Post-Soviet Narratives of the conquest of the Caucasus

Moshe Gammer, Vera Kaplan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The article explores approaches to the conquest of the Caucasus in post-Soviet historiography, focusing in particular on the ways it is represented in Russian history textbooks today. The authors base their argument on the premise that every historical narrative possesses both cognitive and normative qualities relating to its role in "scientific" explanations, on the one hand, and attempts to make political or moral sense of the events, on the other, which are inextricably interwoven in creating the meaning of the narrative. Starting from this assumption, the authors first examine the main changes in history writing in the period of transition from the USSR to Russia. They argue that while the opening of archives and the access to theories and methodologies banned by the Soviets as "bourgeois falsifications of history" allowed new approaches to blossom, the creation of a Russian state instead of the allegedly supranational Soviet Union engendered new narratives with increasingly nationalist overtones. In this context they explain the special cultural and political significance of the theme of the conquest of the Caucasus for the formation of new post-Soviet identities. They then depict the vicissitudes of the "Caucasian War" in Imperial, Soviet and post-Soviet historiographies, analyzing in particular narratives of the conquest of the Caucasus that have appeared in the last two decades. These narratives, it is argued, have been influenced not only by political developments, but also by substantial changes in the conceptual language of historical writing as a result of the replacement of the basic Soviet axiom of historical discourse, defined as "socioeconomic forma-tion," with a rediscovered version of the "civilization" paradigm. In the wake of this conceptual shift, the textbooks on Russian history adopted an explanatory model according to which Russia is depicted as having a distinctive civilization, situated between Europe and Asia, between the world of progress and modernization and the world of tradition, where progress has no value. In the concluding part of the article it is demonstrated how the application of this model makes it possible to invent a new (or, perhaps, revamped) mode of narrating the conquest of the Caucasus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26-46
Number of pages21
JournalJahrbucher fur Geschichte Osteuropas
Volume61
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History

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