Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Circassian Demands for Meeting on Border Dispute Threatens Stability of Two Remaining Bi-National Republics

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 24 – The KBR Coordination Council of Circassian Public Organizations has demanded that the head of Kabardino-Balkaria take steps to guarantee the return to the republic pasture lands illegally occupied by farmers from Karachayevo-Cherkessia, a dispute likely to send shockwaves through the two remaining bi-national republics in Russia.

            The amount of land involved is small – the two parcels total only 1724 hectares – but the issue is growing. The Circassians say that the KBR republic must take steps now or they will convene a republic-wide meeting (

            Such a meeting – indeed even the demand for it and the likely preparations it would entail -- has the potential to exacerbate tensions between the Circassians who are the dominant group in KBR but a minority in the KChR and the Turkic Karachays who dominate KChR and the Turkic Balkars who are a minority in the KBR.

            That is all the more likely because these republics are heading into a census where issues of who is a member of what nation and what its relative size is to other groups. That is especially true of the Circassians who are seeking to have members of the groups the Soviets divided them into – Adygeys, Kabards, Cherkess and several smaller ones – to declare themselves Circassians.

            The Russian government opposes this because it would call into question the ethno-territorial arrangements it has imposed on the North Caucasus as part of its divide and rule polices and nowhere more than in the case of these two remaining bi-national republics. (Earlier, there were several others, including one that kept the Chechens and Ingush together.)

            And another factor making this Circassian move more potentially explosive is that the KBR and the KChR have a been locked in a dispute about the borders between the two republics, a dispute Putin triggered by demanding all federal subjects agree on their borders by the end of this year.

Many in the KBR and especially the Kabards, as the branch of Circassians there are known, are convinced that KChR farmers have seized land in order to create facts on the ground about the border. After all, as the KBR authorities note, they have no problems with the borders of their republic with others, only with the KChR.

Moscow almost certainly will intervene to try to calm the situation; but its choices are not good. If it backs the KBR, it will please the Circassians there but offend Turkic groups in both places and Ankara as well; if it backs the KChR, it will trigger demands for changing other borders in the North Caucasus with broader and potentially explosive consequences.

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