Author: Maxim Edwards
Maxim Edwards is an Editorial Assistant at openDemocracy Russia. He has worked in Armenia and Tatarstan and writes on inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations in the post-Soviet space. He was formerly Opinion Editor of the Kazan Herald, and his writing has been published with Al-Jazeera, the Forward, Ajam, and Roads & Kingdoms among others. He tweets as @MaximEdwards.

The Aleppo Kebab Stall is a small, corrugated plastic booth slightly larger than its occupants, and only slightly narrower than the alleyway where it stands, in Yerevan. Barely avoiding the oncoming traffic, I crossed the street and squinted at the shop sign, miming the letters to myself in an attempt to decode the name. Ha-lep. Aleppo. Braving a heady perfume of cigarette smoke and shawarma, I poked my head through the window, and ordered. (More…)

The Ensai souvenir shop was, it assured passersby, the home of authentic Mari souvenirs. Inside was a jungle of multicoloured fabric, giddying geometric patterns of whites and reds, traditional costumes of the kind usually kept in dusty display cases of the national museum. Yoshkar-Ola, (“the red city,“) is the capital of Russia’s autonomous Republic of Mari El. (More…)

Berlin’s U6 train stops at some lesser-known local oddities. African Streets station – a nondescript platform in Wedding – seems strangely ordinary given its history. Döner shops. Sports bars with frosted windows, and occupants with frostier stares. Names on doorbell buzzers betray a big mix of peoples. Croatian restaurants are in vogue here, whilst the window of a Middle Eastern restaurant advertises Türkische Pizza. (More…)

Stanislav Markelov, lawyer and journalist for the liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and coworker Anastasia Baburova, anarchist and political activist, were murdered in 2009 in the centre of Moscow by killers believed by many to be Russian ultra-nationalists. (More…)

Kislovodsk, or Sourwater, lies wedged between two autonomous Republics in the north Caucasus. With the anxious patriotism of the borderland, it’s aptly known as the city of Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time. Kislovodsk’s effervescent Narzan spring water – “the drink of heroes,” according to its Kabardian name – is often tasted in souvenir glazed cups bearing stereotypical figures of Gortsy (“mountain people.”) (More…)

Nalchik is the capital of Russia’s autonomous region of Kabardino-Balkaria, nestled in the foothills of the Caucasus and Mount Elbrus. 550 metres above sea level, its air is crisp and pungent with the scent of tourist repellent, the unfortunate result of its proximity to such hotspots as Ingushetia and Chechnya. (More…)

“Turkish coffee?” The throaty Armenian was clearly affronted. “Sure, it’s Turkish when I buy it. But when I make it, it’s Abkhaz coffee.” Insisting eyes awaited an apology, which I promptly offered. I never made the mistake again. (More…)

The Republic of Abkhazia was once the destination of choice for thousands of Soviet holiday-makers, including Stalin. The nation’s one railway line was constructed in a regal fashion. Burnt out buildings from a vicious secessionist war in 1993 scar the landscape amidst the breathtaking beauty of rural valleys – scars of a history sometimes tactfully glossed over. (More…)

As Russia’s ruling tandem switches places yet again, Dmitri Medvedev ambling slowly off centre stage, legions of internet users offer a canned outrage that even the most vehemently anti-government newspapers hesitate to express. Vladimir Putin returns yet again – a superb pole vault of the vertical of power. (More…)

In an increasingly globalised world, linguistic diversity provides one of the most potent reminders of difference. A perennial resource for conflict, language barriers are an inevitable test of tolerance. As the world’s largest nation, Russia’s multitude of languages – from Abaza to Itlemen, Kabarda to Yukagir – is a veritable Babel. Yet, it would appear, an increasingly reluctant one. (More…)

The lush Fiagdon Valley in North Ossetia hides the tip of one of the most peculiar icebergs to emerge from post-Soviet Russia. A small medallion portrait of Stalin, solid as granite, clings for dear life to a stunning cliff-face – the work of an Ossetian artist, Daurbek Tsagayev in the late 1970s. The North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz has seen a new Stalin monument unveiled as recently as 2009. These are only two examples. (More…)