Staunton, May 29 – The impact of wars, deportations, and repression last long after those directly involved have passed from the scene, Madina Khakuasheva says. Via epigenetic channels, they last a minimum of four generations and thus make these events far more horrific than most assume, especially those who say everyone must look to the future rather than the past.
The senior researcher at the Kabardino-Balkar Institute for Research on the Humanities says that in the North Caucasus, one encounters “an unbelievably broad spectrum of psychological pathologies” among the descendants of the direct victims of such events (zapravakbr.ru/index.php/analitik/1677-vojna-ne-imeet-kontsa-svidetelstva-epigenetiki).
This should not surprise anyone familiar with the achievements of contemporary scholarship, Khakuasheva says. She points to the investigations of Isabelle Mansuy of Zurich’s Higher Technical School who has studied what happens to mice who descend from other mice who have been victims of trauma.
She found, the Kabardin scholar says, that “information about stress leaves ‘an imprint’ for a minimum of four generations.” Of course, “this is not genetic memory. The continuity of genes does not change but of epigenetic memory” which is affected by such experiences and then transmitted to future generations.
“Post-traumatic stress is transmitted through micro-RNA molecules which are located in sperm cells,” Khakuasheva explains; and “removing this feature is impossible. Therefore, children and grandchildren not only find out about the difficult life of ancestors but also share this burden.”
According to the KBR researcher, “scholars are certain that such mechanisms exist in all living beings and that people are not an exception.” Russian political analyst Mark Urnov argues in fact that “genetic and epigenetic characteristics turn out to be much stronger than any formal education” in shaping behavior.
At a minimum, this finding means that “the consequences of war turn out to be still more destructive and global than we imagined earlier since they are reflected on many generations of descendants,” Khakuasheva says. And that raises particular concerns about peoples such as those in the North Caucasus who have suffered multiple cataclysms in the last two centuries.
Their problems, she says are complicated by the fact that the conflicts themselves are seldom dealt with in the same way as those like World War II which are declared over but which people recognize they have to help the victims of. In the case of the Caucasus, many of these traumas are simply passed over in silence.
“The depressed state of the KBR which at one time was flourishing has promoted a psycho-somatic crisis which has left the republic among the subjects of the Russian Federation” in terms of the damage to the epigenetic record and this long-term impact must be acknowledged and responded to if recovery is to occur.
Khakuasheva asks: “How did 95 percent of the forcibly deported Circassians and other representatives of the North Caucasus peoples adapt to the severe conditions of their new motherland and the new reality? We know about the enormous losses of the first wave of emigration.”
“But how did these difficult conditions influence on the gene fund of those who survived? About that, nothing is known.” And that is an increasingly urgent question given the findings of science. Otherwise, there is the risk that the links between crimes like deportation and current behaviors will not be seen and responded to appropriately.