Staunton, October 7 – The leaders of the three Circassian republics in the North Caucasus -- Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and Adygeya -- must make a direct appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Circassian activist says, because "it is possible that he is insufficiently informed about the tragic history of the Adyg-Circassian people.”
According to a report in last Thursday’s "Gazeta Yuga,” Zhantemir Gubachikov, head of the "For Peace and Inter-Ethnic Accord” organization, has already called on them to do so because of Russian restrictions on the repatriation of Circassians from war-torn Syria to their traditional homeland in the North Caucasus (gazetayuga.ru/archive/2013/40.htm).
Positing that a top leader is "insufficiently informed” is sometimes a tactic used by those who want to put pressure on more junior officials or who want to launch a campaign for political change because such an idea suggests there is a real chance for change if the leader learns the facts. Indeed, this suggestion is often put out by those who think the leader can or will change.
And while it is unlikely that Putin or the Kremlin is going to change course on the Circassians anytime soon, raising this possibility particularly during the run-up to the Sochi Olympiad --which will take place on the site and anniversary of the Circassian genocide --may be useful for both the Circassians and the Russian government itself.
Indeed, Gubachikov’s remarks may be intended to deflect some Circassian activism away from the issues of the genocide and problems associated with the territorial divisions of the Circassians in the North Caucasus, but by their very moderation they pose some potentially more serious challenges to Moscow.
His words surfaced in the course of a discussion of problems in the implementation of a Putin directive on the resettlement of compatriots from abroad in the North Caucasus: "we are certain if we seriously take up this case, then without touching on the problems of the genocide, we could raise the question about the political, economic and social rehabilitation of the Circassians living abroad.”
According to Gubachikov, "the division of Circassian lands, which took place after the Russian-Caucasian wars and "before and after the October revolution” cannot be "corrected. He says that "the Adyg-Circassian people never has made territorial claims to any people or neighboring subject of the federation.”
"Our desire,” he suggests, "is that the repatriants have the possibility to settle in those districts from which their ancestors were expelled and to receive the assistance and support that the law calls for.”
The Russian government’s current repatriation program has several features which constitute "obstacles” to the return of the Circassians, including ones requiring knowledge of the Russian language and training in the traditions of Russian culture. Given their tragic history, he says, returning Circassians should be given a year or two to make up any deficiencies.
Not taking that history into account and thus erecting such "artificial barriers restricting the voluntary and free resettlement” of Circassians to the North Caucasus is offensive and demeaning, Gubachikov says, suggesting that the leaders of the Circassian republics must take the lead to ensure that Putin and Moscow know all the facts.
But these leaders have to do more for the return of the Circassians. For "more than a year,” the Kabardino-Balkarian government "has not had its own regional program for the support of compatriots,” even though given declines in the population of that republic between 2006 and 2010, there is plenty of room to "easily” absorb 10,000 to 50,000 from abroad.
Gubachikov also calls for the republic leaders to draft a new federal law "On the political rehabilitation of the Circassian (Adyg) people,” one that would take as its model earlier Soviet and Russian legislation "concerning peoples repressed during the years of the Great Fatherland War.”
Some Circassians may see Gubachikov’s ideas as providing Moscow with cover, but many Russians especially those in Putin’s power vertical are likely to view them as a more dangerous threat to Russian interests than some more radical ideas that the Russian government has found it easier to dismiss or ignore.