Two centuries ago, the Russians pushed out of the cold north towards the Caucasus Mountains, the range that blocked their access to Georgia, Turkey, Persia and India. They were forging their colonial destiny, and the mountains were in their way. The Caucasus had to be conquered and, for the highlanders who lived there, life would never be the same again.If the Russians expected it to be an easy fight, however, they were mistaken. Their armies would go on to defeat Napoleon and Hitler, as well as lesser foes, but no one resisted them for as long as these supposed savages.To hear the stories of the conquest, I travelled far from the mountains. I wandered through the steppes of Central Asia and the cities of Turkey. I squatted outside internment camps in Poland, and drank tea beneath the gentle hills of Israel. The stories I heard amplified the outrages I saw in the mountains themselves. As I set out, in my mind was a Chechen woman I had met in a refugee camp. She lived in a ragged, khaki tent in a field of mud and stones, but she welcomed me with laughter and kindness. Like the mountains of her homeland, her spirit had soared upwards, gleaming and pure. Throughout my travels, I met the same generosity from all the Caucasus peoples.Their stories have not been told, and there fame is not great, but truly it deserves to be.
Oliver Bullough was born in 1977 and grew up on a sheep farm in mid-Wales. He studied modern history at Oxford University and moved to Russia in 1999. He lived in St Petersburg, Bishkek and Moscow over the next seven years, working as a journalist first for local magazines and newspapers, and then for Reuters news agency. He reported from all over Russia and the former Soviet Union, but liked nothing more than to work among the peoples and mountains of the North Caucasus.He moved back to Britain in 2006, and has spent the following years travelling for and writing this book.He now lives in east London. He likes to travel, to take photographs, to watch Welsh rugby, to cook and to read.