Kuressaare, November 17 – The Russian government’s opposition to dual citizenship for those living within the Russian Federation, as opposed to those living outside its borders, is preventing a significant number of Circassians abroad from returning to their historic homeland in the North Caucasus, according to the president of the International Circassian Association.
At a meeting in Cherkessk last week, Kazbulat Dzamikhov said that relatively few of the more than five million Circassians living abroad are interested in returning home not only because they are relatively well integrated where they live now but because they would not want to give up their current citizenship in exchange for Russian citizenship alone.
And following a decision of the Russian Supreme Court earlier this year declaring unconstitutional a 2001 law adopted by the Kabardinia-Balkaria parliament because it extended just such an opportunity, the chances that a large number of Circassians will return to the troubled north Caucasus appear remote (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1233075.html).
At the present time, there are some five million Circassians living outside the borders of the Russian Federation, vastly outnumbering the Circassians living in the North Caucasus and making them the second largest diaspora from Russia. More than four million live in Turkey, 350,000 in Libya, 120,000 in Jordan, and 90,000 in Syria, with smaller groups elsewhere.
Dzamikhov said that the number of these who want to return to the North Caucasus from which their ancestors were expelled 140 years ago is not large at least given current arrangements. “Over the last 17 years,” he continued, about 2,000 have returned.” Some settled in Circassian areas and made a go of it, but others “were not able to adapt and went back.”
Many Circassian activists were encouraged by Vladimir Putin’s 2006 decree calling for active Russian government support for compatriots who wanted to return, but they soon recognized that it was directed almost exclusively toward helping Russian speakers in the CIS countries.
And Circassians abroad were less than pleased with the provision of the decree that called for returnees to be sent not where they wanted – most Circassians “want to resettle in their historical motherland in the North Caucasus” – but to Siberia and the Far East where there are labor shortages.
Nonetheless, Dzamikhov said, Circassian activists have continued to take part in conferences of Russian compatriots and raised the possibility of modifying the Russian decree to include a reference to the Circassian diaspora and to allow its members to return to places of their own choosing.
But even if that were to happen, the main obstacle to a massive return of Circassian lies elsewhere. Most Circassians living abroad have found a place for themselves there and would not want to return unless they could be sure of maintaining their citizenship in those countries and thus the possibility of returning at some point.
At present, however, the Russian government shows no willingness to allow dual citizenship for those who actually return. Earlier this year, prosecutors in Kabardino-Balkaria (KBR) asked the Supreme Court to declare that the 2001 KBR law on repatriates unconstitutional because it contradicts federal legislation.
The Court agreed, and its reasoning says a great deal about how Moscow currently views the issue of citizenship. The Supreme Court declared that the KBR act “did not take into consideration that before acquiring the status of a repatriate, an individual has the status of a foreign citizen or a person without citizenship.”
Such an individual’s “return to the KBR and his acquisition of the status of repatriate,” it held, “is connected with entrance into the territory of the Russian Federation and with his obtaining the right of remaining on the territory of the Russian Federation, possibly with the change or acquisition of citizenship of the Russian Federation.”
“The legal nature of questions is connected with the realization by the Russian Federation of its sovereign rights as a single integral state [stress added—PAG] and subject of international law.” Consequently, federal legislation and not that of a republic or region must determine the rules under which this happens.
Nonetheless, Dzamikhov expressed the hope that “Russia at some time in the future will come to accept the idea of dual citizenship,” especially since there is no reason for Russians to fear that there will be a mass influx of Circassians or others even if the central authorities were to do so.