Monday, February 15, 2010

Window on Eurasia: In Vancouver, Circassians Urge Shifting Venue for 2014 Games Away from Sochi

Paul Goble

Apalachicola, February 15 – Representatives of the Circassian diaspora staged a demonstration at the site of the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games on Saturday as part of their ongoing campaign to have the International Olympic Committee move the 2014 Games from Sochi, the site of a Russian genocide of the Circassians in the nineteenth century.
The message of the Circassians both in the Canadian City and on their new website -- -- which were organized by the Circassian Cultural Institute in the United States, is that “if you let the 2014 games go on as planned in Russia, you’ll be skiing on the graves of our oppressed ancestors” (
Ed Youghar, one of the organizers and participants, said in advance of the Vancouver protest that the Circassians planned to use the event talk “about the tragedy of1864, about the genocide of the Circassians, about the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of Circassians in the course of the war, and about the forced expulsion of those who remained” from their homes.
He pointed out that “up to now Russia has not recognized its guilt in the matter. And therefore an Olympics, which is the symbol of peace, cannot be held on such a territory. It would be wrong to hold such games in Darfur or Auschwitz,” and the world should be equally concerned about the Circassian genocide (
Russian television ignored the Circassian demonstration, which was entirely peaceful and which the Canadian police defended, even though Russian publicity about Sochi continued and even though Moscow continues to try to subvert the anti-Sochi effort of the Circassians ( and
But a commentary posted today on the widely-read Russian-language Circassian news portal underscored just how serious the Circassians are about preventing the Olympics from taking place in Sochi and equally just how important the Vancouver Games and the approach of the Canadian authorities there are energizing the Circassian community.
In an essay entitled “Vancouver versus Sochi” datelined Moscow-Baksan, Aslan-Bek says that Circassians around the world were struck less by the demonstration their co-ethnics staged than by the way in which the Canadian organizers of the Vancouver Games have behaved (
“The ideological foundation of the Olympics [in Vancouver],” he points out, “has been 100 percent connected to what is almost a cult of the indigenous peoples of Canada who are called the ‘first nations.’” Their representatives opened the games and were given a place of honor in the stands.
Such respect for the original population by the Canadian government should not have come as a shock, Aslan-Bek says. In the early 1990s, “one highly-placed official of the government of one of the Circassian subjects of the Russian Federation visited Canada and on his return home shared his impressions.
He told Circassians in Russia that “in comparison with Canada, with the rights its indigenous people have and the level of concern by the government for them, we [in Russia] are simply surviving as we can” rather than flourishing as are many of “the first nations” of that North American country.
But at that time, Aslan-Bek continues, Circassians didn’t want to believe him because they had had their views about the indigenous peoples of North America shaped by “Soviet agitprop” and believed that “Indians” were subject to such discrimination that people like Leonard Peltier were completely justified in their actions.
Now things have changed, he argues. “After all this [in Vancouver] and the comparison with the approach of the organizers of the Olympics in Sochi who are not prepared to apologize for the genocide of the Circassians in the 19th century,” the Circassians in the North Caucasus and around the world have a different view.
Moscow so far, he notes, has been unwilling to acknowledge that it is the Circassian people who are the first nation of Sochi. It has been deaf to the appeals of the Circassian movement concerning the games. And it has been unwilling to recognize the right of Circassians to return to their homeland.
As a result, Aslan-Bek concludes with what is obvious bitterness, “the Olympics in Vancouver will be the first in my life when I will hardly be cheering for the Russian team. Not because,” he says,” I do not wish them a victory in sports but because we [Circassians and Russians] are aliens in this holiday of life.”

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