Vol. 4, No. 3 (February 01, 2011)

A great design with poor performance

A Review of
Charlotte Hille
State Building and Conflict Resolution in the Caucasus
(Brill Academic Publishers, 2010)

Fareed Shafee
Independent Researcher

This book deserves praise for collecting and organizing various themes on the history of the Caucasus, north and south, but it resembles a textbook rather than a research effort, lacks sufficient reserves and the kind of deep analysis one would hope for.  In short, one can say it is a great design but a poor performance. 

Charlotte Hill focuses on the history of state building in the Caucasus beginning in the early twentieth century.  She describes the connection between statehood building process with local cultures and the brief experience of state independence in the aftermath of World War I, a brief period of independence that has had profound consequences for the more recent period of independent statehood. 

One of the book’s strongest features is that many important and little known facts are brought together.  The reader discovers the existence of the Araz Republic, the South-Western Caucasian Republic, and the Confederation of North Caucasus Republics in a period between the collapse of Russian Empire and the creation of the Soviet Union. 

Moreover, subtopics in chapters trace the development of statehood and conflicts in the Caucasus.  For example, in chapter about Georgia between 1918 and 1921 Hille highlights the following events: Brest-Litovsk Treaty, Conference in Trabzond, Georgia Turns to Germany for Help, Georgian-German Agreement, Treaty of Batumi, and the like.   

Hille also describes the role of foreign powers such as Ottomans, Russia, and Germany in 1917-1921, and Russia, the United States, Turkey, and Iran today.  As an important internal factor in the development of statehood, as well as in the emergence of conflicts in the region, Hille points to the role of clans and an interaction between the organization of the state and the clan, noting that “the clan takes more power when the state withdraws” (p. 21).  And as a specialist on international law, Hille discusses with intelligence self-determination, territorial integrity and related issues.

Unfortunately, the book’s treatment of historical and scholarly sources about conflicts in the Caucasus is superficial.  In the chapter on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Hille extensively uses pro-Armenian sources—works of Chorbajian, Hovannisian, and Minassian—without providing an equivalent discussion of an Azerbaijani perspective

The section on the conflict resolution in the South Caucasus draws heavily on the source and opinion of international organizations and NGOs, but fails to include academic discussions of these events.  Other chapters unfortunately suffer from similar shortcomings. 

While Hille’s book can serve as a helpful source with regard to the legal background of conflict related issues, unfortunately, it cannot be used as a historical reference.