Staunton, Feb. 11 – Moscow’s direct pressure on non-Russians, its imposition of governments in the republics that oppose their own peoples, and its use of non-Russians in its war in Ukraine that remind non-Russians of the Kremlin’s imperialism have come together to radicalize young Circassians in the North Caucasus, Valentina Taynalova says.
And the Moscow Institute of Ethnography and Anthropology expert warns that the situation will get still worse unless the authorities show more willingness to meet Circassian moderates half way so that they will remain dominant and the radicals will not gain strength and become the dominant force.
Her arguments, based on interviews with Circassians in the KBR, are contained in a new article, “Memory of the Caucasian War in the Processes of the Radicalization of Circassians in Kabardino-Balkaria” (in Russian; in V.A. Tishkov, ed., The Theory and Practice of Radicalism and Extremism (Moscow, 2023), pp. 271-294 at static.iea.ras.ru/books/sbornik_radicalizm.pdf).
When the contemporary Circassian rebirth occurred at the end of the 1980s and early 1990s, she says, most of its participants focused on the past, on the war with Russia in the 18th and 19th centuries and on the genocide; but when in the 1990s, the governments in the republics where Circassians were numerous became more supportive, that changed.
Instead of defining themselves and their movement exclusively in terms of history, Circassian activists often felt it was more useful to work with the governments in place to achieve a resolution of current problems like language and repatriation instead. But when Moscow’s policies toward non-Russians hardened and its control of the republic governments increased, that was reversed – and history again has become central.
Moscow and the republic governments it controls has made the situation worse by moves against historical issues the Circassians still believe are important and by its war in Ukraine where Russia’s use of Circassians and other non-Russians as cannon fodder has reminded many of the imperial nature of the state, Taynalova says.
This shift is far from complete, but it has affected young Circassians more than their parents and likely will continue to affect an ever larger share of their nation unless Moscow and especially the republic governments change course and seek to meet moderate Circassians half way.
If the governments don’t, the ethnographer suggests, there will be ever greater radicalization of Circassian opinion. Right now, her sources tell her, no Circassian wants his or her land to become another Chechnya. But then, they add, there was a time when Chechens didn’t want their land to become a Chechnya in the way it has either.