Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Putin Launches Another ‘Hybrid’ Attack on the Circassians

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 10 – The ways in which urban renewal in Western countries have often been directed against ethnic minorities and even had that purpose have long attracted the attention not only from members of those communities but also from all people of good will concerned about minority rights. But the situation in Russia is different.

            There, members of the communities directly affected have complained; but members of broader rights communities have tended to look the other way, thus allowing the Russian powers that be to act without the kind of restraints such people would insist upon in the case of Western governments.

            There is a great danger that another case of this kind is about to happen in Sochi, the home immemorial of the Shapsugs, one of the 12 ethnic subdivisions of the Circassian nation who number only about 10,000 in their home area but more than 800,000 abroad, mostly in Turkey but also 4,000 in Israel and several hundred in each of the major countries of the West.

            Sochi was the site from which tsarist forces deported nearly a million Circassians in 1864, and its role in that regard attracted international attention when Vladimir Putin decided to host a winter Olympics there in 2014, an act equivalent to holding an international sports competition on the killing fields of Cambodia or at the site of a Nazi death camp.

            Because the Shapsugs are the Circassian group still living there, they were among the leaders of an international drive to try to have the games moved. They and their allies failed, and they became victims of the redevelopment of the city in advance of the Olympiad, in many cases forced to move yet again and losing historical sites of importance to them.

            Now. this is about to happen again. During a recent visit to Sochi, Putin said that the railroad along the embankment of the Black Sea in Sochi should be shifted inland. If that happens, the construction of a new route will lead to the destruction of Shapsug villages and the removal of Shapsugs yet again from their homelands.

            The Sochi authorities, who do not include any representatives of the Shapsug people, have responded with alacrity to Putin’s words both to show their loyalty and because such construction projects inevitably involve massive diversion of public funds into the hands of officials and businesses (kavkazr.com/a/30368228.html).

            Public organizations of the Shapsugs have appealed to the city and federal authorities to at least take the concerns of the Shapsugs into account in deciding on the route of the new railway. But the authorities have refused to involve them in discussions or even admit there is a problem: officials say displaced Shapsugs will get high-rise apartments and should be pleased. 

            Unlike some other Circassian groups, like the Adygeys, Kabardins, and Cherkess, the Shapsugs have not had since the 1930s any recognition as a territorially-based community with its own rights. (There was a Shapsug district in the first years after the Bolshevik revolution but it was disbanded.)

            The Shapsugs have been seeking its restoration for more than a decade but without success. Now, unless something changes, they appear set to become the victims of its absence and to see their homeland taken over by Russian government and corporate interests (kavkazr.com/a/shapsugi-nerealizovannost-prav/29617033.html).

            No nation was so subdivided by the Soviets and has remained so subdivided under the Russian Federation than the Circassians, a reflection of Moscow’s fears of the possibility of the restoration of a Circassian Republic in the North Caucasus, something that would challenge Russian control of the region.

            But this latest action against the Shapsugs may backfire. That is both because it is easy for everyone to understand what this latest Russian action means and because it is likely to feed into and thus become a rallying cry in the coming months for all Circassians, despite Russian efforts to divide them, to identify as Circassians in the upcoming 2020 census.

            Both the defense of the homes of the Shapsugs and the efforts of Circassians to re-unite deserve the support of people of good will everywhere. Putin’s latest “hybrid” attack on a non-Russian nation must not be allowed to succeed. The stakes are too high.

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