Friday, October 20, 2017

Abkhazia Just Made the Circassian Issue Far More Explosive for Moscow

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 20 – In the last few weeks, as a result of official harassment of Shapsug activist Ruslan Gvashev, Moscow is now confronted not only by what one Russian journalist has called “a small color revolution” among the Circassians but also by the internationalization of the Circassian cause in a new and unexpected way.

            For a discussion of the Gvashev case, a man found guilty of organizing an unauthorized meeting when all he was doing was praying at a site sacred to the Circassians, of which the Shapsugs are one sub-group, and how that has become “a small color revolution,” see

            That is bad enough from Moscow’s point of view, but the Gvashev case had has the effect of leading to the rebirth of what Valery Dzutsati says is “the long-forgotten Abkhaz-Circassian union” and to questions in Abkhazia about Russia’s intentions toward them and how Abkhazians should react (

            For years and especially since the run-up to the Sochi Olympiad, Circassians of the North Caucasus have been protesting “against the policy of the Russian powers in the region,” the Circassian commentator says. But until the Gvashev case, the Abkhazians weren’t involved. Now they are both officially and unofficially.

            David Dasnia, an Abkhaz politician and activist, says that Russians should forget about their former approach of seeking to drive a wedge between the Abkhazians and the Circassians. The Gvashev case has brought the two peoples together and guarantees that the Abkhazians will do what they can to support the Circassians in the future.

            The friendship of the two has deep roots. In 1992-1993, many Circassians fought on the side of the Abkhazians against the Georgians. Among their number was Gvashev. But after that conflict, warming relations between Circassians and Tbilisi led to a cooling of ties between the Circassians and the breakaway and still unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia.

            For Abkhazians, Gvashev is a reminder of that past, especially since he fought for Abkhazia “not only in the 1990s but in 2008 in Kodorsky gorge. He has Abkhazian citizenship, has been awarded the highest medal of the republic, and is remembered as an officer who talked Abkhazians out of backing down when the battles were going against them.

            Dasania says that he and other activists not only are supporting Gvashev now but are demanding that the Abkhaz authorities do the same. Some Abkhazians even tried to join demonstrations in support of Gvashev but were prevented from doing so by Russian police forces.

            According to Dzutsati, “the unexpected interference of Abkhaz activists and the government in the Gvashev case can be connected also with the general dissatisfaction of the residents of Abkhazia with Russia’s policy in relation to its ally.”  Many feel Moscow has trampled on their rights and dignity as an independent country.

            Dasania for his part even suggests that “Abkhazia had more sovereignty before Russia recognized it than it did afterwards.” The result is that the Abkhazians are looking for allies and support, and they have found one in the Circassians who also benefit from getting support from others as well.

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