Friday, April 7, 2017

Events in Syria, Turkey and North Caucasus Prompt Moscow to Focus on Circassians

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 7 – Violence in Syria that is prompting more Circassians there to seek to return to their homeland, Ankara’s new and more positive approach to that nation in Turkey, and increased activism among Circassians in the North Caucasus has forced Moscow to turn its attention to the Circassian issue, according to Filipp Gromyko.

            The Kavkazskaya politika journalist says that Moscow had turned away from the Circassian issue after the Sochi Olympiad but these changes and divisions within the organized Circassian community have forced the Russian government to get involved more heavily once again (

                This new Russian attention includes a recent meeting between Oleg Belaventsev, the presidential plenipotentiary of the North Caucasus Federal District and Khauti Sokhrokov, head of the International Circassian Association, two men whose similar ages and similar backgrounds suggest they’ll have better ties than the ICA and Belaventsev’s predecessor did.

            But the relationship is about more than personalities, Gromyko says.  The ICA has lost influence as various republic organizations and KAFFED in Turkey have broken with it as a result of Sokhrokov’s authoritarian style, Russian clumsiness in handling Circassian claims, and the conclusion of many Circassians that the ICA is simply a “for show” organization.

            And now both the Russian government because of developments abroad and in the North Caucasus and the ICA for its own survival have an interest in working together, something that could lead Moscow to make concessions to the Circassians on Syrian refugees and on their national media given Turkey’s moves in that direction.

            “It is no secret,” Asker Sokht of the Krasnodar Adygey Khase, “that the ICA in recent times has been in a quite complicated situation. Being in essence a Russian NGO but international in its status, the ICA without major patronage from the government has been transformed into ‘an orphan,’ which the state doesn’t need at all.”

            At present, the ICA does not receive real help from Moscow and so is increasingly a dead letter, Sokht continues; but Circassians groups abroad are developing rapidly – and that has changed the balance of power within the Circassian world from inside the borders of the Russian Federation to the diaspora, a change Moscow does not welcome.

            The stronger the diaspora is and the weaker the ICA becomes, the less influence Moscow has over both groups and the more likely the diaspora will be able to play a greater role not only in each of the countries where its five million plus members are located but among the roughly 500,000 Circassians inside Russia.

            The meeting between Belaventsev and Sokhrokov could be an indication that Moscow feels it has to do more on the Circassian issue, that it cannot afford a situation in which the Circassians of Turkey, the Middle East and the West set the agenda for that nation.  But for the Russian authorities to change the balance will require more than one meeting.

            Nikolay Silayev, an MGIMO scholar who focuses on Circassian issues, says that he doubts the Belaventsev-Sokhrokov meeting was more than a protocol event, at least for the presidential plenopotentiary.  But there are some important issues before both men, and the Circassians may now be ready to seize the moment.

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