Staunton, May 15 – Two weeks ago, Vladimir Putin signed a decree making it easier for Russian compatriots to enter Russia and become citizens; but that decree, like all earlier actions of the Kremlin leader, does not apply to Circassians in war-torn Syria because they were never Soviet or Russian citizens.
The Kremlin leader’s failure to modify the rules so that Circassians from Syria could be admitted in an expedited way comes despite numerous appeals from Circassians both in Syria and in the North Caucasus homeland. But what is especially distressing is that the authorities in Russia are in fact making it more difficult for Circassians from Syria to enter and live in Russia.
Olga Efendiyeva-Begretova, the head of the Zhegu (Hearth) organization which provides assistance to Circassians in Kabardino-Balkaria, says that not only have the powers that be in the Russian Federation been unwilling to modify laws to help the Circassians, they have in fact made the situation worse in recent years (habze.org/россии-не-нужны-черкесы-зарубежья/).
Sometimes these obstacles are as simple as setting up a Catch-22 situation in which if a Circassian is rejected at any point in the process, he or she must begin the entire process again, despite what such people had achieved. But more often it is discrimination in access to jobs, health care and education via ethnic quota or language rules, many of which have been tightened.
Thus, Circassians who do manage to get into the country may be denied health care because the kind they need is available only in major cities; and quotas dreamed up by the Russian authorities prevent them from going there, sometimes even if they have the help of private Circassian organizations.
That can lead to more serious illnesses or even death. Students are excluded from gaining access to scholarships because they do not fit into standard categories. And while Circassian is a state language in the KBR, it is not recognized there as one as far as Circassian immigrants are concerned. For them, only Russian counts.
The previous head of the KBR, Arsen Kanokov provided some support for the Circassian immigrants, but his successor, the current head, Yury Kokov, has largely illuminated that, pleading poverty and saying that people coming from Syria are often Islamist terrorists or criminals. Circassians are neither, the activist points out.
Kokov has defunded some Circassian organizations which had been providing help and put limits on the activities of others. The Circassian community, Efendiyeva-Begretova says, is now working to create its own integration center, one entirely funded by non-government sources.
The government’s failure to be more welcoming and even more the actions of officials intended to make it even less so have infuriated many Circassians not only in the North Caucasus but in Syria and elsewhere abroad as well. It is clear to all of them that Russia has “no need of the Circassians,” whatever promises Moscow makes about compatriots.