On June 24, Circassian activist Andzor Kabard exposed the International Circassian Association (ICA) for having applied for Russian government funding to challenge other Circassian organizations. In revealing this fact, Kabard declared on Facebook that ICA no longer exists (facebook.com, June 24).
ICA’s grant application title reads “Informational counteraction of ethnocentric ideology on the Internet: strengthening tolerant relations between the peoples of Russia in the North Caucasus region by countering the propaganda activities of nationalist organizations.” The short description of the application said that the project targeted Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Adygea, and the Krasnodar and Stavropol regions. ICA’s proposal to cover these regions was motivated by the fact that all of them have populations of Circassians. Since the Circassians seek Russia’s recognition that the Russian Empire’s massive ethnic cleansing of Circassians in the 18th and 19th centuries constitutes “genocide,” ICA sought Russian government support to counter those demands. ICA’s grant application proposed monitoring websites for nationalist content and spreading its own content, which presumably would keep the nationalists in check. ICA applied for a government grant via a competition called “The Support of Socially Important Projects and Projects in the Sphere of Protection of Human Rights and Citizens’ Rights” (grants.oprf.ru).
ICA’s proposal provided a rare glimpse at how the Russian government uses public money to fund its own non-governmental organizations to crowd out independent NGOs. The revelation about ICA’s grant application also means an effective end to one of the oldest Circassian organizations in the North Caucasus. ICA had been known as a pro-Moscow organization for quite some time. It is widely believed to have been created by the Russian security services (FSB) in the 1990s, principally as a means for controlling and countering Circassian nationalist organizations in the West. But now its links to the Russian government have been publicly exposed for the first time as an entity applying for government funds to fight other Circassian organizations. Some websites hastily reported that ICA was eventually denied government funding (Natsionalny Aktsent, June 26), but it is unclear whether the organization will receive funds from the government secretly or some other Circassian loyalist organization will be awarded such funding instead. Now any Circassian organization that is vociferously countering Circassians, who are seeking acknowledgment that the Russian Empire committed “genocide” against the Circassians, will be suspected of receiving Russian government funding for its activities and, therefore, lose whatever credibility it had in the Circassian community.
The fate of the Peryt organization exemplifies what might happen to NGOs that are disliked by the Russian government. Peryt helped ethnic Circassians escape the civil war in Syria by issuing invitations that would allow them to come to Russia. While it was accused of breaking the law, Peryt won all the court cases against it, but in the end had to shut down because of Russian government pressure (Adyge Heku, June 19).
Despite Moscow’s tactics, the Circassian question is far from being resolved or forgotten. On June 20, Circassian organizations worldwide reiterated their appeal to the Ukrainian government to recognize the Circassian “genocide”. The appeal stated that “the Russian Empire committed an act of ‘genocide’ in the 18th and 19th centuries and as a result, the majority of the Circassian people were eliminated. Those who survived were forced to leave their land and were en masse driven out of Circassia. During the resettlement process hundreds of thousands of people died, which was part of the plan of the Russian Empire that needed ‘not the Circassians, but the land that belonged to them.” The Circassians continued to be driven out even after 1864, when they were dealt a final defeat, according to the document. Further, the signatories of the document compared Russian policies in Ukraine and Circassia and said they were essentially the same. Noting this similarity, the authors of the appeal asked the Ukrainian government to recognize the Circassian “genocide” (cherkessia.net, June 21).
On June 21, an estimated 60 Circassian activists in Turkey protested against the persecution of Andzor Akhokhov in Kabardino-Balkaria. Akhokhov was one of the organizers of the protest by Circassians in Nalchik on February 7, at the start of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The protesters in Kabardino-Balkaria held up signs calling Sochi the land of the Circassian “genocide.” The police quickly dispersed the protest, detaining dozens of people. Akhokhov was tortured in detention and spoke out against police abuse. The police in turn retaliated with a criminal case accusing Akhokhov of illegal arms possession. A well-known Circassian rights activist, Valery Khatazhukov, said Akhokhov’s criminal case was a clear example of the political persecution of dissenters in the republic (Kavkazsky Uzel, June 22).
As Moscow-sponsored NGOs are losing their appeal among Circassians, new Circassian organizations and the existing independent ones are likely to benefit. It should also be mentioned that numerous protests against the Sochi Olympics were organized by ordinary Circassians with little or no help from Circassian organizations. This trend is likely to continue as the exposure of some Circassian loyalist organizations pushes activists to resort to less hierarchical and formal organizations, such as Internet-based groups.