The war diaries
with Thomas Goltz
Thomas Goltz, on his own website, describes himself as an international adventurer, author, and academic. I personally owe him a lot, even the inspiration for this blog. Thomas's a student of human nature at its darkest. He's the rare academic who instead of studying war from the safety of his Ivory Tower has gone into the field to see what is actually happening on the ground. And despite being a witness, and sometimes a victim, of human brutality, he's rarely lost his sense of humor or humanity.
I first encountered Thomas's writing in 2003 when preparing for a six month civil society building gig in Baku, Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan Diary is his eyewitness account of the Caucasian country during the years after its independence from the Soviet Union. It's one of the few English language books that deal with the bloody 1988-1994 war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the region of Nagorno and Karabakh. According to him, the book will be printed in Azeri later this year.
Before my trip I emailed Thomas for some advice. He was generous with both his time and knowledge. Although I wrote him after I got back, I lost contact with him until early this year. I had started reading Chechnya Diary. His account of Russian atrocities against another Caucasian people reminded me of my own experiences of the Bosnian War. So I emailed him again, asking if we could do an interview for this blog. Again, he was generous with his time and knowledge.
1.Why teaching? In other words, did you always think of yourself as a teacher or did something specifically motivate you to go into the classroom at the University of Montana - Missoula?
I have always made a link between writing and the lecture hall; the step from occasional speech (on, say, a new book) to a series of speeches as in a class is not that great. As for the 'why' of teaching, it is something that I have always enjoyed, mainly because I enjoyed a number of very good professors, and have maintained contact with them through the years. I should note, too, that I once was on an academic track but sort of drifted away into foreign affairs journalism; you might say that my present status is a 'return' to earlier, academic roots.2. How do you teach? Do you think your experiences in the Caucasus make you a different type of teacher in contrast to a typical academic?
The classes that I have developed are a mixture of lectures, discussion of readings and slide-show/film; in the case of the Caucasus class, I use several of my own documentaries (Azerbaijan, Georgia and Chechnya) to illustrate certain subjects, give a break from reading/discussion as well as to underline the fact that I am not your usual academic--IE, that I have had quite a bit of real-life/hands-on experience that I can share with students.3. Are there any topics that you won't discuss or things you won't share in class?
Nothing I can think of.4. Would you encourage a student to hit the road like you did and do the things you did in the Caucasus?
That is a difficult question to answer. On the one hand, I would not encourage any one to emulate me. Why should they? Could they? On the other hand, I do actively encourage students to use my contacts in places like Baku to develop their own vision. I hasten to note that this encouragement has thus far only resulted in expressed interest; I have not yet sent anyone down that path.5. In Chechen Diaries you wrote that when you got back to the States, you were bothered by the fireworks on the 4th of July - does that still happen? Does anything else still bother you?
I have a decided aversion to anything that celebrates war, ranging from fireworks on the 4th (or for weddings, etc) to paint-ball games. I am sure I exhibit other quirky behavior that might be based in some sort of latent PTSD or whatever they call it nowadays. I hasten to add that I have never been a combatant in war, and thus have no right or cause to claim to be fundamentally scarred by violence.