two Chechen conflicts, and on the more recent (2008) conflict in Georgia. While a cessation of full-scale hostilities does not necessarily entail the establishment of order and stability, attention fades away. This is why the mechanisms that sustained the low-intensity stalemates of the 1990s and 2000s and that mark the region since 2008, although crucial in understanding future developments, are mostly overlooked. Ordres et désordres au Caucase addresses this bias, disregarding the few months of full-fledged military campaigns to focus on the years of regional (in)stability that shape the contemporary nature and the evolution of the region.

2The volume, published in French, is edited by Aude Merlin and Silvia Serrano. Consistent with its stated multidisciplinary approach, it draws on the knowledge of political and social scientists, historians, geographers and geopolitical analysts, who have a proven record of rigorous research on the region. Besides, the publication brings together the expertise of authors from Western Europe, the Russian Federation and the South Caucasus, creating an international forum for the exchange of ideas and contributions to the field.

3The preface is key for the digestibility of the volume, clearly enouncing the complexity of the subject matter and sketching out the main lines of analysis. Through a brief review of the existing work on the Caucasus, it sets the scene for the multifaceted perspectives that are used to examine the trends of (in)stability that have characterised the region since the late 1980s. This less-than-straightforward approach is due to the stated aim of looking at the region in all its convolutions. Hence the volume focuses on internal dynamics and a multiplicity of actors that have developed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, going beyond a simplistic key of analysis based solely on regional geopolitics and geostrategic balances.

4In the following chapter, Jean Radvanyi adds to the picture by sketching out what carrying out research on the contemporary Caucasus entails. Through the prism of geography and cartography, he shows the strains (and the appeal) of dealing with disputed territories, borders, dates and data, which reflect the countless tensions of the region. To every map, to every date on conflict onset, and to every statistic on demographics or refugees corresponds a specific perspective and discourse. The multiplicity of interpretations of the realities on the ground will emerge time and again throughout the book. After this double introduction, the volume is divided in three main parts: the first focuses on topic of borders through the prism of South Ossetia, the second on the North Caucasus and the third on processes of conflict resolution and negotiations.

5The first section covers ninety years of Georgian-Ossetian relations, from the overlooked civil war of 1918-1921 to the 2008 conflict and its repercussions. Arsène Saparov dwells upon the creation of the South Ossetian autonomy in the early Soviet period and the clashes that preceded it. Thorniké Gordadzé reviews the nature of the relations between Georgia and South Ossetia during the Soviet period, the early years of Georgian independence and the interwar period, balancing the role of external factors with the domestic developments that led to the 2008 crisis. Finally, Alexey Malashenko elucidates the consequences of the 2008 conflict on separatist movements and stability of borders in the region as a whole and, in particular, on the North Caucasus, and on Russia’s domestic and foreign policy.

6Malashenko’s chapter introduces to the following section, which focuses on the domestic developments of the last twenty years in the North Caucasus. First, Mairbek Vatchagaev spells out the role of the djamaats in shaping the instability of the North Caucasus, accounting for their emergence and their evolution. Then, the focus moves to Daghestan thanks to the contribution of Anna Zelkina. She looks at the role of Islam in shaping stabilities and instabilities in the region, but also at the cleavages within the Islamic movements themselves, their politicisation and their relation with the state. Next, Aude Merlin explores the case of Chechnya, through the evaluation of the viability of the Kadyrov-isation policy as a tool for conflict resolution. While her chapter focuses on the signs of forced stability and masked instability, Musa Basnukayev reviews the process of economic stabilisation, in terms of reconstruction, normalisation and development, whether factual of fictitious.

7Finally, the third section focuses on formal aspects of peace negotiations and state building. Tabib Huseynov and Taline Papazian address the case of Nagorno Karabakh through two different lenses, respectively Armenian-Azerbaijani relations and negotiations, and the Armenian-Karabaghis relations in the framework of those same negotiations. The last chapter pertains to Bruno Coppieters, who examines the Russian recognition of independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia through a normative analysis of the case of Kosovo.

8While declining to offer a unique and simple explanation of the trends of stability and instability that crisscross the Caucasus, as has been repeatedly attempted before, Ordres et désordres au Caucase fulfils its goal to look at the region from various perspectives and in all its complexity. In this lay both its strengths and its weaknesses. As for its strengths, the variety of approaches, which results from the diversity of its authors’ backgrounds and interests, lead to a more refined understanding of certain dynamics that characterise the region. The abundant and rigorous referencing of most papers, moreover, allow the reader to explore the topics further.

9Having said that, the book opens more doors than those that it closes. As processes of economic stabilisation in Chechnya are investigated, one is left to wonder about parallel processes in the South Caucasus. As the roots of the conflict of South Ossetia are so thoroughly reviewed, a similar work on other cases would be welcome. And most of all, the reader will necessarily ponder on the whereabouts of Abkhazia in the book. With the exception of Coppieters’ contribution, the largest and most populous of the de facto states of the Caucasus is disregarded.

10Because of the complexity of the subject matter and of the courageous way that Merlin and Serrano chose to address it, Ordres et désordres au Caucase is a welcome input to the field. More as a forum for exchanging perspectives and contributions among disciplines on one given topic, one would rename the book Ordres et désordres au Caucase - Volume I, and look forward to a follow-up.

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Giulia Prelz Oltramonti, « Aude Merlin and Silvia Serrano (Ed.), Ordres et désordres au Caucase [Orders and Disorders in the Caucasus] »The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [En ligne], Issue 12 | 2011, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2011, consulté le 11 août 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Giulia Prelz Oltramonti

Free University of Brussels

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Creative Commons - Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International - CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

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