Monday, March 8, 2010

Window on Eurasia: To Advance, Circassians Need a Lobby like The Ones Others Have, Commentator Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 8 – The Circassians need the kind of ethnic lobby other groups have to set priorities, work with other nations when possible and put pressure on the Russian government when necessary not only to achieve their goals but also to allow the numerous Circassian public organizations to recover their influence rather than continue to fight among themselves.
That argument is advanced today by Osman Mazukabzov, the director general of and, who says that the Circassians must take this step in order to combat “the lack of respect” that the Russian Olympic Committee and the Russian government more generally have shown their nation (
According to Mazukabzov, the Circassians “are experiencing extremely significant changes in [their] social and political life” because of Moscow’s decision to “exclude” the Circassians, “the indigenous residents of the Western part of the North Caucasus,” from any part of the Sochi Olympic Games currently scheduled to take place in 2014.
If the Russian Olympic Committee has its way, “instead of Circassians, the international community will be met by Cossacks, who are Russian by nationality, dressed up in Circassian national costumes,” an act of disrespect so serious that it has forced “all Circassians to reflect” about not just the Games but about their future as a people.
The director says that “even the most thorough-going defenders of the Kremlin’s policy in the Caucasus cannot find an explanation for this bestial injustice.” And consequently, if now the Circassian national movement takes off, Moscow will have only itself to blame.
The Olympics and Circassian representation in them is far from the only problem that the nation faces, Mazukabzov says, but just as is the case with that issue, “the dissatisfaction of the Circassians is based on the unwillingness of the federal center to solve the fundamental problems of the ethnos.”
The Circassians’ “main problem,” he continues, is the question of the recognition of the genocide, which the tsarist forces committed 150 years ago and which “led to the complete disappearance of certain Circassians tribes” and “the dispersal” of a majority of the other parts of the nation beyond the borders of its traditional homeland.
As a result of this action, “tsarist Russia obtained the Black Sea coast and the Kuban, the most fruitful and strategically important regions in the empire,” a conquest that has prompted Russian historians to play down “the fact of the destruction of almost a million Circassians” to “fabricate” stories about “the voluntary re-joining of Kabarda with Russia.”
Now, 150 years later, the Circassian nation remains dispersed, with most living in Turkey and the Middle East. But despite their exile, “the mountaineers cannot live in the desert. They dream about the mountains, about pure air, about their native land. But Circassians do not have the right to return to Russia.”
Those Circassians who remain in the North Caucasus have other problems, and because they are so numerous, they have divided the community, something that is causing more and more Circassians to raise questions about “prioritizing” their goals so that the pursuit of one does not harm moves to achieve another.
Officials in the Circassian republics, he writes, “in the first instance are occupied with the survival of the people,” with “the restoration of the economy being for them the more important question.” That is entirely understandable, Mazukabzov writes, because “the majority of Circassians in Russia live in poverty and in debt.”
“The birthrate [among them] is falling, since young couples cannot feed either themselves or their future children,” he says, and “marriages are not held since bridegrooms lack the resources to have a dignified marriage ceremony.” As a result, the entire fabric of the nation is being torn, and the possibility of its future flourishing is at risk
In this situation, many Circassians have organized groups to address one or another issue, but as difficult as it is for them to acknowledge, these “Circassian social organizations in Russia have lost their influence among the ordinary population” because they lack “clear, understandable and achievable goals.”
According to Mazukabzov, there is only “one way out – the creation of an organized Circassian lobby,” which will allow the nation to apply “a balanced approach to the resolution of all tasks. It must not be too aggressive and it must not be too passive. It must be able to make friends with all and when necessary to bring pressure to bear.”
That requires, he points out, that the lobby “consider the interests of all sides, including the diaspora, the federal center and local politicians.” And as utopian as such an institution may sound to some, Mazukabzov argues that “the first elements of a people’s lobby already are in place.”
As evidence of that, he points to the campaign launched to gather signatures on a petition calling on the International Olympic Committee to insist that the Circassians be involved in “the process of the planning and conduct” of the Sochi Games. According to Mazukabzov, the positive response of Circassians to that “exceeded all expectations.”
The reason for that – and he suggests that this is the reason for creating a lobby – is that the Circassian people is “tired of the unfulfilled promises of our social leaders” and that “instead of calls for the overthrow of the powers that be, separation from Russia and other extremist declarations,” the Circassian nation is interested in what it can achieve in the near term.
Some Circassians both in the North Caucasus and the diaspora are likely to view Mazukabzov’s call as an effort to divide the Circassian movement or even to demobilize it on Moscow’s behalf, but they may be missing the point that the director is trying to make.
Winning some small victories won’t demobilize the Circassians: that will have just the opposite effect, all the more so because Moscow has been so clumsy in its handling of the Sochi Games to date that, as Mazukabzov points out, even the Russian government’s defenders can’t defend its indefensible show of disrespect for the people whose homeland Sochi is.

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