Staunton, June 5 – The contrast between the support Russian officials are giving to refugees from Ukraine and the complete absence of such support for Circassians fleeing from Syria is leading to the intensification of anti-Russian nationalism among the Circassians in the North Caucasus, according to Irina Babich.
Babich, a senior scholar at the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, says Circassians in the region are reacting that way because they view this latest set of as the latest example of “Russian imperial history,” including the expulsion of the Circassians to the Ottoman Empire in 1864.
And consequently, she suggests, ordinary Circassians are thus increasingly receptive to arguments that their ancestors were victims of genocide, a view Circassian leaders in the diaspora have long advanced and are now gaining increasing success abroad, most recently in Turkey and Estonia.
Babich’s comments on this point are especially important because they came in the course of an interview she gave to Yana Amelina of the Caucasus Geopolitical Club intended to promote the ideas that the Circassians are very much divided and that the genocide issue, which gained international attention in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics, is fading.
While conceding that “from an ethnic point of view,” the Circassians have much in common, politically they remain divided among the republics Stalin created. And this continues at a political level “despite the enormous desire of some political leaders to unite the Circassians” and promote demands for “the recognition of the Circassian genocide.”
Indeed, she says, “the idea of Circassian unity appeared only in the last decade I connection with the attempt at ‘political’ discussion of the problem of the genocide of the Circassians.” But the leaderships of the three republics, Babich continues, “were unable to unite” the citizens of their republics because of the differences among them.
Many have assumed that Russia will not face any serious challenges from the Circassians now that the Sochi Games on which activists placed such hopes have passed and there are no other obvious occasions for raising the genocide issue in the future, the Moscow ethnographer suggests.
But “nevertheless,” she says, “the consequences of Russian activity in the North Caucasus up to now have an impact on the formation of the contemporary attitude of the Circassians to Russia.” That is something Moscow needs to think about and figure out ways to lessen anti-Russian attitudes among that nation.
It would truly be ironic if Moscow’s actions in Ukraine and in support of its aggression there end by triggering a growth in the sense of national identity and purpose among the Circassians and attract additional support to their campaign to gain international recognition of the fact that Russian actions against the Circassians 151 years ago constituted an act of genocide.