Staunton, October 28 – A meeting in Amman earlier this week of 135 Georgian and Circassian intellectual and political leaders calls attention to something the Russian government has worked with hard to deny and often with unfortunate success – among the peoples of the North Caucasus, there are many cases of longstanding and deep friendship.
According to the Russian stereotype, the non-Russians of the region are always fighting one another and that only the presence of Russian power keeps such fratricidal conflicts in check. In reality, however, many of the peoples there historically have had good relations, have allied themselves against Moscow, and have fought with each other only as a result of Russian policies.
As part of its divide-and-rule approach to the region, the Russian state not only has drawn lines on the map that create the basis for conflicts that did not exist but also promoted the idea that all the peoples of the region fought constantly with one another until the Russians came and established peace.
It is of course true that there have been conflicts among some of the peoples of the North Caucasus, but it is striking how strong has been the friendship between the two largest nations of the region, the Georgians and the Circassians, a reflection of certain commonalities of culture and political calculation which continue to this day.
Speaking to the Amman meeting, Adel Bashqawi, a Circassian activist and scholar, suggests that genuine friendship among peoples is one of the greatest achievements of humanity and that, despite suggestions to the contrary, it has been a frequent feature of life in the North Caucasus (facebook.com/groups/631113040275464/permalink/2458224404230976/).
“In the common history of the peoples of the Caucasus, there have occurred small fights among the peoples but not full-scale wars, with the exception of cases when were orchestrated by or were the result of direct intervention by outside forces.” And with regard to the Georgians and Cicassians, there have never been major conflicts.
Both accepted Christianity in the fourth century. Both have much in common in art, literature, music, dress and values. And both share a commitment to overcoming the results of the Russian genocide against the Circassians, a genocide the results of which continue because of Russian-imposed divisions and Russian blocking of the return of Circassians to their homeland.
Not only have both the Georgians and the Circassians been the object of attack by outside conquerors and did not join the Russian empire voluntarily, but they share “elements of the Nart epic, which is integrated into the culture of the entire Caucasus,” Bashqawi says. (On this subject, see John Colarusso’s Nart Sagas from the Caucasus (Princeton, 2002).)
Over the last decade, ties between the two nations have only strengthened, again despite Russian opposition. In 2010, Tbilisi hosted two Circassian conferences. In 2011, the Georgian parliament recognized Russia’s treatment of the Circassians in the 19th century as an act of genocide. And Tbilisi has an active Circassian Cultural Center (circassiancenter.org/).
One can only hope, as Bashqawi does that Georgian-Circassian ties will serve as “a model and example for all the peoples of the Caucasus. Unfortunately, Moscow is doing nothing to help in that regard: Its media passed over the Amman meeting in silence except for one outlet that reported that the meeting had never taken place (natpressru.info/index.php?newsid=11788).