Keep an Eye on the North Caucasus

The forty-day period of mourning traditionally observed there is coming to an end for the families of people killed in Beslan. When I was in Russia (far, far from the scene of the crime, I hasten to add), I heard numerous predictions that revenge would be taken shortly after the mourning period ended. That’d be soon.

Peter Baker’s story in the Washington Post is very good.

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About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

4 thoughts on “Keep an Eye on the North Caucasus

  1. Ominous.

    What beats me is that all through the hostage crisis the media were reporting “explosions” but it was still a hostage crisis before the media reported all hell broke loose.

    As a frequent visitor to Moscow with numerous Russian friends, you could very well be correct.

  2. We’ll have to stop this ‘patting each other on the back’, or they’ll start to talk :), but yes I agree. This needs to be seen in the context of the entire Caucasus, as I think the Economist was suggesting at the time.

    The precise form in which this unfolds is hard to see or predict. Not all societies treat ‘revenge’ in the same way. Equally I saw those poor people in Beslan as remarkably downtrodden and depressed. So it is very hard to call this in the short term. But I think we need to get away from a ‘Chechen problem’ perspective, and think about the entire region, and not least amongst this Georgia.

  3. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on Georgia.

    For my preliminary take on this, you can go to and scroll down two or three posts. (Posted yesterday, so I think Doug Merrill’s post and mine must have been almost simultaneous.) Some thoughts on Georgia in the comments there.

    Doug M.

  4. “I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on Georgia.”

    Hi Doug. I have nothing special to add to what you are saying over at Tacitus and to what the other Doug is saying here. I have no special knowledge on Georgia other than that which comes from the fact that my son spent three (foolhardy?) weeks there on a final year project in 2003.

    I just see it as much more self-assertive than N Ossetia, and much more in Putin’s line of fire.

    “They’re Ossetians. Ossetians are a completely different people. They’re not Russians, they’re not even Slavs; they’re one of those weird little Caucasus ethnicities, a unique people with their own peculiar language.”

    This, I think is very important. Everything is similar, but the initial conditions are different.

    So we have this ‘damned’ empirical component.

    “And, like everyone in the Caucasus, they have a deep tradition of revenge”

    One of the things I am trying to say here is that it may not be advisable to categorise ‘revenge’ under one simple heading. Truth, as often, may here be in the detail.

    That oft despised area ‘social anthropology’may have much to teach us in this context.

    So I think caution is called for, and let’s wait and see. But the problem is real.

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