The demise of empires left a powerful and perplexing legacy for successor states in the Middle East and Central Asia. Sally Cummings and Raymond Hinnebusch set the scene for this fascinating collection of essays in the introduction, where they address the limits of the Westphalian state system and frame the sovereignty question in relation to the imported character of the state in former colonies. Empires were amorphous, whether as contiguous landforms or maritime empires. In contrast to modern nation-states with clearly demarcated boundaries as prerequisites for legitimacy, empires could devolve variable autonomies from the center without breaking up. Empires may adapt to nationalism and local challenges, but the nation-states that emerge are fragile. What is especially interesting about this volume is that the authors seek to explore continuities, ruptures and divergences. In stark contrast to those who suggest that the legacy of imperialism is no longer relevant, these essays focus on the understanding that comes from analyses of the imperial and colonial past.
In The Caucasus Under Soviet Rule, Alex Marshall examines the complexities of internal politics in the Caucasus with its pre and post-Soviet episodes. By relying on a wide range of Russian and Soviet sources, in addition to others, Marshall demonstrates the need for an alternative approachto the prevailing anti-Soviet discourse and shows his skillfulness in using a wide range of archival material. Vociferous Western or British scholarship on the Soviet Union, Marshall points out, has been colored by ideological convictions and geopolitical interests. This work should be seen in relation to a different and more nuanced interpretation of the history of the region in that it introduces an honest tinge of admiration for Marxism and the Soviet project. Although many would find this problematic, and there are occasional excesses, this work nevertheless fills an obvious gap in Western scholarship.
The growth of new capitalist classes since the 1980s has transformed social stratification, multi-party politics and the international political orientation of Turkey. New business groups energized by Islam have facilitated much-needed class mobility. In this process, there has also emerged a confrontational split in middle-class positions between Islamic and secular political outlooks. These new middle classes are engaged in promoting Islam as a strategic resource in the class politics of Turkey and seek protection from the negative effects of market capitalism. More dramatically, these new capitalist classes have redefined the allocation of markets and the distribution of assets while they have increased opportunities for their affiliated groups at home and in foreign markets. However, the paradox between modernity and authenticity remains unresolved for Turkey’s old middle classes and the new pious elite alike. Although the Islamic-leaning business groups have become the winners of the new regime, they have increasingly lost their cutting-edge idealism and originality and are being “normalized” as the new establishment.