Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Circassians Caught Between Two Globalizing ‘Mill Stones,’ Russian Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 29 – The Circassians find themselves trapped between the globalization represented by Westernizing and the globalization represented by Islamization, two “mill stones” whose coming together limit the chances that members of this nationality will mobilize themselves or get the kind of outside support needed to achieve their goals.

            In an essay posted on the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal yesterday, Russian nationalist commentator Semen Reznichenko draws on this image of the Circassians from Iskhak Mashbashev’s 1993 novel, “The Mill Stone,” to analyze the challenges Circassians face in their desire to restore “a Greater Circassia” in the Caucasus (svpressa.ru/blogs/article/63733/).

            Many Russians as well as others, Reznichenko says, accept without closer examination the image of this project offered by Aleksey Polubota in his essay on the same portal on November 25 last year, an image that suggests “the Russians are being driven out of Adygeya in order to establish a Greater Circassia.”

            A closer examination of the situation in Adygeya and other North Caucasus republics where Circassians live, the Russian commentator says, a more nuanced and in many ways more interesting set of conclusions that reflect the competing pressures now operating on the Circassians, a nation that includes the Adygeys, Kabards, Cherkess, and several others as well.

            The Circassians today, Reznichenko says, are not a “passionate” people in Lev Gumilyev’s sense, “at least in comparison with other Caucasian ehnoses. More than they others, they have generally forgotten their old customs, are not very religious, and have an extremely low fertility rate.

            Their “national rebirth” in the 1990s led to the appearance of a large number of books and articles, but, at least according to this Moscow writer, it did not lead to the recovery and strengthening of the Circassians. It did not “reconstruct” their lives or reverse “the degradation of the institution of the family and the neglect of the national language and traditions.”

            It did lead to the emergence of one ideological trend within the nation, however, the “Adyge Khabze,” or as its followers are called, the Khabzists.”  They were and remain informed by ethno-nationalism and are opposed to “both types of globalization, Western (Russian) and Islamic.” But they have been “gradually losing their influence,” the commentator says.

             In some respects, Reznichenko acknowledges, this pattern has been affected by the 1998 repatriation of Circassians from Kosovo and the more recent return of Circassians from Syria, although the total numbers so far of both waves remains below 700. If more come, that could change, but those from Syria are very different from those living in the North Caucasus.

            If the Circassians as a result remain divided and largely unable to launch a serious political campaign, the situation of the Slavs (mostly Russians) in Adygeys is “much worse.” Unlike the Circassians, the Russians lack strong family ties and a sense of being members of a collective worthy of defense.

            That has meant that “the more numerous Russians have not been able to compete with the Circaassians on the political [or economic] field of the republic.” When proportional representation was ended, the Circassians dramatically increased their presence in the parliament and among other senior officials.

            The Russians did little to resist because of “certain fundamental errors.” On the one hand, the ethnic Russians of Adygeys displayed “a certain sectarianism” and failed to find “a common language with other Russian unions and acivists, especially from other regions.”  The same thing, Reznichenko says, could be said of Russians everywhere.

            And on the other, the ethnic Russians in Adygeya never appealed to Moscow because they did not see themselves as being sufficiently strong. Had they done so, the commentator continues, they might have gotten support, but then of course the dominant Circassians might have turned on them.

            This political failure of the Russians rested on their economic failure, Reznichenko suggests.  The Russians have not adapted to the collapse of the Soviet economic system, but the Circassians have exploited the new system’s possibilities for individual entrepreneurship and cooperation.

            And the Circassians as a whole and especially those who are the children of the increasingly Westernized elites, he suggests, are more likely because of their historical openness to find common language with “local” Russians than with North Caucasians who may come in from the outside.

            What the Circassians cannot do, he argues, is to “extend” their control of territory. “This is not a growing ethnos like the Waynakhs or the Daghestanis.” It is one that is “slowly and steadily” declining in size, albeit not as fast as the Russians.  And its members can hold what they have but can hardly take the land that the Russians are leaving.

            Instead, that land, which could be the basis for a Circassian national rebirth, Reznichenko says, is being occupied by Kurds coming into Adygeya and Meskhetian Turks entering Kabardino-Balkaria. That trend reportedly has led Arsen Kanokov, the president of the latter, to say “Here we’ve driven out the Russians but in their place are coming filthy peoples.”

            In Adygeya, places that had been Russian are now Kurdish, and the Kurds present themselves as opposed to the Russians, the Adygeys, and the Armenians. Indeed, according to the Russian nationalist commentator, “many Kurds ignore as something unreal both the Republic of Adgyeya and Russia itself.” They see themselves as citizens of “virtual Kurdistan.”

            As a result, Reznichenko continues, the Circassians are caught between “two mill stones,” the one of western-style globalization and the other Islamic globalization, with the former more often found in Adygeya and the latter increasingly in Kabardino-Balkaria, just one of the many ways in which the Circassians are “extremely varied” in their composition.

            “They vary in their ideological and cultural orientation,” he writes, although they are “not so varied as the Russians.  But they are much less monolithic than the representatives of the migrant peoples who are winning and taking the space there,” including that which had belonged to the Circassians.

          As a result, some Circassians are giving in to the pressures of Islamization, especially in Kabardino-Balkaria, but many others are defending the western globalization they accepted earlier. But in neither case, as Kabard ethnologist S.Kh. Mafedzev has written, have they been able to be “an active subject of the historical process.”

            The idea of restoring a “Greater Circassia” is thus something that “can be achieved” only under the most unlikely of circumstances, including both “the liquidation of Russia as such and the most powerful pressure of genuinely strong states and international structures” on behalf of this project.

            That suggests, Reznichenko concludes, that the Circassians may be worn down by the Islamic globalization project because of their disappointment in the western one, a development all the more likely if more Circassians return from Syria, Circassians who are “by their essence Arabic-Islamic” and thus very different from their “co-ethnics” in the Caucasus.

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