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For many centuries, the mountainous Caucasus region was a strategic backwater, inhabited by insular peoples and tribes, where the raw edges of Christian and Muslim empires rubbed abrasively together. Most of the Caucasus was absorbed into the Russian empire in the 10th century; its 112 recognized nationalities were thus all eventually smothered by the Soviet Union, only to reemerge with a vengeance when the Soviet empire collapsed. In the 1990's, the saga of the Caucasus republics has been one of clashing war-lord militias, coups and international attention of now increasingly focused on the tension, particularly since the discovery of the vast Caspian-Azerbaijan oil fields, reputed to exceed those of Kuwait. A pithy, accessible account of recent developments in Chechnya and Georgia and of the ongoing Armenian-Azerbaujan ethnic conflict, Edgar O'Ballance's latest book is the perfect primer for those hoping to gain a basic understanding of this hot spot region.