Vienna, June 7 – A Congress of the Circassian People of the Karachay-Cherkessia this weekend called on Moscow to restore the separate autonomous formation the Circassians had before 1957, and its leader said that the Circassians will “be forced to stage a protest” in Moscow “if the federal powers that be ignore the demand of the Congress.”
But while Aleksandr Khloponin, Presidential plenipotentiary for the North Caucasus, has said that many are now working on a solution for the Circassian “question” as a whole (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1382628&NodesID=2), it appears unlikely that Moscow will agree to this demand, one the Circassians have made several times before.
On the one hand, any border changes in the North Caucasus could trigger additional ones. Indeed, it is almost certain that the Circassians are making this demand now because of the Russian Federation’s decision to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia following the August 2008 war.
And on the other, while the KChR Circassians were careful to specify that they seek only this change, most officials in Moscow are certain to remember that they, like other Circassians in the North Caucasus who were split apart by Stalin, have in the past called for the establishment of a larger Circassian Republic that would embrace them all.
That is all the more likely because among the 700 people taking part in this meeting, the second half of a congress that originally convened at the end of last year, were delegations from Adygeya and Kabardino-Balkaria, two other partially Circassian republics, as well as representatives of Abaza organizations, another smaller and republic-less Circassian community.
Like the entire North Caucasus, the territorial and political arrangements Moscow has made for the Circassians have changed over time. In January 1922, the RSFSR created a Karachay-Cherkess Republic. Then in 1928, Moscow divided it in two, with the Cherkess Autonomous Oblast existing until 1957.
In that year, the Karachay who had been deported by Stalin were allowed to return home, and Moscow established a Karachay-Cherkessk Autonomous Oblast, which existed until the end of Soviet times. According to the 2002 census, 38.5 percent of the oblast’s people are Karachays, 33.6 percent are ethnic Russians, and only 11.3 percent are Circassians (Cherkess).
Despite their numbers, the Circassians as a titular nationality could count on having certain positions in the government and schools reserved for them both in Soviet times and in the first post-Soviet years. But under Vladimir Putin, the Karachay leadership violated these expectations in the name of democracy (www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=4C0B58B21D7C4).
That has put the Circassians and to a lesser extent the ethnic Russians at odds with Karachay-dominated government, prompting an increasing number of the latter to leave and an increasing number of the former to advance demands either for the restoration of their own republic or for a single Circassian one (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/169795/).
The meeting this weekend and the resolution it adopted are the latest stage in this process. The resolution describes the administrative history of the Karachays and Circassians and suggests that the relationship between the two had worked relatively well in Soviet times because each could count on certain things.
“However, beginning in 1991,” what the resolution calls “nationalist and separatist attitudes among part of the Karachay population” took the upper hand, “and today the Karachay-Cherkess Republic from a flourishing region has been converted into one of the most subsidized regions of the North Caucasus” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/169774/).
“Today,” the resolution continues, “representatives of the Karachay people dominate in the government and administration of the President, in the parliament of the republic and also in other no less significant federal and financial structures. Above all,” the resolution says, “the Russian population has suffered as a result of such a discriminatory cadres policy.”
Many “authoritative and experienced leaders of Russian nationality” have left, the resolution says, with the overall ethnic Russian population having fallen by more than half over the past 20 years. But other nationalities, including the Circassians, have suffered as well, the resolution says.
“The constitutional norms of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic about the equality of rights and freedoms of the individual independent of gender, race, nationality and language are not being observed,” the resolution goes on. “The Federal center has more than once promised to correct the situation, but republic residents do not expect from it any positive changes.”
Consequently, the resolution says, the Circassians are calling for “the restoration of the Circassian Autonomous Oblast as a republic within the Russian Federation,” one whose exact borders and structure are to be determined by an international organizing committee “consisting of representatives of [all] the indigenous peoples” living there.
The resolution calls on the Abaza, Nogay and ethnic Russian people as well as the Cossacks to support this decision. It appeals to all Circassians (Adgygey) both inside the Russian Federation and abroad to back it. And it “extends the plenipotentiary power of the extraordinary congress of the Circassian people until the restoration of the Circassian Autonomous Republic.”