Saturday, October 17, 2020

Moscow Again Seeking to Block Soviet-Divided Circassian Nation from Declaring a Common Name in Upcoming Census

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 15 – The Russian government was successful in using the security organs to take control of many Circassian groups in the 1990s and block efforts at that time to have all of them declare Circassian as their common ethnonym, Asker Sokht says. But now this conflict has again heated up.

            On the one hand, the Circassians are ever more linked to the Circassian diaspora abroad and to each other via social media and want to identify as Adygs (Circassians) because they feel this commonality ever more passionately, the head of the Adyge Khase organization in Krasnodark Kray says (

            But on the other, the Russian powers that be are increasingly concerned about this development and are working hard to stop it, even though their ability to limit the impact of the Internet on Circassians within the current borders of the Russian Federation is extremely limited. They are having republic officials make appeals, but these largely have fallen on deaf ears.

            These republic officials may fear that they will lose power if the Circassians living on their territories identify as such rather than as the Soviet-imposed divisions that link the four major subdivisions of the nation to specific republics. But the younger generation, Sokht says, do not care about that and have larger goals. It is these larger goals that Moscow fears.

            Ekho Kavkaz journalist Murat Gukemukhov says that these divisions emerged because following the defeat and expulsion of most Circassians in 1864, those few remaining lived in widely separated places and identified both as Circassians and as members of territorially defined peoples.

            After the establishment of Soviet power, he continues, the Soviets defined those living in these Circassian enclaves as “distinct ethnic groups,” a process that began in the 1920s, was completed by the time of the 1939 census and one that no one was allowed to question after that time.

            As a result, Gukhemukhov continues, those who lived on the Black Sea coast became Shapsugs, those who lived in the Adygey Autonomy became Adygs, those who lived in the KBR became Kabards and those who lived in the KChR became Cherkess. That process might have succeeded had it not been for the fall of Soviet power and the rise of the Internet.

            With the fall of Soviet power, the Circassians experienced two transformations: as a result of the rise of the Internet, they became increasingly integrated with the much larger diaspora whose members identified first and foremost as Circassians and they concluded that they were a single people and must be recognized as such.

            That effort began in 1989, Sokht says, and initially it gained support even from academic specialists in Moscow who acknowledged the obvious. But Russian officials, still infected with Soviet ideas, were fearful of what this would lead to, including the rise of demands for a restored common Circassian Republic, something that would challenge Moscow’s control.

            At that time, it used the security services against Circassian organizations. That worked for a time. But under the impact of the Internet and the diaspora, it has failed, forcing Moscow to try to rely on republic officials in the four chief Circassian areas. That effort isn’t working and the central government may thus result in falsification of the census.

            If it does so, Circassians will see this both as an insult to their nation and as evidence that Moscow recognizes their rising power, a combination that may cause far more problems for the central authorities than a more honest approach would.

            For background, see,,,,,, and

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