Vienna, October 1 -- With direct assistance of the FSB, pro-Moscow officials have gained control over two of the three main Circassian national groups in the North Caucasus, a victory that may move Pyrrhic because it is leading to the decline of the influence of these groups and the radicalization of many younger Circassians.
In fact, two articles published online this week suggest, Moscow’s efforts -- which have effectively gelded what was a more active national movement in the 1990s -- threaten to transform the western portions of the North Caucasus where most of the 700,000 Circassians of Russia live from relative quiescence into Daghestan-style instability and violence.
And this danger is not “beyond the mountains,” as some in the Caucasus say. This weekend, that trend is likely to be in evidence at an international Circassian meeting in Maykop where some younger members of the nation plan to challenge the government-controlled and relatively passive leadership of the International Circassian Association (ICA).
In an article posted online yesterday, analyst Anton Surikov describes the efforts of Russian and pro-Russian officials to gain control over the three largest Circassian organizations in the North Caucasus – the ICA itself, the Adyge Khase, and the Circassian Congress (pravda.info/protest/69727.html).
The ICA was established in the early 1990s and initially led by Yury Kalmykov who had been Russian minister of justice. Under his leadership, the group pressed for the repatriation of Circassians living abroad and the restoration of a single Circassian homeland in the North Caucasus in place of the several republics into which Stalin had divided them.
After Kalmykov’s “unexpected” death in 1996 – “the official version” is that he suffered a heart attack, Surikov says – “the ICA became essentially an entirely different organization. Its headquarters was moved from Europe to the North Caucasus, it was completely “financed by the federal authorities through republic structures, and it was controlled by officials.
The ICA, Surikov continues, now consists “in fact of government employees and their representatives and relatives,” not Circassian activists. As a result, “in the course of its 20 years of existence, the ICA has not solved a single issue concerning the interests of the Circassian people,” and recently it has said that it “will not get involved in political questions.”
Despite that, the analyst continues, “the Circassian diaspora which has little information and certain Circassians [in the North Caucasus] all the same lay false hopes on the ICA,” perhaps because they do not see any alternative.
A second Circassian organization that the authorities have seized control of is Adyge Khase. Up until 1996, Surikov says, this group conducted a certain amount of independent political activity. But in that year, then-Kabardino-Balkar President Valery Kokov used “administrative and financial levers” to establish “complete control” over it.
Those Circassians who were prepared to cooperate, he continues, received jobs and apartments, and “from that moment on, Adyge Khase as a national organization which would work in the interests of the Circassians in fact ceased to exist. The “trade” between the organization and the powers that be in the KBR has left it with little influence in the population.
In Surikov’s view, it is a third group, the Circassian Congress, which today “is the only organization which really defends the national interests of the Circassian people,” by disseminating information, demanding recognition of the genocide, and organizing protests around the world on May 21st, the anniversary of the tsarist expulsion of the Circassians.
The success of the Circassian Congress, Surikov says, has “frightened Moscow, and the Russian government has begun to try to activate the ICA and the Adyge Khase in the hopes of checking the activities of the Circassian Congress and undercutting its appeal based on a demand for recognition of the genocide, repatriation, and the creation of a single Circassian Republic.
But Moscow’s efforts to get the two “marionette organizations” to change their form won’t work as the Russian powers that be intend. On the one hand, any changes only highlight the strength of the Circassian Congress. And on the other, such transparent moves are likely to radicalize the young and create “a situation like those in Ingushetia and Daghestan.”
In the second article, Nart Matuko, a political science graduate student at the UN University, provides additional details about the ways in which young Circassians are likely to try to take on the government-controlled old guard at the 8th Congress of the ICA October 2-4 (www.elot.ru/main/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1465&Itemid=1).
Three weeks ago, the All-Russian Forum of Circassian Youth met in Cherkessk and declared that “to [their] great regret, in the course of the last nine years, work toward the resolution of the most important national questions has been carried out in an unsatisfactory manner.”
“The interference of social and governmental employees in the work of the ICA has frozen all the processes begun by the best minds of the nation in the 1990s. We consider the cardinal reformation of this organization and the rejuvenation of the composition of its executive committee to be necessary.”
The Circassian young people further said that the problems of the ICA and Adyge Khase had begun when the security structures and local political leaders seized control of these “main institutions of civil society in 2000,” a development that led “to the massive departure of young people into the ranks of the illegal band formations.”
And it warned that if these government-controlled organizations continue as they have in recent years their policy of “inaction,” then that will beyond question lead “to more negative consequences.”
Unfortunately for them and for the future of stability in the western portion of the North Caucasus where the Circassians live, those who control the ICA and Adyge Khase appear to have decided to dig in, to maintain their control of these organizations even at the price of losing influence in society, Matuko argues.
That the Russian government in Moscow is behind this hard-line and ultimately counter-productive approach appears obvious: the political science graduate student notes that the main “inspector” watching over what is going on now just as he has for the last nine years is a retired KGB office named A. Kodzokov.
These developments might appear marginal and unimportant were it not for two things. On the one hand, Moscow is sowing the seeds of future problems for itself where things had been relatively quiet. And on the other, the five million Circassians living abroad will be watching to see whether a re-energized Circassian movement will emerge in their homeland.