- Georgien zwischen Eigenstaatlichkeit und russischer Okkupation: Die Wurzeln des Konflikts vom 18. Jh. bis 1924 by Philipp Ammon
This is a reprint of the book originally published in 2015, now supplemented with a brief afterword by the German Caucasus expert Uwe Halbach. The author, historian and literary scholar Philipp Ammon, wants to "uncover the roots of the Russian-Georgian conflict" (P. 9) by exploring different historical layers of imperial politics and the changing geopolitical interests in the South Caucasus. Ammon's endeavor seems timely and interesting for historians and social scientists occupied with the Southern Caucasian region, especially given that the year 2019 saw another rise in tensions between the two countries. After a Russian deputy sat in the chair of the Georgian parliament's president in June, the ensuing protests led to Russia's halt of air traffic between the two countries and an official warning for Russian citizens traveling to Georgia.
The ambitious historical time frame of Ammon's study spans from the first (indirect) contacts between the Georgian kingdoms and the Kievan Rus' in the ninth century to the Soviet invasion of the independent Democratic Republic of Georgia in 1921. Ammon's emphasis, however, lies in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – largely the time period during which Georgia was part of the Russian Empire. For the most part, Ammon does not make use of primary sources, relying instead on the well-known studies by W. E. D. Allen, David Marshall Lang, Ronald Grigor Suny, and Oliver Reisner along with Alexander Mikaberidze's Historical Dictionary of Georgia.1 Historians familiar with Georgia and the South Caucasus will therefore not find many new aspects of Georgia-Russia relations in Ammon's book. The book is still worth consideration given the relative dearth of German-language textbooks dealing with Caucasian history. This probably explains the attention it has received since it [End Page 267] was first published in 2015, including a number of German-language reviews in academic journals and newspapers.2 These generally positive reviews have overlooked some questionable aspects of Ammon's book brought up toward the end of this review.
In the introduction to his book, Ammon underlines its relevance by referring to recent events such as the five-day Russo-Georgian War in August 2008 and the question of Georgia's NATO integration, by problematizing the persisting veneration of Stalin in Georgia and the deep mutual literary entanglements between Georgia and Russia. In the section "Methodological Considerations," Ammon fundamentally criticizes constructivist theories of the nation, arguing that such theories, having become "a 'normative' tendency within contemporary historiography," negate "the concept of the nation as a historical subject claiming political legitimacy" (P. 17). With regard to Georgia, he claims that Benedict Anderson's concept of the "imagined community" is not applicable to "the old European and Asian historical landscapes" (P. 18), including the Caucasus. According to Ammon, it was the Georgian Orthodox liturgy that functioned throughout history and different political entities as a tie between the Georgian people.
It is precisely this emphasis on the centrality of Georgian Orthodox faith that informs Ammon's historical narrative, particularly when it comes to historical turning points. Chapter 1 presents a "prehistory" of Georgia-Russia relations, speculating on the origins of the Georgian people and reproducing the thoroughly discredited theory of a relationship between the Georgian and Basque people. It discusses the Christianization of Georgia and possible early cultural transfers from Georgian Orthodoxy to the nascent Christianity of the Kievan Rus'. Chapter 2 covers the establishment of political relations between the Georgian kingdoms and the Russian Empire that eventually led to the 1783 Treaty of Georgievsk and the annexation of Georgia in 1801. Once again, Ammon accentuates the role of the Georgians' Orthodox faith in their rapprochement with their northern neighbor. He argues, for example, that the Kakhetian king while being "surrounded by Muslim powers had turned a blind eye to the secularization of the Rus'" (P. 48), a fact...