Staunton, September 11 – “’Rossiyane’ is a much broader category than ethnic Russians, and our compatriots,” Sergey Arutyunov says, are not only Russians in Canada or Argentina but Tuvins in Xinjiang, Buryats in Shemekhen and Circassians in Syria or the United Arab Emirates -- at least as long as they want to consider themselves to be such.”
And this simple fact that ethnic and political identities are not the same is something which “must be understood by journalists and ministers, and neo-Cossacks and even governors, the head of the Caucasus Department of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, says in a remarkable review of three recent books on Circassians and their historical memory.
In this case, a continued refusal by Russian officials to recognize Circassians as compatriots with a right of return, from a fear that the influx of a large number of them could further destabilize the North Caucaus, risks alienating not ony the more than five million Circassians who live abroad but also the 500,000 plus who live in their traditional homeland.
That is just one of the observations that Arutyunov makes in a review essay which may seem abstract and theoretical but which have enormous practical consequences and which, to the extent they are acknowledged, could open the way to a better future for those peoples (zapravakbr.ru/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=411%3A2013-08-06-10-24-30&catid=5%3Aanalinic&Itemid=7).
The three books he considers in the 4300-word review essay are Emilia Sheudzhen’s “The Adygs (Circassians) in Historical Memory” (Moscow and Maikop, 2010), Fatima Ozova’s “Studies on the Political History of Circassia” (Pyatigorsk and Cherkessk, 2013), and Marina Khakuasheva’s “In Search of Lost Meaning” (Nalchik, 2013).
All three are in Russian but mostly published in the North Caucasus, all three are by young Circassian women scholars, and all wrestle with the problems of history and historical memory as these two themes are playing out in the contemporary lives of what was once the largest nation in the region and is still a terribly important one.
The issues these three raise take on added importance, the Moscow ethnographer says, because “alongside the classical diaspora people, the Jews, [the Circassians] are the people with the largest share of their number living abroad, by certain estimates up to nine-tenths of their total number.”
And their significance is elevated still further by two additional realities: the Circassians bore the brunt of “the struggle with the colonial policy of Russian stardom,” and they have achieved in recent years “greater successes in restoring and establishing anew their culture, writing, oral and literary language, and multi-faceted historical tradition.”
Earlier this year, Arutyunov notes, people in the Caucasus and around the world marked the 150th anniversary of the end of the Caucasian war. Because they suffered “the greatest losses” in that conflict and becausae most of them were then expelled frm their homeland at its end, the Circassians took the lead in seeking to recover memory about these events.
And because the Sochi Olympiad was held at the same time as the anniversary and on the place where the expulsion of the Circassians took place, “the anniversary received broad international coverage.” Some of this coverage was tendentious, Arutyunov says, but the three books he reviews are examples of a more judicious approach.