Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Circassians Call for Single Circassian Republic in North Caucasus

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 26 – A Circassian youth group is calling for the unification of their nation into a single republic in the North Caucasus, a proposal that immediately challenges Moscow’s divide and rule policies in the region and ultimately threatens Russian control of that community and its neighbors.
Last week, a forum of Circassian youth in the North Caucasus adopted an appeal to their nation, denouncing the splitting up of that community in the early years of Soviet power and Moscow’s decision to combine Circassian groups with fundamentally different Turkic groups (
That decision, the authors of the appeal say, not only continued the victimization of the Circassians that the Russian state began in the 19th century when many of them were killed and far more deported to the Ottoman empire but also “laid the foundation for permanent conflicts” in the region.
Now, the appeal continues, “the positive experience of strengthening Russian regions” by combining them can be applied “in relation to the divided Circassian people. Such a new federal subject will be economically more productive, politically more controlled and stable with regard to inter-ethnic relations, and this undoubtedly will strengthen Russia on its southern borders.”
Moscow “must understand,” the authors of the appeal insist, “that the Circassians cannot continue to tolerate the current situation and that they consider a lawful and timely resolution of the problem to be [the establishment of a new] single subject of the Russian Federation, Circassia.”
When this declaration was read out to the 500 delegates at Extraordinary Congress of the Circassian People, which took place in Karachayevo-Cherkessia at the end of last week, the overwhelming majority of them greeted it with enthusiastic applause, agreeing that something has to be done now to unite a nation currently split among six different regions and republics.
Nal’bi Guchetl’, the vice president of the International Circassian Association, said that he was “very grateful for the Circassians of the Karachayevo-Cherkess Republic that they were the first to raise the question about the unification of the Circassians into a single subject of the federation.”
Arambiy Khapay, the president of the national movement Adyge Khase, said that in his view “there is no alternative to the unification of Circassian territories into a single republic,” given that the current Russian state relations divide the Circassians not only within the North Caucasus but from those who now live “beyond the borders of their historic motherland.”
And Ruslan Keshev, the president of the Circassian Congress of Kabardino-Balkaria, added that “at present it is obvious” that what is destabilizing the situation in the North Caucasus is “not the formation of a new subject [of the Russian Federation] but the preservation of [the existing] administrative divisions.”
“When a people in its historic motherland is divided among six subject, of which two are double [that is, combined with another and non-Circassian nationality],” the Circassian activist continued, “this is a deeply abnormal phenomenon and it will be a major destabilizing factor in the immediate future.”
What are the Circassians likely to do next to try to achieve their goal? One answer was the formation of the inevitable committee to make an appeal to Moscow to respect their rights, a necessary but clearly insufficient and probably hopeless by itself enterprise. But another and potentially interesting one was provided by Khapay.
While many Circassians – and especially the Shapsug sub-ethnos – oppose the holding of the Olympic Games in Sochi n 2014, Khapay told “Nezavisimaya gazeta” that the games could be the occasion for turning the tables on Moscow and advancing the Circassian cause nationally and internationally (
“It is insulting to listen when the Russian president declares in Sochi that this was a place where Greeks lived earlier. I consider,” Khapay said, that the entire world must know that Sochi is the land of the Circassians. During the Olympics, guests must become acquainted with our history and culture.”
That is all the more appropriate because “the Olympics [in Sochi] will take place on the 150th anniversary of the end of the Russian-Caucasus war, as a result of which took place the almost complete deportation of the people” which took place precisely from where the games will be held. “That must be remembered for the sake of peace.”
Not only is the Russian government opposed to such a move and interpretation of the past – it tried to block the forum and congress last week by calling in its organizers for “conversations” with police and prosecutors and will certainly take additional steps now – but many Circassians are unsure as to whether the time is ripe to pursue this goal
Circassian bloggers are actively debating this issue now, with some insisting that Moscow’s policy of amalgamating regions and its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia make this the best time to act while others say that the whole idea is premature and calling for caution (
That this debate is taking place almost exclusively at meetings of unofficial groups and on the Internet may lead some to conclude that the Circassian cause is marginal, but in today’s Russia, such spaces are some of the few free ones left. And consequently, what the Circassians are saying now points to more challenges ahead for the central Russian government.

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