Staunton, September 26 – Russia’s bombing of the civilian population in Aleppo has correctly been described as “an act of barbarousness” by the leaders of Western countries, but there is another Russian barbarism which has failed to attract the denunciation it deserves: Moscow’s failure to allow Syria’s Circassians to return to their homeland in the North Caucasus.
In the OnKavkaz portal, Yuliya Suguyeva points out that among the many Syrians fleeing the horrific war in their country are as many as 160,000 Circassians who would like to move to the North Caucasus, the homeland from which their ancestors were expelled by Russian forces in 1864 (onkavkaz.com/articles/2991-siriiskie-cherkesy-v-rossii-ne-bezhency-ne-repatrianty.html).
Since the start of the Syrian conflict, however, she says, “fewer than 2,000 Circassians” have arrived in Kabardino-Balkaria, Adygeya, and Karachayevo-Cherkessia, the three republics of the North Caucasus into which Moscow has divided the Circassian nation. The low number is the direct result of Russian opposition to their return.
It has become increasingly difficult for Syria’s Circassians to get Russian visas, and on their arrival in what was once their historic homeland, they are treated not as refugees or as repatriants but as ordinary immigrants and forced to comply with Russian rules requiring that they pass tests of Russian language knowledge and go to work.
Officials in most places do little or nothing for them, and only the actions of individual Circassians and Circassian public organizations are keeping them alive. Approximately 1,000 Syrian Circassians are in Kabardino-Balkaria, another 800 are in Adygeya, and only about 35 are in Karachayevo-Cherkessia.
Russian officials explain their reluctance to take in more Circassians by saying that they fear that the Syrian Circassians include among their number some radical Islamists, but that is neither true nor the real reason that Moscow is taking this anti-human position. Syria’s Circassians have a long history of moderation, and what Moscow is really worried about is a shift in the ethnic balance in the North Caucasus against it.
Few Americans appear to be aware that most of the approximately 5,000 ethnic Circassians living in the US are Syrian Circassians, yet another reason for Washington to denounce Russian barbarism in this area. They are united in a Circassian Benevolent Association in New Jersey which each September marks Circassian Day.
This year, on September 17, the Association’s celebration was especially significant. At its meeting, John Colarusso, a professor of linguistics at McMaster University, was honored with the Ali Shogentsuk Medal for his contributions to the Circassian nation, including his important work on the demise of the Ubykhs and the continuing importance of the Nart Sagas.