Saturday, August 7, 2021

Day of the Repatriant Sends Unwelcome Messages to Circassian Diaspora

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 1 – Today, the Adygey Republic is marking the Day of the Repatriant, something it has done on August 1 since 1998 when the first group of ethnic Circassians returned from Kosovo in the war-torn Balkans. But the day also honors Circassians returning from other countries in Europe and the Middle East.

            Unfortunately, the number who have been able to return – about 2,000 in all – is a drop in the bucket compared to the number of Circassians who want to return to the homeland from which their ancestors were expelled in 1864 and who have been blocked by the Russian authorities who fear any mass return would destabilize the North Caucasus.

            By organizing this holiday each year, Moscow and Maykop and especially Russian-controlled Circassian organizations can suggest that Russia welcomes the returnees even as the evidence shows that it has “welcomed” only a tiny fraction of those who want to return and insists that they identify with Russia rather than Circassia.

            In reporting on this day, Russian journalist Vladimir Markov says that anyone returning to the motherland “must now that he is awaited and that he will be helped” but those taking him back must be “certain” that the returnee will fit in and be useful rather than be “a parasite or still worse a representative of ‘a fifth column’” (

            To support his argument, Markov reports the comments of two Circassians, Asker Shkhalakhov, head of the nationalities committee of the Adygey Republic who deals with compatriots, and Khatun Sokhrokov, president of the Moscow loyalist International Circassian Association which seeks to tie all Circassians of the world to the position of the Kremlin.

            Shkhalakhov for his part says that the idea that Russia should take in all Circassians who want to come is unthinkable because the economic situation in the North Caucasus does not support that and because not all who want to come are capable of fitting in and working for the good of Russia.

            “Uncontrolled repatriation can contribute to social tensions and conflicts both with other ethnic communities and with representatives of the repatriants’ own ethnos” given that those coming in from abroad are very different culturally and even linguistically than those Circassians already inside the Russian Federation.

            That makes it “extraordinarily important” not only to provide “material help” to them   but also to conduct what he calls “preventive humanitarian” work so that they will be adapted to the current national-cultural conditions” in the Russian Federation. That is not easy and the authorities must be highly selective, the Adygey Republic official says.

            Sokhrokov agrees. He says that questions involving repatriation are “the most important problem” his organization has to deal with and that he and his colleagues “clearly understand the level of complexity of these questions.” Circassians must recognize that wherever they now live and whatever language they speak, their “historic Motherland is Russia.”

            And they must also recognize that “our future often depends on the preservation and further development of the language and culture in this historic Motherland,” that is, on the promotion of Russian even at the expense of Circassian, something few in the diaspora are prepared to accept.

            Thus, the message Moscow and Maykop are sending on this Day of the Repatriant is not that they want Circassians to return to Circassia as Circassians but that they only want those Circassians prepared to russianize to do so, hardly the welcoming attitude that the organizers of this holiday claim they are about. 

No comments:

Post a Comment