Staunton, April 6 – Ethnic Circassians won election to numerous city councils in Turkey, with at least one becoming mayor, a set of victories that Circassians in the North Caucasus homeland very much hope will allow Circassians there to lobby effectively on behalf of their co-nationals in both places.
Circassians in the North Caucasus have always looked to the Circassian community in Turkey not only because it is larger, at least four times as big as the various Circassian nations have been divided into by Moscow in the North Caucasus, but also because it is freer to operate and express its views than those living in Russia.
But they have always been skeptical about Turkey’s Circassians because Moscow has worked hard to keep them divided and isolated from the North Caucasus and because the Circassians of Turkey because they are so well integrated into Turkish political parties and the Turkish community often behave more as Turks of one strand or another rather than Circassians.
The Kavkaz-Uzel news agency interviewed six people involved with the Circassians in the North Caucasus. They expressed some hopes but acknowledged that the victories the Circassians had won were individual, that the Circassian community is not politically organized, and that its immediate prospects for influence are small (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/333947/).
Asker Sokht, the vice president of Adyge Khase in Krasnodar kray, pointed out that the Circassian national minority has long been represented in government bodies in Turkey and that to a certain extent, it has been able to promote the development of ties between Turkey and the Circassian homeland. The latest victories may accelerate that trend.
Aslan Beshto, president of the Kabardin Congress, in contrast was more skeptical. “Politically,” he said, “the Circassians as a people in Turkey are very passive. This must be accepted as a fact of life.” Circassians in Turkey vote along party lines but not along ethnic ones – and that is changing only very slowly.
Georgy Chochiyev of the North Ossetian Institute for Humanitarian and Social Research says that the Circassians of Turkey have numerous organizations but collectively they have only two “strategic goals.” First, they want to gain the rights of an ethnic minority in Turkey; and second, they want to develop as much as possible links with the North Caucasus.
Aleka Kvakhadze of Tbilisi’s Rondeli Foundation said that the situation in Turkey is best understood in the following way: “there are influential Circassians but no influential Circassian lobby.” The recent elections don’t change that. He doesn’t expect any new projects designed to expand ties between Turkey and the Circassians of the North Caucasus.
Anzhelika Tokhtamysheva, a Circassian in Turkey, said that in her experience, Circassians there do not stress their identity beyond the families and the diaspora. “In society,, they are Turks.”
And Denis Sokolov, a specialist on the North Caucasus now working at Washington’s CSIS, said that “the Circassians of Turkey are not a political factor there.” The only time they have acted like a political community, he said, was when they tried to provide help to Circassians seeking to flee Syria.