Chechnya: Life in a War-Torn Society

Valery Tishkov, Author, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, Foreword by
Valery Tishkov, Author, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, Foreword by University of California Press $21.95 (302p) ISBN 978-0-520-23888-6
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Perhaps all wars inevitably descend into a fog of falsehood, propaganda and mythmaking, but the 10-year cycle of rebellion and counterinsurgency in Chechnya has proven to be particularly resistant to truth. For one thing, non-partisans rarely report from the region. To travel to Chechnya, one must first overcome the Russian government's strict entry restrictions; once inside, the gruesome fighting--often in violation of the laws of war--serves as its own deterrent, as do the overwhelming number of violent kidnappings, stories of torture, slavery and beheadings. Tishkov, a Russian ethnographer and former minister of nationalities to Boris Yeltsin, has devised an effective way around such obstacles, making his book on the conflict not only unusual for its thoroughness and detailed information but also for its approach. The book is constructed around a network of""informants""--Chechen combatants, mostly--who speak at length about the war. They discuss everything from the rise of militant Islam in the wayward province to the promulgation of undying blood feuds. All the while, Tishkov keeps his own opinions in the background, leaving the book's mosaic of testimony largely for the reader to decode. Where he does offer analysis, however, his commentary is thoughtful, as is his personal struggle for objectivity. Early on, he admits:""The moral dilemma that confronts me lies also in the obvious fact that as a Russian living in Moscow, neither my cultural nor my geographic identity is neutral where Chechens and Chechnya are concerned."" This kind of sensitivity makes his account of Chechnya's horrors one of the most important, and honest, in recent years.
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