Murat Berzegov, founder and chairman of a nonprofit organization, "The Circassian Congress" was granted political asylum in the United States. He felt that his life was in Russia and his family in danger. Berzegov always opposed the unification of the Krasnodar region and Adygea Republic, believing that it only hurt Adygein ethnicity. Circassian issue is rooted in century-old Caucasian war, which resulted in a large part of living in tsarist Russia, the Circassians were forced to leave their homeland and settle in more than 40 countries worldwide. Now part of the Circassians, Russia and representatives of the Circassian Diaspora of various countries need to recognize the genocide of their people in the second half of the 19th century and allow the Circassians return. The Extraordinary Congress of the Circassian people 23 November 2008 a proposal was made "to ask the federal center to combine the Circassians of the Caucasus into a single republic within Russia." As stated in an interview with the "Caucasus Knote" Murat Berzegov, Russia itself is not yet ready. Moreover, such an initiative is perceived negatively by the authorities.
Fatima Tlisova (FT): What you said at a conference in Washington in the Jamestown Foundation on June 18?
Murat Berzegov (MB): I talked about the problems facing the Circassian people and how their political decisions. In particular, that the Circassians in the current state within the definition of the divided nation. Within the Russian Federation, we are divided into five subjects of the federation and artificially marked by different ethnonyms, outside of Russia Circassians are scattered in more than fifty countries. The situation is a violation of the Circassian people rights in the Russian Constitution, and contrary to international law. Circassian problem must be solved by political means within the legal framework of Russia and the UN. I also said that we, the Circassians, not demand for themselves the exclusive rights or privileges, we do not want the rights of other nations at our expense, we seek to enforce the rights of the people on a single historical territory on the repatriation - returning to his homeland of descendants forcibly deported on a single ethnic name to reflect membership in one nation, and by achieving these milestones, we want to restore Cherkessia. None of our demands is radical nor contradict the Russian Constitution.
FT: In his speech at the same conference analyst Paul Goble suggested that the Kremlin's reaction to the Circassian political activism is an attempt to tie the Circassians - not only individuals, but the whole nation – to terrorism, to form an image of the nation of evil thus discrediting Circassian movement. What are your arguments against such a scenario?
MB: Unfortunately, all our actions and statements for Moscow is clearly a negative reaction, even if we're just talking about what we have the right under the Constitution of Russia - of unity. The rest of the peoples living in Russia, the unity is a natural right, seen as a given. When talking about the unity of the Circassians, the conversation is translated into the Great Cherkessia, threatening the integrity of Russia. Our business and our requirements are presented as something illegal, even though we do not demand more rights than other peoples. We demand equality in the Kremlin; it is interpreted as a criminal desire for exclusivity - because we are talking about the unity of the people and territory. No matter how distorted the problem, it exists and young people are increasingly required to resolve it. Attempts to link the issue and Circassian people to terrorism, is initially unfounded. We work in the legal field, our goals are clear: the creation of the subject, based on the historic right of the ethnic group. Political Islam, represented by those opposed to the Kremlin in the North Caucasus, is completely opposite to our goal: the construction of the Caliphate, based only on religious unity and completely eliminates the national component. I do not think that in the interests of Russia to unite Circassian social movements with the structures that deal with terror.
FT: You are one of the few people who knew and communicate with Mansour Nathoevym (Anton Surikov) - a living legend, whose very existence remains a subject of speculation because of inside information about him. What was your communication and collaboration with Nathoevym?
MB: Anton is very clearly determined to belong to the Circassian people and was in fact a Circassians. Nathoev – is his birth name. His ancestors had been deported to Turkey immediately after the revolution; his grandfather was able to return. He settled in Russia and changed the name to avoid re-deportation. It was common practice by the Russian authorities - tens of thousands of Circassians tried to return, but the country was closed to them. The few who managed to return, had to live in the deepest secrecy, yet the majority of immigrants exposed and exiled to Siberia, or re-deported to Turkey.
Anton's father was born already in Russia and became a military engineer. Anton deeply experienced the tragedy of the Circassian people, the tragic fate of his own family - the deportation and return in secret, birth in his soul a constant concern for the future of the Circassian people. We talked a lot with him about how the Circassians survived, to survive in a rapidly changing world. What forces attract and mobilize for the promotion Circassian subjects. Which path bloodless solutions exist for us, as we avoid the Chechen scenario. We discussed who could be involved in solving the problems facing our nation, and Anton is always in pain saying that in Russia today, no one with whom to dialogue, that the delay in the closet for a political solution for the Circassian question is fraught with the radicalization of youth. He was a sincere Circassian soul that cares for the fate of his people.
FT: In the beginning of 2010 you received political asylum in the United States. What was the cause of your emigration? Who are you pursuing and what these proceedings were expressed?
MB: In 2006, the Circassian Congress organized Vsecherkessky Congress in Maikop. Since the publicity of our role in organizing this Congress before my departure from Russia I and my family were subjected to constant threats of physical violence, harassment and attacks. Three times I was threatened with a weapon in the hands of unknown people to me, demanding that I cease defame the honor of Russia. During the last such ambush the men put a gun to my temple, said to me that they are veterans of the intelligence services, and their task - to protect Russia from the likes of me. It was a countless number of phone calls to my family with threats. A small grocery store, which served as a source of income for the family, was subjected to constant checks of all services without exception. I still have a copy of the anonymous complaint to poison products purchased in my store, the address that is specified in the complaint, not physically exist in Maikop. That is, it was a lime complaint, nevertheless had to close the shop. The end point was the burning of my house, when it miraculously burned. Law enforcement agencies did nothing to protect me and my family, so I had to leave. Who is pursued me - I cannot say, those who introduced himself, said they were veterans of the Russian security service.
FT: What is it about your work gave rise to persecution by the secret services of Russia?
MB: The main reason, of course, my political activity.Especially our claim to recognize the genocide of the Circassian people. For all the time since the first treatment in the State Duma of Russia, we never received a reasoned response from the authorities, because all our demands are justified. In the absence of political arguments, the government remains the gag that's so violent means.
FT: How do you plan your future in Circassian movement, and what the next steps that the Circassians to be done?
MB: Circassian world has come to an understanding of the need to create a single organization, which at the international level would be able to present issues and to lobby for the interests of the Circassians in the world, acting lawfully, in accordance with international law. The efforts of this organization should be directed to priorities: repatriation, restoration of territorial integrity, the recognition of genocide.
FT: The forums are heated arguments that the recognition of genocide by a third country would lead to increased repression against the Circassians in Russia and slam shut the doors for repatriation; the other side believes that the recognition of genocide would be a great boon to the Circassians. In your opinion, what will the people of Circassian official recognition of genocide?
MB: Why all the people who survived such a tragedy, raise this question? Because of what happened after the discussion we come to understand the causes and most importantly - prevent the recurrence of the kind. Repetition - the main result of the recognition of genocide. If until recently the genocide of Circassians mentioned only in a narrow range of Circassians, now is the topic of international conferences and scientific symposia. The recognition of genocide will Circassians to solve practical problems and challenges: restoring the unity of the people and territory. In Russia, unfortunately, our needs are interpreted as an attempt to humiliate the Russian state, that is not our goal, we want to restore our legitimate rights and justice for our people.
FT: Is it possible radicalization Cherkessia Russia, and what policies should apply in relation to the Circassians, to prevent a radical development of the situation?
MB: Russia should abandon double standards in national politics. Even people far removed from politics, are beginning to doubt the adequacy of the policy, after the Kremlin recognizes a small part of the Ossetian people as an independent state, leaving a large part of the same people as part of Russia without the right to choose the future. Just as, depriving us, Circassians, even the right to live in the same subject as part of Russia, not to mention independence. Unequal treatment in national politics is too obvious, and it exacerbates the sense of injustice among those peoples whose rights are infringed, especially in the most politically active part of the people - young people. Moscow was unable to devise a mechanism to remove social tensions, there are no organizations that could serve as a bridge between society and government, in power there is no will to dialogue with the people. Authority chooses to ignore, gloss over the Circassian problem, distort its essence and drive it deeper. This tactic eliminates the possibility of legal challenges, and then there is a platform for the irreversible escalation, then the youth begins to go into the woods and, if Moscow does not take political steps in the direction of the Circassians, the repetition of the chaos in Ingushetia and Dagestan, unfortunately realistic scenario for Circassia.
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