Saturday, June 15, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Circassians Following in the Footsteps of the Crimean Tatars, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 15 – The Circassians up to now have followed the same script that the Crimean Tatars have, albeit with a delay of almost a generation, according to a Russian analyst; and consequently, the Circassians will eventually demand, as the Crimean Tatars already do, closer ties with foreign states and ultimately political independence.

            That argument, advanced yesterday by Vladislav Gulevich on the portal of Moscow’s Strategic Culture Foundation, is clearly intended to convince Russians that they must oppose the Circassians at every step lest failure to do so open the way for ever more radical demands by that nation (

            “By their characteristics,” Gulevich begins, “the so-called Circassian question recalls the Crimean Tatar one with only this difference: the Crimean Tatar question was raised much earlier and its authors partially achieved their goals, although they are not willing to be satisfied with what they have achieved.”

            At the end of Soviet times, he says, “the nationality question ceased to be an internal affair of the USSR, and third forces gained the chance to influence the domestic political situation in our country by influencing various ethnic groups of the Soviet population.” Among these were the Crimean Tatars as led by former Soviet dissident Mustafa Cemilev.

            Given the attention that the Circassians are now getting, largely because of the upcoming Olympiad in Sochi Olympics, he says, the similarities between the two groups are striking. Among the most important are their large diaspora populations and prominence in the military and police of their co-ethnics of the Ottoman Empire and its successors.

             These foreign links, Gulevich argues, explain why nearly all Crimean Tatars and most “pro-Western” Circassians “idealize” Turkey and also why they appeal “to third countries” like Turkey “to put pressure on Russia and force it to satisfy “ the demands of the Crimean Tatars and the Circassians.

             Obviously, he acknowledges, there are “not a few differences” between the two groups and their “questions.”  But these differences are of “a structural and not functional character” because “the geopolitical functions laid on the Crimean Tatar nationalists and their Circassian colleagues are the same – pushing Russia away from the Black Sea littoral.

             “Crimea, except for Sevastopol, was finally pulled out from under Russian jurisdiction with the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Gulevich writes. Kyiv was strong enough to prevent Crimea from going its own way but not strong enough to prevent the Crimean Tatars from creating their own organs of power on the peninsusla and their own “foreign ministry” – the Milli Mejlis Department for Foreign Relations” – to establish ties with other countries.

            “There is every basis to suppose,” Gulevich says, “that the West will try to push the Circassian question along the same path that the Crimean Tatar has trod.”  And it is worth noting that even though Ukrainian nationalists oppose the Crimean Tatars on may points, they are enthusiastic bakers of “’Greater Circassia.’”

             And that in turn means that the Circassian cause is likely to “evolve” just as “the Crimean Tatar problem evolved” in the past.  First, the Crimean Tatars talked about the genocide of their people during Stalin’s deportation of that nationality in 1944. The Circassians today talk about a genocide in 1864 when tsarist forces occupied the North Caucasus and expelled them.

            Then, the Crimean Tatars demanded that those who had been deported be allowed to return to their “historical motherland.” The Circassians today talk about the need for the return of Circassians from war-torn Syria and more generally from Turkey and other countries in the greater Middle East.

            And finally, the Crimean Tatars demanded that Russia “repent” for all the misfortunes of the Crimean Tatars and allow them to form their own independent state. The Circassians, he points out, talk about uniting all Circassian lands in the North Caucasus, an obvious first step toward a parallel goal.

            Just as Crimean Tatar demands have become increasingly political, so too, the Moscow commentator argues, those of the Circassians are likely to follow the same course with demands for education in the national language, the formation of institutions to establish ties with foreign countries, and a state separate from Russia.

            Neither the Crimean Tatars nor the Circassians can hope to be genuinely independent, Gulevich says. The most they could be would be “a protectorate” of some foreign state.  But that is exactly what their foreign backers want, and it appears that for some in both these groups, that is enough even though it would be “the prelude to another round of bloody conflicts.”


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