Window on Eurasia
Vienna, January 8 – A new website is calling on Adygeys, Adygs,
Cherkess, Kabards, and Shapsugs, the five peoples into which the Soviet
government divided the Circassian nation, to declare themselves
Circassians in the upcoming October 2010 Russian Federation census,
another step toward the restoration of a common Circassian Republic in
the North Caucasus.
The site, www.perepis2010.org,
was launched today by activities from a group of other Circassian sites
as part of the campaign by Circassian Youth for “One People – One
Name.” Its organizers say their effort is protected by the provisions
of Article 26 of the Russian Constitution which specifies that everyone
has the right to declare his or her national identity.
Judging by comments already posted on various news sites,
Circassians are pleased by this step. On the one hand, they say, “the
numbers of Circassians … has always been lowered by 10-15 percent by
officials.” And on the other, they see it as a step forward in the
Circassian rebirth (www.elot.ru/main/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1599&Itemid=1).
Indeed, one post, by someone identified
as “Zapadny cherkes” [“Western Circassian’], said that the impact of
this site should be multiplied by putting notices about it “on the back
windows of our cars, on streets, buses and taxis” because “now almost
all young men and women have computers and Internet connections.”
But some members of the various
Circassian communities into which the Soviets divided this
long-suffering nation as part of Moscow’s “divide and rule” policies
are concerned that it could backfire, if some members of the five
peoples declare themselves Circassians while others do not.
That could lead officials in some of
these republics to reduce the support they give to some of these
communities, arguing on the basis of the census returns that there are
now two peoples – the Circassians and Kabards – rather than one and
thus reducing assistance to and the representation of these groups.
But many officials, both those in the
republics of the North Caucasus where there are significant Circassian
populations – particularly Kabardino-Balkaria and
Karachayevo-Cherkessia, where there are two titular nationalities --
and those in Moscow concerned about stability in that region, are
certain to be angry about this effort.
The former are likely to view this
effort as a threat to their control because any shift in ethnic
declarations in the North Caucasus could provoke more challenges to the
powers that be, cost them assistance from the central Russian
government, or threaten their jobs if republic borders were redrawn on
the basis of the historical Circassian identity.
And the latter are likely to be even
more upset for three reasons. First, this upsurge in Circassian
identity will promote expanded ties between the half-million-plus
Circassians in the North Caucasus and the six million Circassians
abroad, thus limiting Moscow’s freedom of action.
Second, such strengthening of
Circassian identity will represent yet another obstacle to Vladimir
Putin’s push for the Sochi Olympics, where his plans call for building
venues over cemeteries where many Circassians lie and displacing the
Shapsugs, one of the smaller Circassian peoples who will as a result of
this effort gain new allies.
And third, any success by the
Circassians in overcoming Soviet-imposed identities will call into
question other Soviet efforts at ethnic engineering, possibly
triggering the division or recombination of other communities in ways
that will threaten stability by leading to demands for changes in the
territorial arrangements not only in the North Caucasus but elsewhere
But in addition to these political
consequences of what the Circassians are trying to do, this latest
Internet effort highlights something else that many analysts often
forget: ethnic identities of all groups are not a given but rather as
Ernst Renan classically observed, “a daily referendum” in which various
groups fight over who is a member and who is not.
Source: Window on Eurasia