Tallinn, November 14 – By recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Moscow has opened the door for an expansion of pan-Turkist activity in the North Caucasus, thus falling into a trap set by Western countries when they recognized Kosovo in the former Yugoslavia and setting the stage for a new “parade of sovereignties” in the North Caucasus.
And consequently, however much the Russian moves in Georgia corresponded to Russia’s national interests in the short term, commentator Igor Bokov argues in an essay posted online this week, they could prove fatal to Russian control of the broader region unless Moscow takes preventive measures (www.apn.ru/publications/article20992.htm).
In recent months, many analysts have focused on the growing activism of Circassian groups in the North Caucasus not only because of their support for the independence of Abkhazia and opposition to the Sochi Olympics but also because of the large and influential Circassian diasporas in Turkey and Jordan.
Much less attention has been given to the Turkic language groups in the region, which include the Karachay, Balkars, Nogays and Kumyks, but because of their location near Russia’s southern border and the activities of Turks abroad, they may prove even more important in the political development of the Caucasus in the coming months, the Moscow researcher argues.
Like many Russian analysts, Bokov discusses these trends in terms of what he sees as a broader effort by the West to promote the disintegration of multi-national states like the Russian Federation in order to strengthen the power of capitalist economics by weakening any alternative political arrangements.
But despite that, his article represents an intriguing contribution to the understanding of the Caucasus not only because of what he writes about two major Turkic groups in the North Caucasus but also because of what he says about the “unofficial” efforts by Turkey and other countries to reach out to them.
The Turkic-speaking Balkars, who form 10 percent of the population of Kabardino-Balkaria, have nonetheless formed a Council of Elders of the Balkar People and demanded that the constitution of that republic be amended to give them equal representation in the parliament to the much larger Kabardinian (Circassian) and Russian communities.
If that does not happen by January 31, 2009, this group says, the Council of Elders has declared, then it will proclaim the independence of Balkaria, an action that would undermine not only all the other multi-national republics in the North Caucasus but create a new hotspot for Moscow there.
What makes this movement intriguing, Bokov says, is not just the small size of the Balkar community but the fact that most of the leaders of the Balkar Council of Elders are militia officers who were fired after Arsen Kanokov became president of the republic and who seek to return to power and a new element in their ideology.
For the first time ever, the Balkars are saying “we are not simply a minority, there are 500 million of us” – “the first time in history of Russia or at least post-Soviet Russia,” the Moscow analyst says, when an openly “pan-Turkist” ideological agenda was articulated in the region with such vigor.
The situation in neighboring Karachayevo-Cherkessia represents another Turkic challenge, Bokov suggests. There, “the Turkic ethnos, the Karachay, is the dominant one, and the Cherkess [Circassians] the minority. But again the Turkic group is advancing its interests by ignoring the practice of giving the second most powerful position in the republic to a Cherkess.
Bokov argues that Turkey and other countries interested in weakening Russia. While Ankara carefully avoids public support of such groups lest it offend the Europeans or stimulate its own Kurdish minority, various groups in Turkey are increasingly active because “what is impossible at the official level is completely permissible at others.”
He points to groups like TIKA, the Turkish Agency for Cooperation and Development, Turksoy, an organization involved in cultural ties with Turkic peoples abroad, and Tusam, an information-analytic center supported by the metal workers union, as being especially active in this regard.
But he suggests that pan-Turkist ideas are being pushed not only by Turkey but by various Western countries and by both Georgia and Ukraine, who have an obvious interest in weakening Moscow’s influence and power in the region. And he concludes by arguing that Moscow must be prepared to counter all these groups.