Sunday, May 5, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Circassians in North Caucasus Call on Putin to Recognize 1864 Genocide

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 5 – Circassian groups in Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Krasnodar kray, and Aygeya have called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to recognize the actions of the Russian Imperial government against their ancestors in 1864 as a genocide, to assist the repatriation of Circassians from war-torn Syria, and to include Circassian themes at the Sochi Olympics.

            Their 2700-word appeal, the text of which is available at and is discussed at, is likely to fall on deaf ears in Moscow, but it does mark another step in the development of the Circassian movement in the Caucasus and in the growing ties between it and the far larger and more radical Circassian community abroad.

            “Recognition by the current Russian state and society of the Circassian (Adygey) genocide,” the appeal begins, “will be viewed by Adygs above all as the triumph of historic justice and also as a fundamental all-human moral act on the basis of which will be possible an all-embracing rehabilitation of the people now spread across the world.”

            The deportation of 90 percent of the Circassian population in 1864 aftera 101-year war between its members and the Russian state, which left only 50,000 Circassians in their historic homeland was “one of the forms” of the genocide conducted against them given that it destroyed almost all of their communal institutions, the appeal says.

            The authors of the appeal argue that President Putin can build on ideas advanced by President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s when the latter noted that “the problems which have been left to us as an inheritance from the Caucasus war and in particular the return of the descendents of Caucasians to their historic motherland msut be resolved at the international level.”

            At that time, Yeltsin expressed his certainty that only by facing up to the past could Russia hope to overcome it and ensure the integration of all its peoples.  Unfortunately, the appeal says, the Russian government has not continued in that direction but rather moved in another, one that is alienating many who would otherwise be its friends.

            Given Putin’s comments about the Russian past, it is highly unlikely that the current Kremlin leader would ever consider making such a declaration about the genocide of the Circassians.

            The appeal also calls on Moscow to assist in the repatriation of Circassians from Syria where they find themselves in the midst of a horrific civil war. The appeal’s authors say that the Circassian republics are ready and able to resettle many of these people if only Moscow will allow them to enter the Russian Federation.

            But on this point too, the Russian government seems unlikely to respond positively.  The Russian embassy in Damascus has dismissed suggestions that the Circassians of Syria are the targets of discrimination or oppression by either the Asad government or the Syrian opposition (

            Finally, with regard to the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, the appeal notes that the games themselves have introduced “a new and extremely politicized impulse in public discussions” about the Circassian genocide.  That is unfortunate, it continues, because the Olympics should remain outside of politics of that kind.

            But at the same time, the authors of the appeal say, the Olympic Charter and the tradition of international Olympic competition requires “a demonstration to the world community of the unique historical and cultural heritage” of the autochthonian peoples on the site of any such competitions.

            Countries who organize Olympiads, it ponts out, “traditionally display maximum efforts in order in the course of presenting themselves to the world to demonstrate their own tolerance and willingness to show concern for this or that indigenous people” in the cultural programs that surround such competitions.

            “This experience,” the authors of the appeal argue, should be taken into consideration by the Russian authorities as they prepare for the Sochi games. At the very least, they should know that this is “the expectation” of the Circassian community not only in the Russian Federation where it numbers 500,000 but abroad where it counts more than five million members.

            Again, Putin is unlikely to respond positively, although because this Circassian appeal unlike many others coming from abroad does not call for a boycott of the games, there would appear to be some room for a Russian response that would at least acknowledge the horrific past that the Circassian nation has experienced.

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