Thursday, 8 January 2009

Turkey's Circassians Press Ankara to Reopen Sea Route to Abkhazia

by Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Vienna, January 8 – Leaders of the six-million-strong Circassian community of Turkey met with that country's President Abdulla Gul this week to press for the reopening of ferry service from Trabzon to the Abkhaz port of Sukhum(i), a link that was suspended in 2006 when the CIS imposed an embargo on that breakaway republic.

On Monday, Gul received the leaders of the Caucasus Federation Khase, which unites 56 Circassian groups in Turkey, for 45 minutes to discuss this and Circassian demands for more broadcasting in their by Turkish channels and more Circassian language classes in Turkish universities ( and

After the meeting, Khase general coordinator Dzhumkhur Bal told the media that the reopening of sea communications with Abkhazia was not only possible but vital for his community because now after the August 2008 war, "there is no need for compatriots of Abkhazia [such as the Circassians living in Turkey] to obtain a Russian visa."

And he added that expanding Circassian broadcasting in Turkey, where TRT-3 now broadcasts seven hours a day in that language was especially important given the increasing attention of his community to what is taking place in Abkhazia and other historically Circassian areas in the northern Caucasus.

Only a day before the Circassians of Turkey met with Gul, more than 150 young Circassians in Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Adygeya assembled in Cherkessk to reiterate their call for working toward the creation of a single Circassian Republic in the North Caucasus (

As they have repeatedly in recent months, the young people asserted that "Kabardinians, Cherkesses, Abazas and Adygeys are "one people and must live in a single republic in the framework of the Russian Federation," a demand that they said "corresponds to the right of nations to self-determination and [Vladimir Putin's] policy of amalgamating regions."

The session, which was organized with the support of Nart-TV, a station in Jordan where there is also a large Circassian diaspora, included speakers who insisted that the restoration of such a republic would "to a large extent stabilize the situation in the region and strengthen the geopolitical position of Russia."

Most Russian officials, however, and some Circassian leaders inside the Russian Federation oppose that idea in the first case, because they view it as a threat to Moscow's control in the awake of Abkhazia's moves toward independence and in the second, because they fear it might undercut their own positions or harm Circassian interests.

But the Circassian diaspora is completely behind the idea, as the actions of the Caucasus Federation in Turkey and Nart TV in Jordan show. And those communities are now playing an ever greater role not only in the countries where they are now living but in the region from which their ancestors were expelled almost 150 years ago.

As the Russian government works over the next several years to prepare for an Olympics in Sochi, the activities of these communities and their influence on their co-ethnics inside the Russian Federation are certain to grow, creating new challenges for all the countries involved and perhaps new opportunities for this much oppressed nation.

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