Monday, November 18, 2019

Campaign for Circassian Subgroups to Declare a Common Nationality in 2020 Census Now Both More Possible and More Urgent

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 15 – After the tsarist government engaged in a genocide against the Circassians, the Soviet regime subdivided the remaining remnants of the Circassians into a variety of nationalities, including the Adygey, the Cherkess, the Kabardins, the Shapsugs and several others, in order to weaken the nation and make it easier for Moscow to control them.

            The post-Soviet government has continued this policy convinced that it promotes two key goals: the weakening of ties between the half million Circassians living inside the current borders of the Russian Federation and the seven million Circassians abroad and forestalling demands for the restoration of a single Circassian republic in the North Caucasus.

            In recent months, some Circassians have decided to fight back by calling on all members of these various “nationalities” to declare in the upcoming 2020 all-Russian census that they are Circassians, declarations that Moscow may falsify but will not be able to entirely ignore (

            Now two developments make such appeals both easier but more urgent. Rosstat, Russia’s state statistical agency, wants to allow those surveyed to be able to declare two nationalities and not just one, in the hope that this will allow it to boost the number of Russians relative to non-Russians ( and
            But while that may be Moscow’s intention, it provides an opening for the Circassians that they should consider taking: Any Adygey, Cherkess, Kabardin or Shapsug will, if this change in the census happens, be able to declare two nationalities: Circassian and the existing one that the Soviet and Russian authorities have imposed.

            That may make it far easier for the Circassians to garner this form of support because those who have grown accustomed to declaring the approved nationalities can still do that. They only have to be sure that they now list Circassian first, an easier “sell” than dropping any reference to the nationalities Moscow wants them to remain in.

            But as Circassian activist and blogger Ali Bylgush points out, another Moscow policy – the attack on non-Russian languages – makes the campaign to have people declare themselves Circassians more urgent ( reposted at

            As he notes, “many Circassian leaders, including those abroad, are concerned that with the loss of native languages” that Russian policy will lead to, many Circassians will lose their connection to the Circassian nation and instead keep as Moscow plans the designations that divide that people instead.

            That is less a problem for older people who remember their language and their identity, Bylgush says; but “the new generations, the youth, your children and mine, will not remember that the Circassians of various regions of the Caucasus had common roots and a common self-designation,” Adygey in Circassian or Circassian in all other languages.  

            The rising generation, urged on by all local and federal media and even some of their neighbors, will then say “we are Kabardins” or “we are Adygeys” and “for the Russian speaking descendants, this will become a sufficient  argument to suggest that they are not we” and that a common Circassian nation doesn’t exist.

            The 2020 census is the next battleground in which Cicassians can defend against that tragic future. Fortunately, and entirely unwittingly, Moscow is helping their cause. 

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