Sunday, December 13, 2020

Moscow’s Misrepresentations about Colonial War in Caucasus Set the Stage for New Violence, Khakuasheva Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 11 – George Santayana’s observation that those who forget the past are condemned to relive it is taking on new urgency in the Russian Federation where the lies some Russian leaders and media figures are telling about the tsarist colonial wars in the Caucasus are setting the stage for new violence, Madina Khakuasheva says.

The senior scholar at the Kabardino-Balkar Institute for Research on the Humanities argues that the increasing insistence by such Russians that the Circassians and other peoples of the region were exclusively to blame for Russian losses during the tsarist colonial advance rather than the regime that dispatched troops is backfiring (

The lies about the conflict, the memorializing of only Russian soldiers who lost their lives but not of anyone who resisted them, and the erection of statues and monuments to the conquerors is a dangerous recapitulation of what happened during the course of the more than a century long war of resistance against a colonial power.

“During the Russian-Caucasus war, those people whom the Russian state wanted to enslave and destroy were discredited and demonized in order to justify this expansion, and the more the Caucasians resisted and the bloodier was this unending war, the more cynical and shameful was the propaganda then.” So it is again now, Khakuahseva says.

But today, Moscow is seeking not to conquer the North Caucasians but to keep the descendants of those who fought against the Russian advance under control. And that means, when one sees the outrageous lies about the Circassians and others, this is not simply media hyperbole but “a contemporary articulation of a neo-imperial colonial agenda.”

More than that, the Circassian scholar continues, this agenda and the way it is being expressed carries within it “a potential threat to the security and stability of Russia” because alongside “the rebirth of barbaric values of the past,” including militarism and the justification of force and forcible assimilation, something else is emerging.

Until recent decades, such a media campaign from Moscow might have worked because the Russian state had limited the access of the peoples of the North Caucasus to the truth about their past and therefore was able to force a sufficient number of them to accept or at least not fight what Moscow has been saying.

But that is no longer the case, Khakuasheva says. “The descendants of the indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation now find themselves unexpectedly in a different information and spiritual space,” one that has allowed them to recover their national self-consciousness and pride despite the expectations of the Zhirinovskys, Leontyevs, Lebedevs and the like.

The peoples of the region no longer accept the lies these Russians are putting out, and they are no longer willing to put up with the repression that such lies appears to justify – and the more extreme the lies and propaganda and monuments Moscow uses, the more the peoples of the North Caucasus are prepared to resist.

The Circassians in particular know that their war of resistance from 1763 to 1864 was against a colonial power bent on their destruction, they know that they lost 90 percent of their population and territory, and that as a result of tsarist crimes, “93 percent of their people live beyond the borders of their historical Motherland,” far more than any other people of Russia.

And consequently, when Moscow lies about that war and when it imposes monuments only to Russian soldiers who fought in it but not to the Circassians and others who resisted, they are first of all insulted and infuriated and then committed not only to righting the historical record but defending their national patrimony.

The powers that be in Moscow do not seem to appreciate what the real facts of the past or of the present are, and so they are taking actions which will produce exactly what they say they are fighting against, more resistance and more national assertiveness on those they felt they had successfully conquered more than 150 years ago. 

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