Circassians’ Tragic History Gains Wider International Attention
In Kabardino-Balkaria, ethnic Kabardins (aka Circassians) comprise a clear majority of the republic’s population – 57 percent, or 500,000 people. Ethnic Cherkess, which is another official term for Circassians, comprise 12 percent in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, or a little more than 50,000 people. Finally, ethnic Adygeans, who are also Circassians, comprise barely a quarter of the total population of Adygea, numbering just over 100,000 people (2010 Russian census results, www.gks.ru). Although these three republics are located next to each other, travel between the three capitals – Nalchik, Cherkessk and Maikop – is unusually time consuming because of the mountainous terrain and the existing road network.
What appears to be a war over the interpretation of history is unfolding in Krasnodar Krai, which borders Adygea. According to Bogus, the Circassian past of the Krasnodar region, which was exclusively populated by the Circassians at the beginning of the 19th century prior to the Russian Empire’s conquest of the territory, has been methodically effaced from textbooks. Moreover, he says there is an unofficial ban on manifestations of Circassian culture in music and other cultural spheres in Krasnodar region. The policy of erasing the Circassian past of the Krasnodar region sometimes acquires grotesque forms. For example, Bogus said, while Russian textbooks write about the military victories of Alexander Suvorov, the great Russian military commander of the 18th-19th centuries, in the North Caucasus, it is omitted from the textbooks entirely that he fought the Circassians. At the same time that Circassian history is discarded, monuments to the Russian generals who were implicated in especially egregious crimes against Circassian civilians in the 19th century war are erected across Krasnodar region. Bogus said he regarded the processes going on inside Krasnodar as the rise of Russian chauvinism (http://ahase.ru/index.php?page=article_wiw&id=23).
Earlier, on June 24, Adam Bogus addressed a smaller group of Circassian activists and provided a glimpse into the Russian government’s approach to the issue of the Syrian Circassians. Bogus was part of the Russian government delegation that visited Syria in March 2012 and was invited to other official events, so it is likely he is well informed. He said that the Russian government was not working on the issue of the Syrian Circassians and was not planning to, and that only Russian citizens will be evacuated from Syria if the situation in the troubled country deteriorates further. At the same time, Bogus admitted that Moscow did not put obstacles on the Circassians’ path back to the North Caucasus. While the Syrian Circassians are currently arriving in the North Caucasus in small numbers, meaning that the Circassian activists can sustain them on their own, the latter fear that if the inflow of refugees increases, there may be not enough resources to host them (http://www.hekupsa.com/novosti/tezisi-iz-vistupleniya-adama-bogusa-na-sovete-v-adige-chase-cherkesskom-parlamente-adigei-24-iiunya).
On June 22, two groups of Circassian refugees from Syria, totaling 31 people, arrived in Nalchik. Nine of them were resettled in the homes of relatives, while the rest were accommodated in resort hotels. Beslan Khagazhei, a member of the Peryt organization, told the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website that more than 220 refugees have arrived in Kabardino-Balkaria since the start of the civil war in Syria (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, June 23).
On June 18, the seventh Circassian Day took place at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Walter Richmond, an American historian who is about to publish a book about the Circassian genocide, delivered a speech at the gathering. He assessed Circassian losses during the acute phase of genocide inflicted by the Russian Empire on the Circassian lands. “Based upon all the documentary evidence, my conservative estimate is that between 320,000 and 400,000 people died in the period October 1863-April 1864,” he said. “Many more died en route to Turkey and after their arrival there, increasing the estimated death toll to a minimum of 625,000. Assuming an 1860 population of 1.5 million and an annual growth rate of two percent, the current population of Circassia would be approximately thirty million. The actual Circassian population worldwide, by contrast, is between four and six million, with only 700,000 living in the Russian Federation.” Richmond concluded his speech with a call to the international community to become aware of the tragic events that took place 150 years ago near the planned site of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi (http://www.walterrichmond.net/2012/06/my-statement-at-european-parliament-for.html).
On June 26, a presentation of a book on the Circassian genocide by the Georgian scholar Merab Chukhua took place in Tbilisi. “The genocide of the Circassians is a historically proven fact,” Chukhua stated at the presentation. “If Russia recognizes this, she will only feel relieved after that” (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, June 26).
Meanwhile, Georgia continues to take steps to establish itself as an important actor in the North Caucasus. On June 29, the Georgian government’s strategy toward the North Caucasus was officially adopted by the country’s parliament. The strategy unveiled an ambitious, all-encompassing plan to provide academic exchange opportunities for North Caucasus youth, and programs for human rights and other civil society activists. Georgia also vowed to assist the North Caucasian republics in accessing world markets via its territory, which should help them to establish better links with the outside world and to gain more economic viability (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, June 29). Needless to say, even though the objectives of the Georgian strategy broadly coincide with the Russian strategy for the development of the North Caucasus, breaking the region’s isolation is not in Moscow’s interests and it will object to a greater Georgian role in North Caucasus affairs.
Even Circassian organizations that have relatively amicable relations with Moscow are becoming increasingly frustrated with the central authorities’ policy in the region. At the same time, as the Circassian activists continue their work, the Circassian issue is attracting more attention in the international community.
Photo: Adyge Khase head, Adam Bogus (Source: natpress.ru)