7, November, 2011
Good morning, distinguish members of the European Parliament, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to express my deepest gratitude for the opportunity to present the challenges that the Circassian Nation is facing.
In formulating strategies towards the survival and rehabilitation of the Circassian culture, it is crucial to be cognizant of the changes occurring among the parties involved in the Circassian issue, in particular the Circassian Diaspora, Circassian organizations and the policy of the Russian Federation. The strategies and structures that may have seemed appropriate in the past may no longer be relevant or effective. Changes among and between the principle actors in regards to the Circassian issue now require a mandate and a total reassessment of strategies applied by Circassian NGO’s.
Among Circassians in general, we have witnessed the growing realization that our survival as a people is contingent upon significant numbers of Diaspora returning to their homeland. The growing sense of urgency among Circassians to make headway on this goal is due, in large part, to our witnessing the powerful impact of assimilation. It has become apparent that the forces of assimilation are simply too powerful to counter with informal language and history programs for a people who are scattered around the world, and who make up perhaps the largest Diaspora in the world in percentage terms. The final stages of assimilation no longer follow a smooth curve. They are marked by dramatic generational shifts, that the newest generation of Circassian Diaspora speak their native language at a rate now in the single digits has set off alarm bells for Circassians around the world.
Another important event was the relocation of the primary international Circassian umbrella organization, the International Circassian Association or ICA, to the Russian Federation. Intuitively, this would seem the appropriate thing to do; to locate the organization charged with preserving and rehabilitating the Circassian nation to Circassia. In this way the most credible and authentic cultural, linguistic, political and intellectual initiatives could be formed in the center and disseminated outwards to the Diaspora. Unfortunately, trends and events within the Russian Federation have emerged which render this current dynamic ineffective, if not harmful, to long-term Circassian interests.
Within the broader phenomenon of consolidation that has been occurring within Russia is the undeniable challenge to the traditional status of federalism in general and ethno-federalism in particular. Manifestations of this posture are evident in almost every aspect of Circassian life; from the rolling back of gains in repatriation reforms, the elimination of language instruction in schools, amalgamation programs that further sever ties between the Circassian republics and attempts to actually dissolve one of these republics, it is clear that the current direction of Russian policy is diametrically opposed to the rehabilitation of the Circassian nation. In such an environment, one would not have to be too cynical to expect that any initiatives that did emerge from the center would be focused on distracting or mitigating the existing inaccessibility to the homeland, rather than focusing on actually improving accessibility. This is, in fact, exactly what has been happening.
Having acknowledged the circumstances that render this current dynamic ineffective, we must now focus on changing the dynamic itself. The flow of initiatives must now emerge from the Diaspora and flow into the homeland. We must marshal the people and resources of the international Circassian community to first gain access to the homeland, and then to facilitate the rehabilitation of this homeland. Specifically, we must work almost exclusively on obtaining the unconditional right of return while also developing the institutions that will create a peaceful, economically vibrant and culturally fulfilling environment in the homeland. The ultimate goal being to cultivate a positive feedback loop, or virtuous cycle, whereby improved conditions encourage more repatriation and vice versa. Unfortunately, even the most sophisticated plans and incentive structures are worthless without the basic rights to actually implement them.
This leads to the root of the entire problem; why are we being denied these rights? I believe the essence of this problem is one of framing. That is, how the Russian leadership frames, or perceives, the Circassian issue. There is currently a zero sum game mentality among the Russian leadership in regards to Circassians, which is sabotaging any chance at meaningful dialogue and cooperation and is preventing a mutually beneficial solution. This perception, and the posture that stems from it, is potentially devastating for Circassians, actually increases the likelihood of greater instability, damages Russia’s prestige and will inevitably change the nature of what should be a cordial and cooperative relationship to an increasingly adversarial one with Circassians. I will give one example that I believe perfectly demonstrates this mentality and how it undermines the interests of both parties concerned.
Russia is currently facing the demographic catastrophe of a rapidly decreasing population. Another major challenge, and relevant to Circassians, is the net outflow of skilled labor from the North Caucasus, which is already in critical shortage of required human capital. With a pool of millions, Circassian Diaspora could not only begin to have a modest impact on the population problem, they could provide the diverse and specialized skills, capital and networks to completely transform the economic picture of the North Caucasus. Rather than seizing a golden opportunity to address two of its most challenging problems by facilitating the repatriation of Circassians, Russia has proposed addressing the North Caucasus labor problem with a program to transfer indigenous North Caucasians from their homeland to other regions of the Russian Federation, while moving Slavic Russians into the North Caucasus.
Not only is such a policy totally incongruous with the spirit and letter of international treatise and standards towards indigenous peoples, as well as relevant parts of the Russian Constitution, it is born from a perception that is false. Circassians’ gains are not Russia’s loss. Supporting indigenous peoples’ rights does not mean risking the stability or security of a country. The fact that almost every other country in the world has adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a testament to this reality. In fact, there is probably no better example than the Circassian issue where granting these rights is so clearly beneficial for the host country. Only with the EU’s assistance can Circassians impress upon the Russian leadership that there is a bright future and a win-win solution waiting in the wings should Russia stand behind the principles of its own constitution and fully embrace the standards of the international community.
While we must continue, and increase, our efforts to change perceptions and to align Circassian and Russian interests, the work of rebuilding our nation cannot wait any longer. The time has come, we Circassians have formed what will be the only truly legitimate and mandated International personality The Indigenous Circassian Nation In-exile which will carry out within the parameters of international law at a State and diplomatic levels all the critical work needed to save our nation in an independent and unfiltered manner that is required. For, make no mistake, Circassians are a nation, an ancient nation and a European nation. Our homeland has always been, and will always be, Circassia. Today, we are publicly and officially declaring and reclaiming our Nationhood. We are claiming the natural rights we were born with and which have been succinctly affirmed by our fellow community of nations through the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP. The UNDRIP did not create the rights that we are claiming today. It simply reaffirms the world’s commitment to uphold them. We claim these rights not a day too soon and in location that cannot be any more fitting than this chamber.
Cicek Dumen Chek