Friday, April 10, 2020

Circassians Mull How to Mark May 21 during Pandemic as Moscow Signals Its Anger at Their Activities and International Support

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 7 – Recognizing that Circassians cannot mark May 21in the traditional way with public demonstrations, some Circassians are asking what form this anniversary should take this year. Their reflections come even as Moscow signals its anger at their movement and the international attention and support it is attracting.

            May 21 is the anniversary of the expulsion of the Circassians from their homeland by tsarist forces in 1864, an action the Circassians and their supporters refer to as a genocide and the central memorial day of their year, one that has only grown in importance over the past decade as the Circassian national movement has become more active.

            No Circassian wants this date to pass unnoticed this year, but one Circassian leader, Andzor Kabard, says that it is time to figure out what should be done to that this display of respect for the memory of the nation’s ancestors won’t be blocked by the necessary restrictions the pandemic has led to (

            He and other Circassians have proposed actions that combine the most traditional elements of Circassian culture with the most modern forms of communication.  Aslan Beshto suggests having special memorial meals at home. Aslan Kodzukua calls for making a video clip that everyone can watch and calls for a minute of silence at its conclusion.

             Lidia Zhigunova also calls for a minute of silence and suggests that Circassians adopt as the Armenians have a special flower that can be displayed as “a recognizable symbol for the Circassian Day of Remembrance.” Shamsudin Neguch adds marking the day at home is appropriate under the circumstances, adding Circassians can launch a flashmob on the Internet.

            And Beshto for his part says that Circassians are already organizing the kind of activities that can be centered on May 21, including a poetry competition for young people via the Internet which offers prizes totaling 50,000 rubles (800 US dollars).

            Such Circassian activism is spurring the rise of the national movement not only in the North Caucasus where approximately 750,000 Circassians still reside but also in the diaspora where more than seven million do. That is attracting growing international attention, and not surprisingly, Moscow is worried and lashing back.

            The latest example of this is a statement by the Russian Procurator General’s office declaring the US-based Jamestown Foundation “an undesirable organization” particularly for its coverage of the Circassians over the past decade ( and

            The author of these lines is among those who have participated in Jamestown conferences on the Circassians and who have written about the Circassian national movement. I am proud of this association and proud too that Jamestown has done so much for the Circassians that Moscow is now both angry and worried. 

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