the Essentials of Life
 

Today, as in the past, the Caucasus is an agitated neighbourhood to live in. Old and new disputes ensure that the area keeps on making the headlines, for all the wrong reasons.
The instability is everywhere. We can point out the Chechnya conflict, also affecting Ingushetia, Dagestan, North-Ossetia and the Pansiki gorge in Georgia. But also the border dispute between Ingushetia and North-Ossetia, as well as the countless secession wars or separatist tendencies like in Kalmukia, South-Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, or the Balkar movement in Kabardino-Balkaria, not to mention the Kurds in Turkish Anatolia. An finally some ethnic tensions between Avars and Laks in Dagestan, or the Karachays and Cherkesses in Karachay-Cherkessia.
Besides this, international tensions are still severe, between Armenia and Azerbaijan with part of the Azeri territory still being occupied around the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, or between Armenia and Turkey following the genocide of 1915.

Despite all the tensions that it produces, this mosaic of ethnic communities in the Northen Caucasus can also be seen as an invaluable richness. There fewer and fewer places in the wordl where local traditions and customs are so well preserved. One could fear though that most will disappear, as more and more villages are abandoned in search for a hypothetic economic welfare. And yes, some courageous initiatives are trying to stop this trend, but will this be sufficient ? Won't those amazing World Heritage architectures keep on being left into ruins, or transformed into lifeless museums ?

As the key for stability and peace in the Caucasus is development, it should necessarily mean wild economic growth overlooking the specificities of those communities and their remarkable heritage.
In the perspective of sustainable peace in the Caucasus, it should also be time for Turkey to recognize the errors of the Ottoman Empire and stop denying Armenia the right for mourning and grief.

If there were only one thing to remember from this journey and the interactions with local people, it definitely would be their hospitality. Is it because they're not as rich as we are, or maybe because they're living together in small villages without much modern 'entertainment'? I don't know, but without any doubt there is something our western civilisation has lost.

May that be a lesson to us; life can be simple and yet so rich.

michael van overstraeten, September 2005