Staunton, April 26 – A report last week that a group of Circassians from the North Caucasus had written to Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi and offered to come to fight on his side in the civil war there attracted a fair amount of media attention in the Russian Federation, Turkey and the West.
But the next stage in this story has attracted far less and yet it is in many ways more instructive of what is going on in the Circassian movement. After hearing from Circassians in Libya that Qaddafi is in fact a murder of Circassians and after being urged by Circassian leaders in the North Caucasus and elsewhere not to interfere, the original group has changed its mind.
The original offer to serve as volunteers in Qaddafi’s forcdes came from a group in Kabardino-Balkaria. It was published on the Internet and also sent formally to the Libyan embassy in Moscow. The letter spoke about “the full and unqualified support” of this group of Circassians of Qaddafi’s position (kabardino-balkaria.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/184203/ ).
“We ask You,” the letter continued, “to allow us to come to Your country in order with arms in our hands to stand in defense of the independence of Libya. Many years ago, Libya became a refugee for our fellow Circassians, the descendents of whom live there up to now. And we would like in a small play to pay back Your country for its good relations to the Circassians.”
But a few days after this letter became public, a letter came from Libya asking the group to reconsider. Written by Musbakh Shirksi, a Circassian living in the city of Misurat, it said that “Qaddafi is a murder … [who is] killing innocent Libyan Muslims, including Circassians” and suggesting that “if you really want to come to Libya, come to help” Qaddafi’s opponents.
A second letter came from Kazbek Soobzokov, a Circassian now living in California. He urged the group to think again as well. “Qaddafi,” he wrote, “is someone like Stalin who is well known to you. Your good intentions toward Qaddafi are based on a false feeling.” And those letters had their effect.
The original group announced that it had reconsidered its plans and would decide what to do next on the basis of information from the Circassians of Libya. Among the ideas being discussed is “the question of their return to their historical motherland, based on the precedent of the return of the Circassians of Kosovo during the war in Yugoslavia.”
Other Circassian leaders have weighed in as well. Ruslan Kesh, the leader of the Circassian Congress, said that Circassians “respect democratic values and the opinion of the international community and consider that the conflict msut be resolved above all by the Libyans themselves.”
“Circassian interference in the Libyan conflict,” Kesh suggested, “could complicate the international direction of the policy of the national Circassian movement.” At the same time, however, he expressed understanding for the authors of the original appeal: They are “people who do not accept the policy of double standards.”
Moreover, “the traditional readiness of the Circassians to come to the help of those in need shows that the people is alive and that it is capable of reacting to the challenges of the times. As for the Circassian diaspora living in Libya, it is necessary to develop the question about its repatriation to its historical Motherland.”
Unlike many Circassians in the Middle East who trace their origins to the expulsion and partial genocide of their people by the Russian authorities in the 1860s, the Circassians of Libya came to that area with the Mamluks in the 14th century. They do not speak Circassian, but they “remember that they are descendents of the Circassians and call themselves al-Jerkesi.”
In 1998, one Circassian from Libya came to the congress of the International Circassian Association in Krasnodar. He spoke Arabic and had a translator, but he “expressed the desire of the Libyan Circassians to restore their historical ties” with other Circassians.” In this roundabout way, that is now happening.