Staunton, April 25 – Many countries around the world celebrate their respective “flag days,” but for most, this is at best a secondary holiday, typically one that doesn’t involve a day off or have deep meaning for those who do mark it. For the Circassians, however, because of their situation and because of the flag, it is a vastly more important date.
Today, as has become traditional, Circassians living throughout the world mark the Day of the Circassian Flag. Within the borders of the Russian Federation where the Circassians remain officially divided up into half a dozen nationalities, officials try to block celebrations; but that only makes those actions and the flag itself more important.
Aslan Beshto, the head of the Kabardin Congress, notes that the day was created by the International Circassian Association in 2010. In that year, there were no special activities, but with each passing year, more and more have been added – and coordination across republic lines has increased (habze.org/аслан-бешто-черкесский-флаг-это-мат/).
“From the very beginning,” he continues, “the Day of the Circassian Flag was intertwined with the idea of the assertion of a common exo-ethnonym ‘Circassian.’ The flag itself is the material embodiment of the idea of the unity of the Circassians and has become a symbol of that unity against foreign threats and internal challenges.”
The authorities in the republics of the North Caucasus did not welcome this development, but they found it hard to block entirely because the date chosen, April 25, is also the day of the State Flag of Adygeya. That meant that some officials were going to celebrate it whether the intended to or not.
Unfortunately, the authorities in some republics have used their usual methods – demanding that meetings be moved or not held at all, that some kind of activities be banned, and that certain things not be said have become more rather than less common with the passing of time, as Russia has “tightened the screws” against everyone, Beshto says.
This year, for instance, the authorities banned the automobile caravan that has taken place in earlier years supposedly because it could cause accidents. Circassian activists did not insist but they did seek and were successful in getting their planned location for demonstrations in honor of the flag.
According to Beshto, the authorities aren’t doing this to save face. Instead, they are caught “between two fires” and are trying to avoid being burned by one or the other. “On the one hand, they do not want to be apart from their own people. But on the other, they are afraid of not fulfilling the will of those from whom they get all material goods and authority.”
In Kabardino-Balkaria, for instance, the activist says, “the authorities serve as a kind of bumper between the federal center and the people who initiative the carrying out of holidarys or memorial dates which Moscow hasn’t agreed to.”