The killing on March 14 in Cherkessk of young Circassian activist Aslan
Zhukov has highlighted once again latent tensions between the Karachai
majority and the Cherkess minority in the Russian republic of
crucially, the reaction of the youth wing (of which Zhukov was a
member) of the Circassian public organization Adyghe Khase underscores
the fact that at least some Circassians see Moscow as a potential ally
against perceived discrimination on the part of the Karachais.
Turkophone Karachais are the republic's largest ethnic group,
accounting for some 38 percent of the total 427,000 population,
followed by the Russians (33.6 percent) and the Circassians (11.3
Zhukov, 36, was shot dead
by a single gunman on March 14 at the car wash in Cherkessk that he
owned. He was buried the following morning in his native village of
Between 100-200 of Zhukov's friends and fellow activists then made their way to Cherkessk's central square with the aim of venting their anger
, first at his murder, and second, that media reports made no mention
of Zhukov's political engagement, but attributed his murder to his business activities.
prevented the young Circassians from approaching the government
building and informed them that Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic (KChR)
President Boris Ebzeyev, whom they wanted to talk to, was not
available. Ebzeyev, a Karachai, went in person earlier on March 15 to express his condolences
to Zhukov's family.
Adyghe Khase Chairman Mukhammed Cherkesov came to the square to reason
with the young Circassians, they demanded that he immediately convene
an emergency congress of the Circassian people "before they shoot us
all, one by one."
The protesters then adjourned to Adyghe
Khase's offices, where according to Cherkesov they agreed to file a
formal request with the municipal authorities to hold a protest
meeting, but decided to postpone
until May convening a full scale congress.
Cherkesov said that congress will again raise the demand, formulated at a meeting
convened by the youth wing of Adyghe Khase in the village of Khabez on
November 26, to split the KChR in order to create a separate Circassian
autonomous oblast within the Russian Federation. Cherkesov said the
president of that republic should be an ethnic Russian, and that
government posts should be regularly rotated among the various ethnic
That demand for a separate Circassian republic is less
radical than the maximalist proposal put forward at a gathering in
Cherkessk in November 2008 of Circassian organizations from across the
North Caucasus. On that occasion, 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 all the territory 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 website elot.ru
has just launched an online poll to establish what
territorial-administrative status Circassians consider most
advantageous. To date, 77 percent (52) of the 67 respondents advocate a
separate Circassian republic within the Russian Federation; 14 percent
(10) favor the status quo; and 7 percent (five respondents) would
settle for a Circassian autonomous oblast within Krasnodar Krai.
A statement posted on the website adyga.org
in connection with Zhukov's murder sheds some light on the priorities
and motives of the Circassian minority in the KChR -- factors that do
not necessarily also apply to the Kabardian majority in the neighboring
That statement implies that many
Circassians' most pressing grievances are economic rather than
political. It claims that Circassians in Karachayevo-Cherkessia on
average struggle to survive on $2 per day; that Karachai businessmen
employ mostly fellow Karachais; and that the two prominent Circassian
financial clans are primarily occupied with battling each other, and do
not shrink from using Circassian groups they subsidize as instruments
in that fight.
Assessing the accuracy of those claims from a
distance is more than problematic; but they show at least the danger of
generalizing about the Circassians as a nation without factoring in the
differing political, social and economic conditions in the various
North Caucasus republics where they live.