Brief Reviews: de Waal and Zürcher

Okay, I admit it. I have had no time to post in the last few days.

At the moment, I’m bogged down with trying to straighten out my “big” second year paper and come up with some sort of coherent research design. Needless to say, my earlier attempt in December didn’t quite come out as planned. The challenge for me is to both capture the big picture and figure out the minutiae of method, causality, and process tracing.

I also now have a stack of about 60 undergraduate midterm exams to mark from my PS 345 National Security class last Thursday. While I promised to turn them around by week’s end, I am a bit skeptical that it will happen so quickly.

This also means I have put most of my reading on hold. As for the reading I have completed but not written about, here are a few very quick reviews:

Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War, is a fantastic, well written book and an excellent introduction to the contemporary conflict in Armenia. Given that its much more of a sociological approach than a political science one, Thomas de Waal doesn’t spend a whole lot of effort trying to put together theories or systematic policy prescriptions. His task is to provide a clear and coherent reconstruction of the complex narrative which was the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the resulting turmoil in Nagorno-Karabakh. From my limited knowledge of the subject matter, he does this admirably well.

Christoph Zürcher’s The Post-Soviet Wars: Rebellion, Ethnic Conflict, and Nationhood in the Caucasus is clearly more broadly relevant and focused on constructing a theoretical basis for understanding war and peace in the post-Soviet space. His basic argument is that those states which successfully recovered from the Soviet collapse were those which boasted a high level of elite continuity, a new elite which were capable of forming coalitions with the old elite, and managed to prevent a high degree of internal fractionalization between new elites. I suspect at times he may underplay the importance of the history of ethnic cleavages versus elite cleavages in the outbreak of war. Minor criticisms aside, The Post Soviet Wars is a very respectable piece of scholarship which is an essential read for anyone interested in the politics of the Caucasus. If you’re new to study of the region, I strongly recommend coupling this read with Monica Duffy Toft’s The Geography of Ethnic Violence (see my review here) and perhaps sections of Rogers Brubaker’s Nationalism Reframed.

I am also about two thirds of the way through Gershom Gorenberg’s Accidental Empire. While I don’t want to make an uneducated analysis by attempting to go too in depth at this point, I will say that 245 pages in, this is the best, most complex, and most thoughtful book I have ever read analyzing the historical roots of Israel’s control over the territories and the the development of the yishuv movement. I’ll certainly have more to say when I’ve finished, but consider this a strong preliminary endorsement!

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