Monday, November 9, 2020

‘Greater Circassia Project has Real Support in Caucasus and Abroad,’ Russian Scholar Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 8 – A major challenge for any writer interested in attacking something is to include enough accurate information to make a plausible case without crossing the line and unwittingly helping that which he opposes. In Soviet times, many specialists on bourgeois falsifiers suffered when they revealed too many things the authorities wanted ignored.

            That problem continues in Moscow, and a remarkable case of someone clearly interested in attacking the Circassian cause provides a remarkably accurate portrait of that nation, its problems and its aspiration, and even concludes that “the project of Greater Circassia has real support and a sufficient number of supporters abroad and in the North Caucasus.”

            The author of those words is not a Circassian activist or supporter but rather Stanislav Ivanov, a senior historian at IMEMO in the Russian Academy of Sciences, in an article ostensibly intended to unmask the Circassians and their foreign backers but in reality making a very different point.

            Ivanov’s argument and conclusions are all the more striking because they appear in the influential Voyenno-Promyshlenny Kuryer, a journal directed at senior military and military industry officials in the Russian Federation that is read by the Russian foreign policy elite as well (

            “After the disintegration of the USSR and the establishment of connections and contacts between Circassians living in Russia and the foreign diaspora, arose the idea of establishing a new state, Greater Circassia” that had never existed, Ivanov says, although he reproduces a map from 1830 showing the existence of such a political unit in 1830.

            Such “separatist attitudes” were promoted by the diaspora and by “a number of interested foreign governments” and “one can with a sufficient degree of confidence say that foreign special services have been involved.” He gives as “an example” of this, the coverage of the Circassian the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation has provided.

            Ivanov suggests that this foundation is linked to the CIA and that its activities fully justify the April 2020 decision of the Russian justice ministry to declare it an “undesirable” organization in the Russian Federation (

            But the US is hardly alone or the most important actor in this play, the Moscow historian says. Turkey, which has the largest Circassian diaspora and one that is well-integrated into that country’s national security elite, plays a much bigger role. Other countries like Georgia and member states of the European Union have as well.

            Ivanov’s most interesting comments, however, focus on the history and current state of Circassians in the North Caucasus.  He says that there are “more than 700,000 Circassians” in the North Caucasus, and “several million” more in the diaspora, including 1.5 million in Turkey alone, all figures higher than Moscow officials usually give.

            Ivanov says that the impulse behind those Circassians in the North Caucasus who support the Greater Circassia project comes from the diaspora and foreign supporters but was originally prompted by the parade of sovereignties in the USSR and the RSFSR and then exacerbated by “negative factors of local significant which create preconditions for the growth of Circassian separatism.”

            “As in other republics of the North Caucasus,” Ivanov continues, “in districts of the compact settlement of Circassians interethnic conflicts, clans, corruption, unemployment among the young, social inequality, and the criminalization of a number of spheres of economic activity all are still present.”

            Moreover, “the level of life of the majority of the population and the systems of healthcare and education do not correspond even to the average for Russia as a whole.” And, he continues, “a large gap between the incomes of bureaucrats and the members of their families and the overwhelming majority of ordinary people in these republics has emerged.”

            “A number of the most serious problems in the region require resolution by local and federal authorities,” Ivanov says.  And “local Circassians expect as well from the federal authorities the creation of more favorable for the return of repatriants to their historic motherland,” including a simplification of the procedure for Circassians to receive permanent residence permits in Russia.

             And “having created a virtual image of a single state of Circassia” as well as claiming Circassian as their ethnonym even though most use the term Adyg, “the ideologues of Circassian nationalism have inserted into the minds of Adyg youth the image of Russia, as the heir of the Russian Empire, as an enemy.”

            He does stay on Moscow’s message by suggesting that the events in 1864 were not a genocide, although he admits there were excesses then.

            But instead of calling for the central government to crack down, Ivanov says Moscow and the republics must “devote increased attention to all the unresolved problems of the region, carry out a complex of measures of a prophylactic and preventive character, and react in a timely manner to all signals from the localities.”

            Moreover, Ivanov concludes, “one of the important directions of the work of the Russian foreign ministry could be to establish close interrelations with representatives of the Circassian diasporas of Turkey, Georgia and other countries and work to develop and adopt needed corrections in legislation to ease contacts between Russian Circassians and their co-nationals abroad and also the organized return of those who want to return to their historic motherland.”

            Ivanov’s article does not mean that Moscow is about to change course on the Circassians, but it is a clear indication that some in important places in the Russian capital believe that is exactly what is required and are considering how best to organize things so that the large numbers of Circassians who want an independent state won’t grow.


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