Monday, October 5, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Gives Circassian Young People ‘Master Class’ in Authoritarianism, Thereby Radicalizing Many

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 5 -- Fearful that an infusion of new blood could undermine their positions, Moscow and pro-Moscow officials have played fast and loose with the rules to maintain their grip on an increasingly hollow Circassian organization, thereby giving younger Circassians a “master class” in authoritarian methods and pushing some toward radical Islam.
Friday and Saturday, the Eighth Congress of the International Circassian Association met in Maykop, the capital of the Adygey Republic, to choose a president for the next three years, to select a new executive council to guide the organization over that period, and to set basic policy for the organization.
But in all three areas, Moscow-backed Circassian government officials, working with an at least nominally former KGB officer, did all they could to stifle any possibility of change in the existing arrangements under which the Moscow-appointed powers that be in the Circassian republics of the North Caucasus remain in control.
Indeed, so brutal were the actions of these officials that one author entitle his report “Will the ice age [in Circassian affairs] continue until 2012?” and another suggested that Moscow was engaging in counterproductive actions, leaving its people in control of an increasingly marginalized groups and driving younger and dynamic Circassians into the hands of the radicals.
How the Moscow-backed officials intended to act was signaled even before the meeting opened. Officials said that they had no intention of giving any places for the 15 people chosen by the All-Russian Forum of Circassian Youth and the 25 elected by youth organizations in the Circassian republics (
Then, apparently fearful that the scandal they were causing would get out, these same officials backed down and said that all of these people could come to the Congress as “guests, under the condition that they observe the norms of behavior,” a restriction apparently understood by the powers that be as meaning “raising no objections” to what the current leaders wanted.
But then the pro-Moscow officials began to undercut even those promises. On the one hand, they held a special meeting of the ICA council 30 kilometers from the main meeting place, apparently in order to keep “unnecessary” eyes from seeing what was happening and then refused to admit many of the young people to either meeting.
Most Circassian activists had expected that the pro-Moscow Circassian officials would try to defend the existing leadership entirely, but that did not prove to be the case. While the proposed membership of the ruling council did not change much, “at the last minute,” Kabardino-Balkaria’s head Arsen Konokov insisted on a new candidate for ICA president.
The man he – and presumably Moscow – named was Kanzhobi Azhakhov, the director of the Boom Bank of Nalchik and someone who has not played a major role in Circassian affairs up to now. His election was assured by the insistence of others that the council make its recommendation on the basis of an “open” rather than secret ballot.
Both the president of Adyge Khase of Adygeya Arambiy Khapay and many Circassian young people were appalled, but the former was ignored, and both the “former” KGB officer Anatoly Kodzokov and his supporters openly suggested that “young people have no reason to be here” and their opinions are irrelevant.
In violation of the organization’s own statutes, one ICA leader said that the proposals from the young people “cannot be considered by the council of the ICA” because they have not been put in the “correct” format. And he added, apparently on the basis of guidance “from above” that he would not allow them to be discussed at the congress.
Indeed, this Circassian official said, he would not allow any “divergence of opinion during discussions” and that “if any of the young people tried to express his opinion, he [this official] would stop the congress until this young person was carried out of the hall.” Obviously, this individual felt he had nothing to fear from publicity.
On Saturday, the day of the congress itself, the delegates and others had to pass through a cordon of militia, metal detectors, and militia and others in uniform and out. The younger Circassians were told that there was no place for them, “although almost half of the red seats were not filled,” a reality that the young Circassians quickly discovered.
As planned by the organizing officials, “the first part of the congress was conducted in the presence of guests, after which all ‘the extras’ had to leave the hall.” As a result, as many Circassian activists and especially Circassian young people noted, “the very people for whom the ICA ought to work did not have the right to see how the president of the ICA was elected.”
To ensure there was little time for discussion, the officials delivered long, Brezhnev-style speeches, and then reduced the number of those with the right to vote to 63. And the organizers eliminated all opposition voices except one, “the single youthful delegate of the Congress, Rimur Zhuzhuyev.
Zhuzhuyev spokes last, but he spoke directly to the issues agitating young people. To make his point, he nominated Ibragim Yaganov to be president of the ICA, but that proposal was immediately ruled out of order because Yaganov, despite a long history of Circassian activism, was not a delegate. As a result, the Moscow people got their way on all issues.
But as one observer pointed out, “the young Circassians with their own eyes saw” at this carefully orchestrated congress how nationality policy is really made, how the bureaucracy tries in all ways to enforce conformity, “how former KGB officers, violating the law, give up mandates ‘on the side,’ and how inactive the organizations that claim to be their leaders are.
Moreover, this same source continued, the young Circassians saw that the diaspora is prepared to put up with “this spectacle” with objecting, that the pro-Moscow officials interfere in public organizations in violation of the law, and how, despite “beautiful speeches about the future,” young people “do not have any real role.”
As a result and despite the statements of the official leaders to the contrary, “Circassian young people recognized that they are a real force,” one that officials are so afraid of that they behave as they do, something that will give some the courage to continue to fight within the system but lead others either to disgust or radicalization.
Ibragim Yaganov, the leader of the Khase youth organization whose candidacy to head the ICA was ruled out of order, was even more candid about what this meeting means for the future. While acknowledging Kanzhobi Azhakhov has the money, Yaganov said this was not enough (
Azhakhov will be able to pay to bring in guests and wine and dine them, “but the tasks of the national organization today ought to be different. Those are the tasks which the powers that be cannot take upon themselves for the simple reason that they are the powers that be. [Instead,] society must take them on.”
But the powers that be do not understand that harsh fact. They have created “a vacuum” in the lives of young people, and consequently, Yaganov said, “young people are going to Islamic extremism.” The only way to prevent that isto address real issues, something neither Moscow, nor its people on the scene, nor the ICA as presently constituted, is prepared to do.


For those interested in following these developments, there are a variety of extremely useful Circassian websites, including the Circassian World Newsletter which is available at

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