Friday, September 21, 2018

What Happened in Kabardino-Balkaria and Why It Matters Far Beyond that Republic

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 21 – Clashes in Kabardino-Balkaria over the celebration of the 310th anniversary of a battle in which the Kabards, a subgroup of the Circassians, won a major victory over the numerically superior forces of the Crimean Tatar khanate, were either the result of ethnic tensions or a provocation by the Russian authorities and their local representatives.

            The basic facts of the clashes seem to be these: On September 18, a group of 30 Kabard (Circassian) horsemen planned to ride to the site of the battle. A Balkar village (Kyondelen) refused them permission to pass through its streets and the Kabards bypassed the village and held their commemoration (

            But before the Kabards decided to bypass the village, according to the Turkic Turan Today site, clashes between the two groups erupted and forced the authorities to send in units of the Russian Guard and interior ministry to quell them.  As a result, at least one personal was seriously wounded.   

            However, a Circassian source tells a different story. On Facebook, Paul Shewgen says that “there are no inter-ethnic problems in the KBR; there are only false provocateurs” who seek to play up problems in the past to blacken the reputation of the who form the overwhelming majority there (
            In his telling, the Russian OMON forces were the cause of the problem, not relations between the two groups. They, Shewgen says, blocked the return home of the Kabard riders and that led to the clashes. 
            On the one hand, these events are a reprise of 2008 clash when there were fights between Kabards and Balkars over the same issue. But on the other, this event highlights three things which deserve to be noted because they are characteristic of ethnic relations far beyond the borders of Kabardino-Balkaria.
            First, they are a sign that ethnic relations remain far more finely balanced than many now think and that historical commemorations can easily trigger fights even when some on both sides know little of the actual history involved.
            Second, they are an indication that the Russian authorities can easily provoke clashes or facilitate them by small actions without leaving the kind of fingerprints that allow for a final conclusion over who is to blame and who is not.
            And third, the Kyondelen events, which involved only a few dozen people, have been rapidly magnified by the Internet with people who have never heard of that village or the historical event that supposedly triggered the violence now taking sides, an indication that in ethnic conflicts in post-Soviet Russia, the battlefields for all clashes rapidly move from the streets to the world wide web.
            It is there that they are truly “won” or “lost,” not anywhere else.   

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