Fatima Tlis’s Presentation in the Circassian Genocide Panel at the European Parliament
Presentation at the European Parliament
May 18, 2022.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Honorable Anna Fotyga,
I am honored to speak before you and on behalf of millions of my fellow Circassians, scattered around the world, I thank you for bringing to the spotlight the tragedy of my country, Circassia.
It is imperative for the restoration of peace and security in Europe that we understand the roots of Russia’s brutality and violence when the world’s eyes are on Ukraine where Moscow is once again committing crimes against humanity, genocide.
Winston Churchill once said that the further you can look into the past the further you are able to see into the future and Circassians have a tragic ability to give the world a glimpse into the future in which Russia prevailed.
Would Russia prevail, Ukraine will be no more. We know it because we lived it. Russia occupied and annihilated many nations, systematically erased their names from the world map and from the world memory. It is the case of Circassia, the many nations of the North, Far East, Siberia and the Caucasus.
We often hear from Russia and others that what was done to Circassia happened such a long time ago, why bother now, why open old wounds?
Let me tell you why.
Because the seeds of Bucha had been planted in Sochi and hundreds of towns and villages of Circassia that exist no longer. The seeds of Mariupol had been planted in Grozny, the city Russia had to bomb to rubble to stop the Chechens’ resistance.
As Azovstal will go in history as a symbol of Ukrainian patriotism, sacrifice, resilience and heroism, so is Krasnaya Polyanna for the Circassians.
A Red Meadow it is, high up in the mountains on the coast of the Black Sea. Here, the surviving Circassians, women, men, children – everyone able to bear arms, gathered on May 21, 1864 to stand their last battle for freedom against the Russian army. They all died on that day, and the meadow and the rivers turned red from their blood.
It is at this sacred for every Circassian place, where the Russian President Putin has built a palace and a ski resort, and I am not exaggerating – it is a historic fact that Putin built his palace on top of a Circassian mass grave.
The wound is never old if it has never healed. The wound inflicted on the Circassian nation by Russia is open and bleeding, and the genocide continues:
Today, as ten, twenty and hundred years ago, Russia denies Circassians their political, cultural, linguistic rights, basic freedoms, systematically tightening the loop around the nation’s neck and aiming at its complete assimilation.
Russia shattered the Circassian territory into different artificial provinces to further marginalize the nation and break its unity and political significance. Russia officially replaced the Circassian nation with Adygean, Cherkes, Kabardian, Shapsug, same, absurdly, is done with the Circassian language.
This year Russia denied the Circassians living on their own land in Circassia the right to commemorate May 21, if any Circassian comes out to the streets on the Memorial Day, they will be considered violators of Russian law, and dealt with accordingly.
Just like Russia prohibits calling the war in Ukraine war it prohibits the Circassians from mentioning the word genocide, just saying or writing the phrase Circassian genocide is made an act of extremism by the Russian law.
Here are just a few recent examples:
Askerby Milinov, a law-abiding pensioner, came to the street in Maikop city and stood silently holding a hand-made sign that read: “Why have you annihilated and deported my beautiful noble people?”
Milinov was arrested by the FSB, beaten, his ribs and arm broken. He suffered a heart attack while in police custody, but was denied medical help. He spent months in the hospital after his release from the jail.
Milinov fought a long battle with the Russian law in an attempt to clear his name from the label, the FSB has marked him with.
Milinov died of a heart failure just few years after his initial arrest.
Anzor Akhokhov and his friends drove through the streets of their home city Nalchik waving Circassian flags from the windows of their cars, they stopped at the city center for a silent demonstration holding a large sign that said “May 21. The Circassian Genocide.” In just a few minutes they have been arrested by the FSB, taken into the jail and reportedly tortured.
Witnesses I interviewed testified that the FSB had to carry Akhohov, a healthy strong man in his thirties, into the court room on stretchers, as he could not walk on his own after being subjected to torture for more than three days. They did not bother to wash blood from his face and body, and the judge did not even ask what was wrong with the prisoner simply announcing the verdict he was tasked to deliver, the witness said.
Others recalled, that an ancient Circassian heroic song Badynoko cold be heard on the street outside the prison as Akhokhov and his friends had been singing it while being tortured.
Ruslan Gvashev, the head of the Council of Elders in the Sochi region has been arrested and convicted of holding an unauthorized demonstration for preforming the ancient Circassian tradition of prayer under the sacred Tulip tree. The prayer is just a peaceful gathering of people who pronounce their wish for peace and prosperity of the Circassian nation and the world. Gvashev’s case is significant as it unmasks the hypocrisy and falsehood of the Russian attempts to link the Circassian activism to extremism.
The list goes on and on, there is Martin Kachesokov, a young Circassian activist from Nalchik, who the Memorial recognized as a political prisoner after he was arrested for his social media posts, that promoted awareness of the Circassian genocide. He is now in Turkey in an exile.
There are thousands of diaspora Circassians to whom Russia is constantly denying the right to repatriate or even to come visit their homeland. That includes thousands of Circassians who tried returning to Circassia fleeing the war in Syria. Russian government even invented “Circassian quotas” for visiting, for the countries with large Circassian communities the quota is 400 people a year, for smaller diasporas the numbers are even lesser.
Of those few hundred who managed to get the Russian visas many have been deported after their application for prolonging the visa has been denied. Circassians are excluded from the Repatriation of Compatriots program that the Russian government designed specifically and exclusively for ethnic Russians.
As you see, Russia began deporting the Circassians more than a hundred years ago, and the deportation never stopped but continues until this day.
In today’s Russia the Circassians are deprived of the right to be recognized as the indigenous people of the Caucasus.
The Russian government amended the education program for public schools making the ethnic languages non-mandatory studies. The law is formulated in a way as if it is voluntary for kids to choose or not to study their mother tongues. The fact is, that by taking the national languages out of the school program the government eliminates financing for the language classes, teachers are being fired and classes dismissed as we speak.
On May 21, Circassians around the world will gather on the streets of foreign cities and villages that are their homes for now. They will grieve, they will remember and they will tell the world once again — Circassia is alive. Circassia will be free again.
The Circassians have lived in free democratic societies around the world for hundreds of years, their state-building contribution has been recognized and appreciated by many nations. Circassians are capable of rebuilding their nation and making it a part of the democratic world.
But they need your help, provide the Circassians and other oppressed nations imprisoned by Russia with support they urgently need. That includes, political, financial, humanitarian aid.
Start by recognizing the Circassian genocide, not only to give justice to the Circassians, this concerns also the Baltic states, as Russia forcibly relocated thousands of Estonians, Latvian and Lithuanians to repopulate Circassia cleansed from the Circassians, many thousands of Baltic settlers perished, left on a land that had nothing on it but ashes and blood.
Without a transformation into a democracy that respects freedom and human rights, of its own peoples and the neighboring nations, Russia will continue presenting a grave danger to the whole world.
For such a transformation to happen, it is vital for the Russian people to atone and repent for the crimes their country committed and continues committing against oppressed nations, nations Russia has been colonizing for centuries.
Russia has been marginalizing the surviving nations into ethnic minorities, treating them as lesser beings who deserve no rights but one – to blindly subjugate to the Russian majority. Russian constitution officially designates ethnic Russians as superior to any other nationality, and the Russian language as the only language that deserves to be studied at schools, thus being preserved for the future. So is the fake revisionist history of Russia.
That must change. Russia needs a proper decolonization, which means the many nations that the Russian empire keeps imprisoned to this day must be freed. These nations paid a grave price for survival so their people could breath the air of freedom again, hopefully not in a too distant future.
Thank you for your attention.