In This Review

Nested Nationalism: Making and Unmaking Nations in the Soviet Caucasus
Nested Nationalism: Making and Unmaking Nations in the Soviet Caucasus
By Krista A. Goff
Cornell University Press, 2021, 336 pp

In its early years, the Soviet Union promoted the cultures, languages, and cadres of its countless ethnic communities. But by the late 1930s, this policy gave way to boosting the so-called titular nations in the Soviet Union’s constituent republics (titular groups were those that shared their republic’s name, such as Uzbeks in Uzbekistan)—at the expense of nontitular minorities. Goff’s deep and innovative analysis traces the way Soviet policies on nationality affected the population of Soviet Azerbaijan, home to both titular Azeris and many nontitular minorities. Azeris may have felt underprivileged within the context of the hegemony of Russian language and culture in the Soviet Union, but as the titular nation in Azerbaijan, they were privileged over their republic’s nontitular groups. Nontitular minorities found access to education and career advancement severely limited unless they identified as part of titular groups, a dynamic that led to forced assimilation. For example, the number of people claiming to belong to the Talysh minority group in Azerbaijan plummeted from 87,510 to just 85 between the censuses of 1939 and 1959. The last Soviet census, in 1989, reflected a softer political environment that encouraged the Talysh to reassert their identity: their number in the republic jumped up to 21,169. But in today’s Azerbaijan, this entire subject is considered highly sensitive, and mere academic interest in it can attract the ire of the government.