Saturday, May 25, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Sochi Countdown -- 37 Weeks to the Olympiad in the North Caucasus

Note:  This is my 15th special Window on Eurasia about the meaning and impact of the planned Olympiad on the nations in the surrounding region.  These WOEs, which will appear each Friday over the coming year, will not aim at being comprehensive but rather will consist of a series bullet points about such developments.  I would like to invite anyone with special knowledge or information about this subject to send me references to the materials involved.  My email address is  Allow me to express my thanks to all those who already have. Paul Goble

Circassians in North Caucasus and Around the World Mark 149th Annivesary of Genocide.  Circassians and their supporters across the North Caucasus and in the diaspora marked the 149th anniversary of the tsarist Russian genocide visited upon the Circassian people in 1864. In many places, participants carried signs calling for a boycott of the Sochi games, the site of some of the greatest violence against the Circassians in the 1860s, and demanding that foreign governments oppose Vladimir Putin’s efforts to use the competition to legitimize his regime. The size and scope of these demonstrations and the fact that they attracted positive statements from officials in Circassian republics and regions including among the Shapsugs of Sochi itself all suggest that Circassian opposition to the Sochi games is growing and that there will be more Circassian activism in the lead up to, during and after the competition, exactly the opposite vector that Moscow had hoped for ( ,,,, ,,,,,,, , ).

Russians Killed or Expelled 98 Percent of Circassians between 1864 and 1870, Documents Show. Circassian arguments that tsarist Russian committed a genocide against them in Sochi and nearby areas are bolstered by recent historical documentation of the tragic reality that the number of Circassians in the North Caucasus was reduced by 98 percent between 1864 and 1870. This devastation led to many proverbs including one that said “now, even a woman can go through the land of the Circassians without fear of meeting a single living man” and “the road to Isanbul by sea is visible because of the bodies of dead Circassians” (  and ).

Turkish PM Issues Statement on 149th Anniversary of Circassian Expulsion. For the first time ever, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a statement on the anniversary of the Sochi expulsion of the Circassians, noting that that event has had enormous consequences for Turkey where many Turkish citizens trace their ancestry back to those who were expelled and saying that “now, 149 years after the great expulsion, the memory of those days is becoming still stronger and that the rising generation will not forget about them” ( ).

Demirtash Calls for Recognition of Circassian Genocide. Selahattin Demirtash, the leader of the Kurdish community in Turkey , says that his group will press Ankara to recognize the genocide of the Circassian people (   and

Abkhaz Historians Seek to Combine Abkhaz Tragedy with Circassian Genocide.  A Circassian history has disputed Abkhazian claim that the Circassians and Abkhazian peoples “suffered together a catastrophe 150 years ago,” noting that “the genocide of the Circassians” in the course of their resistance to Russian expansion is one thing and “the deportation of the Abkhazians in 1877” is quite another.  It may be that this attempt to combine the two is intended to undercut Circassian arguments by introducing some confusion in the minds of non-experts (

Circassians Recall Marx’s Call for Europeans to Learn from North Caucasus Resistance.  Several Circassians this year have chosen to highlight the observation of Karl Marx that “the peoples of Europe” should “learn how to struggle for freedom and independence by copying the heroic examples of the mountaineers of the Caucasus” (

Sochi Olympic Organizers Promise Security Will Be ‘At Highest Possible Level.’  Promising that security at Sochi will be the bestever, Dmitry Chernyshenko, the head of the Sochi organizing committee, said that Moscow is “doing its best to enure security” and that “the Boston bombings hve proven that terrorism is ‘a global threat,’” comments that have had the unintended consequence of attracting ever more attention to the risks of holding the games at the edge of the restive North Caucasus and at a time when the Russian capital itself has been the target of terrorist attacks ( .

Sochi Residents Refer to ‘Potanin’s Slope’ and ‘Gazprom’s Gondola’ But in Fact Russian Taxpayers are Paying for the Games.  Russian media are suggesting and Western media are reporting that Russian oligarchs are paying for “more than half” of the most expensive Olympics ever, some 30 billion US dollars out of a total of 53 billion US dollars. But in fact, the oligarchs are routinely seeking subventions from the Russian government so that “their” contributions are in fact the contributions of the Russian people (  and

Russian Army Launches Soviet-Style Olympic Training Unit.  The Russian army has created a special unit in which 36 potential Sochi competitors will be trained, and commanders indicate that more such units may be set up if the need arises (

Masked Russian Police Raid Sochi Construction Company. Armed men raised the offices of a company involving in building Sochi venues, a company whose officials denied that the raid had anything to do with an investigation a year ago that its officers had embezzled two billion rubles (64 million US dollars) (

Circassian Center Still Open and Active in Tbilisi. Media reports to the contrary, the Circassian Center in the Georgian capital remains open and active, according to Circassian activist Ibragim Yaganov. Moreover, the center organized a demonstration in Tbilisi on the 149th anniversary of the Circassian genocide ( and

Moscow Opposes Circassian Repatriation from Syria Lest It Change Ethnic Balance in Western North Caucasus, Amelina Says.  Yana Amelina, a Kazan-based expert on the North Caucasus, says that Russia unlike Turkey opposes the repatriation of Circassians from Syria not least because it does not want to see a shift in the ethnic balance in the North Caucasus or a growth in Turkish influence there, something she says has not yet happened (

Georgia’s Ivanishvili Says Tbilisi Ready to Provide Security for Sochi Games.  Georgian PM Bidzina Ivanishvili said that “the Georigan side will provide maximum assistance” to Moscow for Sochi in order to “ensure that no incident takes place during the Olympics,” a proposal that some in Moscow may welcome but that others may see as part of a more complicated political game (

Sochi Police Becoming Increasingly Brutal in Dealing with Population, Residents Say.  Sochi policemen have used brutal force against residents, with some of the former now up on charges and some of the latter suffering serious injury, residents of Sochi say (

Sochi Officials Back Down After Kudepsta Protest.  Officials say they will not build a power plant in Kudepsta to which protesters had objected, a very positive development that may save a lovely neighborhood but a move that may encourage more protests in the future (

Sochi Still Requires ‘Unprecedented for Russia’ Rebuilding of Electrical System.  One of the bottlenecks to the completion of Olympic construction in Sochi is the need to rebuild “in an unprecedented for Russia” way the entire electric power distribution system, Russian officials say

Sochi Residents Complain That They Won’t Benefit from New Housing.  Following official declarations about the completion of housing projects in various parts of Sochi, local residents have posted complaints on a local website saying that these projects are all very nice but that no current Sochi resident is going to benefit from them (

Online Photographs Show Official Claims about Olympic Road Construction are False. Photographs on the site show that claims by Moscow’s highway chief Roman Starovoit concerning the state of street and highway construction in Sochi and its environments are at the very least inflated and in many cases completely false (

Trash Mountains Continue to Rise around Sochi.  Mounds of trash, all of them unsorted and many of them containing noxious chemicals or materials that will not breakdown for hundreds of years are accumulating around Sochi, and local people say there do not appear to be any plans to address the problem anytime soon ( ).

Stalin Built Sochi for Soviet People; Putin is Rebuilding It for Russian Elite, Residents Say.  The showing of a Soviet-era film about the construction of resort facilities in Sochi has sparked comment among residents that there is a marked contrast between Stalin and Putin and not in favor of the latter: the Soviet leader built the resort for ordinary Soviet citizens; the current Russian one is doing so only for the rich ( ).

Olympic Venues Not Ready for Security Challenge.  Photographs form Sochi show that, despite all of Moscow’s talk, perimeter fencing and gates around Olympic venues and facilities are not of a kind which would stop any determined terrorist and that there is little or no evidence that this situation is being addressed at the present time (

Sochi Continue to ‘Drown in Human Excrement.’ Poorly connected sewers in the course of Olympic construction are leading to ever more uncontrolled flows of human waste, leading several local observers to conclude that their city is “drowning in human excrement” and that a health crisis is imminent (, and

Russian Officials Say Sochi Will Set Another Olympic Record: More Drug Tests Than Ever Before.  Sochi organizers say that 570 officials will conduct 2500 doping tests at Sochi, 351 more than were carried out at the last Winter Games in Vancouver (

Russian Officials Continue Media Crackdown in Sochi … Russian officials have sparked outrage among local journalists by charging one of their number with being involved in narcotics trafficking even as they work to prevent other journalists from gaining access to what had been public information (,,  and ).

… Prompting More Sochi Residents to Ask Whether There is Any Free Media in Sochi or Russia as a Whole. “What are independent media? Do any of htem remain in Russia? Are there any left in Sochi? [and] Can one struggle with corruption and official arbitrariness without them?” are some of the questions journalists in the Olympic city are asking. And their questions suggest that as the Olympics approaches, it will be more and more difficult for them to report on what is going on and hence more and more difficult for everyone else to know (

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