Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Circassian Activist Denounces Moscow for ‘Discriminating Against Compatriots on Ethnic Lines’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 29 – In advance of the Day of the Repatriant in the Adygey Republic on August 1, Circassian activist Asker Sokht has condemned Moscow for double standards on immigration and argued that discriminating against potential immigrations on ethnic lines does not contribute to a positive image of Russia in the world.

            His toughly-worded article appears on the Regnum news agency portal, a place which most often reflects Russian nationalist views rather than the defense of non-Russian peoples in general or the nations of the North Caucasus in particular. For that reason if no other, it deserves attention (

            The approaching August 1 Adygey holiday was created at the end of the 1990s to mark the successful return to their homeland of 49 families from war-Yugoslavia, an action that Moscow played up at the time as a humanitarian gesture but has been increasingly reluctant to repeat for Circassians seeking to return to the North Caucasus from Syria or Iraq.

            Moscow officials have repeatedly insisted that Russian law does not allow for the mass repatriation of these Circassians, a clear example of “double standards,” the Circassian activist says, given that these same officials saw no problem in allowing two million Ukrainians to enter Russia after 2014 and even acquire Russian citizenship in an expedited fashion.

            Despite Moscow’s efforts, approximately 6,000 Circassians have come back to their homeland since 2012, supported by local Circassian activists and to a lesser extent by the governments of the Circassian republics but not by Moscow. As a result, only about half of them have remained in the Russian Federation.

            The other half, Sokht says, have moved on to Abkhazia, Turkey, Jordan, Sweden, Norway, and Germany, or even “returned back to Syria.” They did so because of the absence of government programs in support of their integration into Russian life and the opposition of Russian officials to their coming at all.

            A significant share of those who have remained in the Russian Federation have taken Russian citizenship. Many have gone on to Russian schools and universities, and some of them have served in the Russian armed forces, “which also is an important mechanism for integration into Russian society.”

            But at present, there are approximately 300 Circassian families, mostly older, who need legal help and language training to become Russian citizens. They should have been treated the same way Ukrainians were, Sokht says; but instead, Vladimir Putin has issued orders that make no exceptions for the Circassians.

            “Beyond doubt,” he continues, “this is an obvious case of discrimination against Circassian repatriants from Syria who have been in Russia for more than seven years. Such dividing up of compatriots abroad along ethnic lines,” he says, “doesn’t make the government look good.”

            Although the Circassian activist doesn’t mention them here, there are two sets of reasons why Moscow has acted in this way. On the one hand, it doesn’t want an influx of Circassians to change the delicate ethnic balance in the North Caucasus and possibly intensify demands for the unification of all the Circassians there into a single republic.

            And on the other, in contrast to the Ukrainians who are viewed as culturally similar and even a friendly nation, the Circassians are seen by Moscow officials as culturally alien and a nation whose history since the 1864 expulsion of their ancestors by the Russian army to the Ottoman Empire as hostile to Russia and Russians.

            Given that, why did Regnum choose to publish this article now.  Three reasons suggest themselves. First, that Russian news agency like many others occasionally publishes things at odds with the official line so that it can claim an objectivity which in fact its normal practice suggests isn’t there.

            Second, many editors at Regnum undoubtedly believe that taking in Circassians from Yugoslavia was a positive development, one directed in their view against NATO actions in that country.  By focusing on that history, Sokht likely succeeded in getting approval for his article as a whole.

            And third, given Russia’s demographic problems, it is not entirely implausible that at least some of Regnum’s editors there feel that it is worth taking in “even Circassians” if that will help slow the further decline in the number of Russian citizens.

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