MINELRES: IWPR Caucasus Reporting Service No. 395: Circassians Press Genocide Claims

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Sun Jun 10 10:38:42 2007

Original sender: Institute for War & Peace Reporting <editor@iwpr.net>



KARABAKH: A TALE OF TWO CITIES On the eve of crucial peace talks over
Nagorny Karabakh, Armenian refugees from Baku say it is too early to
allow Azerbaijanis to come back. By Ashot Beglarian in Shushi 

AZERBAIJANI REFUGEES LONG FOR RETURN Refugees from Shusha look back with
bitterness and longing on their homeland. By Aynur Haqverdiyeva and
Joshqun Eldaroglu in Ramani, near Baku

puts spotlight on culture of police violence. By Gayane Mkrtchian and
Arpi Harutyunian in Yerevan 

historical crime against them has gone unremembered. By Marina
Marshenkulova in Nalchik 



North Caucasian people say a historical crime against them has gone

By Marina Marshenkulova in Nalchik 

On May 21, Kabardino-Balkaria commemorated the 143rd anniversary of the
end in 1864 of the bloody Caucasian War, which some historians say
resulted in the deaths of over two million Circassians and the
deportation of at least a million more to Turkey and the Middle East. 

Circassians - or "Adygs" as they call themselves - from three autonomous
republics of the North Caucasus, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachai-Cherkessia
and Adygeia, used the anniversary to press their demands that the
killing of Circassians by tsarist Russian forces in the 19th century
should be acknowledged as genocide.

Activists of the nationalist Circassian Congress movement and its leader
Ruslan Keshtov, all of them wearing black mourning ribbons and many
carrying Circassian flags, gathered for an unsanctioned rally - an
unprecedented thing for Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria - in
front of the memorial to Circassian victims in the city's Freedom Park.

"You sometimes hear people saying it's too early to raise the genocide
of the Circassian people as an issue, and that we should postpone it for
ten years or so until conditions are favourable," said Keshtov. 

"But we don't see any willingness on Russia's part to resolve the
Circassian issue. It's as though we were not a people of Russia, unlike
any of our neighbours in the Caucasus, for whom historical justice has
been restored."

The Circassian Congress was angry that after it sent a request to the
Russian parliament, the State Duma, asking for it to recognise the
"Circassian genocide", the parliamentarians sent a reply in which they
said the Circassians had not been subject to genocide during the Second
World War - almost a hundred years after the actual event. 

Nowadays, many more Circassians still live abroad than in the North
Caucasus, which is home to less than a million of them. That is one
reason why the issue of gaining recognition for the suffering they
endured in the 19th century is a live political issue, as it could be
seen as encouraging the diaspora to return to Russia.

Zamir Shukhov, who is president of a public organisation called the
World Adyg Fraternity, told IWPR that the genocide issue had moved up
the agenda because the various countries where Circassians live are
becoming more democratic, so that they can now demand protection for
their culture in a way that they could not before. 

"Circassians have begun talking more openly about their history, about
their past, present and future," he said. "I think the Circassian people
are now going through a period in which their national consciousness and
sense of national identity are awakening. We are a minority in all the
countries where we live, including even our historical homeland - the

"We've come to understand that preservation of the Adyg nation should be
priority number one for any Circassian patriot." 

In Russia, the campaign for genocide recognition has been opposed at
many levels. 

Earlier this year, the Circassian Congress sent a letter to Russian
president Vladimir Putin. In late April, they received a reply from the
domestic policy department of the president's representative to the
Southern Federal District saying, "Russian legislation does not contain
normative legal acts that would define a way of addressing the problems
you have set out in your letter to the president."

Scholars at the Southern Scientific Centre, part of the Russian Academy
of Sciences, added their expert opinion that events during the 19th
century Caucasian war did not constitute genocide as understood by the
United Nations. 

Circassian activists and historians were further angered by plans for a
commemoration later this year of the 450th anniversary of the "voluntary
accession to the Russian state" of the three republics with Circassian
populations, an occasion they have called a "fabrication of history"
with a Russian nationalist agenda. 

Mukhamed Khafitse, head of the Adyge Khase group in Kabardino-Balkaria,
complained, "For 101 years, Russia fought with might and main to conquer
the Circassians. Nine out of ten Adygs either left their homeland or
were killed on the battlefield. 

"There even was an order to exterminate Circassians to the last man if
they refused to move down to the plains where they were told to go to
live. If this is not genocide, then what should it be called?"

Khafitse said the acknowledgement of genocide would give moral
satisfaction, if nothing else, to the Circassians.

There are some sceptical voices, however. Svetlana Akieva, a scholar in
Nalchik, sounded a note of caution about defining as genocide an event
that she said was a "great disaster" which came as the result of a
destructive war.

"It seems to me that we have been abusing this word recently," said
Akieva. "There ought to be certain selection criteria. I agree that this
was a very great loss for the genetic stock of the people but it's hard
to say if it was actually genocide.   

"Genocide is destruction on a purely ethnic basis and I don't think that
however bad the tsarist regime was, it set itself the goal of
exterminating the Circassians and other Caucasian tribes at all costs. A
state is the embodiment of violence, and unfortunately this violence has
no limits. History shows us many extreme examples of the kind of
violence which caused thousands and thousands of innocent people to

Osman Mazukabzov, director of the Kavkazweb Internet portal, argued that
the recognition of genocide should be focused on achieving practical
results for Circassians. 

"It's no secret that the main challenges facing Circassian society are
the reviving the economy and reducing corruption," he said. "Without an
economic base, the people won't be able to restore their culture and
language. To my mind, that is what recognising the genocide means."

Valery Khatazhukov, a well known human rights activist in
Kabardino-Balkaria, does not believe the genocide issue will be resolved
soon. He predicts it will become a steadily more sensitive political
issue as the Russian state seeks to curtail the powers of the republics
of the North Caucasus. 

Feeling that their identity is under threat, Circassian organisations
have already waged a successful campaign against proposals to merge the
autonomous republic of Adygeia with the neighbouring Krasnodar region. 

"The genocide issue is going to find stronger and stronger support among
various parts of the intelligentsia and youth," predicted Khatazhukov.

Marina Marshenkulova is a correspondent for Sovetskaya Molodezh
newspaper in Kabardino-Balkaria. 

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ISSN: 1477-7959 Copyright (c) 2007 The Institute for War & Peace


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