Tuesday 24 February 2009

Circassian World: Responses to the New Challenges

PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo No. 54

by Sufian Zhemukhov
Kabardino-Balkarian Institute of Humanitarian Studies, Nalchik
Originally Published December 2008

Every tourist who comes to Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, visits a famous gift shop called “Adyga Una” (“The Circassian House”). The owner of this gift shop is a well-known Circassian businessman who was born in Turkey and moved back to the Caucasus, the homeland of his ancestors. He is a living example of the Circassian dream. Three quarters of the Circassian population do not live in their historic homeland and very few of them believe they will return. Some of them try, but cannot get through the process, and very few are able to obtain citizenship and adjust to their new life. This man, however, used the first opportunity he had after the end of the Cold War to attain his dream and managed to overcome many obstacles – even divorcing his wife in Turkey, who did not believe in coming back. He then obtained Russian citizenship, built a new family, and made his own successful business in Nalchik.

Small nations do not always have to be the victims of conflict between larger nations; they can sometimes solve their problems during hard times if they are able to clearly understand their own interests and have defined goals. The Circassians have as many grievances about their past, as much of a sense of cultural commonality, and as many resources as other more mobilized groups in the region, such as Chechens or Tatars. This has always raised the question - why has the Circassian issue not been politically more important up to this point? This paper focuses on the problem of how the great geopolitical changes of the 1990s have affected the Circassians – a small nation of the Caucasus, most of whose population is dispersed all over the world, and how Circassians, in turn, have responded to the main events of our times that concern them.

Formation of the Circassian World and Its Ideology
The contemporary Circassian world was formed amidst great geopolitical events, such as the constant conflict between the Russian and Ottoman Empires in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Bolshevik Revolution, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, World War Two, the Palestinian conflict, and others.

Only ten percent of the Circassian population remained on its native soil in the Caucasus by the end of the nineteenth century. Circassian lands were divided in the Stalinist period into several small administrative units of different statuses (autonomous republics, oblasts, and regions). These areas did not border each other, and the Circassian populations were grouped together with non-related nations. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the lands traditionally inhabited by Circassians formed three republics: Kabardino-Balkaria, Adygeya, and Karachaevo-Cherkesia.

Figure 1

Circassian population in Russia
Population Percentage of the population
Kabardians 519,958 Kabardino-Balkaria – 52.5
Adygeyans 12, 528 Adygeya – 25.2
Cherkesses 60,517 Karachaevo-Cherkesia – 11.2
Total 709,003

According to the 2002 census, there are over 700,000 Circassians currently in Russia (Figure 1). Most of the Circassian population emigrated from its homeland in a mass exodus after the Russo-Caucasian war from 1763 to 1864. The flow from the Caucasus to the Ottoman Empire continued from the 1860s to the beginning of the twentieth century. The number of Circassian settlers in Turkey reached an estimated total of 1.5 million, and their numbers doubled before the turn of the twenty-first century. Today Circassians live in 897 villages and towns in Turkey.

After the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, Circassians found themselves scattered throughout several newly formed states, including Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Serbia, and Palestine. As an ethnoreligious minority in Kosovo (Serbia), they started to migrate to Turkey after the Balkan wars (1912-1913) and continued migrating for almost a century. In 1998, there were reportedly 174 Circassians in Kosovo - quite a drop from the 6,500 in 1900.

The Russian Civil War (1918-1922) forced many anti-Bolshevik families to leave the Caucasus and settle in different Western cities such as Paris, Lyon, Berlin, Warsaw, Prague, and New York. Another wave of Circassian emigration to Western countries, mainly a work migration, started in the 1950s, with migrants heading mostly to Germany from Turkey and to the United States from the Middle East. After the Arab-Israeli war in 1967, more than 18,000 Circassians were deported from the Golan Heights and settled in Syria and Jordan. Two big Circassian villages, Kfar-Kame and Rehania, remained in Israel. Representatives of Circassians live outside the Caucasus in 50 countries.

Figure 2

Circassian Diaspora
Turkey 3,000,000
Syria 80,000
Jordan 65,000
Israel 3,595
United States 9,000
Kosovo (in 1998) 174
Germany 40,000
Netherlands 500

In the early 1990s, the Circassians had two main geopolitical problems to solve: the unification of the Circassian world and the repatriation of the expelled population to the homeland. A clear understanding of these two problems has emerged over the last two decades as the result of a broad international movement, which has been marked by seven International Circassian Congresses (Nalchik 1991, Maykop 1993, Cherkessk 1996, Krasnodar 1998, Nalchik 2000 and 2003, and Istanbul 2006).

The realization of their ideology and an understanding of their problems brought two main tendencies into the Circassian movement. First, the Circassian world started to respond to world events from its own national position, trying to achieve its own interests. Second, the movement realized that the resolution of both the Circassians’ geopolitical problems depends on their relationship to Russia—a situation understood perfectly well by the Circassian regions of Russia and by the diaspora.

The Circassian Unification Movement
The unification movement started after the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of Cold War. In 1991, the International Circassian Association (ICA) was established in Munich. Its first president was a prominent Circassian, Yuri Kalmykov, who was appointed Russia’s Minister of Justice two years later. The ICA not only united the activities of Circassians all around the world but also raised the Circassian movement to an international level. It became a member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) in 1994. The fifth General Assembly of UNPO (July 15-19, 1997) issued a Resolution on the Situation of the Circassian Nation, in which it called upon the Russian Federation and the international community “to acknowledge the genocide of the Circassian nation that took place in the nineteenth century and to grant the Circassian people status of an exile nation; to grant the Circassian people dual citizenship, both that of Russia and of their respective countries; [and] to ensure the Circassian people of the possibility to return to their historical land.” The Circassian International Academy of Sciences was founded in 1993 in Nalchik with branches in Krasnodar, Maykop, Abkhazia, Israel, and Jordan.

The break up of the Soviet Union and the formation of three republics within the Russian Federation – Kabardino-Balkaria, Adygeya, and Karachaevo-Cherkesia – greatly accelerated the process of Circassian state building. Each republic was given its own president, government, parliament, and constitution; the Circassian language became an official language in the three republics. The first constitutions of these republics even came into conflict with federal law because they were based on the ethnopolitical interests of the republics. In the republic of Adygeya, the Circassian national identity was so prominent that the parliament was renamed the Khasa (in the old Circassian style), and the old Circassian flag with 12 stars and three crossed arrows on a green background became the republic’s official flag.

Another modern tendency among the Circassians of Russia was a form of irredentism – a movement for the reunification of Circassians according to ethnic and linguistic principles. Steps were taken to bring Kabardino-Balkaria, Adygeya, and Karachevo-Cherkesia closer. In 1992, the republics signed a Treaty of Friendship and Partnership. The most significant achievement was the establishment of an Interparliamentary Counsel of Kabardino-Balkaria, Adygeya and Karachaevo-Cherkesia in 1997. Recently, the question of uniting Circassian territories was brought up in public at the Circassian Congress in Cherkessk, on November 25, 2008. The recognition of the independence of Abkhazia by Russia inspired the delegates of the Congress, and they considered sending an appeal to the Russian government to unite the Circassian republics into one unit within the Russian Federation.

Response to the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict
Abkhazia is considered to be part of the Circassian world (the Abkhaz language belongs to another branch of Abkhaz-Circassian languages alongside Abazin, spoken in the North Caucasus). For that reason, the Circassians of Russia responded dramatically to the Georgian-Abkhazian war (1992-1993). Groups gathered in Nalchik, Maykop, and Cherkessk to protest the war, and some blocked federal roads. All Circassian NGOs in Russia raised their voices against the war, including committees of women, journalists, and writers. In August 1992, Russian President Boris Yeltsin stated that Russia supports the principle of Georgia’s territorial integrity and pointed to the dangerous actions of those who summoned volunteers to fight for Abkhazia. This was negatively received by Circassians in Russia and led to further meetings.

Due to the fear of disorder in the republic, military troops were deployed to Kabardino-Balkaria. The leader of the Confederation of Caucasian Nations, Musa Shanib, was arrested in Nalchik for declaring war on Georgia. In response, people blocked the roads to the airport in Nalchik and started a permanent protest from September 24 to October 4, 1992 in front of the Republican Government building. This led to a clash with the army and police, leaving many people wounded. Another demonstration took place in Nalchik from September 20–27, 1993. The Cabinet of Ministers and the Supreme Soviet of Kabardino-Balkaria made decisions to send humanitarian aid to Abkhazia.

The first group of volunteers arrived in Abkhazia on the third day of the war under the leadership of a Nalchik-born retired Soviet colonel, Sultan Sosnaliev, who later became the commander of all Abkhaz forces and was appointed Minister of Defense of Abkhazia. Over 1,500 volunteers from Nalchik participated in the war. Indeed, a regiment from Nalchik captured the pro-Georgian government in Sukhum(i) on September 27, 1993, and raised the Circassian flag on top of the government building.

The Circassian diaspora was very active since the first days of the war. Circassians in Turkey organized several meetings and sent appeals to the governments of Turkey and other countries. A delegation from Circassian NGOs met in September 1992 with the prime minister of Turkey, Süleyman Demirel, who agreed to cooperate to stop the conflict, although his government later supported Georgia. More than 350 volunteers went to Abkhazia from Turkey. The Circassian Benevolent Association (CBA) of Syria established a fund to help Abkhazia. The CBA of Jordan visited and appealed to the government of Jordan and embassies of the United States, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. On January 5, 1993, a freight carrier from the Jordanian Air Force landed at the Nalchik airport with 17 tons of humanitarian aid from the CBA and Jordanian Prince Hassan.

The Circassian world continued to support Abkhazia after the war as well. The International Circassian Congress in 1993 was mainly devoted to the war, and all following congresses raised the question of Abkhazia’s independence. Circassian NGOs spoke many times against the economic blockade of Abkhazia after the war. The Union of Abkhazian Volunteers was established in Nalchik and remains very active, recently celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Abkhaz victory. Abkhazia has its own ambassador in Nalchik (who was the brother of the president of Abkhazia until the last election). Recognizing the important role of the Circassian diaspora in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, held a discussion with the Circassian leaders of the Caucasian Association (Kaf-Der) in Turkey on June 31, 2008. Circassian NGOs responded to the five-day war in August 2008 with statements in support of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; leaders of the Union of Abkhazian volunteers and the Union of Afghanistan Veterans from Nalchik were in Sukhum(i) and Tskhinvali. A meeting took place on Abkhaz Square in Nalchik on the day of recognition of Abkhaz independence. Delegations from all parts of the Circassian world met up in Sukhum(i) to celebrate the Russian recognition of Abkhaz independence in August 2008.

Circassian Repatriation
Expelled Circassians did not have a chance to immigrate to the Caucasus until the early 1990s. In 1990, Soviet authorities officially rejected an appeal by the Circassian Benevolent Association of Syria to let 234 Circassian families return to the Caucasus and obtain Soviet citizenship.

The end of the Cold War started a wave of Circassian immigration to the Caucasus. In 1993, about 3,000 Circassians returned to Nalchik and 1,000 to Maykop. Indeed, some scholars compare the beginning of this process to the lesser numbers of the first Aliyah of Jewish emigration to Israel. However, this initial wave of migration did not herald the beginning of a larger movement. The post-Soviet realities of Russia, the instability of the Caucasus after the beginning of the war in Chechnya in 1994, and other factors slowed down the process. Another problem was the complicated process of obtaining temporary residency and Russian citizenship. Up through 2000, authorities in Kabardino-Balkaria and Adygeya only issued 1,711 temporary residency permits and granted only 610 requests for citizenship, mainly for returnees from Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Yugoslavia, but also from the United States and other European states.

The best time to return was when it was possible to obtain Russian citizenship without giving up one’s previous citizenship. However, most returning emigrants obtained citizenship according to a November 1991 law that had three conditions making it harder to obtain Russian citizenship: an applicant had to reject the citizenship of his or her country of origin, live five years in Russia, and know the Russian language. After a new law was passed in November 2003 on the legal status of foreign citizens in the Russian Federation, it became almost impossible to obtain citizenship. Only five passports were issued after that in Nalchik. A survey of 400 Circassian immigrants in Adygeya and Kabardino-Balkaria in 2006 by the Institute of Humanitarian Studies of Kabardino-Balkaria showed that their main problem, overwhelmingly, was the process of obtaining citizenship (unemployment was the next biggest problem for respondents in Kabardino-Balkaria, while in Adygeya it was adapting to local traditions).

“Return movements" are unique events in world history. Only a few of them have succeeded. It seems that almost every social force in existence acts against diasporic returns and that they succeed perhaps only when there are utterly extraordinary conditions (like the genocides of Jews, Armenians, and Circassians).

The political aspect of Circassian repatriation culminated in the case of Kosovo. The International Circassian Association brought up the question at three sessions of the United Nations. Ultimately, the president of the Adygeya Republic, Aslan Dzharimov, appealed to the government of the Russian Federation to grant Kosovar Circassians the right to resettle in Adygeya. Between 1998 and 1999, a total of 174 did so. A new village, Mafakhabl, was built for repatriates. The president of the International Circassian Association, Boris Akbashev, stated in a speech at the International Circassian Congress in Nalchik in 2000 the significance of the Kosovar Circassian repatriation, noting that “this was the first time Russia not only admitted their right to return, but made practical, political, diplomatic, and economic steps for their moving home and settling here.”

The end of the Cold War opened up a significant new era for the Circassian world. Most importantly, Circassians united their activities on the international level and started to respond to world events from the position of their ethnic interests. The ideology of this new era brought up two strategic interests of the Circassian world – unification of the Circassian world and repatriation of the expelled population back to its homeland.

Circassians had to wander for a long time, so why have the Circassians remained relatively quiescent? For various reasons, one could suggest that this period of quiet is coming to an end. Significant achievements have been made in the building of an international Circassian network: the development of state structures on Circassian territories, the beginning of the repatriation of Circassians, and most of all, the recognition of independence of Abkhazia by Russia. All these events will have important implications for the Circassian world. One of the main conditions for the development of the Circassian world is its relationship with Russia, and it is obvious that Russia’s attitude toward the Circassian world has been generally positive and helpful. It is apparent, though, that these strategic problems are far from being solved. From the responses of the Circassian world to the challenges of our time, one can see what the future might hold in terms of Circassian mobilization and identity.

PONARS Eurasia publications are funded through the International Program of Carnegie Corporation of New York. The views expressed in these publications are those of the author alone; publication does not imply endorsement by PONARS Eurasia, Georgetown University, or the Carnegie Corporation.

© PONARS Eurasia 2008

Monday 23 February 2009

Declaration of the Revolutionary Committee of the SSR of Georgia on Independence of the SSR of Abkhazia - 21 May 1921

In 1921, Abkhazia and Georgia became Sovietized. On 31 March 1921, an independent Soviet Republic of Abkhazia was proclaimed. On 21 May 1921, the Georgian Bolshevik government officially recognized the independence of Abkhazia. But the same year, under pressure from Stalin and other influential Georgian Bolsheviks, Abkhazia was forced to conclude a union (i.e., confederative) treaty with Georgia. Abkhazia still remained a full union republic until 1931, when its status was downgraded, under Stalin's orders, from that of Union Republic to that of an Autonomous Republic within Georgia. This act of incorporation of Abkhazia into Georgia was conducted without the approval and against the will of the Abkhazian people and caused mass protests in Abkhazia. Thus the creation of the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic within Georgia was not the result of the granting by the Bolsheviks of autonomous status to one of the republic's minorities, as it is often alleged, but was rather the forced convergence of two neighbouring states by the incorporation of one of them, Abkhazia, into the other, Georgia.

Vladislav Ardzinba, first president of Abkhazia, stated: “In 1931 Abkhazia was transformed into an autonomous republic within the Georgian SSR. Seemingly it was the only republic whose political status changed under pressure from Stalin not upwards but downwards”. (See Pravda, newspaper, 14 July 1989).



21 May 1921

The Menshevik’s power, being bourgeois by its nature, oppressed the revolutionary movement of the national minorities and bred the antagonism between the certain minorities residing in Georgia throughout the centuries.

Soviet power has a different approach to this issue, advancing the principle of fraternal relations and equality between all workers.

The right to self-determination declared by the Great October Revolution is recognized as the best remedy for the eradication of national prejudices and the strengthening of relations between the workers.

On this basis, the Revolutionary Committee of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia recognizes and welcomes the establishment of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Abkhazia and believes that the relations between the Georgian SSR and the Abkhazian SSR will be decided at the first Congress of the workers and peasants of Abkhazia, as well as of Georgia.

Let the workers of both socialist republics decide the forms of close and fraternal cooperation.

Revcom of the Georgian SSR


The mass-immigration of Kartvelians (mostly Mingrelians) goes back to the late 1930s. Abkhaz's script was then altered from a roman to a Georgian base. Abkhaz-language schools were summarily closed in 1945-6, following by a ban on broadcasting and publications. The Abkhazians as a nation were due to face transportation (like the numerous other peoples transported by Stalin from the Koreans in the late 1930s through to Abkhazia's Greeks in the late 1940s), and, as a 'scholarly' justification for that, the literary-historian Pavle Ingoroqva was commissioned to argue in print that the Abkhazians only arrived in Abkhazia in the 17th century, conquering the 'original' Abkhazians of history, who were thus a 'Georgian' tribe. This calumny was revived in the heady days of Georgian nationalism from 1988 AND IS WIDELY BELIEVED BY MANY ORDINARY KARTVELIANS, who for this reason still regard the Abkhazians as unentitled to be living in Abkhazia. See: Demographic change in Abkhazia

Ruslan Xodzhaa quotes in his new book from his own earlier 'Documents and Materials of the Abkhazian People's Soviet 1918-1919' (in Russian, Sukhum, 1999) on -General Georgi- Mazniashvili's (Mazniev) behaviour: 'Not a single tsarist general raged as mercilessly when subjugating the Caucasian peoples as Mazniev in Abkhazia' (p.7). A contemporary assessment of Georgia at this time was given by an objective observer, Englishman Carl Bechhofer: “The free and independent social-democratic State of Georgia will always remain in my memory as a classic imperialist body, that is characterized with territory-snatching outside and bureaucratic tyranny inside; its chauvinism is beyond all bounds”. (In Denikin's Russia and the Caucasus, 1919-1920, London 1921, p.14.)

Soviet Abkhazia

March 1921: The Bolsheviks overthrew the Mensheviks in Georgia. The Abkhazian Soviet Socialist Republic was established independently of Georgia and headed by Nestor Lakoba. 1922: Abkhazia was a signatory to the formation of the USSR acting as a sovereign Abkhazian Republic. 1925: Abkhazia adopted its first Constitution under which it was united by a Special Treaty of Alliance with Georgia. 1931: Stalin (Georgian) and Beria (Mingrelian) reduced Abkhazia to the status of an autonomous Republic within Georgia. 1937 - 1953: Forced mass immigration into Abkhazia was carried out from Western Georgia (Mingrelia) by Stalin and Beria. In Abkhazia, as well as other regions of the USSR, mass oppression was carried out, thousands of intellectuals were persecuted. Before the enforced georgianisation of the 20th century, Abkhazia had a highly diverse demography with many Turks, Armenians, Jews, and Greeks, among others. Abkhazia celebrated its diversity, and the strict homogenization under Georgian rule greatly contrasted with the traditionally tolerant Abkhazian culture. During the period of enforced georgianisation (1937-1953), the Abkhaz were deprived of the right to teach their children in their native language; all Abkhaz schools and institutions were closed from the school-year 1945-46. The Abkhaz were only compelled to study in Georgian schools. The Abkhaz script (originally based on Cyrillic and then on Latin) was altered, against the will of the Abkhaz people, to one based on Georgian characters in 1938. Despite the reintroduction of schooling in Abkhaz and a reformed, Cyrillic-based script following the deaths of Stalin and Beria in 1953, in 1978 Abkhazian intellectuals signed a letter of protest to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR complaining about the status of Abkhazia and blamed the Georgian leaders for pursuing a "Beriaite" policy aimed at the "Georgianization" of the Republic. Major demonstrations at Lykhny (a sacred place in Abkhazian tradition) followed. The Abkhazian campaign, to be incorporated in the Russian Federation, was rejected by Russia and Georgia. Instead, concessions were made to the Abkhaz, including the opening of the Abkhazian State University and TV broadcasting for 15 minutes twice a week in the Abkhaz language. During that year (1978), Moscow allocated millions of roubles to help Abkhazia. The Abkhazian government never received the money. The sum was dispersed to constrain the Abkhazian people's protest at existing conditions. See: Republic of Abkhazia

See also: The period of the Stalin--Beria terror (December 1936—1953) - ''Origins and Evolution of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict'', by Stephen D. Shenfield

Historical Maps: Abkhazia at various times in history


The maps included here give an idea of the frontiers of Abkhazia at various times in history. The Abkhazians call their capital /Aqw'a/, but it is more usually known in other languages as Sukhum (Sukhum-Kalé or Sukhum-Kaleh in the period of Turkish influence along the Black Sea's eastern coast; /soxumi/ in Georgian). The ending -i in the form /Sukhumi/ represents the Georgian Nominative case-suffix, and it became attached to /Sukhum/ from the late 1930s when (Georgian) Stalin and his Mingrelian lieutenant in Transcaucasia, Lavrent'i Beria, began to implement a series of anti-Abkhazian policies. Abkhazians today, for obvious reasons, resent the attachment of this element from the language of a people they see as oppressors.


Map of Europe in Year 1800, Southeast - Source: Euro Atlas

See also:
-Map of Europe in Year 800, Southeast - Kingdom of Abkhazia
-Map of Europe in Year 900, Southeast
-Map of Europe in Year 1000, Southeast

Wednesday 18 February 2009

Abkhazia the movie wins Special Public Award

The Rip curl movie ”Abkhazia” won the Special Public Award at the International freeride Film Festival in Saint-Lary (France) on January 24/09.

The movie is a snow/documentary presenting our best free riders on an unusual search trip to the unexplored eastern country of Abkhazia. Congratulations to Damien Giraud, Snow Marketing manager and all his team…

Festival International du Film de Free Ride de Saint Lary

Monday 16 February 2009

A Circassian Cultural Event in Jordan, April 5th 2009

''As a result of the successful International Language Conference which was held in Amman, organised by the Jordanian Khassa (Association) in October 2008, a decision was unanimously adopted by all participants to establish a Centre for Circassian Reserach and Studies. The participants all voted to have this Centre established in Amman Jordan to serve the needs and interests of all Circassians of the World. The actual legal entity is in the process of formation now and the temporary headquarters has been established at the Khassa in Amman, Jordan.

We are organising a special two day event. It begins with a Concert evening (April 5th) in which this decision will be announced and proclaimed for all international organisations, individuals and governments who support such projects (such as EU and UNESCO). Many Diplomats, ambassadors and invited VIP's will attend and Ministers of Cultures of the Circassian Republics are also invited to attend as well as some presidents of Circassian associations around the world.

The project plans (architectural and schematics & budget) will be reviewed and a discussion about its objectives and purposes will ensue separately between all Circassian representatives on the day following the Concert evening. This is perceived as an international Circassian project and we want as many leaders of our international community to participate and to contribute to its success."

The program will consist of the Concert evening on April 5th (with Royal Patronage) with the announcement/ declaration of the project followed by a Circassian folk dance and then followed by Circassian Classical music. Clasical performers are:

1) The famous Russian Cellist, Michael Utkin (Moscow). 2) The Concert Pianist, Ekaterena Lebedeva (London). 3) The Circassian Violinist Aleem Kandour (Kabardino Balkaria).

The Circassian classical music will include two premieres (new works composed by myself): Dreams of Kabarda Suite for Violin & Piano and The Terek River Sonata for Cello & Piano.

The audio-visual presentation of the project will be held on April 6th with the participation of guests and interested visitors.

Dr. Mohydeen Quandour

Wednesday 11 February 2009

Moscow Planning to Increase Efforts to Win Over Circassian Diaspora

by Paul Goble - Window on Eurasia

Vienna, February 11 – The Russian Duma is currently considering several measures that would expand the current definition of "compatriot" and offer "Russian citizenship and the right of repatriation to all representatives of the indigenous peoples of Russia 'who do not have statehood of their own beyond its borders.'"

Such a step, Damir Ivletshin argues in an article posted online this week, would help Russia to win over the more than five million Circassians of Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel, many of whom have felt excluded from Moscow's earlier "compatriot" campaigns and thus have adopted anti-Russian positions.

Russia's efforts to reach out to diaspora communities currently rest on a 1999 federal law which recognizes the right to return of persons who had citizenship in the USSR and the Russian Empire and a 2006 presidential decree directing officials to do more in this direction (www.win.ru/islam/1390.phtml?PHPSESSID=1b219b7cc13b60ebfe820a7852a111dc).

These measures, Ivletshin points out, were primarily addressed to ethnic Russians living in the former Soviet republics, and while those outside that region and those who were not ethnic Russians were not excluded, neither did Moscow do as much until recently to make them feel that they were part of its compatriot outreach programs.

Over the last two years, the expert continues, "Russia to all appearances has been able to seize the initiative in relations with [ethnic] Russians" who live beyond the borders of the USSR. The end of communism and the reunion of the Orthodox Church have helped the current Russian government to do so.

But if everything is going more or less well with regard to ethnic Russians -- despite their reluctance to move back to their historical homeland -- the situation with respect to non-Russian groups still faces many problems, even though many of their members, and especially those from the North Caucasus, have expressed greater interest in returning.

Most of the North Caucasian diasporas have their roots in the expulsion of their communities from tsarist Russia in the 19th century, Ivletshin notes, and he suggests that they suffered greatly not only when they were expelled but also in the course of their lives in the Ottoman Empire.

Since the collapse of that state nearly a century ago, those who remained in Turkey – the largest group – were until very recently the objects of Ankara's intensive "assimilationist policy." The Circassians in Syria were somewhat better off, at least until 1967 when their home area, the Golan Heights, was seized by Israel.

And those living in Jordan and Israel have had the best fate, Ivletshin suggests. In the former country, they have a "privileged" position defined by law, and in Israel, "they enjoy the support of the state and the respect of both their Arab and Jewish neighbors." These different experiences have inclined these various groups to adopt different positions on many things.

Many in Turkey have adopted the most anti-Russian positions not only because they were cut off from Russia but because of what Ivletshin describes as the intensity of "anti-Russian propaganda." In Jordan and Syria, on the other hand, the Circassians have a more positive image of Russia now.

Moscow's recognition of the independence of Abkhazia, to which many Circassians see themselves as linked, and Russian plans to hold the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014 have had a major impact on the situation, with some members of the diaspora adopting a more supportive view toward Russia and others a more negative one.

Some of the more negative attitudes, the analyst continues, are the result of the work of the Western media, "'human rights activists'" and "the chauvinist wing" of Circassians in the United States who in the 1990s had devoted most of their attention to the Chechen diaspora but now are refocusing on the Circassians, as potentially a more effective lever against Moscow.

But that Western effort has not been effective, Ivletshin says, because Russia has demonstrated its willingness to help repatriate Circassians from the Balkans and has worked with the larger communities in Turkey and the Middle East to promote an expansion of contacts between them and their homelands.

"Under conditions of globalization and the world crisis," Ivletshin says, "Russia and the North Caucasus diaspora are beginning to move closer together." But there are problems, which he describes as "rocks just below the surface" that could threaten such a rapprochement, especially given Western efforts to promote anti-Russian views among the Circassians.

On the one hand, he argues, there is the unfortunate reality that most members of the Circassian diaspora do not have the documents necessary to prove that they or, more frequently, their ancestors, had citizenship in the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union. A new law could solve that problem.

And on the other, he suggests, Russian officials are not interested in seeing a massive return of Circassians to the North Caucasus, given that there are many times as many Circassians living abroad as in that region and given the support the diaspora has given to projects to unite all Circassians in a single republic, both of which could destabilize the situation.

Ivletshin does not go into the extent of this second "hidden rock," but Timur Aliyev, of the Grozny Center for Strategic Research, in another article published online this week does. And he emphasizes just how much his republic would like to see the return of Chechens from abroad despite Moscow's concerns (www.iamik.ru/?op=full&what=content&ident=501355).

Indeed, the very enthusiasm with which he backs that idea and the numbers of people he would like to see come back – more than 100,000 from Western Europe alone – helps to explain Moscow's concerns and also why the optimism Ivletshin expresses about a rapprochement between Moscow and the Circassians is likely overblown.

Tuesday 3 February 2009

Russia and the Circassians

by Alexander Born - Pravda - 13 January 2009

One event that took place in Russia earlier this summer, in my opinion, has not been given a sufficient attention. The event was the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by the Russian Federation in August after a five-day war with Georgia.

The cynicism of Russian leaders shocked the world. Forgetting two bloody Chechen wars and tens of thousands of civilians killed, with a voice trembling with outrage Mr. Putin spoke about the atrocities of the Georgian military. To give even greater magnitude of these events the actions of the Georgian army have been identified as genocide of «people of Southern Ossetia». Yet for everyone it was too obvious that the actions of Russia in Chechnya and the actions of Georgia in South Ossetia were painfully close.

Under the impulse of noble feelings Russian leadership has decided to recognize the right of establishment of separate states by small part of the Ossetians and Abkhazians. Yet, other indigenous ethnic groups, which are still members of the Russian Federation, will soon pose a question: in what way are they worse?

To date, the biggest unsolved problem of Caucasus is the Circassian issue. Despite the tight control over all public organizations in the Circassian Republics the main problem has been formulated. Circassian Congress of Adyghea demanded the recognition of the genocide committed by the Russian government towards Circassians in the middle of the XIX century. The request is fair by a virtue of the fact that the Russian Federation is the legal successor of Russian state. After the refusal of the federal government to resolve this problem, Circassian Congress appealed to the European Parliament for the recognition of genocide of Circassian people. Unlike the Russian side, the European Parliament did not ignore the request of Circassians (Vladimir Filin article «According the notions of Davos», the newspaper «Tomorrow», № 06 (690) of 07 February 2007).

With the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the situation of Circassians becomes totally inexplicable. Beside the fact that they are split into 6 subjects on their historical motherland (which is against the international law), more than 80% of the people are still in exile. Such a clearly unbalanced approach to the peoples living in same region will inevitably lead to a conflict situation. General atmosphere that is created by Kremlin's surrogates in the republics is biased. In case of aggravation of the situation the Ethnocracy will not be able to provide substantial support to the federal government because of the lack of credibility of its representatives.

The Russian leadership demonstrates absence of analysis of the changed geopolitical environment. For example, the events in KCHR and the KBR have shown that Moscow has no new approaches in dealing with ethnic and national problems. Not willing to solve the Circassian issue, Russia placed its stake on the Karachay and Balkars. Balkar and Karachay belong to one nation that speaks one of Turkic languages. In the wake of the historic dream of the Turks to build the Great Turan in the North Caucasus, where Balkars and Karachai are first to serve as allied nations, the approach of Russian Federation seems to be strange. Given the potential of Circassian world, there are no doubts, that the issue of recognition of the genocide Will continue to spread around the world. Whether with the help of Russia or without it, Circassians will return to their historical territory. The only difference is that, if Russia decides this issue, Circassians will remain in its body. But if it will be decided by the international community - that will bring to a further complications.

All these problems, which could have been in the slow state of resolution for many years more, have been suddenly accelerated the Russian leadership itself, or rather by its recognition of independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The economical crisis, which Russia is getting drawn in, will further accelerate these processes. The experience of the past tells us that today's political leadership is hardly capable of solving any dramatic issues. Most likely, the initiative that one could have taken to resolve the issue of Circassian people will be foregone.