The Circassians in Diaspora and the Right of Return: An Achievable Goal

The Circassians in Diaspora and the Right of Return: An Achievable Goal

Adel Bashqawi

First of January, 2022

An 1840 illustration shows Circassians attacking a Russian Military Fort which was built over a Shapsugian village. (Wikimedia Commons)
An 1840 illustration shows Circassians attacking a Russian Military Fort which was built over a Shapsugian village. (Wikimedia Commons)


Following the Circassian exodus aftermath and what followed, 90% of the Circassian nation ended up in a large diaspora that lasted for a long time. Hence the consequences will be dire the longer it lasts. 

The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the start of the collapse of the Iron Curtain which was established in 1945 until 1989, represented at the time ideological and physical boundaries between the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellite countries on the one hand and the West on the other.  Thus, favorable conditions produced good signs of openness and paved the way for the possibility of peoples communicating with each other again. 

All the procedures and even the statute regarding the right of Circassians to return to their homeland remain in the wind and according to the mood and whims of certain official bodies because laws can be bypassed, overlooked, or even repealed and categorically shifted to different direction. There is frequently a distinction between the Circassian groups and communities in the diaspora, when they apply to get visitor’s visa or a permission to return to their historic homeland.

The proof of this is the number of returnees who do not exceed a few thousand returnees in a period of thirty years, which proves that there are multiple unattractive policies in this area, taking into account the millions of Circassians in the diaspora.

Knowing that some deliberate harassment aims to induce Circassians to think about reluctance to return or to follow parallel paths to the idea of return, but they have trends that may be harmful to everyone in the future.

These data must be verified, which must be dealt with in non-traditional ways and means, because they undoubtedly call for exploring the legal paths that must be followed if the issue of return is to be feasible.


Observers know perfectly well the reason of the existence of 90% of Circassians in a diaspora that extends over dozens of countries of the world. It is imperative to shed light on the substantial reasons that led to this human tragedy and the horrendous violations committed. However, the Circassian Question has not yet found its way to honorable solution, knowing that the liabilities and obligations are already long overdue, while the state that inherited a colonial legacy has ignored the fate of millions of Circassians, and did not deal with them according to the humanitarian standards. 

Post Deportation 

The Russian Empire prohibited the deported Circassians from returning to their original homeland. Whoever dares to return, was imposed with harsh penalties, not the least of which is exile to Siberia. Conditions were not better during the Soviet era, where the Iron Curtain contributed to obstruct members of the Circassian Diaspora from contacting and/or communicating with their homeland and their countrymen on the one hand, and the inability to return, for those who wished to do so, in violation of the international laws and norms on the other hand.

Evasive Tactics by Consecutive Authorities

It is not a matter of showing pessimism, but the topic cannot be shown or presented in a better image than it actually is. However, by referring to the title and topic of this Paper, proper techniques and mechanism should be followed in regard to the Circassians’ right of return and to reside in their homeland without disturbances or arbitrary measures. It is not difficult to monitor and evaluate the obstacles that the Russian authorities create and put in the way of the the right of return. This indicates an approach of the absurd policy that dedicates the negative effects resulting from the stumbling block that the Russian authorities place in the way of the returnees.

“Throughout the years, many Circassians who returned to their homeland have been continuously harassed and/or oppressed by the Imperial and Soviet authorities in the past, and then both the federal and local authorities in the North Caucasus now. Traditional Russian conduct is not something emerging now or a coincidence, but it is the policy of the Russian Empire that began to adapt since the implementation of oppression and deportation, of vacating the homeland of its indigenous citizens.”[1]

Thereupon, it is appropriate to cite an official Russian point of view, given by the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, which has not been denied, refuted or apologized for by the Russian government. How can a state that believes in this fact would facilitate the right of return or even think of solving the Circassian Question and restitution of legitimate rights? “Towards the end of the war, hundreds of thousands of Circassians — over 90% of the native population — were killed or expelled, with many settling in the Ottoman Empire. Commenting on this, Yerkhov said the Circassians were ‘presented an offer: either move to the plain, receive land, and begin to engage in productive labour, or emigrate.’”[2]

Numbers Don’t Lie

Quiet migration/return, at an extremely slow rate to homeland has been the applicable and typical standard. “About 1,500 Circassians returned to the Caucasus after the collapse of the Soviet Union, including 200 repatriated after they were attacked by ethnic Albanians during the Kosovo war. … Today there are about 3 to 5 million Circassians living abroad and about 700,000 in the Caucasus,”[3] in the Circassian republics of the North caucasus.

The Link between Circassian Rights and the International Law

THE CIRCASSIAN RIGHTS are not limited to only the right to return a fraction of the deported Circassians to their Motherland, located in the North Caucasus. It is far more comprehensive than that. The multi-element circumstances do allow the Circassians to be subjugated to conditions, moods, and promises with empty contents. If conducted on non-seriousness and bad intentions of those who promote and call for them, it would subsequently affect a collective genuine right of the entire Circassian nation with no exception.

Retrieving the rights of the Circassian nation is justified in the perspectives of international laws and norms. It has been since 1864, more than a century and a half, not decades, not years, not weeks, or days; but painful moments have taken root in the hearts and consciences of both grandfathers and grandchildren. The right of return to the homeland is a preserved right for any people who are expelled, deported, or taken out of their native land for any reason and at any time. “Under article 12(4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Russia has an obligation to allow Circassians the right of return.5” Page 142, Mason Wiley, Circassian Right of Return: “Putin The Terrible or Putin The Enlightened?”[4]

There is no escape for Russia from submitting to international laws and norms. The Russian state is obliged to Recognize the Genocide, Apology to the Circassian Nation, Moral and Material Compensation, the Right of Return to Homeland under international protection, and Self-Determination. Exercising legal proceedings is one of the prerogatives to regain legitimate rights, which are not limited to statute of limitations, if the Russian state proved its failure to do so.

Given the decrease in the number of births and thus the decline of the population, the Russian state considered that it was necessary and worthwhile to enact a law to encourage “former Russians and their ancestors” to repatriate. However, “the definition of compatriot under the Compatriot Law caused considerable confusion for both those hoping to repatriate and officials administering the program.37” Thus, “a 2010 handbook for the so-called Compatriot Law defines compatriots as either individuals, or the decedents of individuals, who emigrated from any territory within the current Russian Federation.38  The temporal scope includes emigrants who left Russia throughout its various incarnations, including the Russian State.39 Under this definition, the law should apply to ancestors of Circassians who fled during the Russian Empire’s conquest of Circassia, and what is now the Russian Federation.40” [5] Page 146, Mason Wiley, Circassian Right of Return: “Putin The Terrible or Putin The Enlightened?”

The Right of Return is an important and even vital concept for 90% of the Circassians. Knowing that the deportees and their descendants are victims of the consequences that followed the end of the Russian-Circassian War on the 21st of May, 1864, called by the Russian authorities, the Caucasian War. 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (10 December 1948)

— Article 13 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.” 

— Article 13 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states: “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” 

— Article 15 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states: “Everyone has the right to a nationality.”

— Article 15 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.”

— Article 17 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”[6]

— The right of repatriation to homeland is protected and cannot be ignored or condoned. “compensation is not a substitute for the right to return to the vicinity of a former home should that be one’s choice.”[7]

Making the Right of Return more Difficult and Complicated

Perseverance eliminates obstacles. Accordingly, the right of return cannot be reduced and applied in a simplified sense by analogy with the factors related to it, either directly or indirectly. “They must be able to return to the original place, territory, or home in which they lived for an ordinary life. This right applies to every person, whether a man or a woman, as well as the descendants of them, no matter how many they are, their whereabouts, place of birth, or different conditions, including the political, social, and economic ones. The ‘right of return is an inalienable, and emanated from the universally recognized International Law.’ It is ‘guaranteed by articles of the Human Rights Charter…’”[8]

“The Russian authorities made it very difficult for repatriation of the Circassians to their homeland, and ‘for dual citizenship, neither of which the Russian authorities seem inclined to grant. Most Circassians who have tried to return have fallen under the provisions of the 1991 Russian citizenship law which requires that they give up their previous citizenship, live in the country for five years before getting Russian citizenship, and know Russian, all of which limits the attractiveness of coming back. And their situation has deteriorated as a result of the adoption in 2003 of the Russian law on the legal status of foreign citizens living in the Russian Federation. That measure makes it even more difficult for Circassians from the diaspora to return.’ 896”[9]

“The Circassians have been waiting for dozens of years to solve the different issues of the Circassian Question. One of the pressing issues is the right of peaceful return, rehabilitation, and resettlement in their homeland. It is obvious, though, that they must face official Russian authorities’ reaction, which is shown, whether directly or indirectly, through the maltreatment of those who wanted to use their natural right, to prevent a return and even to place unsolvable obstacles, explained in different ways and means. Many were not granted visas to travel, and some of the returnees had suffered of maltreatment, while some, especially those who did not have close relatives or friends who could guide them to defend their interests, were prone to ill-treatment that led to either the material loss or returned to diaspora, or even face beatings, death, or forced deportation.”[10]

Russia has created barriers to the Circassians’ repatriation to their historical motherland. “There are several arguments that Russia has made to prohibit Circassian right of return as either inapplicable or impractical. These arguments include voluntary abandonment and temporal limitations, a lack of duty on behalf of Russia, and political impossibilities.121 Russia has explicitly invoked both its lack of duty and voluntary abandonment as reasons for denying Circassian return, and has implied political impossibility.122 These arguments are generally meritless. Indeed, the only barriers for many Circassians from returning are arbitrary Russian policies that are at odds with obligations to the ICCPR.123” Page 160, Mason Wiley, Circassian Right of Return: “Putin The Terrible or Putin The Enlightened?”[11]

Circumventing the Rule of Law

Very few cases are mentioned here in order to give an example of random and reckless decisions made by the Russian authorities, that harm Circassian individuals and returnees and thus the issue of the right of return in general. 

— In 1999, when Haci Bayram Polat refused to work with the KGB, his difficulties began. That eventually led to be deported from his homeland, after unspeakable cruelty conducted by the Russian authorities.[12]

— In light of the deterioration of relations between Turkey and Russia at the end of 2015, when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter-bomber jet that was targeting Syrian opposition forces in Syria, out of the blue, Circassians’ situation in the North Caucasus was affected. “Circassian settlers from Turkey in Kabardino-Balkaria have started receiving letters from the Russian Federal Migration Service officially annulling their legal residence in the Russian Federation.”[13]

— “Russian authorities create bureaucratic obstacles for Circassian repatriates from Syria and Turkey; and foreign Circassians have no chance to obtain citizenship under a simplified procedure, activists from Adygea and Kabardino-Balkaria have stated. The simplified procedure for acquiring Russian citizenship is not accessible for Circassian repatriates from Syria and Turkey because of the political situation, says Valery Khatazhukov, the head of the Kabardino-Balkarian Human Rights Centre (HRC).”[14]

— In an attempt to stop criticism, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in 2019 that decisions to admit Circassians from Syria are the “province of the republics, not Moscow,” according to Regnum news agency. “In yet another example of Moscow’s proclivity to shift responsibility but not resources to the regions and republics, the foreign ministry in a 600 word statement says that the republics and regions of Russia have the right to decide which applicants for admission to the country will be accepted under the compatriots program (”[15]

— The statement is disingenuous in at least three ways: 

First, the Russian embassy in Syria decides who gets the necessary travel documents for admission to the Russian Federation…

Second, the republics and regions may have the right to allow Circassians from Syria to become part of the compatriots program; but it is an unfunded liability…

Third, as the Russian foreign ministry acknowledges, decisions on who gets residence status are made not by the republic government as a whole but by the interior ministry which is far more subordinate to the Russian Federation government than it is to any of the republics.”[16]

Given the Russian intransigence towards the Circassian return and the necessity to change the currently utilized mechanism in compliance with international laws and norms, it seems that “the only real barriers to Circassian return are political. Officials in Moscow view increased Muslim influence in the Caucasus region as a threat to national security.166 However, a change in Russia’s policy to allow Circassian return could have the opposite effect by showing Circassians and Muslims that Russia is sincerely committed to becoming a multi-ethnic nation.167 At the same time, it would fulfill Russian obligations to allow Circassian right of return under ICCPR article 12(4).168” Page 167, Mason Wiley, Circassian Right of Return: “Putin The Terrible or Putin The Enlightened?”[17]

Limitations and Quotas 

There are many clear and hidden obstacles hindering the right of Circassians to return to their homeland. “According to the Committee for Compatriots’ Affairs, about 2,000 Circassians from Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Europe live in Adygea today.”[18] The conditions and circumstances related to this matter may change depending on the location and the agencies that carry out the official procedures.

In conformity with “the Kabardino-Balkarian branch of the Rodina association, there are about 1,500 Circassians-compatriots in the republic. According to the head of the association, Vladimir Nakatsev, their main problems are administrative “obstacles” when processing documents in migration services, as well as financial difficulties.”[19]

Karachay-Cherkessia has the fewest returnees. “In Karachay-Cherkessia, as noted in the local public organization ‘Adyghe Khase’, there are only a few dozen Circassians-compatriots.”[20]

It is acknowledged that there is an annual quota for the Circassian republics, however there are no specific figures mentioned or written down in any public official document. Rather, there is unofficial information, and it can be called unconfirmed estimates. There is no one to specify or certify it. There is random figures, which is reported that there is annual 1100 immigrants to the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, as well as 400 immigrants to the Republic of Adygea of all races and nationalities, of whom the Circassians constitute only a small percentage. Knowing that some people who got residency permission in the North Caucasus, could not get a Russian citizenship before spending 15-20 years there.

Repatriation of Circassians of Syria

Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in March 2011, Circassians, like other citizens, have been subjected to the consequences of war operations that included murders and destruction that resulted in thousands of casualties. “The Russian reaction to the plight of Circassians in Syria indicates once again that Moscow does not treat ethnic Russians and other ethnicities native to the Russian Federation equally. Bearing in mind how under-populated Russia is and how acute the demographic situation is in the country, Moscow’s reluctance to admit Circassians into Russia betrays its biased approach to non-ethnic-Russians. This situation has predictably galvanized the Circassian community worldwide.”[21]

Certainly, it is Crystal clear phenomena. Circassians of Syria wanted to repatriate to their original homeland to escape the on-going civil war, but a relatively few number of them were able to do so, which exemplifies a real problem that some parties are trying to obliterate. The Russian state does not only ignore fundamentals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,[22] and even the Russian laws as such, but even derails the Circassians’ right of return concept.

Circassians of Syria faced numerous obstacles in their repatriation attempts. “since the beginning of 2012, the beginning of the active phase of the civil war in Syria, citizens of Syria, ethnic Circassians, began to arrive in the Russian Federation. The first groups of refugees began to come to the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria – the city of Nalchik, and to the capital of the Republic of Adygea – the city of Maikop.”[23] 

There are complex and lengthy procedures for obtaining Russian citizenship, which includes, but not limited to red tape and Russian language exams being elements of obstacles for the Circassian compatriots who returned from Syria for obtaining the citizenship. Thus, “At a meeting with officials on February 13, the repatriates complained that the requirements for Syrian citizens are as if they were taking the Unified State Exam to enter the philological faculty of the university”[24]

Figures and statistics indicate the number of Circassians who returned from Syria and received Russian citizenship in the Republic of Adygea. “At the beginning of 2019, 45 people from among the compatriots living in the Afipsipsky rural settlement received Russian citizenship, nine people applied for citizenship, 123 Syrian citizens are awaiting the onset of the deadlines for applying for Russian citizenship established by the law on Russian citizenship. It is also worth noting that in Adygea there is no state program to promote the voluntary resettlement of compatriots to the Russian Federation.[25]

“Changes have been applied in Russian legislation for the so-called positive effect on the integration process. It became a requirement for the compatriots to improve the knowledge of the Russian language. In the Republic of Adygea, Statistics of Circassians from Syria who are documents as  native speakers of the Russian language, which helps them obtain Russian citizenship: 

In 2015, out of 47 applicants, 43 were recognized as native speakers of Russian, 

in 2016, out of 49, 23 were recognized, 

in 2017, out of 123, 72 were recognized, 

in 2018, out of 154, 124 were recognized as native speakers of Russian. RA Andrei Skobchenko, the number of compatriots who received Russian citizenship is approaching 30%.”[26] 

Applicants:   373

Recognized: 262

Obstacles Override

Turning around obstacles must be calculated to seek an alternative direction and/or method for problems solution solving. Every situation is subject to the laws of nature, where  Circassians are no exception. Although this particular topic has nothing to do with physics, but it is logical to refer to Newton’s third law: “For every action, there is an equal (in size) and opposite (in direction) reaction.”[27]

Gray Area

In the absence of a realistic and clear Russian policy on the one hand, and the facts and realities that must be determined, in the light of Circassian clear opinions and ideas on the other hand, regrettably, the Russian authorities don’t show goodwill. They ignored the tragedies and atrocities that the Circassian nation has been subjected to, as a result of the devastating war and its disastrous consequences. The Russian state still ignores the issue, to the extent of denying the right of diaspora Circassians’ to return to their original homeland. The matter has been placed in a gray area. That made some bewildered as to what to believe. 

Thus, it seemed that the right of return is not obtainable or guaranteed as per the policies of marginalization and exclusion. “The repatriation of Circassians from around the world to the historical homeland in Circassia in the North Caucasus is both {impossible and unnecessary for the Circassian people}, Negor Fethi Gunger says. Instead, the Circassians should focus on developing their common identity wherever they live and avoiding assimilation.”

The writer has different approach, suggesting that Circassians “maintain their culture, language and identity is thus critical not only for them but for those who are in the homeland or who go back. If there were no diaspora, Moscow would treat the Circassians in the North Caucasus with even less ceremony than it does; and so saving the diaspora is critical to saving those in the homeland and saving Circassia.”[28] 

Voluntary Resettlement of Compatriots Living Abroad

The Russian government has adopted voluntary resettlement of compatriots to Russia, that concluded conditions and projects, which are sponsored financially by the federal government. Together with granting those included in voluntary return multiple privileges, according to the perspective and programs prepared in advance:

“For the information of the participants of the State program and persons wishing to become participants in the State program of voluntary resettlement to the Russian Federation of compatriots living abroad.”[29]


“Recall that in November 2018, Vladimir Putin signed the Concept of State Migration Policy for 2019-2025. It is aimed, among other things, at creating more comfortable conditions for the resettlement of compatriots from abroad to Russia for permanent residence. In February 2019, the government approved the plan for the Migration Policy Concept for 2019-2021.”[31]

 State Duma passes the Legislation in 2020: “On amendments to the Federal Law {On guarantees of the rights of the indigenous small-numbered peoples of the Russian Federation} in terms of establishing the procedure for registering persons belonging to the indigenous small-numbered peoples.” Nevertheless, there does not appear to be a practical mechanism for implementing this law.[32]

Clause “K” of Article 69 of the CONSTITUTION OF THE KABARDINO-BALKAR REPUBLIC states: “Acceptance, accommodation of compatriots, including repatriates who arrived from abroad, in accordance with the legislation of the Russian Federation.”[33]

Article 10 of the CONSTITUTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF ADYGEA states: “The Republic of Adygea recognizes the right to return to their historical homeland of compatriots living outside the Russian Federation: the Adyghe diaspora, natives and their descendants, immigrants, regardless of their nationality.”[34]

The Right of Return: Future Prospects

Not surprisingly, it became clear that the law was passed with some reservations. The term “compatriot” was adopted as the basis for the law that was passed. However, subsequent interpretations of the law describe those who should be considered compatriots on grounds of hate speech,[35] discrimination and racism. This ensured that no Circassian would return according to this plan. They apparently made it look more attractive, concluding that those who had left their homeland before 1916 did not fall into this category. It is no longer a secret that some Circassians, whether intentionally or unintentionally, “try” to ignore the horrific facts.

In June 2021, Zatulin has submitted to the State Duma a law to grant citizens of Ukraine and Belarus a repatriation status in order to obtain the Russian citizenship. “The authors of the project propose to give this opportunity to all compatriots living abroad. An applicant for a Russian passport will be able to contact the diplomatic mission of Russia, provide documents and pass an interview for knowledge of the Russian language.”[36] 


To conclude, the aim is not to antagonize anyone or any party. However, it is meant to discuss the issue of the right of return calmly, in a logical, methodical and practical manner, depending on the facts available. In order to justify its denial, framing or establishing quotas for the return of the Circassians to their historical homeland, the Russian authorities followed confused and double-standard policies that did not and will not contribute to resolving the issue of the right of return in a clear and substantial approach, knowing that repatriation policy is neither public nor clear. An appropriate policy should be adopted to establish a mechanism that determines the best method to apply and harmonize international laws and norms. Without doubt, all the elements of the Circassian Question must be taken into account. It is desired to establish ideas and solutions to suit the nature of the situation and the surrounding circumstances. Certainly, it is inevitable to demand the  Circassian legitimate rights through international platforms with jurisdiction, according to peaceful and legal means.



[1] P 372, Adel Bashqawi, The Circassian Miracle




[5] P 146, Mason Wiley, Circassian Right of Return: “Putin The Terrible or Putin The Enlightened?”



[8] P 367, Adel Bashqawi, The Circassian Miracle

[9] P 372, Adel Bashqawi, The Circassian Miracle

[10] P 373, Adel Bashqawi, The Circassian Miracle


























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