Circassian Youth Groups Under Pressure In Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia
The people collectively known in the West as Circassians in fact
constitute four major (Kabardians, Cherkess, Adygs, and Shapsugs) and
several minor ethnic groups (including the Abazins).
speak related, but not mutually comprehensible languages. Their
historic homeland comprises parts of the North Caucasus republics of
Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and Adygeya, and Krasnodar
The size and distribution of the various ethnic groups
across that region is uneven, however: while the Kabardians account for
over 55 percent of their republic's 900,000 population, and the Adygs
account for some 25 percent of the total 447,000 population of the
Republic of Adygeya, the Cherkess in Karachayevo-Cherkessia constitute
only a small minority (approximately 11 percent of a total population
of some 427,500).
recent weeks, unofficial youth groups that claim to defend Circassian
national interests have incurred the wrath of the republican
authorities in both Kabardino-Balkaria (KBR), and in neighboring
Karachayevo-Cherkessia (KChR). A confrontation may be imminent in
Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, where the municipal
authorities have asked Circassians to postpone a rally scheduled for
December 5. The rally organizers have rejected that demand.
Q: What are the young Circassians' specific grievances?
Some Circassians still harbor a collective grievance against Russia
that stems, first, from the brutal 19th-century Tsarist conquest of the
region during which hundreds of thousands of Circassians were killed or
driven into exile in Turkey and other Near Eastern countries, where
they still have sizeable diasporas; and second, from the present-day
Russian leadership's refusal to offer even a token apology for the
appalling suffering inflicted.
The Adygeya chapter of the NGO Cherkess Congress has appealed unsuccessfully,
first to the Russian State Duma and then to then-Russian President
Vladimir Putin, to designate those mass killings as genocide.
a meeting of Circassian NGOs one year ago in Cherkessk, the KChR
capital, individual political figures advocated abolishing or redrawing
administrative borders between the various North Caucasus republics in
order to create a pan-Circassian republic that would encompass the
lands to which the Circassians lay claim.
But while many
Circassians may privately approve that idea, the meeting did not
formally endorse it, and few have expressed public support for it. The
leaders of Kabardino-Balkaria and Adygeya in particular would stand to
lose far more in terms of political influence than they would gain.
current protests in both republics center primarily on domestic
political issues. In Kabardino-Balkaria, the Kabardians are campaigning
for the annulment of a draft law passed in the first reading on October
30 that would meet the long-standing demand
of the Balkar minority to return to Balkar-populated villages thousands
of hectares of pasture land on the lower slopes of the Caucasus
mountains. They have warned that if this does not happen, they will
demand the resignation of KBR President Arsen Kanokov (a Kabardian) and
the dissolution of the parliament and government.
Karachayevo-Cherkessia, the Cherkess minority is aggrieved by the
republican parliament's vote on November 17 formally approving
parliament speaker Zurab Dokshokov as one of the republic's
representatives on the Federation Council. Dokshokov is a Cherkess, but
the Cherkess minority had campaigned instead for another co-ethnic,
Vyacheslav Derev, the brother of deceased former Cherkessk Mayor
Stanislav Derev, to be named to that post. KChR President Boris Ebzeyev
repeatedly proposed Derev's candidacy to lawmakers, who just as consistently rejected it, most recently on October 14.
the eve of the parliament vote, the youth wing of the KChR chapter of
the Circassian public organization Adyghe Khase (Circassian Council)
addressed an appeal to Russian presidential administration head Sergei
Naryshkin and presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District
Vladimir Ustinov warning that the "provocative" and "insulting" actions
of the republic's predominantly Karachai leadership risk exacerbating
latent interethnic tensions.
The statement further warned
that the organization planned to convene a meeting on November 26 in
Cherkessk of Circassians from across Russia at which the issue of
"self-determination," meaning dividing the Karachayevo-Cherkessia
Republic in order to create a separate Circassian Autonomous Oblast
within the Russian Federation, would be discussed. Such a republic
existed from 1943 to 1957, when it was incorporated into the restored
The KChR authorities formally banned the November 26 mass meeting, citing the danger of swine flu, but Adyghe Khase Chairman Mukhamed Cherkesov affirmed that it would take place anyway. Some 1,500 people attended the protest, which lasted for 3 1/2 hours.
Q: Who are the key players in the protest movements?
Over the past year, it is the youth wings of the various republican
chapters of Adyghe Khase that have spearheaded the campaign to protect
Circassian national interests. Meeting three months ago in Cherkessk,
they adopted an eight-point program intended to serve as the jumping-off point
for a radical form of the Circassian national movement. That program
includes the establishment of a permanent body to be called the
Circassian Youth Coordinating Council.
The youth organization of
the KBR chapter of Adyghe Khase is headed by a young schoolteacher,
Ruslan Keshev; his opposite number in Karachayevo-Cherkessia is Timur
Q: How about the smaller Circassian groups? Are they too involved in the protests?
The Abazin minority in Karachayevo-Cherkessia, which numbers no more
than 15,000 people, opted not to take part en masse in the November 26
Cherkessk protest. Mussa Takushinov, the chairman of the organization
that represents the Abazins' interests, explained that they "do not want to take sides" with one group against another.
circumspect approach is in sharp contrast to the Abazins' unequivocal
backing for Stanislav Derev during the hotly contested presidential
election of 1999, in which Derev was defeated in the runoff by Vladimir
Q: How have the authorities in the two republics reacted to the recent protest meetings?
A: For years, the predominantly Kabardian leadership of Kabardino-Balkaria has ignored the Balkars' complaints
of discrimination. In early August, local NGOs convened a meeting in
Nalchik under the slogan "For peace, for concord, for unity," at which
speakers demonized the Balkar minority for allegedly seeking to destabilize the political situation.
the same time, participants praised KBR President Kanokov's success in
galvanizing the republic's stagnating economy, and called on the
republic's population to close ranks in his support.
was only after the Balkars threatened to march to Moscow and demand a
meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev that the republican leadership
took the first step towards defusing tensions, in the form of the draft
law that would meet the Balkars' demands for unrestricted access to
grazing grounds for their sheep. But the Circassian NGOs convened a
protest meeting in Nalchik on November 17 at which speakers condemned
the draft law as a betrayal of national interests.
28, a rival Circassian youth forum took place in Nalchik at which
speakers accused Keshev and other prominent members of Circassian
groups of "nationalism," of "selling out to the opposition," and of
advocating splitting the republic on ethnic lines. They also branded those Circassians who protested the draft law "idiots" and "CIA agents."
Two days later, Keshev was assaulted and brutally beaten in his organization's Nalchik office; he suffered a broken nose and multiple fractures of one arm.
Karachayevo-Cherkessia, the republican parliament has formally asked
the prosecutor's office to bring criminal charges against the youth
wing of Adyghe Khase in connection with the organization's appeal to
Naryshkin and Ustinov. The parliament deputies argue that the statement contains a public appeal for the changing the constitutional order by force and incites interethnic hatred.
denied that the statement violates the Criminal Code: he told the news
agency Regnum that his organization consulted with legal experts while
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