The (Not So) Great GameIssue: Winter 1999-2000
The importance of the Caspian region to American foreign policy is
grossly exaggerated. Until the demise of the Soviet Union, not even
Antarctica was more remote from the American mind than were the lands
around the Caspian Sea, and this for good reasons. Of all the new
states in the area, only the Christian ones of Georgia and Armenia in
the southern Caucasus had ever existed as nations before the conquest
of the region by the Russian Empire in the nineteenth century. The
Muslim areas were previously ruled by a variety of princes (including
in some cases and for certain periods the Shah of Iran), and most of
what are now Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan were inhabited
by tribal confederations that acknowledged the rule of no state.
"National identities" in the modern sense only took shape under
Russian and Soviet rule.