Staunton, April 20 – The Memorial Human Rights organization says in a new report that allowing Circassians to leave war-torn Syria and return to the North Caucasus from which their ancestors were expelled in the 19th century is not just a question of historical justice but about protecting their lives.
The situation in Syria is such, the organization says, that “this is already not just a question of historical justice but above all a humanitarian issue of giving asylum to people who are running from bombs and violence” (memohrc.org/ru/announcements/desyat-strashnyh-let-narusheniya-prav-cheloveka-i-gumanitarnogo-prava-vo-vremya-voyny).
In reporting this, Anzor Tamov, a Circassian journalist who works for Radio Liberty, says that “since the beginning of military operations in Syria, the Circassian diaspora has more than once appealed to the leadership of Russia for help in the evacuation of their compatriots and their return to their historical homeland” (kavkazr.com/a/31212892.html).
But up to now, as Memorial and Tamov both note, Moscow has not responded positively, although some of the Circassian republics in the North Caucasus do have government programs to support the voluntary resettlement of Circassians who have been living abroad. Unfortunately, these programs offer a chance to only a handful of those who need such an opportunity.
Memorial points out that resettling is an extremely expensive operation and that those Circassians who try to move need help rather than being confronted by administrative barriers of various kinds intended to keep their numbers low. For that to change, the human rights organization says, the Russian government must intervene to help not hinder this process.
But as Valery Khatazhukov, head of the Human Rights Center in Kabardino-Balkaria points out, the Russian authorities “do not accept representatives of the Circassian diaspora as compatriots” and thus do not grant them the possibilities that they extend to ethnic Russians and other favored groups.
The activist says that many Circassians who have fled Syria to the North Caucasus have been forced to move on to other countries, including Turkey and Germany, both of which provide a warmer welcome and greater support for members of their nation than does the Russian government in Moscow.
Despite that flow, at present, there are about 1500 repatriants in Kabardino-Balkaria now, of whom “about 1100” are from Syria, Inala Koshegu who heads a group that works to find them support says. Most have come on their own without state sponsorship and so need help to find housing, jobs and even food.
The Russian authorities should be helping them, but they aren’t, Koshegu continues. And the problem of the Syrian Circassians is neither small nor declining. There are some 90,000 to 120,000 Circassians in Syria, but only “about 3,000” Syrian refugees have arrived in the North Caucasus since the start of the war. Of these, 300 have since moved on to other countries.
Now that Memorial has focused attention on their plight, there is some hope that the Russian government will finally be shamed into doing more.