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The historiography of modern Afghanistan is undergoing a transformation that involves tension between varieties of data, on one hand, and interpretative frameworks for that information, on the other hand. Textual sources in multiple languages are increasingly in dialogue, as are local and global voices addressing the history of Afghanistan. Growing awareness of inter-regional and international forces impacting the geographical space of Afghanistan has generated conversations among scholars working within and across historical eras and geographic frames of reference. Transnational and trans-temporal orientations have contributed to an interdisciplinary historical discourse where textual information shares analytical space with cultural, material, and visual data from modern Afghanistan. Greater volumes and more types of textual data have led to a historiographical shift away from isolationist views of the country to analyses that treat the territory and people of Afghanistan in relation to a wide assortment of external contexts, actors, and resources. For example, the increasing use of Persian, Turkish, Urdu, and colonial sources is revealing an ever-widening and highly influential range of relationships between Afghans and non-Afghans inside and outside the territory of Afghanistan that are being examined through prisms such as technology transfer and intellectual exchange, architectural and infrastructure development, literary and sartorial practices, and patterns of social and spatial mobility. These and other exciting historiographical developments are impeded from realizing their full potential by enduring explanatory recourse to undertheorized, decontextualized invocations of ethnicity; a perpetual emphasis on warfare; and an exclusionary analytical focus on Kabul as a metaphor for the country as a whole that combine to convolute understandings of global forces and their impact on state–society relations in Afghanistan. Together, these issues point toward a conspicuous gap in the historiography of Afghanistan, namely, a fundamental absence of attention to how power works there. Questions about power are political, and ironically, while the historiography of Afghanistan revolves around state politics, however limited to a handful of pinnacle elites, there is little political critique at work in this discourse as a whole. Whether based proportionally more on coercion or consensus, power involves classification and representation, and in the historiography of Afghanistan, there are few questions asked about the categories of analysis, that is, when they arose, how they congeal, what purpose they serve, for whom, and why. Power has a spatiality to it, and it is rare to find a sustained discussion of how power operates differently across distinct geographies in Afghanistan, or in short, how power in Kabul looks elsewhere. Power also involves culture, in particular the manipulation of language, and here again despite constant invocations of Pashtun-ness, there is a scarcity of attention to how Pashto the language and the culture it carries are situated in the state structure and historiography of Afghanistan, that is, the relationship between Pashto and the national elites in Kabul. Power also has a history of its own, often expressed in episodes of extreme violence in service of empire, and once more, the historiography of Afghanistan tends to elide the enduring impacts of imperialism, let alone offer paths of resistance to it as an aspirationally unrestrained coercive agency in principle. The people of Afghanistan have suffered grievously and inhumanely from national and international forms of power wielded against them, and the vast majority of Afghan people have been written out of the history of Afghanistan through uncritically reductive culture-based misrepresentations of state leaders in Kabul. Intellectual pathways are needed for building an awareness of and remediation of the serial imperial epistemological and physical-material violations perpetrated on ordinary Afghan people and reproduced in the historiography of this hyper-conditional national space.


Simon Payaslian

The Armenian people entered the modern era with their historic lands of more than three millennia divided between two empires—the Ottoman and Persian empires. The Ottomans ruled the western and larger part, while the Persians ruled the eastern lands. Ottoman rule extended from the fourteenth century to the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. The latter inherited the historic Armenian lands as a successor state to the Ottoman Empire. The Persian Empire ruled Armenian lands in the east until the signing of the Treaty of Turkmenchai in 1828, which, in the aftermath of the Russo-Persian wars, fulfilled Russian imperial expansionist objectives into the Caucasus by replacing Persian rule. For centuries, therefore, Armenians experienced the various aspects and phases of modernization—the Enlightenment, the emergence of capitalism, urbanization, nationalism—as a subject people. They did not achieve modern statehood until 1918 as the Ottoman and Russian empires collapsed under the weight of the First World War. Modern Armenia emerged when the Republic of Armenia was established as a sovereign state in May 1918, after centuries of foreign rule but in the midst of war and the ongoing genocide by the Young Turks ruling in Constantinople (now Istanbul) against its Armenian population. The fragile Republic of Armenia could not withstand the calamitous consequences of war. Moreover, thousands of Armenian refugees generated by the genocidal policies of the Young Turk regime arrived in the republic. The new government lacked the resources necessary for a functioning economy and polity, and the unfolding military conflicts led to its demise and sovietization after the Bolsheviks consolidated power in Yerevan in 1921. The Communist regime established a dictatorial system in Soviet Armenia and across the Soviet Union, but the severest brutalities were experienced under Joseph Stalin in the 1930s, as his government forced agricultural collectivization and rapid industrialization at the expense enormous human sacrifices. Despite the political difficulties, Soviet Armenia registered successes in the areas of economy and culture in the long term. Armenians benefited from the cultural development witnessed in the 1950s and 1960s, largely as a result of Nikita Khrushchev’s reform oriented policies. By the 1970s, however, the economy had grown stagnant under Leonid Brezhnev, and his successors, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, in the early 1980s failed to ameliorate the conditions, while the Soviet regime experienced a political legitimacy crisis. In the meantime, nationalism had emerged as a powerful force across the Soviet Union, and calls for secession from Moscow grew louder. Mikhail Gorbachev’s experimentation with perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness) could not reverse the loss of legitimacy, a situation further exacerbated in Soviet Armenia in the aftermath of the earthquake in December 1988 and the escalating military conflict in Nagorno-Karabagh. The Soviet regime collapsed in 1991, creating an opportunity for a second declaration of independence for Armenian sovereign statehood in the 20th century. Although independence from the Soviet Union energized the Armenian people and gave rise to expectations concerning their economic and political well-being in post-Soviet Armenia, the country became mired in the twin crises of recovering from the earthquake while at the same time surviving an undeclared war with Azerbaijan, the latter being supported by Turkey. The economic blockade they imposed on Armenia further exacerbated the situation. Since independence, the Republic of Armenia, under its four successive leaders—Presidents Levon Ter-Petrosyan, Robert Kocharyan, Serge Sargsyan, and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan—has struggled to develop its economy and infrastructure and to address the chronic problems of poverty and unemployment. The country lacks the economic and financial ingredients necessary to develop a modern, competitive productive basis for competition in global markets. Further, systemic corruption has obstructed efforts to improve the situation, while various government agencies have routinely engaged in violations of human rights. Efforts by nascent civil society to advance civil and political rights and democratization in general have been undermined by state policies, including gross violations of citizens’ rights in time of elections. The experiences gained after twenty-five years of independence pose major challenges for economic development while offering little hope for democratization. It remains to be seen whether the “velvet revolution” (March 31–May 8, 2018) led by Nikol Pashinyan can introduce fundamental changes in the Armenian political system. Former opposition activist and member of the National Assembly, Pashinyan emerged as the country’s prime minister after the “velvet revolution” forced the resignation of Serge Sargsyan on April 23, 2018.


Adrian Brisku

Arguably, an account of modern Georgia is one about the country’s emergence as a political nation (independent republic and nation-state) in the region of the Caucasus—geographically straddled in between the Eurasian landmass—and the challenges of redefining, developing, and preserving itself. It is also about how it was forged under and often against its powerful neighbors, most notably the tsarist Soviet and Russian state, and about its equally uneven interactions with other neighboring nations and nationalities within its political borders. And while one cannot put a precise date on the cultural and political processes as to when this modern Georgia emerged, the late 19th century is that period when people within the two tsarist governorates of Tbilisi and Kutaisi interacted more intensively among themselves, but also within the imperial cultural and political centers of St. Petersburg and Moscow as well as beyond the imperial confines, in Central and Western European capitals. This in turn—following impactful events: the 1861 tsarist Emancipation of Serfs, the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878, the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, the First World War, the February and October Revolutions of 1917, the brief making of the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic (1918)—led to a diffusion of and reaction to political, economic, and cultural ideas from European and imperial metropoles that on May 26, 1918, culminated with the establishment, for the first time, of Georgia as a nation-state: the Georgian Democratic Republic. A social democratic nation-state in its political content, the political life of this first republic was cut short on February 25, 1921, by the Red Army of a re-emerging Russian (Soviet) state. In the ensuing seventy years in the Soviet Union—initially, from 1922 to 1936, as a constitutive republic of the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic and then as a separate Soviet Socialist Republic until the implosion of the union in 1991—the republic and its society experienced the effects of the making and unmaking of the Soviet Marxist-Leninist modernization project. Especially impactful for the republic and its society was the period of the 1930s and 1940s under the hyper-centralized rule of the Georgian-born Soviet Communist Party leader Joseph V. Stalin: a period marked by implementation of a centrally planned economic model and political purges as well as a consolidation of the nation’s ethnocultural and territorial makeup. Also important was the late Soviet period, particularly that under the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whereby thanks to the economic and political reforms undertaken in the later 1980s, calls for the recovering of the republic’s political independence were intensified and ultimately realized. This happened on April 9, 1991—with the first Georgian president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, declaring the independence of the Republic of Georgia before the Soviet Union’s dissolution on December 26, 1991—and its international recognition would come easily and fast. But what would prove difficult and slow, from the outset, was building a European-style nation-state—meaning a liberal democratic order based on the rule of law and a market society—as was the case in the brief presidency of Gamsakhurdia (1991–1992). The latter’s term was marred by an ethnopolitical war in the South Ossetian region and brought to an end by a civil war fought in the capital city of Tbilisi and the Megrelian region. It continued to be difficult during the long and interrupted presidency of the former Georgian Communist Party boss, Eduard Shevardnadze (1995–2003)—the 1995 Constitution established a semi-presidential system of government—in which an ethnopolitical war with Abkhazia started and ended (1992–1993), state institutions stabilized, and a pro-Euro-Atlantic as opposed to a pro-Russian foreign policy was articulated, but state corruption also thrived. A European-style republic appeared closer during the full-term “hyper-presidency” of the Western-educated president Mikheil Saakashvili (2004–2013), marked by concrete steps toward Euro-Atlantic integration (NATO membership and EU partnership/toward membership) and a distancing from Russia as well as top-down neoliberal domestic reforms. But the republic was scarred by a war with Russia in August 2008 and a growing authoritarianism at home. It remains so despite a shift, since 2013, from a presidential to a parliamentary republic with the last directly elected president being the first woman president, Salome Zurabishvili (2018–). Since 2012, the Georgian Dream Party—established by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili (prime minister, 2012–2013)—governs the republic by pursuing Western-oriented domestic reforms, EU and NATO integration, and a nonconfrontational position against Russia. The latter continues to undermine the country’s territorial integrity, having recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s independence in 2008 and maintaining its military bases there.