Circassian Activists in North Caucasus Explore Possibility of Repatriating Circassians in Libya

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 82

On April 21, Gazeta Yuga, a weekly newspaper that is published in Nalchik, reported on the continuing efforts of Circassian groups in Kabardino-Balkaria to help their ethnic kin stuck in the fighting in Libya. Some activists in the North Caucasus have proposed that Libyans of Circassian descent, who are experiencing extreme hardship in the besieged coastal cities of Misurata, Benghazi and elsewhere in this country, be allowed to resettle in their historic homeland in the North Caucasus.  Earlier, an anonymous group of Circassian activists addressed embattled Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, asking him to allow them to fight on his side. The authors of the letter thanked Qaddafi for being a good host to the Circassians living in Libya and stated they felt obliged to pay him back.  However, after some Libyan Circassians condemned Qaddafi for his crackdown on civilians, including the Circassian minority in the country, a growing number of activists in the North Caucasus were forced to renounce Qaddafi publicly (, April 21).
It should be noted that Qaddafi and the civil war in Libya have become divisive issues in Russia, with the Prime Minister Vladimir Putin condemning Western involvement in the conflict and President Dmitry Medvedev putting the blame on the Qaddafi regime. The Russian media more often backs Putin’s view than Medvedev’s. The Russian president also raised concerns over the coalition forces’ implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 on Libya. Russia abstained in the vote on the resolution – allowing it to pass and thus making Western intervention possible in the civil war – thereby retaining some grounds for criticizing the intervention (, March 24). On April 26, Putin condemned the war in Libya, calling the coalition countries “the so-called civilized community” and accusing them of seeking to tap Libya’s vast energy resources (, April 26).
The Russian government’s negative attitude toward the war with Qaddafi likely motivated some Moscow-backed Circassian loyalists to announce their support for Qaddafi even at the expense of the Circassians’ own interests. One of the organizers of the pro-Qaddafi volunteer force, a 40-year-old named Aslan, told Gazeta Yuga: “Besides out of sincere willingness to help Qaddafi, we undertook this action (a letter of support for Qaddafi) to become a stabilizing factor given the Circassians’ refusal in Libya to support Qaddafi. We wanted to balance the discrepancies.” The group was aware of the fact that the Circassians in Libya and in Jordan opposed Qaddafi, but still decided to support him against their own people. The reason for the support for Qaddafi from this mysterious group of Circassians, which will be well received in Moscow and perhaps even by Putin personally, may be found in the fact that many of the alleged 50-60 signatories were former guerrilla fighters in Abkhazia. The paper’s source boasted of drafting a quick military plan to capture the city of Benghazi (, April 21). A number of Circassian volunteers fought the Georgians in the short but bloody war in Abkhazia in 1992-1993. Numerous sources pointed to Moscow’s backing of those volunteer forces, which means the Russian security forces and some of the former fighters in Abkhazia may have a close relationship.
The reason Qaddafi dislikes ethnic Circassians probably dates back to 1975, when an ethnic Circassian, Umar al-Meheshi, reportedly led an unsuccessful military coup to overthrow him. In 2009, Qaddafi officially received a Circassian delegation from Jordan, but failed to recognize the Circassian minority’s presence in Libya, in particular refusing to allow members of the Jordanian delegation to meet their ethnic kin in Libya. Oddly, Qaddafi was forced in March to seek the help of Jordanian Circassians to persuade the Misurata Circassians to submit to Qaddafi’s rule. The Jordanians declined to pursue the mission (see for details Qaddafi Tries to Secure Loyalty of Circassians of Misurata by Murad Batal al-Shishani, Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9, Issue: 12, March 24, 2011).
Mukhamed Khafitse, vice-president of the International Circassian Association based in Nalchik, stated that the Circassians were mistreated by Qaddafi for their love for freedom and so it would not be right for the Circassians to support him. “I am against Circassian support for Qaddafi,” Khafitse said. “I am for supporting the Circassians of Libya.” The chairman of the Circassian Congress of Kabardino-Balkaria, Ruslan Kesh, told Gazeta Yuga that the Circassians should not interfere in the internal conflict of Libya, but instead, should focus on the repatriation of the Circassian population of Libya to the North Caucasus. Ibragim Yaganov, leader of Khase, another Circassian non-profit organization in Kabardino-Balkaria, had his own explanation for the North Caucasians’ offer to fight in Libya. “Despite all reports of economic achievements in our republic, the state of the youth is lamentable,” he said. “A spirit of protest is growing. There should be some kind of means to channel it. Sometimes it grows into these ugly types of forms. Before they [the youth] were leaving for the forests [to join the insurgents], now they want to go to Libya. People are not finding any [peaceful] alternative” (, April 21).
Libyan Circassians are said to have lost their ancestral language and most of their distinct cultural traits, but retained the consciousness of their origins. In 1998, a Libyan Circassian representative visited a Circassian conference in Krasnodar region and, speaking to the participants through an Arab translator, expressed his wish to revive the historical links to their homeland (, April 25).
In 1998, the Russian government repatriated several dozen Circassian families who lived in Kosovo. They were mainly resettled in Adygea. However, under the current circumstances, Moscow is unlikely to allow the influx of the sizeable Circassian community in Libya to the North Caucasus. Since the Russian government has repeatedly expressed its concerns over an outflow of ethnic Russians from the North Caucasus, it is bound to be hostile to any proposals envisioning the growth of non-Russian segments of the local population through migration.