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posted by eagle on December, 2010 as Genocide Crime




Tbilisi looks much like Turin or other of the beautiful cities in Northern Italy. Only it is poorer. The capital of Georgia sits amid hills, lush valleys and flowing rivers. Old reconstructed houses are lodged into bare mountains. New commercial avenues mix with horrible remnants of Soviet architecture and marvelous Byzantine churches, some dating from the 4th century, along with other visible symbols and signs of the feudal past. Still emerging from the shadow of communism, and a shabby war with its Russian neighbor, Tbilisi hosted a remarkable conference – "Hidden Nations, Enduring Crimes: The North Caucasus Between Past and Future” – that dealt with the forgotten genocide against Circassians and other peoples of the Caucuses. Working class activists mixed with businessmen and politicians entered into intelligent and often heated debate with students and academics. The impressive list of participants included Andre Glucksman, the human rights activist and controversial philosopher, fascinating scholars of the region like Robert Chenciner of Oxford University, an expert on Daghestan and Kaitag embroideries, and Lord Frank Judd of Great Britain. Former Chair of the Refugee Committee, and Rapporteur to the Political Affairs Committee on the Conflict in Chechnya for the Council of Europe, Lord Judd gave an impassioned plenary speech about the repression exercised by the Russian Federation in the region and the need for accountability. There wasn’t the one-up-mans-ship that marks a mainstream academic conference in Europe or the United States. Perhaps that is because there was something culturally and politically at stake in this meeting, namely, the need to recognize the genocide that a hidden nation suffered and the quest of its members for cultural and national self-determination.  

Genocide is a difficult legal concept to prove. Reports prepared for the czars might, ironically, provide the documentation of what took place in the Caucasus. The symbolic value of empirical confirmation of genocide is obvious. Just as important, however, is building awareness on the part of both inhabitants and those foreign to the region about the litany of mass murders, deportations, and attempts at ethnocide that were part of the Russian policy toward the Caucasus. 

*Stephen Eric Bronner is the Senior Editor of Logos: A Journal of Modern Society and Culture as well as Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Director of Global Relations at the Center for the Study of Genocide, Conflict Resolution and Human Rights at Rutgers University. He is a Contributing Editor for Una Citta.

These barbaric policies constitute a legacy that extends from long forgotten nineteenth century czars to Stalin to the current wars waged by Russia against Chechnya that have cost well over 200,000 lives. Fine scholarly papers presented at the conference documented the atrocities perpetrated against the various indigenous peoples of the Caucasus. To the extent that they are listening, moreover, it also served as a wake-up call for Russian leaders to change their policies and provide their formal federation with democratic substance. 

The Caucasus is lodged between the Black and the Caspian Seas and it stretches from Azerbaijan in the South over Georgia to Chechnya and North Ossetia. Many of its inhabitants suffered terribly at the hands of Stalin. Everyone knows about the Holocaust but the victims of the Gulag have still not received their due. Few outside the Caucasus have ever heard of the Circassians though exile communities exist in Israel, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and the western democratic nations. The world has ignored the genocide of the Circassians and other indigenous peoples of the Caucasus as surely as the genocide inflicted on Native Americans in the United States and the indigenous peoples of Latin America by Spain. Lidia Luposova – twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize -- shocked all the conference participants with a photo exhibition of Chechen victims -- mostly children -- of Russian military and security forces. The acknowledged leader of the Grozny branch of Memorial, the courageous Russian human rights organization, Ms. Luposova risked her life (once again) to take those photos and to publicize them.  Hidden crimes like those depicted by her exhibition are not part of the public discourse -- and learning about them led me to think, once again, about how little we know about the larger world outside our own particular purview. 

Ignorance has political implications. Little can be done about the past but much can be done about the future. Few care about the war waged against Chechnya by Russia especially since it has been justified as a war against terror. A minority of allegedly "foreign extremists” (Islamic radicals) are seen by the Russians as the cause of all their problems. But the Russians are not employing surgical strikes against their enemies. Speaker after speaker, however, insisted that the war is being fought against the entire civil society of Chechnya: its economic infrastructure, its legal system with its politically compromised judges and lawyers, its media and its intellectuals. There is no evidence that foreign elements like al Qaeda have actually entered the fray and there is no evidence that a weakened Russian state is the cause of rebellion. Such claims are specious. But they have been employed often enough against various Caucasian movements seeking greater autonomy or self-determination. The New Russia is undergoing an authoritarian makeover that relies on the existence of an imminent danger and, indeed, Russian security forces have been implicated in sponsoring many of the terrorist attacks undertaken by Chechen criminals. The integrity of the federal structure of the New Russia, meanwhile, cannot tolerate any demands for autonomy by members of its federation and Chechnya obviously can serve as a precedent for other states. 

The rising tide of nationalism within the region is no accident. It is rather a dialectical (if I may use the term) product of Russian hegemonic ambitions and the paranoia of its leadership. But it is also an expression of the deep-seated historical longing to reaffirm a cultural identity that has remained under attack for two centuries.  Resistance is growing in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and other nations. The protest is mostly Islamic, partly secular, often inchoate and confused. Terrible terrorist actions have taken place for which the subaltern and the oppressed bear responsibility. Tensions between many of the different ethnic communities still fester. Whether an independent Caucasus is feasible remains a debatable proposition. But that national resistance is growing within the Russian federation is indisputable. The question is whether the West will catch up, learn something more about the hidden nations, and make a serious public effort to halt the enduring crimes.

Further Reading: Lesley Blanch, The Sabres of Paradise (London: I.B. Taurus, 2004); Oliver Bullough, Let Their Fame Be Great (New York: Random House, 2010); Thomas De Waal, The Caucasus: An Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

Tbilisi, Georgia

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