Monday, August 31, 2020

Circassian Heraldry Originated with Crusader Conquest of Constantinople, Medvedyev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 29 – Mikhail Medvedev, who took the lead in developing symbols for Abkhazia and the Circassians in the early 1990s and who today is a leading specialist in this field, says that the first coats of arms used by Circassians came from Crusader units that sacked Constantinople.

            That is just one of the indications of both the antiquity of Circassian coats of arms and also of the significance of that nation, a significance that led over the centuries not only to a lively development of heraldry among the Circassians but also to the influence of that tradition on Crimea, Russian and Georgian family shields (

            Medvedev first attracted widespread attention for his original research and activities in 1992 when he published an analytic report on the history of Circassian coats of arms and its influence on his design of symbols for the Adygey Republic, Naima Neflyasheva, who blogs at North Caucasus Through the Centuries, says. 

            Circassian heraldry, Medvedev says, arose long before Russian did. The former first appeared at the time of the Crusades while the Russians did not adopt coats of arms until the 15th century, taking as their models German, Swedish, and, as unexpected as this may seem, Circassian shields.

            A large number of Russian family coats of arms contain Circassian elements, although often those who use them have forgotten this origin. The same thing is true in Georgia. And that pattern underscores the importance and vitality of the Circassian nation half a millennium ago, Medvedev says.

            Russian symbols before that time, the specialist says, were not true coats of arms but rather pictures used to identify a place or a family to the largely illiterate population around them. Among the Circassians, however, the rules of heraldry were accepted and applied rigorously.

            As can be seen, the expert says, “the descendants of the Circassian aristocracy who came into Rus were proud of their roots to the point that their coats of arms were quite out of the ordinary.” And as a result, they became “an integral part of the Russian heraldic tradition” and remain so.

            Medvedev says that he expects this tradition to be developed by Circassians now, less for families than for municipal and regional governments who are increasingly concerned about linking themselves to this national tradition.

Roman Catholics ‘Somewhat Braver’ than Orthodox in Opposing Lukashenka, Sanko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 29 – Yury Sanko, the official representative of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Belarus, says that Roman Catholics, clergy and laity, have been “somewhat braver” than Orthodox believers in taking part in the demonstrations against Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s dictatorship and falsification of the elections.

            “We say that we do not get involved in politics,” Sanko tells the Meduza news agency; “but Jesus says: ‘Go and evangelize.’ If a parishioner comes and says her husband cannot come to church because he has been beaten, I as pastor cannot ignore this, and together with them, I take part in peaceful actions” (

            In no country is the church responsible for changing the political authorities, he says. “This is what the people do. But the church will never leave the people and always will be for truth. Our task is not to make a revolution but to pray and bear the burdens of the world,” the Roman Catholic priest says.

            Lukashenka’s attacks on the church and his suggestion that religious must stay out of politics has infuriated many Catholics in Belarus and not only Catholics.  The church doesn’t want to get involved in politics, but it must never stand aside when injustice and violence is being inflicted on people.

            The church and its leaders demand an end to violence, but it is up to citizens to advance br4eoader demands. “We are only against force. We even cannot give an assessment as a church whether the elections were falsified or not. We only give an assessment of the subsequent actions of the powers that be.

            Sanko says that “we want that everyone calm down and begin to speak with one another and that a dialogue will begin between the existing powers and the people. Without dialogue it is difficult to speak about changes” because more than one side much be heard for progress to be possible.

            The priest says that the position he and his congregation have adopted is the position of the Catholic church as a whole.  And he says that his contacts with Orthodox priests and the representatives of other confessions shows that they have similar views, although the Catholics may be somewhat more active and visible.

Sultan Galiyev Now Having His Day in Sun as Defender of Russian Federalism

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 29 – As a result of the ground-breaking work by Alexandre Bennigsen and S. Enders Wimbush 40 years ago, many in Russia and around the world know about one aspect of the legacy of Mirsaid Sultan-Galiyev, his commitment to the idea that Bolshevism and Islam have many things in common and could combine in Muslim national communism.

            Bennigsen and Wimbush documented the ways in which Sultan-Galiyev’s ideas on this point were developed and spread throughout the Muslim borderlands of Soviet Russia and the Middle East in Muslim National Communism in the Soviet Union: A Revolutionary Strategy for the Colonial World (University of Chicago Press, 1980).

            But Sultan Galiyev was a protean figure who offered more than that, even if his ideas about Muslim national communism were what Stalin was most horrified by and why the Soviet dictator hounded him for two decades and finally had him killed in the GULAG.  And those other ideas, long ignored, are now making a comeback.

            Two weeks ago, the author of these lines discussed the new research a Kazakh scholar has done in Kazan about Sultan-Galiyev’s central role as a defender of federalism and his warning that the USSR would fail if it adopted Stalin’s pseudo-federalism Stalin instead of the real thing (

            Today, on the eve of the centenary of the formation of the Tatar ASSR, the predecessor of the Republic of Tatarstan, Bulat Sultanbekov, one of the most senior scholars in that republic, extends this  discussion and most importantly discusses some of the work that has already been done on Sultan-Galiyev’s federalist ideas (

            In the course of his interview, Sultanbekov recounts the clash between Sultan-Galiyev and Stalin over federalism, providing many new details not only about the Bolshevik leaders but about his own role in helping to recover the ideological richness of Sultan-Galiyev’s thought. In the course of this, he offers a list of publications for researchers to draw on now.

            Perhaps the most interesting aspect of his interview is his discussion of Sultan-Galiyev’s prophecies about the future of Eurasia made in the mid-1920s. In his 2015 book, Red Prophet. Rebirth (in Russian, Kazan), Sultanbekov recounts that his subject made four remarkably prescient predictions:

·         “The inevitable disintegration of the USSR in the absence of real federalism” leading to a country with borders which “almost correspond to those which arose after the coup in 1991.”

·         “Migration tsunamis that would change the national face of Europe” and lead to “the rule of the colonies over the metropolitan centers.”

·         The amazing rise of China and its transformation from a war-torn country into a world power.

·         A warning that the world would be threatened by environmental disaster.

It is not surprising then that this brilliant activist and thinker is being rediscovered and helping to shape a new generation of leaders among the non-Russian peoples of the Russian Federation and more generally.  Sultan-Galiyev was a Muslim national communist although not what Stalin meant when he denounced him for that.

He was much more than that and consequently even more of a threat to the Soviet dictator and those who rejected federalism then and now.