Just as the single blade of grass, no matter how small, inevitably breaks through a concrete walkway, no matter how thick, so, too, the Circassian nation is now overcoming a long history of repression and domination. Since the beginning of its contact with the Russian state three centuries ago, the Circassian nation, inevitably and repeatedly achieved what many time and again assumed was not possible: not only national survival but the possibility of national victory in fully reasserting Circassian identity and reclaiming their homeland. Now, a new study by Circassian writer and activist Adel Bashqawi shines a powerful spotlight on this dynamic trend involving his co-ethnics in Russia and the diaspora spread around the world.
For more than a hundred years, the Circassians fought the much larger and better-armed tsarist Russian army, holding out far longer than anyone expected. But in 1864, they were expelled from their homeland in the Northwest Caucasus—an act that they and even some countries, including the Republic of Georgia, today recognize as a “genocide.” The Russian state assumed this forced mass resettlement would kill this nation off for all time. But the few Circassians who remained in their ancestral lands held fast to their traditions; and the hundreds of thousands in the diaspora flourished, not only winning the confidence of the peoples and governments among whom they now lived but maintaining their national identity in unyielding preparation for the day when they might reunite in their homeland. After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Moscow divided up the Circassians into what it called their real “nationalities” in the hopes of destroying the unified nation; however, the Soviet authorities failed to wipe out the Circassians’ common memory and could do little to prevent the diaspora from keeping the hope of return alive. When the Soviet Union finally collapsed more than seven decades later, many Circassians believed that their day had finally come; but the Russian Federation government proved to be just as hostile to the Circassians as had their Soviet and tsarist predecessors.
In the years since, however, the balance of power began to shift thanks in part to the rise of the Internet. The Circassians of the homeland and the Circassians of the diaspora were joined together, even as each fought its own fight. The former focused on demanding a common Circassian identity, particularly inside the Russian Federation. Whereas the latter agitated against what they saw as Moscow’s continuing crimes, such as holding the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, on precisely the site from which their ancestors were expelled in 1864, as well as preventing Circassians in the war-torn Middle East from returning home. Each branch of the Circassian nation not only inspired the other but encouraged both to believe that they not only could continue their struggles but win.
These continuing acts of defiance have attracted the sympathy of many around the world who wish to see that Circassian blade of grass finally break through the increasingly thick concrete that is the Russian state under Vladimir Putin. In contrast—just like those who wrote off the Circassian cause three centuries ago, then two centuries ago, a century ago, and a decade back—those who disbelieve the viability of the “Circassian Miracle” today are wrong.
For many nations, the odds of persevering against such long-term repression and purposefully divisive state policies would be too daunting perhaps. But not for the Circassians. They have already achieved what looked like the impossible—surviving for over 150 years as a self-identified, separate nation despite being scattered across the globe and suppressed at home. And they continue to be animated by a spirit and commitment that has led to a new intellectual flowering both in their homeland and around the world. A new book, The Circassian Miracle: The Nation Neither Tsars, Not Commissars, Nor Russia Could Stop (Xlibriis, 2020, 1167 pp.), by Adel Bashqawi, is part of that flowering. The work simultaneously tells the story of Circassian resistance, affirms its sources, and contributes to the victory the Circassians are closer to achieving than at any time since 1864.
No matter how much or how little one might knows about the Circassian cause, Bashqawi is a useful guide. A Circassian born in Jordan who made a career as an airline pilot and the author of another outstanding book on Circassians, Circassia: Born to Be Free (2017), he provides not only a well-documented history of his people and their struggles but also materials and a bibliography about the national movement in general. The book devotes particular attention to the Circassians’ international campaign against the 2014 Sochi Olympics (see EDM November 6, 2013; see Jamestown.org, February 19, 2014) as well as the Russian government’s continuing attacks on Circassians living in Sochi and elsewhere—such as plans to use urban renewal to destroy one branch of the Circassians, the Shapsugs, in that city (Kavkazr.com, November 23, 2018 and January 9, 2020; Windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com, January 14, 2020).
Especially important is the book’s assemblage of more than 400 documents, many of them difficult to access, which buttresses the author’s arguments and provides the basis for more research and greater understanding and support for the Circassian cause. No one who wants to understand that cause can do without them or without this book. It is sometimes said that revolutions require three kinds of people: philosophers who explain why the revolution is necessary, activists who organize the population to achieve the goal, and experienced managers who can institutionalize the revolution once it is carried out. Adel Bashqawi combines both the first and the second of these roles and is positioned to be one of the third once victory is achieved.
And that may be sooner than anyone thinks. In going through his book, this reader constantly recalled the words of Mahatma Gandhi about what a drive for national liberation looks like. “First they ignore you,” the late Indian leader said. “Then, they laugh at you; then they fight you; and then you win.” Moscow is no longer laughing, but it is fighting a rearguard action. Victory for the Circassians lies ahead, and Adel Bashqawi’s new book has brought that end closer.