Staunton, May 21 – This year, as they have done for decades, Circassians in their North Caucasus homeland and in the much larger diaspora abroad mark today as the bitter anniversary of the genocidal expulsion of their ancestors from the Caucasus by tsarist forces after the Circassians had resisted the Russian imperial advance for 101 years.
But this year, even though some of the demonstrations were smaller than they have been in the past both because of the pandemic and because of Russian government efforts to limit them both directly and through its ongoing campaign against the Circassian nation, activists were united in their conviction that May 21 must also become a Day of National Rebirth (circassiancenter.org/permalink/126142.html
Another Circassian activist, Aida Gerg, says that both the continuing impact of pandemic restrictions and the repression of Circassian activists like Marin Kosechoko have made younger Circassians less willing to take the risks that their elders did in less restrictive times, a development that has affected all political activity in Russia not just that of the Circassians.
The comments of such observers and participants suggest, however, that it would be a mistake to measure the level of Circassian activism strictly by the number of people who come out to demonstrate on May 21. Members of that nation continue to be animated by the question of genocide, but something else is going on.
Ever more of them are now thinking less about achieving the goals they had in the past, goals that depended on actions of others in response to their own but how they can, while not ignoring such political goals, redirect the attention of their own people toward the larger task of promoting a genuine national rebirth.
Emblematic of that important evolution are the words of Circassian activist Dana Wojok to the Circassian Benevolent Association in Wayne, New Jersey, earlier this week. Entitled “We Will Never Forget. How Can We Progress,” they are reproduced in full below:
Our nation is unique. Today, as we stand together on the 157th anniversary we still feel the pangs of injustice of a Genocide that ripped Circassia apart. Today, we are very aware of current world events. We feel a kindred spirit to groups whose homes are forcibly taken from them. We know what it is like to have our language, culture and history be forgotten and erased. We know what it is like to be at the whim of an occupying force. We know what it means to be the victims of terrible violence. We empathize and lend our voices and platforms to those that are being oppressed. Indeed, it is our moral duty- as humans, as Adighas to speak out against any injustice.
A common theme of every 21st of May is the phrase “we will never forget”. And like in past years, we dutifully gather to remember the greatest tragedy that befell our nation. But that is all we really know of it. As a group- we make no real and honest attempt to understand the magnitude of this serious trauma against Circassians and its lasting effects on our homeland and our nation. Of course, we can gather quotes from the murderers that enacted horrors against our people and recall statistics that give some conceptual knowledge of the genocide. But all this is anecdotal. There is no true understanding. And if there is no true and thorough understanding, it will all be forgotten. Undeniably, we already have lost and forgotten a great deal of collective Adigha knowledge like our language, our culture, our khabza, and our history.
So, my question before you all today, on May 21, 2021 is – What can we do to ensure that “we will never forget”? What can we do today, so at future gatherings, we can tell stories of the PROGRESS we made as a nation?
One way to ensure the remembrance and healing for our nation is to ramp up efforts of Circassian Genocide Recognition. Today, its not enough to remember the events of the past as Genocide, but to also recognize that it is still continuing today. Russia denies classifying the brutality, the indiscriminate killings, and forced expulsions as Genocide. This denial of our history is today’s attempt to destroy Adighas psychologically and culturally. Denial does not allow our nation the full understanding or memory of the murders of our relatives. How many monuments are there in the world that commemorate those Adighas who lost their lives? Education of the genocide is non-existent, or worse, it is treated as a myth. And today, especially in occupied Circassia, those who write or speak the truth are persecuted and harassed. This is the very definition of continual Genocide. Therefore, the pursuit of widespread recognition is especially important. We must invest time, energy, and money to ensure that our history and especially the Circassian Genocide will be studied and treated with academic vigor. This knowledge will give us power, give our nation healing, and ensure that it is never forgotten.
Second, we must strive collectively to free Circassia from occupation. We must become comfortable to say Free Circassia Now- constantly, loudly, and proudly. Free Circassia Now. As the Adigha Proverb says, “Those who lose his homeland loses everything”. Our homeland is lost. True, we can go to a place called Adygea, Kabarday, or Cherkessk, but these are places under occupation. Indeed, Russian powers have tried and will try again to erase the borders and symbols of these ‘republics’. A free Circassia is ultimately a state where Circassians can control our own affairs, rather than be pawns to unjust Russian policies and be victims of assimilation in Diaspora. Much like a home shelters a family, a country called Circassia will protect our identity, history, culture, and traditions.
At the start of my remarks, I said that we are a unique nation. Never in our history, have we been so well educated. Never have we had so many tools to connect. Never have we had access to many platforms to tell our stories. So let us use these resources, brain power, and give ourselves focus. Young people- let us devour the knowledge that our elders can give us and fill the gaps with research and apply it wherever it is needed. If we are so ready to lend our support to other nations, and call out injustices for other countries and peoples, let us be willing to address the current issues that our entire Circassian nation faces- for every Adigha in the world shares similar struggles.
I do not want to see our nation regress. I do not want to settle for preservation like we are a museum nation. I do not want to be forgotten. Instead, I dream of every Adigha community returning to our Xasas with a clear focus of restoring Circassia - flowing in our language, upholding our khabza, and having a thorough understanding of our history. I want all Adighas to benefit from the natural resources of our beautiful homeland. I want all Adighas to feel at ease in visiting, living and being protected within our homeland’s borders. I want to see studies published about the social & psychological effects of groups with collective tragedy. I want to attend workshops that focus on activism and advocating for contemporary Circassian human rights. I want to see seminars that explore Circassian nation building and diplomacy. I want to see construction of memorials of past heroes and name many contemporary Adigha patriots with ease and pride. I want to connect and work with any Adigha who feels as I do.
Mostly, at future May 21 events, after we are finished with the dutiful & noble recollection of those gave their lives, I want to list the progression and successes of our nation. I implore everyone- young and old- every one of us to be brave. Let us be ready to tackle every injustice against our nation. Let us not give way to apathy and complacency. Let us do the noble thing and do the work before us. I heartily believe we can achieve our goals if we have a common desire to see our nation progress, and to ensure that all hardships Adighas endured will never be forgotten.