Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Circassians Outraged by Moscow’s Suggestion They’re Not Compatriots

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 23 – The Circassians in the Russian Federation and the far larger Circassian community abroad are appalled by the declaration of a Moscow official that Moscow has not yet decided whether the Circassians abroad are “compatriots” and thus entitled to return to their homeland in the north Caucasus.

            At the end of November 2012, Adam Bogus, the head of the Circassian Adyge Khase, sent a letter to Duma Speaker Sergey Naryshkin asking that Moscow provide assistance for Circassians living in Syria to return home. That appeal was then sent to the Russian Regional Development Ministry for consideration (

            On December 21, Aleksandr Zhuravsky, the head of that ministry’s international department responded (, and the contents of that letter, which has been widely disseminated in the weeks since, have sparked anger.

                Zhuravsky wrote that “the Syrian Circassians are the descendents of refugees from among the Adyge peoples of the North and West Caucasus who did not accept Russian citizenship and made a voluntary choice to leave the region after the completion of military operations in the course of the Caucasus War (1817-1864).”

            Therefore, he continued, “the ancestors of the contemporary Syrian Circassians lived in territories which up to the moment of their resettling in 1864 to the Ottoman Empire were not included as part of the Russian State.” Consequently, they “cannot be considered as emigres from the Russian State.”

            And “the applicability to the Syrian Circassians of the term ‘compatriots abroad’ as established by Federal law” is thus something that requires further discussion “with the participation of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Federal Migration Service of Russia.”

            Circassians dispute all of Zhuravsky’s statements and conclusions and, according to, consider them “anti-legal, anti-scientific and offensive”  (

            Asker Sokht, the head of the Adyge Khase organization in Krasnodar Kray, says that Zhuravsky’s views “do not reflect the position of the Government of the Russian Federation” and indeed “contradict the Strategy of the State’s Nationality Policy” and violate “the prerogatives of the president of the country.”

            He suggested that Zhuravsky’s superiors should conduct a careful investigation into his actions and statements and discipline him for them. “We cannot leave without attention such an obvious provocation which has already received broad international resonance,” something especially impermissible in the courseof “the preparation of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.”

                Zamir Shukhov, the deputy chairman of the Khase movement in Kabardino-Balkaria, agreed. And he pointed out that what Zhuravsky said in December contradicts what that official had said a year earlier during hearings of the Social Chamber on the problems of divided peoples,” thus “contradicting himself and Russian law.”

            Zhuravsky’s latest remarks, Shukhov said, ignore history and the many centuries  Circassians and Russians have lived together, and they “appear especially strange in advance of the Olympics in Sochi” and ignore the fact that “all the Circassians consider the NorthCaucasus their historic homeland” and that “the North Caucasus is an inalienable part of Russia.”

            Chelar Kat, a Circassian repatriant from Syria who has been helped by the compatriots law and who now lives in Kabardino-Balkaria, said that he was upset by two of Zhuravsky’s statements.  On the one hand, he said, it is simply untrue that the Circassians left the Caucasus willingly. They were driven out by Russian military force.

            And on the other, Kat said, there have been recent celebrations of the 450th anniversary of the inclusion of Circassian lands into Russia, something that makes nonsense of Zhuravsky’s suggeston that “150 years ago, theCircassians werenot within the Russina Emprie and thus supposedly cannot be compatriots.”

            Anzor Kushkhabiyev, a Circassian historian, agreed and said that the forcible expulsion of the Circassians was now “so well-known and generally recognized” that denying it is “anti-scientific, amoral and anti-legal.”  How a senior Russian official could be so wrong, he added, was completely unclear.

            Meanwhile, Mukhamed Cherkessov, chairman of the Adyge Khase organization in Karachayvo-Cherkesia, said that in his view, Zhuravsky’s comments reflected the baseless fears of some in Moscow that any Circassians allowed to return now would create problems for the Sochi Olympics (

            At the same time, Cherkessov acknowledged that many Circassians are unhappy that Moscow has chosen to stage these Olympics on the gravesites of their ancestors and on the 150th anniversary of that tragedy.  “But we know that regardless of our attitudes Russia will hold these games.  The times when armed people might storm the Olympiad have passed.”

            Arambiy Khapay agreed and suggested that it is probably best to treat Zhuravsky’s letter as first and foremost”a provocation on the part of the federl center which has decided to elicit a reaction from Adyge communities in order to be in a position to coordinat its further actions” with regard to them.

            If Zhuravsky’s letter enrages the Circassians as it has, he continued, then Moscow will use that reaction as an excuse to say that it will have nothing to do with the Circassian community and will not allow any more Circassians to return to their North Caucasus homeland until after the Sochi games.

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