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The North Caucasus Barrier: The Russian Advance Towards the Muslim World.

THE FORTUNES OF the fiercely independent mountain tribes of the North Caucasus which resisted Russian colonial power over two centuries are charted in this fascinating new book. As Marie Broxup, editor of the journal Central Asian Survey as well as of this book, remarks, "this epic struggle, in comparison to which even Abdel Qadir's resistance to the French conquest of Algeria pales, is little known in the West and in most of the Muslim world."

The Caucasian wars from 1783 on, left a psychological heritage on the Russian mind which is amply illustrated in the poetry and literature of the period. Members of the Russian elites, writes Marie Broxup, were, "both enthused and repelled by the Mountaineers' uncompromising and wild love of freedom, a freedom totally alien to the Russian sense of order." Their experiences in the North Caucasus helped shape Russia's colonial policy in other Muslim lands of Azerbaijan and Turkestan or Central Asia.

Paul Henze gives an eloquent picture of the brave but ultimately doomed Circassian resistance to Russian expansion. Shifting Russian tactics are analysed in depth here, as in another chapter by the French specialist Chantal Lemercier-Quelquejay. Henze focuses upon the resistance of murids led by Imam Shamil, and how it endured so long and against such odds.

Henze is scornful of the frequent Russian claims that this struggle went on at such intensity because of the aid and propaganda given the Circassians by Turkish and British agents. An attractive sketch of the remarkable Scottish enthusiast (rather than agent) David Urquhart and his journal Portfolio in the 1830s is given.

Nevertheless, outside help and encouragement counted. Henze's judgement is that, "in spite of its small scope and unofficial nature, British and Turkish support for the Circassians in the 1830s was valuable to them. It helped them overcome their internal divisions and deterred weak men, and exposed tribes, who were inclined to compromise with the Russians."

The great exodus of Muslim Circassians and Abkhazians who emigrated in appalling conditions from the Russian conquered lands from the 1850s numbered some 1.2m, of whom only some two-thirds survived, according to a recent calculation. Henze's fascinating essay shows how Circassians who were forced to leave their homeland for refuge in the Ottoman empire never forgot the Caucasus.

Marie Broxup studies the 1920-1921 uprising, what she calls "the last Ghazawat". The role of militant Sufism is explored here, as in most of the chapters, for the Sufi tariqat (Qadirya, Naqshbandiya and Kunta Haji) have been vital elements in the various jihads or uprisings in the Caucasus. It is argued by several writers here that Sufism has given strength and organisation to allow the survival and essential continuity of Islam, in spite of official persecution and atheist campaigns mounted in the North Caucasus.

In contrast to the civil war in Turkestan, the revolt against Russian and Communist rule was supported by the entire Muslim population in an authentic jihad. "In spite of the small area affected by the rebellion," explains Broxup, "it was one of the most serious internal military challenges faced by Soviet power." This may explain why there were no compromises and no prisoners taken. The brutalities of the civil war in Daghestan made for a lasting anti-Russian xenophobia.

Abdurahman Avtorkhanov, a Chechen by birth, has a chapter on the Chechens and Ingush during the Soviet period. These were two of the four Muslim peoples of the North Caucausus whom Stalin ordered to be deported in 1944, in what many estimate to be a deliberate attempt at genocide. He makes a grim case for their suffering at the hands of communist officials.

In a final chapter the editor attempts to bring the story up to date, and relate it to history. In the new Russia, the tiny Checheni-Ingush Republic under its maverick leader Dzhokhar Dudaev, a retired air force general, cannot be ignored.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Middle East
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:The not so distant past.
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