Monthly Archives: January 2012

Russia in color, A century ago

These hundred year old  photos were taken by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944). They were commissioned by Tsar Alexander the II (Ben’s favorite Tsar).

Tsar Alexander reigned from 1855 until his death by assassination in 1881. Known as Alexander the Liberator for his decision to emancipate the serfs in 1861, Alexander was fairly left-leaning for a Romanov. He presided over an important period in the Russo-Caucasian wars of the 19th century, including the defeat and exile to Moscow of Shamil the Lion, who united the Caucasian tribes in military opposition to Russia in 1859 and the genocide of the Circassian tribes of the North Caucasus.

More about Circassian Genocide and Shamil the Lion to come.

– Anna

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Thomas de Waal’s “Black Garden”

I just finished reading Thomas de Waal’sBlack Garden” which analyzes the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. He supplies the reader with a mixture of historical context, first hand reporting, personal reflections of citizens and politicians, and his own observations about the future. My favorite anecdote:  power outages ran are very common in the Caucusus but then were extremely lengthy during the winters in the early 90s due to the conflict. Armenian citizens heated water by hanging razor blades from metro lines and used the small amount of electric current to eventually bring the water to a boil.

From an outsiders perspective the situation seem incredibly frustrating and  Waal’s description leaves all sides (including the West) looking irrational and myopic, with every community having justifiable grievances but a complete lack of empathy for the other’s, remarkably similar, complaints. Wall’s explanation of  Armenian and Azerbaijani historians manipulations of ancient ethnography and hundreds of year old events gives insight into the sway of  historians in modern politics/disputes. In the U.S. a degree in history is considered by some a waste of a liberal arts education; in the Caucusus, that profession makes you responsible for justifying military conflicts and the forced migration of entire populations through what are many times weak and shaky assertions.

The book was published in 2003 and now, almost 10 years later, it seems like little has changed. The Georgian times just posted an article in which analysts rate Karabakh as “the # 1 most likely place for war to break out in the next 10 years.”

“…Along the Line of Contact in Karabakh, the grim litany of skirmishes and deaths by sniper fire will rumble along. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are now deploying drones along the LoC, so expect the conflict to gain a new, aerial dimension (we’ve seen the first signs already). Sabre-rattling, military exercises and soaring defence budgets will all continue, but – as previously – don’t expect a new shooting war.”

Here is a short documentary that gives a some quick background into the conflict.

If you are interested in delving deeper into the dynamics and history of Karabakh and it’s conflicts, I suggest reading “Black Garden” (and taking notes).

– Ben

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Caucasian Escapades

Writers: Ben Wheeler & Anna Harbaugh

Plan:  Post about our experience and any Caucasus-related items of interest including books, recordings, news, found items and artifacts. 

Trips: Primarily around Georgia, with visits to Armenia and Azerbaijan. 

Job: Teach English in Georgia’s Public Schools

Here is a New York Times article about our program, Teach and Learn with Georgia:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/24/world/europe/24georgia.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=teach%20in%20georgia&st=cse

It makes the program seem “challenging but at least unique.” That phrase, from what I can infer from the reading I’ve been doing to prepare for the trip, may be a quick way of summing up the history of this diverse region.  The next post will be a short list of Caucasus-related fiction and non-fiction we’ve been reading.

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