Staunton, July 7 – The Permanent Representation of the Adygey Republic in Moscow, the office which links the Russian capital and that North Caucasian federal subject, has announced that it is now offering courses in two Circassian dialects as well as in English, the latest indication of the growing role of such institutions inside the Russian Federation.
In response to requests from Circassians living in Moscow, the Permanent Representation has organized three different weekend language classes: one in which those enrolled study Western Adygey, a second in which they study the Kabardino-Circassian dialect, and a third in which they learn English (www.adyga-postpredstvo.ru/press-center/news/64/1834/).
Officials at the Representation said they were “especially pleased” to report that “many of the students displayed interest” not only in learning the Circassian dialect of their ancestors but also learning the dialect of the other Circassian group and had enrolled in both groups,” thereby gaining the ability to interact more easily among all Circassians.
“The idea of organizing these courses,” the site continued, was first advanced “several years ago” by Murat Sokhov, an activist with the Moscow Circassian Society. He first tried to hold the courses at Moscow State University but because of space conflicts, he turned to the Representation to help out.
This brief announcement is important for three reasons. First, it is an indication of growing Circassian national self-awareness and self-identification not only in the North Caucasus but especially among diaspora groups in major Russian cities and of a coming together of sub-ethnic groups that the Soviet system attempted to divide.
Second, it shows that the Circassians of the Russian capital also want to reach out beyond their community to the English-speaking world, an interest that likely reflects the involvement of some Circassians in the movement to cancel the 2014 Sochi Olympics or at least to ensure that the Russian authorities gives these games a “Circassian” dimension.
And third, it is the latest indication that the Permanent Representations of the non-Russian republics within the Russian Federation are coming to play some of the “diplomatic” role that the Representations of the union republics played at the end of Soviet times, serving as proto-embassies for groups that often had difficulty in establishing contact with the West.
Such institutions have a long history. They were set up in the first years of Soviet power when the enormous distances within Soviet Russia and then the Soviet Union and the difficulties of ensuring communications from Moscow to them and from them back to the Soviet center made them essential.
Later, they often played the role of travel agencies for officials coming from the republics to Moscow. Still later they served as lobbyists for the interests of their republics. And throughout, they served as symbols of the sovereignty the Soviet Constitutions said these republics enjoyed but that the Communist Party invariably undermined.
An indication of that was the visit by Heydar Aliyev to the Azerbaijani Permanent Representation at the time of Black January in 1990, when Soviet troops intervened in Baku. Aliyev’s visit marked for him and for his people a major step away from their Soviet identity toward a new post-Soviet Azerbaijani one.
Whether the Permanent Representations of the non-Russian republics within the Russian Federation will play a similar role in the future, of course, is very much an open question. But their activities, such as in this offering of language courses, show that they are more than just bureaucratic structures without political meaning even now.