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Russia: Problems of Repatriation of Cherkess to Russia Eyed

posted by eagle on July, 2012 as CIRCASSIA ADIGA


Russia: Problems of Repatriation of Cherkess to Russia Eyed

Interview with Asker Sokht, leader of the public organization Adyge-Khase in Krasnodar Kray, conducted by Olga Allenova; date and place not given, under the rubric "Picture of the Day: Politics": "No One Is Interested in the Fate of These People" 

Kommersant Online 
Monday, July 16, 2012 T01:52:58Z 

Asker Sokht, the leader of the public organization Adyge-Khasye in Krasnodar Kray, who was in Syria as part of the delegation from the RF (Russian Federation) Federation Council, told the Kommersant correspondent Olga Allenova who is to blame for that fact that the repatriation of Syrian Cherkess (Circassians) to Russia is still incomplete.

(Allenova) Was there the genocide of the Cherkess, what do you think?

(Sokht) I believe that today everybody and his brother is making use of the tragic pages of our people's history. It is for now an unresolved problem, but there are many unresolved problems in Russia. Since 1992 our country has been reappraising a great deal: the destruction of the kulaks (rich peasants), Katyn, and so on. There is the conceptual statement by Boris Yeltsin from 1996 -- that is relevant today too. At that time he said in May, on the anniversary of the Caucasus War, that Russia recognizes those mistakes that were made during that period.

Besides that the position of the local authorities was formulated by the parliaments of Adygeya and Kabardino-Balkaria (KBR (Republic of Kabardino-Balkar Republic)), and they evaluated the events of the 19th century as genocide. Yes, Adygeya's parliament considered Yeltsin's statement insufficient, but if the development of the relations of the Russian Federation and the Cherkess diaspora groups is underway in the world, the evaluations of the historical past are disappearing into the field of science. But when problems are not resolved, they become a factor of historical manipulations.

(Allenova) Do you mean Georgia, where the genocide of the Cherkess has been acknowledged?

(Sokht) Look at this fact. In 2008, when the war occurred in South Ossetia, actions in support of Russia occurred in several countries in the world where Cherkess diaspora groups were widely represented. The demonstration in Jordan was especially large. The Russian Federation president later even sent thanks to the diaspora group in Jordan later for supporting the Russian Federation. There was the same thing in Turkey. And you know, it was Turkey that prevented American ships from entering the Black Sea. And in part that decision was related to the sentiments in the large Cherkess diaspora group. At that moment in the United States they realized that Russia might establish serious relations with the Cherkess diaspora groups in many countries and through these diaspora groups strengthen interstate relations. And they began to oppose this rapprochement. It was specifically in 2008 that they began to develop the Cherkess topic in an aggressive context. The moderator was the United States, the purveyor of the idea -- the government of Georgia, for American money and under the patronage of American foundations. And all this was also timed to coincide with the Olympics in Sochi. By acknowledging the genocide in Georgia, they seemed to draw a red line that Russia should not cross. But that is their position, and we have our own.

(Allenova) But according to your fellow countrymen, there are problems -- for example, the problem of studying the language. Or repatriation.

(Sokht) In order. In that same 2008 Vladimir Putin instructed the regional authorities of Southern Russia to develop regional cooperation programs with fellow countrymen abroad. Lavrov met with Russia's ambassador to Jordan, and soon after that the first international conference on the Cherkess language was held there -- under the aegis of the Russian Federation MID (Ministry of Foreign Affairs). But the matter went no further because no programs had been developed in the regions.

We have lost several years. Really since 2008 itself we could have built up cooperation with the diaspora groups, but instead of that we did not do anything and gave all this space to opponents of the Russian Federation. And these opponents used our inaction very well.

And with repatriation everything runs up against the regions now too. In our country federal law has fixed the right to voluntary resettlement. But there is simply nowhere to take people because the KBR, Karachayevo-Cherkesia, and Adygeya do not participate in the resettlement program. They did not formulate programs and they do not want problems. A strange picture, true? The state declares the right but it is not exercised in local areas.

(Allenova) You were in Syria as a member of the Federation Council delegation. What were the recommendations of the delegation that later spoke in the Senate at the Cherkess hearings?

(Sokht) The recommendations of the Federation Council delegates were the following: the heads of the regions were supposed to initiate, formulate, and submit state programs of resettlement of fellow countrymen from abroad to the Russian Federation government. They are the heads of Kabardino-Balkaria, the republic of Adygeya, and Karachayevo-Cherkesia. In accordance with the edict of the president of Russia, the initiative to develop state programs is supposed to come from the heads of the regions. The heads of the regions did not make these decisions. Second. Centers for temporary accommodation of arriving fellow countrymen were supposed to be opened. These centers were not opened. People coming from Syria to Russia are supported by public organizations and simply by Russian Federation citizens.

(Allenova) But there is such a center in Maykop. It is left from the times of the repatriation from Kosovo.

(Sokht) All the same the conditions for receiving people are not there and the health standards and size of the center are not appropriate. The third problem. The evacuation of people who cannot come to the Russian Federation on their own because of the absence of documents, financial resources, and other humanitarian problems. They are appealing to the Russian Federation Embassy requesting their evacuation, but earlier they had appealed to the Federation Council delegation and requested their evacuation to Russia, but this decision has not been made either.

(Allenova) And on what level has it not been made?

(Sokht) It is only the competence of the president; it is the interstate level.

(Allenova) So then it turns out that it is not just at the local level that something is not being done there?

(Sokht) No, I believe that the key to resolving the problem is the regional authority. I will explain why. The point is that in response to the appeal of the parliament of the Republic of Adygeya in accordance with the instruction of the Russian Federation president and the Security Council, the Federation Council formed a delegation. It was sent to Syria and the delegation did a study and drew conclusions. But if the temporary accommodation center is not open, where should the people be evacuated to? If there is no state program and the regions do not want to develop it, how should the procedure for adapting the repatriates and their socialization in society occur? When on the regional level, the authority does not wish to work on it, how should the problem be resolved? Of course, here there is an element of some pressure, I think, on the regional authorities by some power structures. But even so...

(Allenova) Do you mean the security structures?

(Sokht) Yes. But even so the Federation Council delegation was formed by the federal organs of power, and its conclusions are legitimate and generally accepted, and they have been submitted to the Federal Assembly and they have been approved. They have also been approved at a session of the International Affairs Committee of the Federation Council. They were declared to be objective by the Russian Federation Embassy as well. In that way the Federal Center gave precise guidelines for action. But the fact that nothing is being done makes the problem worse, creates political nervousness, and politicizes a humanitarian problem.

(Allenova) So you think that this is not a political problem but spe cifically a humanitarian one?

(Sokht) Undoubtedly. The point is that the state has already formulated and assumed the obligations to protect fellow countrymen. It is part of our country's official state policy. The Syrian situation is not unique and there are precedents, and action is needed here.

(Allenova) So are the Syrian Cherkess considered fellow countrymen?

(Sokht) All the peoples of Russia are considered fellow countrymen no matter where they live.

(Allenova) Is this then recent amendments to the law?

(Sokht) Yes. But before these amendments the Cherkess were de facto considered fellow countrymen. Medvedev transferred them to the de jure category.

(Allenova) So why then do many representatives of Cherkess organizations in Russia say that in actual fact this law on fellow countrymen does not operate in relation to the Cherkess in particular?

(Sokht) The law does not work in relation to everyone, to be honest. During the crisis in Kyrgyzstan, no one evacuated Russians either, if you remember. They were also left face to face with the trouble with these marauders who raped and robbed Russians. And no one evacuated them from Kyrgyzstan. I mean the coup d'etat when Bakiyev was overthrown. Russian television showed our fellow countrymen being subjected to violence, robbery, and marauding, and all the same no one evacuated them. In our country the problem is that there are a lot of laws but they are not carried out. And this is not associated only with the Cherkess, it is associated with everyone. Are Russians really being evacuated from Syria? Or are they not being hurt in Homs? Or do the bombs find only the Cherkess?

(Allenova) Are there a lot of Russians there?

(Sokht) There are just as many Russians as there are Cherkess. Officially there are 30,000 Russian Federation citizens on the consular records. The Russian Federation deputy minister of foreign affairs gave the number 40,000.

(Allenova) But there are around 100,000 Cherkess in Syria.

(Sokht) The senators' report says 30,000 Russian Federation citizens without counting family members. That is an exact figure. They vote in presidential and State Duma elections... In other words, these 30,000 citizens, or rather female citizens of the Russian Federation, counting children that have the unconditional right to Russian Federation citizenship and husbands, that would in fact be about 100,000. Families there have a lot of children. They are absolutely two equal diaspora groups -- 100,000 Russians and 100,000 Cherkess. And no one is taking care of them either, I would like to note.

And the status of Russians in Syria is worse than that of the Cherkess, I would like to focus attention on that. The point is that the Russians who live in Syria are women who for the most part got married in the Soviet years. They lost social ties with the Russian Federation long ago, and many of them no longer have relatives or homes and in the larger picture have nowhere to go back to.

(Allenova) And isn't there some diaspora group among the countries of the world that would support them?

(Sokht) Not just the world. So what region of the Russian Federation today would care about the status of Russians in Syria and would express the desire to accept them? After all, other than Kabardino-Balkaria, Adygeya, and Karachayevo-Cherkesia, no one in Russia is raising this problem at all. Including these patriotic organizations that tore up their "telyashki" (sailor's undershirts) on Manezh (Square). No one is interested in the fate of these people. Russians came to the meeting of the Federation Council delegation , and they simply said: "But who needs us in Russia?" After all, what is an evacuation today? They are put on an airplane and brought to the Sheremetyevo Airport, and if they have Russian Federation passports, go ahead, please, this is Russia. But where should the y go? Where should they live? They are with children, with old people, and with husbands. It is an extremely complicated social problem. These people cannot abandon everything, even in the conditions of this tragedy. So are they supposed to live at the Sheremetyevo Airport, is that it? In other words, a region, a subject of the Federation, where fellow countrymen are brought regardless of nationality -- Russians, Adyge, and Ossetians -- must be clearly and precisely established -- and temporary accommodation centers must be established. This must be handled on the state level rather than by public organizations, as is being done now. Yes, and besides that. The fact that these Russian people have Russian Federation citizenship does not in reality resolve much. Because their children and husbands do not actually have citizenship. And for the entire family to leave for Russia is an extremely difficult procedure for these families. One should also point out that making citizenship official and confirming citizenship for children is an extremely expensive procedure -- it amounts to roughly three months wages. And in present conditions when Syria's economy is completely paralyzed, people do not have the resources to get official passports for children. Many do not have the resources even to buy a ticket. I, for example, paid 34,000 rubles (R) for a Moscow-Damascus-Moscow ticket.

(Allenova) So then all this is no longer altogether a Cherkess problem?

(Sokht) It is in reality a problem of our state's ability to fulfill the obligations to its own citizens and to fellow countrymen that it has assumed. Homs has been shelled by government troops for six months now, and there is a large diaspora group of both Cherkess and Russians there. Is anyone interested in them? Russian organizations of Damascus say that they have no link with Homs. After all, these are regions of terrorist activity, and they are blocked both by troops and the rebels, and they have no communications.

(Allenova) Quite a considerable number of people expressed the desire to come to Russia. Most remain in Syria. Will the repatriation of those who want to return resolve the problem of fellow countrymen in Syria overall?

(Sokht) Of course not. Here people must act from both sides. In the first place, efforts must be built up to normalize the situation in Syria. That corresponds to the interests of fellow countrymen and above all the Syrian people, because a large part of our fellow countrymen even in present conditions are trying to remain in Syria and are calling on Russia to help normalize the situation in Syria. Because the absolute majority of people are not willing to abandon their country. So the absolute priority is undoubtedly the peaceful normalization of the situation in Syria. Because in conditions of peace, security, and stability, even the processes of repatriation can be realized in a calmer situation -- without hysterics and emergency evacuation. That is one side. The other side of the coin is that those people who expressed the desire to move to Russia (and that is about 120 families and another some 100 people who are requesting humanitarian evacuation since they do not have passports) must receive the right to return. Yes, the Russian Federation is not preventing them from coming to our country, and they are being issued all the authorizations. But centers where these people can be temporarily placed and can go through the legal procedures within the framework of the state resettlement program must be opened. They must be helped to find jobs.

Look, in the Republic of Adygeya today, more than 4,700 foreign citizens are working in various facilities of the national economy. They are citizens of Vietnam, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. We could certainly replace the labor resources with our fellow countrymen. After all, our country has no social obligations to citizens of Central Asia and Vietnam, but it does have obligations to its fellow countrymen. There are many p eople with construction specializations and many technical specialists there, and they are much in demand in our economy. If there are almost 5,000 foreign citizens working in facilities of the national economy in the Republic of Adygeya alone, that suggests that we need labor resources. That is just one subject of the Federation. And it is a matter only of 1,000 people from Syria returning.


(Allenova) What about the Islamic factor? It scares many people.

(Sokht) The point is that the Cherkess are not in the category that is inclined to Islamic radicalism, because of the specific characteristics of the Cherkess culture, that is generally known. And the Cherkess are not represented either in the opposition structures nor in Islamic radical structures. Later, we must take into account that for decades, around 50 years, Syria was maintaining positive relations with the Soviet Union, and about 30,000 people who received an education in the Russian Federation live there. Many speak Russian.


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