Sunday, July 1, 2018

Ethnic, Tribal and Other Divisions among North Caucasians have Defeated All Attempts to Draw Universally Accepted Borders There

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 30 – The Russian 7 portal which specializes in reports on 20th century Russian history points out that the ethnic, tribal, linguistic and religious divisions among North Caucasians are so great that they have defeated all efforts by Moscow to draw borders there that everyone can accept and will not be prepared to challenge, often with violence.

            When the Bolsheviks came to power, it notes, “the process of forming ethnoses” in that region “was far from complete everywhere” and tribal divisions “within ethnoses” and historical loyalties and even tsarist-era maps “played a much greater role than did ethnicity” (

            Consequently, the right of national self-determination the Bolsheviks proclaimed rapidly ran into many additional problems besides those that inevitably arose as a result of Moscow’s divide-and-rule strategy there.  According to the tsarist census, there were “more than 50” ethnoses there, with some existing only in a single valley. How could they all be accommodated?

            At first, “the russified elites of the mountain peoples” took things into their own hands and showed that they were “already accustomed to think beyond narrow ethnic horizons.” In November 1917, they thus proclaimed a federative Mountaineer Republic that nominally included almost the entire North Caucasus.

            But it was only one of the competitors for power in the region. There were various attempts to establish Soviet power in parts of this region. In the summer of 2018, Turkish forces entered Daghestan. And then “in May 1919, in connection with the arrival of White Guard forces, the Mountaineer Republic ceased its existence.”

            The Bolsheviks forced alliances with some of the peoples of the region, especially the Chechens and Ingush and encouraged them to rise against the Whites. And once the White forces were defeated and driven out, Moscow engaged in its first act of “mass ethnic deportation” – the expulsion of 35,000 Terek Cossacks – and the transfer of their lands to Chechens and Ingush.

            In 1921, the portal continues, “the Bolsheviks created two Soviet republics in the North Caucasus – the Mountaineer and the Daghestani,” with the former divided into eight national districts (including one Cossack) and two urban ones. Importantly, they did not follow the ethnographic principle but used the former tsarist era borders.

            “As a result, a significant part of the territory populated by Ossetins was put within Georgia here the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast was established, and lands populated by Avars and Lezgins were left within Azerbaijan, where no autonomy was ever created.

            Subsequently, “Daghestan received the status of an ASSR within the RSFSR. It remains to this day, “but the lands of the Mountaineer Republic have been subjected to frequent reorganization,” Russian 7 points out.

            “In 1924, an enormous North Caucasus Kray was created in which were formed several autonomous oblasts – Chechen, Ingush … North Ossetian, Kabardino-Balkarian, Karachayevo-Cherkessia … and Adygeya.”  And there were in addition several autonomous national regions – the Shapsug, the Armenian, the Greek and the German – set up as well.

            In 1936, “all the autonomous oblasts of the North Caucasus received the status of ASSRs, and the national districts were eliminated. 

            The next big change came in 1944-1945 when the Chechens, Ingush, Karachays, and Balkars were deported and their autonomous republics suppressed, a situation that lasted until they were rehabilitated in 1957. But these republics were not simply restored: their borders were changed as well.

            “In the new Chechen-Ingush ASSR were included districts north of the Terek River … which ere populated by Russians,” until their expulsion by the Dudayev government in the early 1990s.  And the Daghestan ASSR also received certain Russian regions then as well.

            That complex history, Russian 7 says, played out during “the parade of sovereignties” in 1989-1990 and has continued to agitate the peoples of the region, both those who feel they have lost some territories that used to belong to them and those who have lost territorial status altogether.

            But the portal’s basic conclusions hold: These conflicts show little sign of easing; and they are going to constitute a major barrier to any plans to form a common non-ethnic Russian supra-national identity of the kind the Kremlin currently is pursuing.

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