Staunton, January 10 – There are two remaining bi-national autonomous republics in the North Caucasus, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia. In both cases, Moscow has included together a Circassian nation (the Kabards and the Cherkess) and a Turkic one (the Balkars and the Karachays).
This arrangement, which earlier existed in a unified Chechen-Ingush ASSR in Soviet times, was simultaneously a tool to promote Moscow’s divide-and-rule policies and a way to force representatives of the two groups to cooperate and thus overcome their different national goals and subordinate themselves to the center.
Those two goals, of course, often contradicted one another, with members of the numerically smaller nation within any republic looking beyond its borders for its co-ethnics in the hope of creating a single republic in which they would be the dominate player, thus exacerbating ethnic tensions rather than containing them.
But according to Amiran Urushadze, a scholar at the Southern Academic Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences, representatives of the smaller nation in each case “have absolutely no influence on the adoption of important decisions concerning the political, social-economic and economic life of the republic” (natpressru.info/index.pNatPresshp?newsid=12279).
That reality, he continues, explains much of the development of ethno-nationalism among both the Circassian and the Turkic nations and the desire of both to assert two different but pan-national identities -- all Circassians or all Turkic nations in the Caucasus – and even to call for redrawing borders in ways that would unite each and end bi-national republics.
As the Soviet Union came apart, both the Circassian and Turkic groups called for changes, although despite what one might think from more recent discussions, Urushadze says, it was the Balkars who first called for a common Turkic home. The Circassians at that time focused on demanding the restoration of a Shapsug state entity in the Sochi area.
Two things make this article important. On the one hand, it is a rare instance of a scholar in Russia acknowledging the way politics actually works in the binational republics and specifying that what is happening there now is the result of Soviet ethnic engineering more than anything else.
And on the other, given Turkey’s growing role in the region, the appearance of this article now likely reflects concerns in Moscow that the Turkic groups may again represent a more immediate challenge to Russia’s territorial-political divisions in the North Caucasus than even the Circassians.
Indeed, in posting Urushadze’s comments, the editors of NatPress information agency point out that Circassians on the ground have not pressed for a common republic, viewing calls for such an arrangement a KGB-FSB “provocation,” as they recognize that doing so would disorder the entire region.
Instead, as Urushadze himself says, they have focused on securing the restoration of a common Circassian identity in place of the Soviet-imposed divisions of that nation on the basis of their shared experience of genocide in 1864. That may set the stage for the creation of a single Circassian Republic but it is not the immediate goal of many Circassians now.
(For background on recent manifestations of Balkar-Karachay aspirations, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/09/the-other-divided-nation-of-north.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/03/as-time-passes-balkars-focus-on-moscows.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/01/religion-and-nationality-crosscutting.html.)