Staunton, July 25 – Angered by the success Circassians had at the time of the Sochi Olympics in focusing international attention on the Russian genocide of their ancestors in 1864 and by the insistence of Circassians that their co-ethnics in war-torn Syria should be allowed to return to the North Caucasus, Moscow has adopted a two-pronged strategy.
On the one hand, Russian news outlets have sharply criticized those Circassians who oppose Moscow’s line, criticism that many cases has proved counter-productive from Moscow’s point of view because its responses to the Circassians has had the effect of attracting even more attention to their cause.
And on the other hand, Moscow officials have worked quietly to undermine Circassians in another and more serious way: splitting some Circassian organizations by the dispatch of its own agents and forming Russian-controlled Circassian groups who can be counted on to follow the Kremlin’s line and thus transform Circassians from a problem to an asset.
Tracking these activities has always been difficult. But the results of this policy are increasingly clearly in evidence, with at least some Circassian organizations now more or less completely reliable from Moscow’s point of view and thus in a position to deny other Circassian organizations of their ability to present their views as those of the nation as a whole.
An example of this is provided by the statement of Khauty Sokhrokov, the president of the International Circassian Association, in which he says openly “’the Circassian question’ can now become a resource for the advancement of the positions of Russia in the world and not a problem for the country”.
Circassians, Sokhrokov says, currently live in “more than 50 countries” around the world in each of which they play an important role. “Today,” he continues, “we must learn to exert influence on the international space with the help of our cultural, historical and political values,” to promote “a pro-Russian position” because Circassians are “a Russian people.”
The International Circassian Association has been in operation since 1991, with branches in the Circassian republics of the North Caucasus, Moscow, Krasnodar kray, Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Israel, Europe and in the American states of California and New Jersey. It thus has the opportunity to help Moscow during crises like Ukraine and over the longer term.
Its “priority tasks,” the ICA leader says, “are the preservation and development of the cultural and spiritual heritage of the Circassian people, the promotion of inter-ethnic peace and concord, the involvement of representatives of the foreign Circassian diaspora in the process of forming in their countries a stable pro-Russian trend and the use of their cultural, intellectual, and economic potential in Russia and abroad in the interests of the Russian Federation.”
The ICA is also interested in promoting the resettlement of Circassians from Syria, he continues, singling out for high praise “the efforts of the Russian Federation for the peaceful resolution of the situation” there and its willingness to allow 1,000 of the Syrian Circassians to return to their historical homeland.
According to Sokhrokov, some Circassians consider what happened in 1864 to be a genocide, but “contemporary Circassian society recognizes that the Caucasus war was the result of the policy of tsarist Russia and do not shift the blame for the tragedy of the Adygs [Circassians] onto contemporary Russia.”
What is needed is an objective discussion of the past, and that, he suggests, is happening in Russia. As a result, “today the Adygs are finding a common language both with the Russians and with other peoples among whom they live.” And he concludes with words that are likely to be music to the ears of the current Russian government.
“A sober view on the fate of the Adyg people,” Sokhrokov says, “confirms the value of the single correct path chosen by our ancestors almost half a millennium ago – the furthermost building and development together with Russia.”