Andzor Akhokhov, an embattled Circassian activist, told the Kavpolit.com website about the police crackdown on civil activists. On February 7, when the Winter Olympics opened in Sochi, dozens of Circassians staged a protest in the central part of Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria, but they were quickly dispersed by police. According to Akhokhov, about 50 people were detained—more than reported initially. Many of the detained demonstrators were released, but some, including Akhokhov, received administrative arrests. Moreover, according to Akhokhov, the police used torture and threats of force against the young people to make them confess to crimes they did not commit. The police reportedly used electric shock and plastic bags to simulate suffocation. “They forced us to confess to carrying out some acts and cooperating with the American side, which cannot be in principle, in front of video recorders. The police officers also repeatedly threatened to launch a criminal investigation against us on the grounds of extremism if we did not admit to cooperation with organizations that we had not known previously,” Akhokhov told Kavpolit.com (https://kavpolit.com/articles/esli_v_vashih_serdtsah_zhiv_duh_adyga-775/).
In an interview with Gazeta Yuga, a weekly newspaper published in Nalchik, Akhokhov said: “I was prepared to being beaten up, also assumed plastic bags on the head would be likely, but did not expect electric shocks. In the 6th Department [police department responsible for fighting extremism and organized crime] I confessed to everything they wanted – an attempt to overthrow the government and so on, although I did not aim to overthrow anything. We only paid tribute to the memories of our ancestors” (https://www.aheku.org/news/society/5592).
On February 10, at a meeting with the Civil Council for Holding the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that foreign powers were using the Circassian issue to hold back the development of Russia. Even though Putin did not name the foreign countries that were behind this clever plan, he referred to the Cold War mentality that prompted those countries to act against Russia, thereby hinting at the United States and at the West in general (https://news.kremlin.ru/news/20203). The information that police extracted from the arrested Circassians in Nalchik through threats and torture was probably some of the “proof” of the foreign involvement in the North Caucasus.
“I have repeatedly been suspected of and accused of staging this action for money that I received from some people,” Akhokhov told Kavpolit.com. “They say that somebody instructed me to go against the Olympiad. No! No! And once again, No!” Describing the obstacles the young people faced in organizing the protest action, Akhokhov said that publishing enterprises refused to accept their order for printing placards with the slogan “Sochi, the Land of Genocide,” even though they were prepared to pay nearly $1,000 for this work. So, the organizers of the protest made the placards with the slogans themselves, driven by a deep-seated resentment against the Olympics in Sochi. “On the land that was irrigated by the blood of Circassian heroes, various pandemonium and fun stuff is going on and they invited the world community to play there,” Alkhanov said. “This is an overt act of mockery toward us, the Circassians” (https://kavpolit.com/articles/esli_v_vashih_serdtsah_zhiv_duh_adyga-775/).
Another Circassian activist, Asker Sokht, was arrested and placed under administrative arrest for seven days without even staging any protest. On February 14, the police in Krasnodar region, where Sochi is located, stopped and searched Sokht’s car. The activist allegedly refused to obey the “lawful orders of the police,” but observers subsequently pointed to his previous criticism of the Sochi Olympics. On February 8, the Kavkazsky Uzel website published Sokht’s scathingly critical assessment of Moscow’s policies in the North Caucasus (https://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/237880/).
Sokht was known for his acceptance of the Olympics in Sochi, unlike many other Circassian activists, but he was still outraged by the complete absence of any trace of Circassian culture in the lavish opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Russian government officials had promised that Circassian culture would be represented in the Olympics’ opening, but backtracked on their promise. The Circassians who lived in the Sochi area prior to the Russian conquest of the 19th century were given no place in the introduction of the region to the thousands of Olympic spectators attending the ceremony. So not only did the Russian Empire efface the Circassians from the Sochi area, but contemporary Russia has tried to remove them even from the memorial accounts of the area.
Circassian organizations protested Asker Sokht’s arrest and tied it to his critical statements. The head of the Circassian organization in Adygea, Adam Bogus, told Kavkazsky Uzel: “Such repression will produce only an effect that is the opposite [to the intended one],” he said. “No one will forget how the Olympiad passed and no one will remain silent. Those who still hoped for positive cooperation with the authorities were rebuffed, indicating that this path [of cooperation with the authorities] does not work. People who previously criticized Sokht now are supporting him through the Internet and these actions of the government will strengthen the whole Circassian movement” Another Circassian activist, Ruslan Gvashev, compared Russian policies toward Circassians in the North Caucasus over the past several years to Stalin’s infamous wave of repressions in 1930s (https://adygeia.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/238227/).
By applying universal pressure on all Circassian activists across the spectrum in the North Caucasus, Russia is making them more united than ever. Moscow is hoping that after the intimidation campaign against Circassian leaders and the end of the Olympiad, Circassian activism will go into decline. However, the historical trauma may, in fact, become a focal point for Circassians’ long-term mobilization in their historical memory of being erased from the Olympics altogether.