Press Release: The Circassians: Past, Present and Future – In Remembrance of Paul Henze and Kemal Karpat

A picture of Paul B. Henze, Jamestown President Glen Howard and Kemal Karpat (farthest to the left, second to the left, and third from the right, respectively) at Jamestown's 2007 event, "The Circassians: Past, Present, and Future"; Kemal Karpat; Paul B. Henze.

On May 21, 2007, a day regarded as Circassian Memorial Day by the Circassian Diaspora, the Jamestown Foundation hosted a one day conference entitled: The Circassians: Past, Present, and Future.  Participating in that event were some of the world’s leading experts on the North Caucasus – including two giants of the field – Paul B. Henze (1924-2011) and Kemal Karpat (1923-2019).   Both were visionary scholars and policy experts who worked with The Jamestown Foundation to elevate the history of the Circassians. In memory of Henze and Karpat, and in honor of the Circassian Memorial Day, Jamestown would like to draw your attention to their past work and contributions to the field.

The videos below include The Jamestown Foundation’s 2007 conference “The Circassians: The Past, Present and Future,” co-hosted with The Circassian Cultural Institute. The event was a one-of-a-kind gathering, and had the great privilege of featuring both Karpat and Henze. One can see Karpat discuss the Circassian exodus to Turkey, and Henze offer a historical perspective on Circassians and Imperial Russia. These offer unique insight and analysis into this little understood group. Below please find a link to an excerpt from Henze’s 1996 book The North Caucasus Barrier: Circassian Resistance to Russia.

And finally, longtime Jamestown analyst Paul Goble, who knew and worked with both Henze and Karpat and took part in the landmark 2007 conference, has written a moving tribute to these titans of the field in memory of their contributions to the study of the North Caucasus.  Paul Henze passed away on May 19, 2011 Karpat on February 20, 2019 but their legacy lives on in their numerous writings.

On the Shoulders of Giants:
Paul Henze and Kemal Karpat and the Circassian Future

Paul Goble

Just as the first stage of a rocket does the heavy lifting but is often forgotten when the upper stages launch inserts something into space, so too the role of those who were involved in national movements early on are sometimes neglected. They did the heavy lifting without which the successes of their successors would have been impossible. And they must be remembered not only because they played major roles in helping to get something started few believed at the time was possible but also because these members of the founding generation still have much to tell those who followed in their wake.

When the Jamestown Foundation organized its pathbreaking conference in 2007 on the Circassians, their difficult past and their future aspirations (see Jamestown, May 21, 2007), two such “founding fathers” played a key, even defining role, Paul B. Henze and Kemal Karpat, who, unfortunately, are no longer with us. Now that the Circassian movement has taken off and seems on course to achieve its goals, they must not be forgotten. Instead, they must be remembered and honored. The author of these lines, a lesser member of the next generation of those involved with the Circassian cause, was fortunate to know both and would like to call attention to their respective and joint contributions.

Henze (1924-2011) was a truly protean figure. He was an intellectual who wrote articles on nationality issues and international affairs that are still read and cited by scholars today. Henze was a 30-year veteran of US government service who helped shape Radio Liberty in the 1950s and ensured that American broadcasting that reached what was then the Soviet Union would not neglect the non-Russian union republics or the non-Russian nations who did not have or had been deprived of their own statehood by Moscow, including the Crimean Tatars and the Circassians.  During his government career, he worked as well at the Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department, and the Pentagon and at the National Security Council. It was in this last position that he made what has proved to be his most important contribution to groups like the Circassians.

While serving at the NSC under President Jimmy Carter, Henze convinced his boss, Zbigniew Brzezinski to create the Nationalities Working Group, again to ensure that US policy did not view the USSR as consisting of only Russia. He was named its head, and it proved so important as a source of policy ideas that it was retained by President Ronald Reagan’s senior advisor on Soviet affairs, Richard Pipes, and was even expanded beyond the NSC to include representatives of other US government agencies, including the State and Defense Departments and the Central Intelligence Agency. (As a very junior State Department analyst, the author of these lines attended some of its meetings in the early 1980s.) Paul Henze continued to attend and to shape the views of the group.

Out of this group came the intellectual foundations for Reagan’s decision to label the USSR “the evil empire” and to promote more US attention and broadcasting to the non-Russian half of that entity’s population. Many in the US government finally recognized the important of the 12 union republics and three occupied Baltic countries, but they were often less willing to consider the many nations under Moscow’s aegis who did not have that status. Henze was the leader of those who insisted that the US should not be a supporter of Stalin’s structures but should focus on the rights of all the peoples inside the borders of the USSR – including, very prominently, the Circassians.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, Henze led an international observer team to Chechnya and then to Abkhaza. In 1997, he took part in the Shamil bi-centenary celebration in Daghestan, and in 1998, he was a member of the US-NATO Association mission to Central and South Asia.  And in the last decade of his life, he worked as a senior scholar at the Washington office of the RAND Corporation. In all these places, he spoke out on behalf of those others had forgotten or neglected and shaped an entire generation of scholars and officials because he was always willing to share his enormous knowledge and critical perspectives.

The other giant at the Jamestown conference was Kemal Karpat (1923-2019). While less well-known than Henze because he was never a government official, Karpat played an equally important role because he brought the perspectives of someone who was a member of a neglected national minority, in his case, the Crimean Tatars, and who trained generations of students both directly as a professor at various universities, most prominently for 36 years at the University of Wisconsin, and indirectly through his writings on nationality issues.  He too had broad interests, but three of his messages about Eurasia remain critically important, especially for those who care about the Circassians.

First, as a graduate of the University of Istanbul, Karpat insisted that the future of the non-Russians and especially those often neglected would depend not only on what the US did but also on what regional powers like Turkey decided to do. The latter could play an even more fundamental role because they had so many diaspora groups with links to the Caucasus and Central Asia, and he insisted that the Circassians were among those who had to remember that.

Second, like Henze but in even more dramatic fashion, Karpat called on scholars and policy makers to look beyond Soviet arrangements and realize that Stalin’s offer of different statuses to different peoples was something temporary and ultimately indefensible. Many of the peoples who were given union republics and who thus gained their independence when the USSR disintegrated in 1991 were no more important than those the Kremlin had denied such status, such as the Circassians.

And third, Karpat, a historian by training and inclination, believed that those who look at a region should not focus on its immediate past but look far further back in order to understand why things are the way they are and why the way they are may not define the future any more than those developments long ago. He pointed to the long history of Circassia and Circassians before the Russians came and to the consequences of the 101-year-long war of resistance to the Russian advance and of the forcible expulsion of the Circassians in 1864, an action that many Circassians and the Republic of Georgia have equated with genocide.

If the Circassians have achieved much in the last decade, much of the credit must go to these two men who were brought together by the Jamestown Foundation 13 years ago.  They must not be forgotten for what has been achieved by others has been possible only because the latter stood on the shoulders of these giants.

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. While there, he launched the “Window on Eurasia” series. Prior to joining the faculty there in 2004, he served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 

To read an excerpt from Paul B. Henze’s 1996 book, The North Caucasus Barrier: Circassian Resistance to Russia click the link below.

“The North Caucasus Barrier: Circassian Resistance to Russia” click here