Vienna, August 6 – Despite Moscow’s unwillingness to include the Circassians in its compatriot repatriation program and to support the return to the North Caucasus of members of that five-million-strong diaspora in the Middle East, the Adygey Republic has unilaterally boosted the quota for Circassian repatriates this year from 50 – Moscow’s figure – to 1400.
It has done so, Adygey activist Aslan Shazzo told the Regnum news agency, “in the manner of [former Russian President Boris] Yeltsin” who once advised the non-Russian nationalities to “take as much [sovereignty] as you can swallow,” the republic government is doing the same thing with regard to repatriation (www.adygi.ru/index.php?newsid=211).
Various Circassian organizations both in the North Caucasus and abroad have pressed for this increase, Shazzo continued, threatening that if the authorities in Moscow do not agree and do not include the Circassians in the list of compatriots eligible for repatriation support, the Circassians will step up their efforts to call attention to the tsarist-era genocide of their people.
Such threats are not trivial, given that some Circassian groups have already begun a campaign to block the holding of the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014 because that city was the site where Russian officials killed numerous Circassians in the course of expelling them to the Ottoman Empire in the 1860s.
At the same time, the Circassians argue that Moscow would benefit from agreeing. On the one hand, they point to the propaganda boost Moscow got from allowing two dozen Circassian families to return from Kosovo in 1999, even though only about half of them now remain in the North Caucasus.
And on the other, the Circassians suggest that the return of their co-ethnics would help compensate for the much-commented-upon failure of Moscow’s effort to attract ethnic Russians and other Slavs back to help compensate for the Russian Federation’s increasingly serious demographic problems.
At the very least, Yakhya Stash, the head of the House of Adaptation of Repatriates in Maykop, says, Moscow should allow those Circassians who do return – and their numbers are growing – to register their place of residence without difficulty, something that is not now the case.
But the celebration of Repatriates’ Day last Saturday in Adgeya called attention to three reasons why Moscow is unlikely to do so and instead may soon move to counter the unilateral actions of the Adygey government lest the central Russian authorities lose control over yet another sphere of life in the North Caucasus.
First, the celebration itself highlighted that any return of Circassians from abroad will inevitably generate even more attention to their forcible expulsion nearly 150 years ago and lead both those returning and those already in the North Caucasus to focus on the responsibility of the Russian government for what happened.
This year’s commemoration took place on the square in front of the National Museum and involved what one Adygey journalist noted was a somewhat “unusual” ceremony: “the laying of flowers for (a future0 ‘monument to the victims of the Caucasus War,’” the conflict in which the Circassians fought Russians for more than a century.
Indeed, he said, speakers identified the memorial by that name, and what may be most disturbing for the central Russian government, among those doing so were “not only public activists but officials,” something that had the effect of underlining the holiday as “a government one” (www.natpress.net/stat.php?id=4071).
Second, the return of Circassians would threaten the ethno-territorial divisions the Soviets imposed in the North Caucasus. Adyge Khase head Arambiy Khapay said that Circassians should be allowed to come not only to one of the three Circassian republics (Adygeya, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachayevo-Cherkessia) but from “where they were exiled.”
If large numbers of Circassians were to do so, they would thus both challenge Stalin’s division of their own ethnic territory into three parts as well as the other parts of the North Caucasus where Circassians once formed sizeable minorities but which are now occupied by others.
And third, allowing the Circassians to return might lead them to demand the expulsion of representatives of other ethnic groups now living in officially recognized Circassian republics. Adyge Khase’s Khapay implied as much when he noted in his speech that many non-Circassians live in Circassia while “many Adygs [the self-designator for “Circassian”] remain abroad.”