"To catch a Tartar": it has ever been thus when the Russian empire has sought to subdue the Chechens. The war continues to this day at inhuman cost in the valleys and mountains of the Caucasus. Sergei Novikov, a colonel and Arabist in the KGB, warned Chris Bird in 1993 not to go to the Caucasus, telling him he would be shot or kidnapped down the first side street. He spoke darkly of fellow agents travelling the region in armoured trains and of railway bandits working the Steppe. Chris Bird ignored his friend's advice and took his young family to the Georgian capital Tblisi, where he worked as a reporter. The nights were broken by gunfire, his flat lit by storm lanterns run on stolen jet fuel. The anarchy on the streets outside his courtyard and across the turbulent Caucasus mountains was reminiscent of revolutionary Russia, and the Russian soldiers driving off to the front to start a new war in Chechnya brought to mind the armies of "War and Peace". In "To Catch a Tartar", Chris Bird traces a personal journey through the violent decolonization of the Soviet empire recording a war in which lightly-armed Chechen fighters held their own against tens of thousands of Russian troops, a conflict that in many essentials has not changed since Lermontov and Tolstoy fought the "gortsy", the "mountaineers" of the Caucasus.
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