Staunton, May 9 – Many in both Russia and the West assumed that the Circassian issue, one that involves recognition of the 1864 genocide and the restoration of the rights of the Circassian people in their North Caucasus homeland, would fade after the end of the Sochi Olympiad, an event Circassians around the world used to highlight their plight.
But while news coverage of the Circassians has certainly slipped in many places, their issues have not gone away -- and not because of some Western conspiracy against Russia as some pro-Kremlin writers think but rather because of Moscow’s continuing oppression of Circassians in their North Caucasus homeland.
These issues are not going to disappear not only for the more than a half million people in the North Caucasus and more than five million in the diaspora but also for all those who care about justice. And as a result of Moscow’s clumsy and repressive policies, they are likely to become even more prominent in the coming months.
That of course is not how most Russian commentators see it. Instead, they use the standard Soviet-style methods of blaming the victims of Moscow’s policies or presenting anything they don’t like as being the result of a Western conspiracy against Russia in which this or that group is encouraged to recognize that it is only a pawn in the hands of others.
A classical new example of this approach is an article by Yana Amelina of the Caucasus Geopolitical Club in “Russkaya planeta” entitled “The Galvanized Corpse of ‘the Circassian Question’” (rusplt.ru/views/views_158.html).
She argues that “the events of the last few months show that someone is trying to give new life to the so-called ‘Circassian question’ which it appeared had finally been buried in the period of the preparation for the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014” and that standing behind the Circassians who are asking it again are “foreign forces” in Britain and Turkey.
The celebration for the sixth year in a row of the Day of the Circassian Flag in Adygeya, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachayevo-Cherkessia with car processions, meetings and concerts, Amelina says, is simply the latest example of efforts by the special services of Britain, Turkey and their friends in Georgia to cause trouble for Russia.
“Officially,” she continues, these events were intended to “’raise the interest of young people in their history.’” But in fact they were designed to attract international attention and politicize an issue that shouldn’t be, the Russian commentator continues. They had nothing to do with promoting national self-identification.
According to Amelina, both Britain and Turkey “have brought the Circassians only misfortunes – Britain by pushing Circassian leaders into a hopeless struggle with the Russian Empire and Turkey by using them exclusively in their interests and in fact wiping out their national identity.” Unfortunately, she suggests, not all Circassians recognize this.
She notes that a new Circassian organization, Circassian Politics, has arisen in the US and that its leaders, encouraged by Western money and special services, are increasingly making aggressive toward Russia. “We do not intend to ask anyone for anything anymore,” one of its leaders declared. “We intend to struggle for our place in the sun by all lawful methods.”
The group is interesting in that it seeks to promote Circassian refugee flows the resettlement of Circassians in the West now that Moscow has largely blocked the return of this community to its historical homeland, a pattern that Amelina suggests underscores the connection of “radical Circassian activists with foreign special services.”
(For those who need what she considers the truth on this, Amelina suggests that they read the highly tendentious report prepared by the Russia Institute for Strategic Studies (RISI) in advance of the Sochi Olympics entitled “’The Circassian Question’ and the Foreign Factor” (riss.ru/events/2031/) and widely used by pro-Kremlin commentators at the time.)
In brief, Amelina blames the usual suspects – Western intelligence services – for re-animating the Circassian question. But in fact, Moscow’s actions against the Circassians are playing a much larger role. Among them in recent months are the following:
· Fears in Adygeya that Moscow if it restarts its regional amalgamation campaign will do away with that Circassian “matryoshka” republic and the only one that bears the common name of all Circassians, whose self-designator is Adygey.
· Anger that Moscow will now allow more Circassians from war-torn Syria to return to their ancestral lands in the North Caucasus and that the Russian government has overseen the worsening of economic conditions in Circassian lands.
· A wave of arrests of Circassian activists who came from other countries, including Adnan Khade, against whom the Russian authorities have fabricated charges and about whom Circassians in the North Caucasus and the diaspora are now speaking out (natpressru.info/index.php?newsid=10391cherkessia.net/news_detail.php?id=6948).
· And most recently the refusal of authorities in Nalchik to open a criminal case against persons unknown who desecrated a statue there devoted to the memory of the victims of the Caucasus war, among whom the Circassians were the most prominent (nazaccent.ru/content/20583-policiya-nalchika-ne-budet-rassledovat-oskvernenie.html).
If Russian officials continue to act in this way, they and not any mythical hand of “Western special services” will ensure that “the Circassian question” is going to remain open and important for a long time to come.