Call for Creation of Cossack Security Force Sparks Negative Reaction from Circassian Groups in the North Caucasus

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 13 Issue: 16

On August 1, Circassian activists marked the Day of the Repatriated Person in the North Caucasus. This year, the celebrations were strongly influenced by the Syrian crisis, turning into an event of solidarity with the Syrian Circassians. On the same day, several Circassian organizations jointly issued a statement calling on the Russian government to intervene and help thousands of their compatriots in Syria resettle in the Russian Federation. The Syrian Circassians’ troubles apparently united more radical nationalist groups and groups of loyalist Circassian activists in Moscow (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/210553/).

The governments of Ukraine, Moldova and Kazakhstan reportedly began to evacuate their citizens from Syria at the beginning of August. The Russian government’s official reaction has been that the situation in Syria does not require an evacuation. Some 10,000 Russian citizens were registered at the Russian embassy in Syria at the time the conflict began, but many more may have lived in the country without registering at the embassy. According to the newspaper Kommersant, Russians are not trying to leave Syria in large numbers because it is expensive and unsafe to do so at this point. Instead, they are organizing on online forums and asking the Russian government to evacuate them (http://kommersant.ru/doc/1995744). Some Russian experts say the Russian government may be preparing for evacuation of its citizens from Syria, despite Moscow’s official stance on the matter. On July 31, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a government decree that downgraded Syria from a country in a “difficult socio-political situation” to a country in an “emergency situation” or an armed conflict. Experts estimate that at least 80,000 people residing in Syria have a Russian passport or are legally entitled to Russian citizenship (http://www.ria.ru/arab_sy/20120731/713597124.html). If the events in Syria unfold in the most dramatic way possible, which remains likely, Russia may be forced to organize a large-scale evacuation from the country.

Meanwhile, the governor of the Krasnodar region, Alexander Tkachyov, made surprise comments inaugurating a Cossack police force in his region. Referring to the Krasnodar region, Tkachyov said: “This land, by and large, did not belong to the Russian Empire; it belonged to the Caucasian people, the Circassians.” Tkachyov concluded, however, that because the Circassian land was added to the Russian Empire so recently, it was vulnerable to non-Russian influences. In a passionate speech, Tkachyov demanded that ethnic Russians stand up to curb the increasing migration from North Caucasus republics like Dagestan, Chechnya and others. Krasnodar’s governor sounded the alarm: “Today I was thinking and pondering how much time we have left: there was a filter between the [North] Caucasus and Kuban [Krasnodar region] – the Stavropol region. But now I can see that it [the filter] is absent. We will be the next.” Citing the example of Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians initially were a minority and then became the majority, Tkachyov said he was determined to preserve the predominance of ethnic Russians in the Krasnodar region. The Cossack police, according to Tkachyov, would specifically harass newcomers from the North Caucasus and other non-Russians in Krasnodar in order to pressure them to leave the region. These are the tasks, according to the governor, that regular police cannot do because of legal constraints. But the Cossacks, apparently, will be governed by much looser legislation. Krasnodar region will allot more than $20 million for the newly created Cossack police force over the next year (http://www.yuga.ru/articles/society/6390.html).

Some public figures in Russia attacked Tkachyov’s overtly xenophobic remarks, and the Public Chamber under the Russian President asked the prosecutor general to check the Krasnodar governor’s speech for extremism (http://www.gazeta.ru/politics/2012/08/04_kz_4710665.shtml). However, Tkachyov will most likely have support at the highest levels in the Kremlin. Since the Krasnodar region is hosting the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, such initiatives are clearly in line with the Kremlin’s effort to keep North Caucasians away from the region. Having made clearly discriminatory statements, Tkachyov did not even bother to deny them – only cursorily responding to criticism by saying that he was not a nationalist, a term that has a highly negative connotation in the Russian language. However, at the same time, he confirmed via Twitter that he is determined to fight “illegal migration” (https://twitter.com/antkachev).

Experts recall that Tkachyov made anti-Armenian statements at the start of his long career as governor, which began in 2000, when he was elected governor of Krasnodar region. Tkachyov’s administration orchestrated a campaign of harassment targeting Meskhetian Turks, who were eventually given a green light for emigration to the United States as refugees. Gazeta.ru quoted a well-known Russian nationalist and a co-founder of the Russian National-Democratic Party, Vladimir Tor, as saying: “[T]he fact that the existing authorities with the state institutions in place do not resolve the problems of [ethnic] Russian people in Kuban [a.k.a. Krasnodar region] in particular and in Russia as a whole is a worrying symptom. If problems are not resolved in a legal way through state institutions, domestic popular national forces will sooner or later get involved and society will begin to create its own civil institutions for solving these problems” (http://www.gazeta.ru/politics/2012/08/03_a_4709217.shtml).

In this fight for the racial purity of the ethnic Russian regions, the authorities of Krasnodar are bound to encounter the Circassians with their own vision of justice for this land. Tkachyov’s statements mark a hardening of the Russian government’s positions in the region and the absence of political will for dialogue and compromise. This may also lead to the rise of radicalism among the Circassians and other North Caucasians. Political violence has continued in the North Caucasus republics over the past several months. According to monitoring by the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website in July, the security situation in Kabardino-Balkaria was one of the worst in the North Caucasus, with nine people killed there and nine wounded during that month alone. Ingushetia suffered slightly more casualties – 10 killed and 15 wounded – while Dagestan saw 54 people killed and 15 wounded in July (http://kabardino-balkaria.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/210720/).

As the positions of the regions on the ethnic Russian frontier harden, the North Caucasian republics are likely to react in an asymmetric manner. The republican governments cannot afford to make anti-Russian statements, but they are able to pursue anti-Russian policies informally or at least turn a blind eye to nationalist civil activism. Responding to the growth of nationalism and the apparent reluctance or inability of the Russian state to do something about it, the communities are likely to organize along ethnic lines to defend their rights.