In This Review

Russia and Azerbaijan: A Borderland in Transition
Russia and Azerbaijan: A Borderland in Transition
By Tadeusz Swietochowski
Columbia University Press, 1995, 290 pp.

Because the names and details seem so obscure and the distance from any obvious Western interest so apparently great, most have no trouble ignoring the turbulence in the Caucasus and the place of Azerbaijan in it. Reading Swietochowski's broad but brief history of this country, however, one suddenly realizes how substantial the stakes are. As at the end of the nineteenth century, Russia, Iran, and Turkey meet in this conflict-ridden region, and here even more than in Central Asia their immediate interests are engaged. At the center of this three-way game stands Azerbaijan.

Swietochowski provides the rich, essential details of Azerbaijan's--the two Azerbaijans'--struggle to create and protect an identity within the Russian and Iranian states that divided it. To read of the 1905 Tartar-Armenian war and the turn-of-the-century tensions over Nagorno-Karabakh, the obstacles a newly sovereign Azerbaijan faced at the close of World War I, and the alacrity with which imperial Russia manipulated the area's troubles in order to increase its own influence is, it almost seems, to be studying the present day. Given the point of Swietochowski's book, one wishes he had devoted more than a half-dozen pages to post-independence Azerbaijan, but even with this conspicuous hole, the reader comes away understanding much better why the two Azerbaijans and their troubled neighborhood matter.