Radio Free Europe – Radio Liberty
August 12, 2012
Representatives of Syria’s Circassian minority have been lobbying the Russian leadership since late last year for help in resettling in the three north-west Caucasus republics (Adygheya, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachayevo-Cherkessia) in which Circassians are a titular nationality. In recent weeks, some members of the smaller Ossetian and Chechen communities in Syria have launched similar appeals for help.
Estimates of the size of Syria’s Circassian community vary from 55,000–60,000 to 80,000–100,000. There are an estimated 5,000 Chechens in Syria, and up to 700 Ossetians.
The Circassians first appealed late last year to then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Republic of Adygheya head Aslan Tkhakushinov for help in leaving Syria for Russia. Some of them then travelled to Adygheya and Kabardino-Balkaria in January, around the same time as the first fugitives from Syria arrived in the North Caucasus. To date, some 320 Circassians from Syria have arrived in Kabardino-Balkaria and a further 100-plus in Adygheya. How many more want to leave Syria is not clear: many families may be unable to do so as long as the ban on men under 40 leaving the country remains in force.
The Khases — the unofficial Circassian political organizations that defend national interests — began lobbying Moscow in January on behalf of their co-ethnics. But according to the chairmen of the Khases in Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Adygheya, Krasnodar Krai, and North Ossetia, those appeals have had little impact.
In a joint statement on August 1, which had been designated a Day of Solidarity with Syria’s Circassian community, they criticized the Russian leadership for ignoring repeated pleas for help from those Circassians desperate to leave Syria and settle in Russia
They noted that both the Federation Council and the Public Chamber responded to their lobbying by sending fact-finding missions to Syria in March and May respectively. The two bodies then drafted and submitted to the Russian leadership recommendations on how to respond to the crisis the Syrian Circassians face, but no concrete action has been taken.
The signatories to the statement argue that Russia has a moral obligation to undertake “urgent measures” to save their compatriots, and that doing so would boost Russia’s international prestige and further mutual understanding among its various nationalities.
It would also, although the signatories do not make this specific point, serve to counter the ongoing campaign by the Georgian government to win the trust and support of the Circassians. As part of that campaign, the Georgian parliament voted unanimously in May 2011 to designate as “genocide” the mass killings of Circassians by Tsarist Russian troops in the 19th century.
In late July, the head of the Ossetian community in Syria, Khashim Albegov, appealed for help to Republic of North Ossetia head Taymuraz Mamsurov on behalf of some 90 Ossetians who want to leave, but have not yet applied for Russian visas. Mamsurov immediately contacted the Russian Foreign Ministry on their behalf, and received assurance that the Russian consulate in Damascus has orders to give priority to visa applications from persons who want to leave Syria for Russia. Mamsurov also established a government commission, headed by republican Prime Minister Sergei Takoyev, to coordinate assistance to the Syrian Ossetians.
Meanwhile, a delegation representing the 6,000-strong Chechen community in Syria travelled to Grozny last month where they met with Chechen human rights ombudsman Nurdi Nukhadjiyev to discuss the possibility of settling in Chechnya. Chechen official Yusup Zubayrayev said the Russian Foreign Ministry is working on issuing long-term visas for the estimated 500 Chechens who want to come to Chechnya to live, while the Federal Migration Service is arranging residency rights for them.
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