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History Professor Publishes Text on Russian Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria

BETHANY, W.Va. – A Bethany College assistant professor of history recently published a book that examines the history of the Caucasus region of Russia.

Ian Lanzillotti began researching the Caucasus as part of his doctoral studies at Ohio State University. In October, he released “Land, Community, and the State in the Caucasus: Kabardino-Balkaria from Tsarist Conquest to Post-Soviet Politics” through U.K. publisher Bloomsbury Academic Press.

“When I became interested in Russia, in the former Soviet Union, I was always fascinated by the diversity of the Russian Empire,” Lanzillotti said. “And the Caucasus region is the most diverse part of Russia, in terms of the different ethnicities, their mosaic of different languages and Christians and Muslims and Jews coexisting in a small space. If you’re interested in questions of interethnic relations, nationalities policy, for me, the Caucasus seemed like the best place to research those questions, particularly the North Caucasus.”

Kabardino-Balkaria comprises the major ethnic communities of Kabardians and Balkars. Historically, the Turkic-speaking Balkars primarily inhabited the mountains and were shepherds and cattle breeders. The Kabardians speak a Circassian language and inhabited the lowland regions, which they used for agriculture. Though the Kabardians and Balkars are both Muslims, they are separate ethnicities that have depended on one another for their livelihood.

“There was a symbiotic relationship that developed between the two communities and that was kind of the draw that kept them together,” Lanzillotti said. “Even when the Russians came in, there was enough of a sort of balance in terms of land relations, that over time, the communities are able to coexist despite their differences and despite tensions from time to time.”

Over the years – most recently, as the Soviet Union was collapsing in the 1990s – the Balkars weighed forming their own republic, but ultimately, the risks of a breakdown in peace were greater than the potential rewards for an individual community, Lanzillotti said.

“For me, the most exciting part is that I can put out a different view of the region that gets away from this sort of depiction of this region as inherently prone to violence,” Lanzillotti said. “I give a more nuanced view … to show that these places where there had been conflict, like Chechnya, and maybe less famously Abkhazia and South Ossetia, that’s not the entire region. … In many cases, [it] is pretty stable and groups get along with each other on an everyday level.”

Chechnya is about an hour’s drive from Kabardino-Balkaria.

“It’s a world away, culturally and politically, which is kind of the point of my book project: to show why this part of the North Caucasus – that’s not that far from a lot of the conflict zones – remained relatively peaceful,” Lanzillotti said.

Research on Kabardino-Balkaria is limited in part because it is difficult to access. The republic’s capital, Nalchik, is more than 1,100 miles from Moscow, and traveling there by train takes an entire day.

Lanzillotti visited the area several times between 2010 and 2015, including an eight-month stay in 2010-2011, to visit archives in Moscow and in Kabardino-Balkaria. He communicated primarily in Russian but also learned Kabardian, a dialect of the larger Circassian language.

“It’s a part of the world that there’s not enough published on, and there’s a lot of misconceptions,” Lanzillotti said.

Lanzillotti joined the Bethany College faculty in 2019. He has a Ph.D. in history from Ohio State, a master’s degree in Russian studies from Indiana, and a bachelor’s in history and Russian from the University of South Florida.

“Bethany is very excited and proud that Dr. Lanzillotti is leading such important research on this volatile and important part of the world,” said Dr. Joe Lane, provost and dean of faculty. “His scholarship offers a great many insights on the nature of community and social cohesion. Dr. Lanzillotti is increasingly recognized as a major scholar in the field and a resource for our students and the Bethany community.”

Bethany recently hosted a book launch luncheon to recognize the publication of “Land, Community, and the State in the Caucasus.”

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Bethany College, founded in 1840, is the oldest private college in West Virginia. The Bethany experience focuses on academic excellence in the area of liberal arts and prepares students for a lifetime of work and a life of significance.

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