MINELRES: Caucasus Reporting Service No. 413: excerpts

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Wed Oct 10 17:36:35 2007


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


WELCOME TO IWPR'S CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE, No. 413, October 5, 2007

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION RAISES THE HEAT  New coalition calls for release of
jailed ex-defence minister, and answers from president.  By Veriko
Tevzadze in Tbilisi

CIRCASSIANS VOICE OLYMPIAN ANGER  North Caucasian activists say the
Sochi Olympics will write them out of history.  By Azamat Bram in Maikop

OUTRAGE AT “FAKE” CIRCASSIAN ANNIVERSARY  Events of hundreds of
years ago become a live political issue as Moscow-sponsored festivities
are dismissed as an attempt to rewite history.  By Marina Marshenkulova
in Nalchik and Azamat Bram in Maikop

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CIRCASSIANS VOICE OLYMPIAN ANGER

North Caucasian activists say the Sochi Olympics will write them out of
history.

By Azamat Bram in Maikop

Circassian associations in the North Caucasus have spoken out against
staging the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014, arguing that the games
will take place on land where their ancestors were subject to ethnic
cleansing.

The strong stand taken by activists comes as the political leader of
Adygeia, a Circassian autonomous region in Russia, has backed the games.
Announcements made in Moscow about the Winter Olympics have failed to
mention the Circassians’ historical presence along the Black Sea
coast, where Sochi is located. 

"We support the Olympic movement, as its principles are based on
strengthening peace and friendship between nations," Murat Berzegov, the
leader of the Circassian Congress of the Republic of Adygeia, told IWPR.
"However, I cannot see that these principles are compatible with holding
the Olympic Games at the scene of a genocide, at a time when the vast
majority of the indigenous population are in exile outside their
homeland."

Until the mid-19th century, Sochi and the surrounding area was inhabited
by the Circassians and their kin, the Ubykhs. Both peoples put up strong
resistance to imperial Russia’s expansion into the Caucasus. Krasnaya
Polyana, in the hills not far from Sochi. was the site of the
Circassians’ final defeat in 1864. 

After 1864, hundreds of thousands were deported or fled in terrible
conditions to the Ottoman Empire. As many as 4.5 million Circassians now
live outside Russia, mainly in Turkey and the Middle East. The Black Sea
coastal strip which includes Sochi was more or less depopulated. 

Those who remain in Russia are concentrated in three autonomous
republics - Adygeia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachai-Cherkessia –
where they go by the names Adygei, Kabardans and Cherkess, respectively
(the Balkar and Karachai are distinct from the Circassians). 

The small Ubykh ethnic group has died out, while a once-powerful
Circassian group, the Shapsugs, now amount to a few thousand people in
Russia’s Krasnodar region. 

Berzegov says the Russian government has done nothing to encourage the
Circassian diaspora to return to their former homeland. According to the
Committee for Ties with Compatriots, just 600 Circassians have returned
to Adygeia over the past 15 years.

Circassian organisations have called on the Russian government to
recognise the disastrous conclusion of the 19th century conflict as
“genocide”, without success. 

The Winter Olympics announcement has crystallised discontent around the
issue. 

"It is surprising that this country's leadership can easily invest the
astronomical sum of 12 billion dollars to build Olympic facilities, but
won’t invest a single dollar in resolving the Circassian question,"
said Berzegov.

His claims have been backed by a number of diaspora Circassian groups
which have filed protests with the International Olympic Committee. 

Asked about the issue in a live phone-in, Russian deputy prime minister
Alexander Zhukov said the issue was “unexpected”. 

"Sochi is a multi-ethnic city where many nationalities live in peace and
harmony,” he said. “The Olympics will attract big investment into
the region and the improving economic situation will reduce social
tensions." 

Tensions between Circassians and the Krasnodar regional administration,
which includes Sochi, have been running high. Last year, plans to remove
Adygeia’s autonomous status and incorporate it administratively into
Krasnodar region were shelved, but there is still lingering bitterness
over the issue.

"Investing billions in Sochi will create an even greater economic gap
between these neighbouring regions [Krasnodar and Adygeia], providing
new arguments in favour of abolishing the republic on the grounds that
it is an economic failure," said the deputy chairman of the
International Circassian Association, Nalbiy Guchetl.

Another Circassian organisation, Adyge Khase, has not expressed outright
opposition to the Winter Olympic plans, but argues that symbols of
Circassian history and culture should be included in the format, as
Australia did with its indigenous population in 2000. 

However, Adyge Khase activist Arambiy Khapai remains personally opposed
to the Sochi games. 

"We’ve been disappointed with the news coverage of the forthcoming
Olympic Games," he said. He noted that official reporting on the Sochi
area as the games’ location noted that it was part of the ancient
Colchis, and referred to it being “liberated” from Ottoman Turkey. 

"But not a word is said about the Circassians," complained Khapai.

Circassian historians say history is being rewritten. For instance, the
claim is now being advanced that the Black Sea coastal strip around
Sochi became part of Russia in 1829, the argument being that it was
among the territories that Turkey ceded to Russia under the Treaty of
Adrianople.

Asker Panesh, a researcher at the Adygeian Institute for Humanitarian
Studies, said the area was never part of the Ottoman empire, and 1829 in
fact marked the beginning of outright war between Russia and the
Circassians. 

"Turkey could not have ceded what did not belong to it and the
Circassians did not recognise this agreement," he said.

Moscow’s re-interpretation of the Treaty of Adrianople coincides with
another controversy concerning the Circassians – the celebrations
currently being held across the North Caucasus to mark the 450th
anniversary of their “voluntary union” with Russia in 1557.

Circassian organisations point out that by an irony of history, the 2014
Olympic Games will mark the 150th anniversary of the Circassians’
defeat by Russia in 1864. 

Local environmentalists have also objected to the choice of Sochi for
the games. Tatyana Lysenko, deputy chairwoman of the Maikop Society for
the Protection of Nature, said that the construction involved will
damage the unique landscape of the North Caucasus. 

"For the first time in history, Olympic facilities will be built
specially-protected territories that are a UNESCO natural heritage
site," she said.

Zamir Shukhov, the president of the World Adygeian Brotherhood, argues
that the construction work will endanger important burial sites. There
have been calls for an archaeological survey to be carried out before
any building work begins. 

A different note is being struck by the authorities in Adygeia, where
President Aslan Tkhakushinov congratulated Krasnodar region for winning
the Olympics, and has promised the use of the snow that covers the
Lago-Naki plateau all the year round.

"The Olympic Games bring countries a colossal income,” said
Tkhakushinov. “The infrastructure of Kuban [Krasnodar], of which
Adygeia is part, will receive immense financial inflows. It’s probably
worth taking a look at this side of the coin as well. The Olympics
should not hurt anyone's national interests. They should be a
festival.” 

Circassian Congress leader Berzegov accepts that the games are now
inevitable, but says they may at least help inform the world about the
injustices visited on his people. 
"The Circassians may use the Sochi Olympics as a means of spreading
information and attract the international community’s attention to the
problems of the Circassian ethnic group and to the recognition of the
genocide," he said. 
Azamat Bram is the pseudonym of a freelance journalist working in the
North Caucasus.


OUTRAGE AT “FAKE” CIRCASSIAN ANNIVERSARY

Events of hundreds of years ago become a live political issue as
Moscow-sponsored festivities are dismissed as an attempt to rewite
history.

By Marina Marshenkulova in Nalchik and Azamat Bram in Maikop

A 16th century treaty said to mark the moment the Circassian people came
under Russian rule has been marked with lavish official celebrations in
the North Caucasus, but it has angered many Circassians, who say the
festivities are a travesty of history. 

In September, the three autonomous republics that have Circassian
populations - Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachai-Cherkessia and Adygeia –
staged public events to celebrate the "450th anniversary of the
Circassian nation's voluntary accession to Russia". 

The event being marked took place in 1557, when an alliance was
concluded between Kabardin prince Temruk Idarov and Tsar Ivan the
Terrible. The deal was sealed when the tsar married the prince's
daughter Goshevnai. 

Moscow has allocated large sums for the festivities - Kabardino-Balkaria
got 600 million roubles (about 24 million US dollars) for events, new
buildings and roads repairs, while Adygeia received 200 million roubles.

Over three days of celebrations, Kabardino-Balkaria’s capital Nalchik
staged concerts and exhibitions, a new theatre was opened, and the
president and his team met the people.

In Adygeia and Karachai-Cherkessia, the festivities were more modest.
Adygeia’s president Aslan Tkahkushinov conceded that the date was
somewhat controversial, but described the dispute as "insignificant".

"The winners write history, and we shouldn’t keep looking back as we
move forward,” he said. “There is a need for historical truth, but
we should be making new history. This will be a wonderful holiday
embodying the friendship between the Adygs [Circassians] and the
Russians. We will reaffirm that we are with Russia forever.”

Circassian historians and activists say that singling out this one
moment in history ignores much more important intervening events –
specifically, imperial Russia’s colonial wars against the Circassians.
They argue that what is being portrayed as an act of union was in fact a
one-off pact between two individual leaders, within a broader history of
hostility between their two nations, culminating in the Caucasian wars
of the 19th century. 

"Lies can hardly be a firm basis for friendship," said Alia Tliapa, head
of the nationalist Adyge Khase movement in the town of Adygeisk.

"If the events of 450 years ago are regarded as voluntary accession,
this means that the Russian-Caucasian war was not a war of liberation,
but a rebellion against the tsar; and that the Russian troops' actions
in the Caucasus were a kind of anti-terrorist operation to suppress a
rebellion on their own territory," said Tliapa.

The idea of celebrating "voluntary accession" to Russia harks back to
the Soviet era. In 1957 the “400th anniversary” was celebrated in
style in Adygeia and a monument called "Forever with Russia" was erected
on the main square of the local capital Maikop.

In the Yeltsin era following the end of the Soviet Union, this kind of
historical interpretation – that non-Russian groups happily joined the
empire, rather than being conquered - went out of fashion. 

In 1996, academics from Adygeia and Moscow held a meeting at which they
concluded that the 1557 treaty was nothing but a temporary union between
two equal parties.

The decision to celebrate the anniversary – and by implication go back
to the older view of history – was taken last year, and sanctioned by
Russian president Vladimir Putin. It coincided with a campaign by
Circassian organisations for the killings and deportations that marked
the end of the 19th century war to be recognised as “genocide”. 
Circassian groups are also angry that the way the 2014 Winter Olympics
in Sochi are being advertised has written them out of history as the
area’s original inhabitants. 

"The celebration of the 'voluntary accession of Circassia to Russia' is
supposed to erase the truth about the genocide of an indigenous people
in the Caucasus - the Circassians - by the Russian state," said Murat
Berzegov, the leader of Adygeia's Circassian Congress. "The fact that
the authorities have reverted to the myths of Soviet times indicates
that they have lost their way and are not prepared to address the issues
we have."

He concluded, “The best foundation for strengthening friendship
between nations would be recognition of the Circassian genocide as a
historical truth, and rehabilitation for a nation that has suffered so
much on its own lands.” 

In May, the Circassian Congress held a rally in Adygeia to mark the day
that Circassians commemorate those who died in the Caucasian war, and
called for the “accession” celebrations to refer instead to a
"military and political union" between Russia and the Circassian people.
By way of compromise, the local authorities offered to use the word
“union” more frequently than “voluntary accession”.

In Kabardino-Balkaria, things were further complicated by a boycott by
the Balkar people, who give the republic the other half of its
double-barrelled name. Balkar representatives argued that they joined
Russia 180 years ago, and proceeded to hold their own celebrations in
May this year. 

Local politicians have sought to play down the controversy. "It
doesn’t matter who joined Russia or when,” said Fuad Yefendiev, a
member of parliament in Kabardino-Balkaria. “We’re all citizens of
the same country, and only when we climb out of our national costume
will there be peace and harmony."

Marina Marshenkulova is a correspondent for Sovetskaya Molodezh
newspaper in Kabardino-Balkaria. Azamat Bram is the pseudonym of a
freelance journalist.

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