Western Powers, Circassian Elites to Blame for 1864, MGIMO Historian Says
September 25 – In what may become a new theme for Russian propaganda, MGIMO historian
Vladimir Degoyev says that the departure of hundreds of thousands of
Circassians from the North Caucasus to the Ottoman Empire was the result of the
Great Game between Russia and the West in the 19th century and of
the shortcomings of Circassian elites.
an article in the new issue of Yuzhnorossiiskoye
obozreniye, Degoyev attacks what he describes as the politicized oversimplification
by Circassian activists of what happened 150 years ago following the Russian
occupation of the Circassian portions of the North Caucasus (kavkazoved.info/images/myfls/2018/ap2018-97.pdf pp.
and most independent historians say that what happened was the expulsion of
hundreds of thousands of Circassians by Russian forces, a process that they describe
as a genocide because the population was driven from its homeland and in the
course of which tens of thousands died.
that is too narrow a view, Degoyev says, arguing that the departure of the
Circassians reflected the confluence of two things: the continuing challenge to
Russia presented by the Western powers and the Ottoman Empire as part of the notorious
“Great Game” that threatened Russia’s ability to develop and aspects of
Circassian society that many prefer to overlook.
regard to the first, Russia having suffered a defeat in the Crimea War and
having launched the reforms of the 1860s needed peace – or at least a respite
from the Western-backed ethnic challenges in its south.The Circassians were the most serious of
these and so Russian forces had to deal with them.
regard to the second, there are two aspects Degoyev focuses on. On the one
hand, the Circassians unlike other North Caucasians never elevated any one
leader who could eventually declare the conflict over and thus set the stage
for peaceful coexistence between his people and the Russian state.
on the other, he says, Circassian elites were fearful that they would lose
their incomes as a result of the end of serfdom in Russia in 1863 and so
promoted the departure of their people to the Ottoman Empire both in the mistaken
hopes that they would retain their incomes and gain an ally that would
eventually allow them to return.
placing the blame for the exodus on the West and on Circassian elites, Degoyev
not only ignores the role the Russian military played in forcibly expelling the
Circassians via Sochi but also seeks to drive a wedge between the Circassians at
home and in the diaspora and Western governments and between ordinary
Circassians and the descendants of their earlier leaders.
and Moscow are unlikely to succeed in doing either, but they may sufficiently
muddy the waters that some in the West who support the Circassians in their
drive for historical justice may begin to question their choice. Indeed, given
Degoyev’s perch in a Russian foreign ministry institution, they may be his and
Moscow’s real target.