Vienna, March 9 – On the 65th anniversary of the Stalin-era deportation of the Balkars, activists of that national group said that the Soviet dictator had taken that step in order to transfer part of their territory to the Georgian SSR, a charge that could have contemporary relevance given Moscow’s continuing campaign against Georgia.
Yesterday, the leaders of the Balkar nation held a meeting in memory of the deportation of the Balkar people to the wilds of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in 1944, an action as the result of which more than a third of the members of this Turkic people died and one which continues to cast a shadow on the North Caucasus (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/150579).
On the one hand, disputes between the Balkars and the Kabardinians continue not only over political power in that republic but also over its administrative-territorial divisions, arrangements that the Balkars and some of their supporters in Moscow and elsewhere say work against the Turkic nationality (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/kbr_podpisi).
And on the other, as Ismail Sabanchiyev, the president of the Council of Elders of the Balkar people, said yesterday, “immediately after the exile of the Balkars [to Central Asia], part of the territory of Kabardino-Balkaria, including the region around Mount Elbrus, was attached to the Georgian SSR.” That was “the true goal” of the deportation, he continued.
After the death of Stalin, the Balkars were able to return to the North Caucasus, but even after the adoption of the 1991 law “on the rehabilitation of repressed peoples, the Balkars did not succeed in recovering their lands. As Kavkaz-uzel.ru noted in its report about yesterday’s meeting, not one of their four districts was restored in its former borders.
Most speakers at the memorial session said that no one should ever forget the 1944 deportation of more than 37,000 members of that community and the death of so many of them. At the same time, however, they insisted that the Balkars were now doing relatively well and should in any event “look to the future” rather than obsess on the past.
But if the Balkars are not going to focus on the past, some in Moscow may be quite prepared to do so, exploiting the border issues in Balkaria to put new pressure on Georgia. That possibility is suggested by another report last week, according to which the Kremlin is reportedly willing to talk to Ankara about the future status of Ajaria.
In an article in the Georgian newspaper “Rezonansi,” Georgy Putkaradze said there are reports that the Russian foreign ministry has proposed that the Turkish government begin talks with Moscow regarding whether Tbilisi is capable of fulfilling the provisions of the 1921 Kars Treaty (abkhazeti.info/news/1236227270.php).
In that long-ago agreement, Turkey recognized Georgian sovereignty over Ajaria on condition that Tbilisi would grant that region’s population broad autonomy in perpetuity on cultural and religious grounds, an arrangement that some in both Moscow and Ankara believe the Saakashvili government has not fulfilled.
According to the Georgian article, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has sent a letter to his Turkish counterpart Ali Babacan suggesting that Moscow, one of the signatories of the Kars Treaty, is now prepared to talk about the possible transfer of Ajaria from Georgian to Turkish control.
Whether this letter actually was sent or whether the report of its existence is just another indication of Moscow’s continuing propaganda campaign against Georgia and what Lavrov reportedly has called “the de-sovereignization” of that south Caucasus country, however, remain very much open questions, Putkaradze said.
But Moscow’s apparent willingness to raise border questions in this way, especially given its invasion of Georgia last August, suggests that some in the Russian capital may believe that they can exploit the concerns of the Turkic-speaking Balkars not to help that people but rather to undermine Tbilisi.