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Monday, 18 June 2018


Historians have taken up their pens

2009-01-10 10:00

2/8/7/1287.jpegIn the Caucasus, shells are no longer flying, thank goodness, and a meagre peace has set in which is nevertheless better than a full-on quarrel. However the fight is continuing, albeit with the help of a different weapon: this time historians have taken up their pens.

A respected Ossetian scholar proved, using real documents, that South Ossetia has never been part of an independent Georgian state. A respected Georgian scholar in turn proved with the support of other real documents that South Ossetia has always been an integral part of Georgia.

Who should we believe?


I'm not a historian, I'm a writer, and it's not up to me to act as a referee to adjudicate academic polemics. But I suspect that if a respected Russian historian were to get involved in the dispute, he would use a third set of real documents to prove without much difficulty that both Georgia, South Ossetia and the entire Caucasus region generally was for centuries part of the Russian Empire, and this should be the basis for any discussion of the region. But the discussion would be unlikely to stop there. Because a respected Iranian historian would present a batch of documents and would prove convincingly that the whole preceding argument was meaningless, for all the aforementioned territories are actually part of Iran because in ancient times these lands

recognized the authority of Persian rulers and regularly paid a tribute to some Darius or Xerxes.

And they would all be right!

History is an enormous dressing-up box in which you can find a fact to suit any taste whenever you want one. After all, however difficult our lives are, our ancestors' lives were even more difficult. They didn't have aeroplanes, trains or telephones. They didn't even have a run of the mill fountain pen! An aspirin tablet to take away a fever would have seemed like an miracle to end all miracles. And they lived, worked, built their cities, destroyed other people's, obtained victories, endured defeats, and they wrote about all this in chronicles, each chronicler documenting events the way he understood them. And we can't forget that historians are people too.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, many ideologists of the newly created states spent a colossal amount of time and effort attempting to argue that their peoples were native to a certain plot of land, and others were occupiers who had to surrender power, land and civil rights to the natives. It would have been all right if it had only been politicians who were arguing about which of them was more native. But millions of ordinary people became embroiled in this cunning polemical dispute, as a result of which generous amounts of blood were shed: in the Fergana Valley, Karabakh, Transdniestria, the North Caucasus, Abkhazia and, incidentally, South Ossetia, where blood has flowed once again.

I deeply respect historical studies - it helps us to learn the necessary lessons from our past. But I cannot accept party-oriented, patriotic history, which is weighed down by any number of other gimmicky definitions - this type of history feeds on the blood of my contemporaries.

Searching out the rights of people alive today in the distant past is a thoroughly hopeless task. We would get confused. Let's take the topical example of the Black Sea region. Who is native to this area? The Polovtsians, Pincenates, Khazars, Scythians, Greeks, Romans, the mysterious Huns, the legendary Alans, Georgians, Abkhazians, Turks, Tatars, Russians or Ukrainians? And if you remember, there were also the Mongols who established a colossal empire stretching from China to Hungary - on these grounds they could also claim the right to two-thirds of Eurasia.

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