Staunton, July 29 – The erection of ever more monuments to tsarist conquerors of the Caucasus “cannot be seen as anything but a massive relapse of imperial colonial consciousness” on the part of Russians given that it celebrates those who killed and occupied the non-Russian peoples there whose descendants still feel pain from those events, Zarema Tsveyeva says.
The Circassian language and culture specialist at the Adygey State University says that the putting up of such memorials is being done by the regional and federal authorities to send very different messages to Russians and non-Russians (zapravakbr.com/index.php/30-uncategorised/1506-zarema-tseeva-pamyat-khranit-opyt-kollektivnoj-travmy-ot-krovavogo-protivostoyaniya-s-voennoj-mashinoj-rossijskoj-imperii).
To Russians, such statues are designed to tell Russians at one at the same time that their forefathers conquered these lands and that these territories have always been Russian; and to the non-Russians, they are intended as reminders that they are a conquered people whose fate is ultimately to disappear, Tsveyeva continues.
Every family among the peoples of the Caucasus has memories handed down from grandparents to parents to grandchildren about the savagery of the Russian advance, “and no minimization of the history of the Caucasus war in the years of Soviet times or various treatments in post-Soviet ones can cancel out the inter-generational translation” of their pain.
Not surprisingly, then, these monuments generate over-weaning national pride among Russians and Cossacks who are thus taught to look at the non-Russians as “lesser breeds” deserving to this day of being treated as second class citizens or even enemies of Russia and Russians.
But equally unsurprisingly, Tsveyeva says, it sends a message to the non-Russians that the government and majority nationality of the country of which they are currently within views them as a second class and a problem rather than peoples who have the right to take pride in their own history.
“It is difficult to imagine that such things could be taking place in a contemporary multi-national law-based state, which declares its attachment to humanistic values,” the Circassian scholar says. “But all this commemoration now is occurring on well-prepared ground.” Neither textbooks nor historical museums treat the North Caucasians as peoples in their own right.
And as a result, many Russians assume that the North Caucasians are already on the way to being replaced. Some of her Russian students, she says, are shocked when they learn that “within Krasnodar kray, there is the Adygey Republic where live the authochthonian residents of the region, the Adygs [Circassians] about whom they haven’t the slightest idea.”
That these young people don’t know about that is no surprise either. The Circassians aren’t mentioned in the textbooks they use. They have learned about the Russian conquerors but not about the people those tsarist officers conquered and colonized. Circassian students don’t get any of their national history in the schools either, but they do get it at home.
And the clash between these two very different understandings of the past is now being exacerbated by the Russian campaign to erect statues to the conquerors and colonizers even as those they defeated in battle and absorbed as colonies continue to be ignored in the public space, the Adygey State University scholar concludes.