Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mountains of Mystery and Legend

Some of the most rugged terrain in the world is located in the Caucuses -- seemingly compressed from east and west in a corridor between the Black and the Caspian Seas with the weight of Russia from above and Turkey and Iran below.  War-torn in recent years from wars in Chechnya and Georgia, the area holds some of the oldest Christian churches in the world and Mount Ararat, where Noah's Ark is said to rest.  It is also the setting of other stories of legend--the Garden of Eden (Armenia) and where Prometheus was chained to a mountain-top and tortured for bringing fire to men (Azerbaijan).  

1.  The Crossing Place: A Journey Among Armenians, Philip Marsden (1993).   Marsden digs into the history and mysteries of the Caucuses.  While he travels further afield around the Black Sea and points in the Middle East, he spends most of his time in the Caucuses.  Black and white photos.  Pen inscription, For RHR--from Oxford via Istanbul--with love on his birthday.  from BBR.   Bought used at the State Department book store.

2.  Caucasus: In the Wake of Warriors, Nicholas Griffin (2001).  A great combination of travel narrative, humor and history.  Explores the intricate jigsaw puzzle of different nationalities that make up the region.  Ethnic conflict between the Azeris and Armenians (the countries overlap with enclaves of one inside the other); the oil wealth of Azerbaijan, the conflict with Georgia and Russia and Chechnya and Russia.  After emailing the author, he send additional recommendations (included here but not yet on my shelf): The Russian Conquest of the Caucuses, by Baddeley.
Color photos.  Bought at Black Raven Books in Amherst, MA.  

3.  Passage to Ararat, Michael Arlen (1975).   Devoted to the author's exploration of his Armenian heritage that his father left behind.  Reads like a novel. Bought used but can't remember where.  

Sidebar: Caucasus Humor.  The New York Times did a story on the geography and jokes of the Caucasus.  Pretty amusing.

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