Ukrainian Lawmaker Publishes Proposal to Recognize Circassian ‘Genocide’

Valery Dzutsev
Eurasia Daily Monitor | July 14, 2014 – Volume: 11 Issue: 127

Oleg Lyashko, the outspoken deputy of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, published on the parliament’s official website his legislative proposal to recognize the 19th century Circassian “genocide” (Verkhovna Rada Ukraini, July 1). The proposal cites, by way of justification provided by the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide from 1948, “criminal acts of the oppressive Tsarist regime of the former Russian Empire,” historical justice, similarities between the tragic fate of Ukrainian people and other oppressed peoples, and the Kabardino-Balkarian parliament’s 1992 condemnation of the “genocide” of Circassians during the Russian-Caucasian war (Adyge Heku, July 9).

Apart from initiating deliberations on recognizing the Russian Empire’s “genocide” of the Circassians, the legislative project proposes recommending that the Ukrainian government implement a range of supplementary but highly visible measures. In particular, the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences and the Ukrainian Institute for National Memory would be encouraged to participate in organizing an international scientific conference on the “colonial policies of the Russian Empire in the Caucasus in the period from 1763 to 1864 and the crimes committed against the indigenous peoples of the Caucasus.” The conference would be expected to supply the Verkhovna Rada with the relevant historical, political and legal evidence, as well as recommendations. The parliamentary committees on human rights, culture, legal issues and foreign affairs are expected to hold hearings on the issue of recognizing the Circassian “genocide” and pass on their recommendations (Adyge Heku, July 9).

Earlier, several groups of Circassian and other activists appealed to the Ukrainian authorities to recognize the Circassian “genocide.” Subsequently, Circassian activists from the North Caucasus were summoned by the police and questioned. Not surprisingly, Circassians overwhelmingly support recognition of the Circassian “genocide” by Ukraine. In a poll taken by a website, 82 percent of the thousand people who voted supported such a move by Ukraine and only 15 percent opposed it (Adyge Heku, June 16).

By considering recognition of the Circassian “genocide,” Ukraine has created an entirely new situation in the North Caucasus, with the Circassians, unlike the vast majority of the country’s population, starting to oppose Russian support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. A similar but less pronounced sentiment can be found in other areas of the North Caucasus. The unrest in Ukraine has practically contributed to the further separation of the North Caucasus from the rest of Russian Federation, as some North Caucasians—in particular, the Circassians—clearly believe a Russian victory in the conflict in Ukraine would not be to their benefit. Ukraine, in turn, realizes that despite the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation remains a multinational empire with many oppressed and voiceless minorities. Given the strained relations between Ukraine and Russia, and aggressive Russian actions toward Ukraine, the Ukrainian government is naturally inclined to divide the ranks of its opponent by supporting the aggrieved groups. Apart from the war rhetoric and stoking fear of foreign enemies, Russia has little to counter the support of foreign actors for its minorities.

A letter from the administration of the president of Ukraine to one of the people who petitioned the Ukrainian government once again emphasized the seriousness of the Ukrainian government about possibly recognizing the Circassian “genocide.” Dr. Karden Murat Yildirim received a letter from the Ukrainian presidential administration which confirmed that Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry had already made a preliminary assessment of the issue. The Ukrainian presidential administration expects the country’s parliament will consider all of the available evidence to arrive at a well-founded decision regarding recognition of the Circassian “genocide” (Natpress, July 9).

One of the ways Russia has tried to counter Circassian political activism is by creating puppet non-governmental organizations (NGO) that are Circassian in name, but in practice represent only the interests of the Russian government. However, one such organization, the International Circassian Association (ICA)—created by the Russian security services following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 for the purposes of controlling and infiltrating Circassian diaspora organizations in the West—was recently exposed in its bid to win a government grant to combat other domestic Circassian organizations. Now, Moscow may find it increasingly hard to use puppet NGOs like the ICA in its efforts to subdue Circassian activism. As one of the Circassian activists, Andzor Kabard, noted: “The anti-Circassian activities of the ICA have been known for a while. This organization is heavily controlled by the Russian security services and Russian bureaucrats that are recruited from among the Circassians and dispatched to Circassia by Moscow. This organization works exclusively for the neutralization of the Circassian movement and for providing support for the network of Russian agents in the countries where Circassians are present” (cherkessia.net, July 8).

Kabard also cast doubt on the genuineness of the primary partner of the ICA in Turkey, the Federation of the Caucasian Associations in Turkey (KAFFED). According to the Circassian activist, the ICA and KAFFED held a joint meeting to counter Ukraine’s possible recognition of the Circassian “genocide.” The ICA argued that only it could represent Circassians worldwide, and no one else apart from it can ask for a recognition of the Circassian “genocide.” The other argument was that everything concerning Circassians was an internal Russian affair. Kabard wrote that the Russian state “failed to open the way home in Circassia to the Syrian Circassians, spit in the face of Circassians at the Olympics in Sochi 2014 and, using the ICA and KAFFED, stole an entire generation of Circassians, paralyzing their activities. Now it is trying to steal the second generation, which is perhaps the last still capable of making up a united nation” (cherkessia.net, July 8).

As Ukraine becomes increasingly interested in the Circassian issue, the stakes rise significantly. Ukraine is not only one of the biggest neighboring countries, but it also has substantial expertise in how the Russian government machine works and how to deal with it. The Circassians, in turn, may potentially receive an invaluable friend that can provide real assistance to them and offset the loss of Tbilisi’s support for their cause, which originated with the former government of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Now the cause of the Circassians appears to be quietly gaining some level of traction and increased backing among the Ukrainian political elite as evidenced by the support of Ukrainian lawmaker Oleg Lyashko. The initiative may have been inspired by Russia’s recruitment and deployment of fighters of North Caucasian origin to eastern Ukraine. This move by Moscow caused a great deal of outrage among many in Ukraine, and it may now come back to haunt Russian President Vladimir Putin.

http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=42621&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=7&cHash=89fe3ec4e113050176a4bef2b8339c85#.U8RfqNhOXDd

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Vladimir Bobrovnikov: "Caucasian War was carried on with extreme cruelty of both parties"

Caucasian Knot | 21 May 2014

On the eve of the anniversary of the end of the Caucasian War, Vladimir Bobrovnikov, a senior researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), has answered the questions of the "Caucasian Knot", touching on a number of problematic aspects of the perception of the history of Caucasian Wars, politicization and mythologization of them.

Full transcript of this interview is available in Russian language at the ‘Caucasian Knot’ website

"Russian-Circassian" or "Caucasian"? War or Wars?

"Caucasian Knot" (CK): May 21, 2014 will be marked as the 150th anniversary of the end of the Caucasian War; however, the very term of "Caucasian War" is sometimes contested in public discourse. Sometimes, for example, they use the term of "Russian-Circassian War" or "Russian-Caucasian War". Which name do you find most acceptable?

Vladimir Bobrovnikov (VB): In literature, the term "Caucasian War" is used to describe a number of many-year-long and fierce military campaigns held between the highlanders of Northern Caucasus and Russia’s troops, which resulted in the final incorporation of the region by the Russian Empire by the end of the second third of the 19th century. The very term "Caucasian War" is very conditional and quite officious. It was first introduced by the military publicist General R. A. Fadeev in his book "Sixty Years of Caucasian War", published in Tiflis in 1860. Now, the term "Caucasian War" is common, although even in the 1960s the term of "Caucasian Wars" was used. Indeed, the military actions in the Caucasus were not held continuously for all the 60 years, not even for a half or quarter of a century. Sometimes, quite long periods of peaceful coexistence happened between individual war episodes. Thus, it is more correct to talk about a series of Caucasian Wars. As regards the term of "Russian-Circassian War", it is almost never used in scientific literature. It is not very precise, since the war or wars was or were waged not so much by Russian and Circassians, but by the Russian Empire on the one hand and various political entities of Caucasian highlanders of different nationalities, on the other. Among the opponents of the tsarist Russia, the most prominent role in the history of the warfare was performed by the so-called "Imamate" – a state-like formation in the territory of the mountainous Dagestan and Chechnya, which arose as a result of an armed jihad held by local Muslims and supportive Muslim nobility against the Empire. For more than a quarter of a century, the Imamate was headed by a prominent politician and religious leader Shamil, who was, incidentally, not a Circassian, but an Avar, a native of Dagestan (from the village of Gimry).

CK: In Southern Russia, both Cossacks and Circassians, living side by side, keep quite different stories about the Caucasian War in their memory. In what way can some consensus be reached at this level?

VB: To avoid future conflicts and exacerbations based on different interpretation of historical events, in particular, those related to Caucasian Wars and the conquest of the region by the Russian Empire, politicians should, first of all, solve the present time problems. The Russian Caucasus (as, indeed, also the already non-Russian Transcaucasia) has plenty of them. They include the economic crisis with its corruption and need of donations from the federal centre; consequences of the two Chechen Wars; terrorism and criminality; and, besides, migrants, youth and the school. Historians should not, as it seems to me, play in tune with politicians (serving them for certain benefits and handouts), helping them to forget these and highlight other facts from the uneasy imperial and more recent past of the Caucasus.

CK: On the eve of the Sochi Olympics especially a lot was spoken in the Caucasus about the so-called "Circassian issue" and the need to recognize the Circassian genocide. How justified is, in your opinion, this form of political demands?

VB: The Circassian issue is the issue of the historical memory in descendants of the Circassian Diaspora – the descendants of Mukhajirs (emigrants) originated from the Caucasus and now living in the Middle East, and elsewhere in the world. The historical memory of these Diasporas is really extremely traumatized by mass deportations and related victims. Of course, Russian militaries had treated Circassians very cruelly by forbidding them after the conquering of the region to live in the mountains and forcing them to leave their homeland. The resettlement was badly organized; and many people failed to withstand the burden and died from diseases and starvation. The advocates of evicting Circassians from the Russian Caucasus from among the Russian militaries, who ruled the Northwest Caucasus in the middle of the 19th century, knew about it, but failed to help the Circassians, although imagined themselves to be very humane and philanthropic persons. Moreover, the words of the then Russian Caucasian viceroy Baryatinskiy are broadly known, who expressed, very clearly but sharply, the viewpoint of the leadership of the Russian Empire about the Circassians, who tried to leave the Caucasus under the guise of pilgrims committing Hajji: "You know what? It is, perhaps, not bad that all these bastards are leaving, taking off the burden from us. Do not stop them; let them go to Mecca, or wherever they want." Along with that, this viewpoint was shared by other Europeans who lived in the epoch of colonial empires.

However, in my opinion, the definition of the eviction of Mukhajirs as genocide is not quite correct and too heavily loaded with unnecessary political connotations. Besides, this term leads to excessive victimization of the Circassian history, which is already extremely mythologized without it. Being not a lawyer, I cannot judge on the political justification of using the term of "genocide".

CK: In your opinion, is it possible to "remove" the Circassian issue without recognizing the genocide?

VB: I have no recipe how to do it. In assessing the Circassian issue, it is impossible to silence the huge sacrifices made by highlanders during their resettlement from the Caucasus to the Ottoman Empire. However, we should not forget other victims of Caucasian Wars. The authors who wrote about the mass evictions conducted in the post-war Northern Caucasus, as a rule, resorted to colourful descriptions of highlanders’ sufferings. But the Cossacks, who were moved to their former lands found themselves in no better situation. The available sources indicate that the Caucasian War was waged with terrible atrocities on both and for both parties – resettling and burning down of unruly villages were applied not only by tsarist generals, but Shamil as well.

Vladimir Bobrovnikov was interviewed by Semyon Charny, the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent.

May 19, 2014

http://eng.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/28305/

Circassians mark 150th anniversary of the end of Russian-Circassian war

Eurasia Daily Monitor
May 27, 2014 — Volume 11, Issue 98

Circassians Want Russia to Recognize 19th Century Conquest as ‘Genocide’

On May 21, Circassian communities worldwide commemorated the 150th anniversary of the end of the Russian-Circassian war. According to some accounts, the war lasted for a hundred years—from 1763, when Russian armies invaded Eastern Kabarda, to 1864 when the Russian military paraded at the place Krasnaya Polyana near the modern-day city of Sochi. The Russian Empire killed or deported to the Ottoman Empire an estimated 90 percent of the Circassian population of the Caucasus. As a result of the large-scale deportation of the Circassians, the majority of them now reside outside their North Caucasus homeland. To mark the anniversary, Circassians held demonstrations in Turkey, Germany, the United States, the North Caucasus and elsewhere.

The Circassian-Russian war of the 19th century has been a matter of great controversy in the North Caucasus. The tensions derive from the Circassian belief that Moscow should recognize what the Russian Empire did to the Circassians as “an act of genocide.” The Russian government, in turn, tries to ignore the issue or deny its importance, quietly putting pressure on the regional authorities in the North Caucasus to alter the discourse. In the run-up to the 150th anniversary of the conclusion of the Russian-Circassian war, Circassian organizations in Adygea, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and the Krasnodar region addressed President Vladimir Putin once again, asking him to recognize the “Circassian genocide” (http://www.aheku.net/news/society/3542).

More importantly, a group of activists from the North Caucasus, led by Israeli activist Avrom Shmulevich, addressed Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, asking him to recognize the “Circassian genocide” (http://www.natpress.info/index.php?newsid=8989). The activists apparently expect the Ukrainian government to be especially sympathetic to the plight of the Circassians in the North Caucasus, given Russia’s aggressive policies against Ukraine. Shmulevich predicted that Ukraine would recognize the “Circassian genocide” before the end of 2014 (http://avrom-caucasus.livejournal.com/359996.html).

The voice of Turkish officials, where the majority of Circassians reside, was also unusually strong. The deputy speaker of the Turkish parliament, Sadik Yakut, said: “The right of return of peoples who were expelled from their homeland should be considered from the point of view of human rights. Circassians have the natural right to be granted dual citizenship in countries where they reside, and for May 21 to be recognized as the day of the genocide and expulsion of Circassians” (http://www.aheku.org/news/society/5822).

The authorities in republics with titular Circassian populations have remained relatively timid. For example, several years ago, Circassian activists in Adygea asked the authorities to build a monument dedicated to the Circassian victims of the Russian-Circassian war. The government instead built a monument called Unity and Accord that included both those who fought on the Russian side and on their home country’s side. A Circassian activist from Adygea, Aslan Shazzo, told Ekho Kavkaza radio: “We want a monument for our fallen. Only defenders of the homeland should be among them, but not the tsarist soldiers who died in the war.” In Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria, republican officials oversaw the celebrations this year. Republican Deputy Prime Minister Ruslan Firov practically chaired the commission on celebrations. An estimated 3,000–4,000 people participated in the events in Nalchik. The Russian authorities’ pressure manifested itself most vividly in Moscow. Police arrested Circassian activist Beslan Teuvazhev on May 19, and law enforcement agents confiscated 71,000 Circassian ribbons, which depicted Circassian symbols and dates of the Russian-Circassian war. Teuvazhev was soon released, but the police did not return the ribbons, saying they were being checked “for extremism” (http://www.ekhokavkaza.com/content/article/25393637.html).

On May 20, Circassian activists in the village of Akhintam, in the Sochi area, held a night vigil, lighting 101 candles—representing the number of years the Russian-Circassian war lasted. A Circassian leader from Krasnodar region, Aslan Gvashev, told Kavkazsky Uzel that Circassians perceive the Black Sea as a big grave for all the Circassians deported in the 1860s. “The majority of the coastal Circassian villages do not fish and do not even swim in the sea. This sea is full of our ancestors’ bones and we cannot allow ourselves any other attitude,” Gvashev said (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/242975/).

Sergei Arutyunov, a well-known Russian historian and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Kavkazsky Uzel that in order to resolve the controversy around the Russian-Circassian war, the Russian government should recognize the Circassian “genocide.” Moreover, Arutyunov suggested that the government remove monuments dedicated to Russian heroes who fought in the North Caucasus and return the original names of the settlements. Referring to a town in the Sochi area named after General Ivan Lazarev—who was known, especially among the Circassians, for his brutality during the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the 18th–19th centuries—Arutyunov said: “Lazarev was a person of great accomplishments in Russian history and no one is prepared to forget about that. However, the settlement called Lazarevsky should be somewhere where he was born or some other place that is connected to his biography, not in the place where he fought and where his role was controversial” (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/242980/). The Russian authorities installed monuments dedicated to controversial Russian generals in the historical Circassians lands, further antagonizing the Circassian population.

Russian historians pretend that history is free from government intervention despite the fact that President Putin himself has urged the government to produce a single view of Russian history to avoid stirring doubts and controversy within the younger generation. Many Russian historians still use outdated concepts, describing the deportation of the Circassians to the Ottoman Empire as a “voluntary resettlement” and even denying the very fact of the Russian-Circassian wars. The language used by Russian professional historians is often quite biased. For example, instead of saying that the Russian Empire conquered the North Caucasus, they say “after many military campaigns between the Russian armies and the mountaineers, the region entered the Russian Empire” (http://georgia.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/242940/).

In using such wording, Russian historians and politicians are attempting to put the conquerors and their victims on the same footing and depersonalize the conquest of the North Caucasus by Russia as a kind of process of accession of the region into the Russian state that progressed almost on its own. Circassians have become remarkably united around the tragic events of the past and Russian authorities will have to take this into account sooner or later.

–Valery Dzutsev

Moscow ignores Circassian pleas to help their Syrian brethren

Eurasia Daily Monitor
September 5, 2012 — Volume 9, Issue 160

Circassian Activists Call for Three North Caucasus Republics to Take in Syrian Refugees

In August, Circassian activists in Kabardino-Balkaria announced that the republic had filled its quota of Circassian refugees coming from Syria. The leader of the Peryt civic organization, Akhmed Stash, told a reporter from the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website that refugees arriving from Syria were redirected to Adygea and Karachaevo-Cherkessia. “The last group, numbering 40 people, which arrived in August, was sent in its entirety to Maikop,” Stash said. According to the activist, 400 Syrian Circassians are living in Kabardino-Balkaria. He said neighboring Adygea and Karachay-Cherkessia still had approximately 200 slots each to accept refugees from abroad, and so an additional 350 people would probably be received in the North Caucasus before the end of 2012. According to Stash, Moscow has not contributed to the process of taking in the Syrian Circassian refugees: he said all the assistance for the refugees has come from local businesses and the republican government (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, August 27).

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A Caucasian Home as Designed by Tbilisi

Ivlian Haindrava
Russia in global affairs
April/June 2012

Georgia was the first sovereign state to recognize the genocide against the Circassians. However, the recognition did not occur all of a sudden; certain steps were made back in the 1990s by parliaments of the North Caucasian republics.

Until 2008, it was hard to say that Georgia had been conducting a prudent and coherent state policy towards the North Caucasus. The first president of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, once proposed an idea of a “common Caucasian home,” but it was never materialized. Gamsakhurdia did not stay long in power to implement his plans, which were rather contradictory and often dangerous for the Georgian statehood. In addition, no one really understood on what foundation this “common Caucasian home” should be built and what it may look like. On top of that, Moscow countered this extravagant idea with the establishment in 1989 of a Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus, headquartered in Sukhumi (later it was named the Confederation of the Peoples of the Caucasus).

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Circassian activists protest in Moscow in support of Syrian Circassians

Eurasia Daily Monitor
August 15, 2012 — Volume 9, Issue 156

Syrian Refugee Crisis Is Becoming a Flashpoint for Moscow-North Caucasus Relations

On August 10, Circassian activists in Moscow picketed the offices of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Emergency Situations Ministry and the Migration Service. The initial request to hold a protest rally was turned down by the Moscow city authorities, so the activists reverted to one-person pickets that cannot be banned under Russian legislation. The activists demanded that the Russian government give a clear response to the plight of the estimated 150,000 Circassians in Syria, who have been in danger since the hostilities began there. Only about 400 Circassians have managed to relocate to the North Caucasus over the past several months, but the Russian government has not provided any assistance to them; they have only received private donations. Another 400 Syrian Circassians have received permission to come to Russia, but they have not yet been able to leave Syria. According to existing Russian legislation, Circassians may be considered compatriots since they lived in the Russian Empire in the 19th century (http://www.ekhokavkaza.com/content/article/24672243.html).

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Circassians organize to help their ethnic kin in Syria

North Caucasus Weekly
August 10, 2012 — Volume 13, Issue 16

With Syria Crisis, North Caucasians Rediscover Ethnic Ties

On July 18, Circassians activists from several countries, including Russia’s North Caucasus, called on the Circassian and Caucasian organizations to focus on helping the Syrian Circassians. The Circassians in the North Caucasus celebrate August 1 as Repatriate’s Day, and the celebrations this year are bound to be celebrated with an ever greater sense of urgency because of the Syrian crisis. An estimated 350 Syrian Circassians have relocated to the North Caucasus in recent months as violence in the Middle Eastern country expanded, but many more may need help (http://circassiatimes.com/russian/485-01.08.2012-den-podderzhki-siriyskih-cherkesov-obraschenie-k-cherkesskim-i-kavkazskim-organizaciyam.html). On July 26, Adygean civil organizations decided to set up a coordination council that would address the most pressing issues the constituencies of the civil organizations face. The Syrian Circassians’ question was one of the central issues discussed at the meeting of Circassian, Russian, Armenian and other ethnic organizations of Adygea (http://adygeia.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/210378/).

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