Staunton, March 26 — As the Circassian issue became prominent in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics, Russian commentators focused on and denounced Circassian desires to re-create a single Circassia in the North Caucasus, a step that would require the wholesale redrawing of Soviet-imposed borders there.
But now it appears that Ankara’s efforts to spread Turkish influence in the region may be an even more immediate threat to those borders and that the two Turkic peoples now part of bi-national republics with Circassian groups are increasingly interested in creating a single Turkic republic.
Unless the region becomes even more unstable than it is now, the prospects for the Turkic groups are probably even less than those for the Circassian ones, but both the expectations and fears of some in the region and the involvement, at least ideologically of a foreign country, have the potential to lead to exactly that kind of instability.
In an article posted on the KBR Strategy portal yesterday, Martin Kochesoko, who is a Circassian and writes from that perspective, argues that Turkey’s Pan-Turanism and especially its current form is a threat first to the North Caucasus and then to the entire former Soviet space.
According to Kochesoko, “’Great Turan’ is a pan-Turkist project which calls for a single state for all ethnic Turks.” It was advanced by Kemal Ataturk a century ago and at that time was entirely secular. But today, “the main promoter” of this idea is Fetullah Gulen, who has given Pan-Turkism an Islamic content.
One cannot and should not claim, Kochesoko says, that “the idea of ‘Great Turan’ is deeply rooted in the consciousness of the Karachays and Balkars at the present time.” But he insists this is only “an intermediate stage” which has assumed the form of calls for “a united Karachayevo-Balkaria within Russia.”
For that project to be realized, he points out, two North Caucasian republics would have to be dismembered: Karachayevo-Cherkessia in which there are 195,000 Turkic Karachays and 57,000 Circassia Cherkess and Kabardino-Balkaria, in which there are 500,000 Circassian Kabards and 110,000 Turkic Balkars.
Kochesoko adds that “at the present time, all the demands of Balkar activists involve territorial pretensions against the Kabards since there main task is precisely the acquisition of a common border with the Karachays and the establishment of Karachayevo-Balkaria, either as a federation or as a unified republic.
He devotes most of his article to a detailed description of what he says have been the actions and ideological positions of the Turkic groups. But he stresses that the links these groups have to the “’Great Turan’ project is something that they “carefully conceal” lest they lose support from those whom they seek to mobilize or generate opposition from others.
But those ties are very real, he suggests, pointing to the appearance of Karachay and Balkar materials and declarations on Turkish sites and the activities of TIKA and other Turkish organizations in the region. And he suggests that what the Turkic groups in the North Caucasus are doing is in fact part of this broader and more destabilizing effort.
Kosechoko is just as much a partisan as those he describes albeit on the opposite side, and consequently, his words should be evaluated in terms of that. He clearly wants Russians and others to oppose the Turkic goals and sees branding them as Islamic and as having far-reaching ends is the best way to do that.
At the same time, however, his article and the developments he cites are a reminder that the two remaining bi-national republics in the North Caucasus remain at risk and that the threat to them, despite Moscow’s propaganda in recent months, comes not just or even primarily from the Circassians but from the Turkic Karachays and Balkars.