Staunton, October 17 – The Russian Olympic Committee supports the inclusion of Circassian themes in the cultural programs at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, a concession to those Circassians who felt Moscow had been planning to ignore them and a transparent effort by Russian officials to derail the efforts of other Circassians who hope to block the Sochi games.
Many Circassians, both the 600,000 in the Russian Federation and the five million living abroad, have been outraged by Moscow’s plans to stage an Olympic games on the site of where their ancestors in 1864 were expelled from the North Caucasus, an action that led to the deaths of several hundred thousand Circassians and that many feel was an act of genocide.
Ever since the International Olympic Committee awarded Moscow the right to hold the Olympics in Sochi, Circassians have been working against that idea, with some demanding that the games be moved from the site of a genocide or cancelled altogether and others insisting only that Moscow acknowledge in some public way the Circassian tragedy.
In March 2010, the State Council of the Adygey Republic adopted an appeal to the Russian Olympic Committee and the president of the Sochi 2014 committee expressing concern about "the possible ignoring in the information and cultural program of the Olympiad of the history and culture of the Circassian people” (www.regnum.ru/news/1336449.html).
The appeal noted that organizers of the Olympics in Sidney in 2000, in Salt Lake City in 2002 and in Vancouver in 2010 had gone out of their way not only to include references to the role of indigenous peoples in the area where the games took place but also to involve representatives of those indigenous populations in Olympic ceremonials.
Yesterday, the press service of the State Council of the Adygey Republic announced that it had received word from the Russian Olympic Committee saying that the ROC "supports the initiative of reflecting the cultural and historical heritage of the Circassians in the context of supporting the cultural program of the XXII Winter Games and the XI Para-Olympiad.”
Moreover, the press service reported, the ROC has sent a telegram to the speaker of the Adygey Parliament "expressing confidence that the leadership of the organizing committee of Sochi 2014 will devote the necessary attention to this subject.” And the press service quoted from a letter to the republic signed by Dmitry Chernyshenko, the president of that committee.
Chernyshenko was quoted as saying that "in the framework of the Cultural Olympiad … a special place will be occupied by the Caucasus Games, a festival of national forms of sport and popular creativity, the goal of which is the strengthening of the inter-cultural and inter-ethnic ties among representatives of the regions of Russia and the states of the Black Sea region.”
Unlike the organizers of the games in Australia, the United States, and Canada, the ROC has not up to now shown much willingness to involve the indigenous population in any way or acknowledge its presence, a sharp contrast to the case of Vancouver where organizers included references to the indigenous peoples in the symbols of the games themselves.
This latest action by the ROC suggests that Moscow is increasingly concerned about the ongoing Circassian campaign against Sochi, especially because that effort is gaining support not only among Circassian communities in Turkey, Jordan, Europe and the United States but also because it is attracting the attention of European politicians and environmental activists.
And Moscow may hope that this concession to the Circassians, one that Russian officials undoubtedly view as a major one, will cause some Circassians and their allies to reconsider their opposition to the Sochi Games, an event that Vladimir Putin has indicated is something he wants to be remembered for.
It is likely that some Circassians will indeed decide to back away from the efforts of others to block the games, but it is also likely that others will conclude that if Moscow is prepared to make this concession on the basis of what they have done so far, the Russian powers that be might make even more if the Circassians push even harder in the coming months.