"he was in the Caucasus"

From the nineteenth century to the present day, Russia's imperial ambitions in the Caucasus have led to conflict in this region, which lies on the border of Europe and Asia, mainly between the Black and the Caspian Seas. It is one of the most diverse regions on Earth both linguistically and culturally, with a wealth of indigenous populations. Independent countries in the region include Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan; the rest of the region is divided into autonomous regions of the Russian Federation, such as Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, and North Ossetia.


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The region has been contested throughout history as Russia sought to control and expand her borders. Clashes between Iran, the Ottoman Empire and Russia were often fought in the Caucasus, and the local population continue to fight against Russian domination to this day. From 1817-1864 Russia slowly conquered the region, although it has never been completely subdued, as recent events show.


A Scene from the Caucasian War by Franz Roubaud
Public DomainA Scene from the Caucasian War by Franz Roubaud


Lord Byron in Albanian Dress by Thomas Phillips
Public DomainLord Byron in Albanian Dress by Thomas Phillips

 Tolstoy and his brother Nikolai both took part in this war. His novella Hadji Murat is about one of the most famous rebel leaders involved in it. Mikhail Lermontov also fought in the same conflict, and wrote about it in his novel A Hero of Our Time, a work Tolstoy strongly disliked and is here subtly undermining. Alexander Pushkin was exiled to this region, which inspired his writing, although he did not fight. As a result of the literature born from this conflict, the region acquired a sort of exotic glamour for Russians living safely out of harm's way in Moscow and St Petersburg. The inhabitants of the Caucasus were seen as being exotic, romantic savages with strange customs and costumes that could be admired even while they were being crushed. This was a part of the wider European fashion for Orientalism, the fascination with the 'exotic' East. Veterans of the war, such Dolokhov in this scene, would return from the front line imbued with second-hand glamour from their contact with the rebels. Dolokhov is maximising this appearance by wearing 'Persian' clothes, just as the English poet Lord Byron does in his famous 'Albanian' portrait by Thomas Phillips.