Saturday, May 21, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Recognition of Circassian Genocide Part of Broader Georgian Campaign in North Caucasus

Paul Goble

Staunton, May 21 – The Georgian parliament’s adoption yesterday of a resolution declaring the mass killings of Circassians 150 years ago to have been a genocide is part of a broad Tbilisi campaign to extend its influence in the North Caucasus by undermining Russian control there.

That conclusion is suggested both by the debate preceding the adoption of the resolution and by two other recent developments, one in Georgia involving the expansion of broadcasts into the North Caucasus from Georgia and a second in that region itself where demonstrators invoked Georgian support to pressure local officials.

Yesterday, the Georgian parliament passed a government-backed resolution saying that the “pre-planned” mass killing of Circassians in the 1860s constituted “a genocide” and that those forced to leave their homeland and their descendents should be recognized as “refugees” (

Backers of the resolution said that this declaration is “not directed against the Russian people” because “the Russian people should not be permanently living under the burden imposed on them by their leaders in the nineteenth century, the twentieth century and the twenty-first century.”

But many Russians and at least some Georgians are likely to view it otherwise, in part because another deputy from the ruling party, Givi Targamadze, said that the Georgian parliament should also take up “the situation surrounding other peoples” in the North Caucasus, a step he said would “lead us to a powerful and significant Caucasian unity.”

Deputies of the Christian Democratic Movement abstained from voting, arguing that the vote was taken too hastily, but only one parliamentarian spoke against the resolution. Jondi Bagaturia said that while “it is impossible not to show solidarity towards the Circassian people,” Georgians should consider whether that “will not look unfair” to the Armenians.

That is because Armenians have frequently asked Georgia to declare the events of 1915 in the Ottoman Empire a genocide, something Georgian officials and parliamentarians have refused to do, most recently a month ago.

Another deputy, Nuzgar Tsiklauri, chairman of the diaspora and Caucasian issues committee in the parliament, countered that it was “inappropriate” to link the two issues. Tbilisi could address these questions with “Georgia’s two friendly nations,” Armenia and Turkey, “with “a positive dialogue,’ and “meddling in this process would be ‘unjustified.’”

The second development indicating that this decision was very political and directed against Russian interests in the North Caucasus was the launch earlier this year of a Russian-language television channel in Georgia targeted at that region, PIK television, which can be viewed on the Internet (

Yesterday and today, that channel gave prominent coverage to yesterday’s decision of the Georgian parliament to declare the 1864 killings of the Circassians a genocide and headlined its story, “Georgia has become the first to recognize the genocide of the Circassian people” (

But a third development this week, although it has attracted far less international attention, may prove to be equally consequential. In Daghestan, members of the Dido nationality on Tuesday organized a demonstration in Makhachkala demanding that their nationality be given official status and their own ethno-territorial unit (

The meeting, which attracted some 80 people and adopted a resolution sent to both the Daghestan and Russian Federation governments, took place under a banner declaring in Russian “Daghestan Refuses; Georgia Helps,” a message that, if taken up by other groups in that republic and beyond, could further complicate Moscow’s tasks in the region.

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