Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Circassians Want to Follow Sakha and Declare Their Nation the Indigenous People of Krasnodar Kray

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 16 – It may not have the drama of the parade of sovereignties at the end of Soviet times, but the decision of the Sakha Republic to declare the Sakha the indigenous people of that region, a step triggered by Russian discussions of doing the same thing for ethnic Russians in the country as a whole, is already echoing among other non-Russian groups.

            On the one hand, this is yet another reminder that when the Russians move too far in the direction of trying to transform the Russian Federation into a nation state, the non-Russians will respond by reaffirming their unique status and the importance of federalism if Russia is to remain in its current borders.

            And on the other, it is an indication that what one non-Russian republic does, be it Tatarstan in many cases or Sakha in this particular one, rapidly spreads to others in ways that recall the spread of the influence of the Baltic popular fronts to the union republics of the USSR at the end of Soviet times.

            In September, Circassian activists posted online for signature a declaration to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the government of the Russian Federation, and the administration of Krasnodar Kray calling on them to recognize the Circassians (Adygeys) as the indigenous people of Krasnodar Kray.

            The petition reads in part, “the majority of cities and rivers of the Black Sea coastal region of Krasnodar Kray have Adygey names and the Adygeys have lived there from time immemorial.  Up to now, the kray administration has not recognized [the Circassians] as an indigenous one … We need nothing except recognition of this fact.”
            It continues: If such recognition is granted, the Circassians “will be able to turn over the page of history and with gratitude go forward! [They] love their country and have promoted its honor both in sports and in military conflicts. Now let our great country meet [the Circassians] half way and recognize this fact. Justice must triumph!”
            Initially, Priymak says, this appeal attracted little attention, but after the decision of the Sakha court, it gained more attention and more support even as it became the subject of attacks by Russians who viewed it as wrong-headed and a threat to the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.
             (On the Sakha Court decision, see; on the overwhelming hostile ethnic Russian reaction to it, including demands to suppress the non-Russian republics entirely, see
            In his discussion of the latest petition, Priymak notes that it concerns only the situation of the Circassians in Krasnodar Kray.  But he observes that if Moscow were to agree to the Circassian request, the Circassians would likely expand their demands to include many other parts of the North Caucasus which were part of Circassia before the Russian conquest.
            He bases that conclusion on the terms of the November 2011 Circassian “declaration on self-determination and statehood of the autochthonian indigenous Circassian people” that was adopted as the Circassian response to the 2007 UN Declaration “on the rights of indigenous peoples.”
            That document, he notes, includes within the borders of historical Circassia “all of Krasnodar Kray, Adygeya, Kabardino-Balkaria, and parts of other Russian territories, and also part of the Abkhaz Republic.”  And it declares that the Circassians “never voluntarily” agreed to depart or change their national borders.
            Moreover, Priymak suggests, if Russia makes any concessions to the Circassians on this point, the Circssians will then press for recognition of the events of 1864 in which more than half of the Circassians were deported to the Ottoman Empire and which Circassians and their supporters to this day view as an act of genocide.
            Quite obviously, he concludes, all this makes “the destabilization of the North Caucasus” more likely, especially given the reaction of other peoples including the ethnic Russians to these Circassian claims.

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