Circassian Activists Call for Three North Caucasus Republics to Take in Syrian Refugees

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 13 Issue: 17

In August, Circassian activists in Kabardino-Balkaria announced that the republic had filled its quota of Circassian refugees coming from Syria. The leader of the Peryt civic organization, Akhmed Stash, told a reporter from the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website that refugees arriving from Syria were redirected to Adygea and Karachaevo-Cherkessia. “The last group, numbering 40 people, which arrived in August, was sent in its entirety to Maikop,” Stash said. According to the activist, 400 Syrian Circassians are living in Kabardino-Balkaria. He said neighboring Adygea and Karachay-Cherkessia still had approximately 200 slots each to accept refugees from abroad, and so an additional 350 people would probably be received in the North Caucasus before the end of 2012. According to Stash, Moscow has not contributed to the process of taking in the Syrian Circassian refugees: he said all the assistance for the refugees has come from local businesses and the republican government (, August 27).

At a meeting with a youth delegation from the Circassian diasporas abroad on August 23, the head of Kabardino-Balkaria, Arsen Kanokov, said he would ask Moscow to increase the quota to accept Circassian emigrants. Kanokov also promised to allot funds for diaspora youth to study in European and US institutions and come to Kabardino-Balkaria to work (  It is noteworthy that the Circassian youth delegates primarily asked that it be made easier for members of the diaspora to receive Russian visas to visit their ancestral homeland in the North Caucasus (, August 24). This indicates how isolated from the world the North Caucasus remains due to outdated Russian visa regulations and willful restrictions imposed by the Russian authorities on foreign visitors to the region.

According to previous reports, the Russian embassy in Syria stopped issuing visas to Syrian Circassians in July. So only those who had received visas by then can now leave now the war-torn country for the Russian North Caucasus. “The problems of our diaspora were directly caused by Russian policies: Circassians were scattered across the world not by their own free will; they were expelled from their homeland. Russia must adopt a program that would allow the Circassians to return specifically to the Caucasus, not to Siberia or other demographically under-populated regions of Russia, as Moscow wants,” Circassian lawyer Beslan Khagazhei told the Voice of America (

Meanwhile, the security situation in Syria has further deteriorated and, predictably, ethnic minorities such as the Circassians often are targeted by both conflicting sides. According to some reports, Bashar Assad’s forces have subjected ethnic minorities to compulsory conscription. The explanation for this tactic is that Assad’s government considers the majority of Sunni soldiers to be less reliable and more prone to desertion than soldiers drafted from other minority groups ( Other reports suggest that Assad’s regime does not approve of Circassians’ attempts to receive refuge abroad. One of the Circassian diaspora’s leaders in Syria reportedly had to leave the country after receiving threats from the government (

On August 29, Circassian activists met United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials in Moscow and informed them about the situation of Circassian refugees from Syria who are already in the North Caucasus. The UNHCR officials did not discern any problems with the Syrian Circassians in Russia or the need for UNHCR intervention. However, they promised to provide legal assistance for the refugees and work with the Russian government on these issues (, August 29). The Circassian refugees’ problems do not end after they arrive in Russia. Stringent visa regulations allow them to stay in the country only for three months, after which they have to leave the country unless they somehow secure residency status.

The first signs that the federal center is easing pressure on the Kabardino-Balkarian government appeared on September 3, when a Moscow court allowed house arrest for the chief of Kanokov’s administration and his relative, Vladimir Zhamborov. Several top Kabardino-Balkarian officials had been arrested in Kabardino-Balkaria in June 2012 by special forces dispatched directly from Moscow. This highly unusual police operation to prosecute several top officials close to Arsen Kanokov for relatively trivial charges involving the mishandling of government property worth either $30,000 or $600,000 was regarded by many observers as an attack on Kanokov himself ( Several days earlier, on August 31, a court in Moscow had upheld the decision to leave Zhamborov in police custody, rejecting his claims of deteriorating health ( Kanokov’s public stance in favor of receiving Circassian refugees from Syria may have been part of the reason why his entourage came under pressure from Moscow. While the struggle continues, it appears Moscow has thus far secured few concessions, if any, after launching what appears to be a politically motivated crusade against corruption in Nalchik.

The security situation in Kabardino-Balkaria remained tense in August. On August 22, a counter-terrorism operation regime was introduced in two villages of the republic’s Baksan district (, August 22). Earlier, on August 14, a businessman was shot dead in the same district (, August 14). Attacks on businessmen are often linked to attempts by insurgents to extract funds from the local business community. On August 20, an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) went off near the house of a Baksan district police official. The explosive device had an estimated power of 0.4 kilograms of TNT (, August 20).

As the local civil groups and republican governments in Kabardino-Balkaria and other Circassian republics are running out of options for accommodating more Circassian refugees from Syria, they are waiting urgently for Moscow to intervene. If Moscow declines to help the Syrian Circassians, which is increasingly likely, animosity between the Circassians in the North Caucasus and Moscow will only increase. Also, sooner or later Moscow will have to open up the North Caucasus to foreign visitors, which will result in a decrease of its power over population movements into the region.