By Sebastian Smith
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Extra info for Allah’s Mountains: The Battle for Chechnya, New Edition
Russians’ basic needs are remarkably similar. Polls consistently show that Russians have little interest in fighting Chechens for the sake of it. The patriotic blush is off this nasty war. What they do want is security: an end to the terrorist bombs and hostage-takings. The land of Chechnya itself has little meaning to most living outside. Yet Russians yearn for the sense of living in a strong, stable state. This second war seemed to promise that, but the promise was empty, and Russia – if you peer under the veneer created by Putin’s authoritarianism – is in many ways as weak as under Yeltsin.
One can spend days without seeing a single Russian and Islam is perhaps more intense than in any other part of the former Soviet Union. Legend has it that when God created the world, he sprinkled nations over the globe, but clumsily dropped his shaker over what ancient travellers called the ‘mountain of languages’. ’ Today the mountains remain a living language laboratory. In Dagestan, one village may speak Avar, the next village Darghin, the next Lezghin. There are three main linguistic groups: Turkic, such as Karachai and Balkar; Indo-European, such as Ossetian, which is related to Persian; and the truly indigenous Caucasian tongues.
Did they also consider themselves trapped in the wheel of history, or had their republics become integrated Russian provinces? Was Chechnya merely an aberration, a one-off blunder? I drifted from the incredible ethnic mix of the Dagestani capital Makhachkala, to the mountains of Karachai-Cherkessia, to the fervor of Moslem dervish sects in Ingushetia and the tree gods of North Ossetia. At first only the diversity, the endless tribal and linguistic subdivisions and internal borders, seemed to stand out.
Allah’s Mountains: The Battle for Chechnya, New Edition by Sebastian Smith