Circassians’ Growing Awareness of Their Tragic Past Raises Concerns in Moscow

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 12 Issue: 12

In an open letter on June 1, Circassian activists condemned derogatory and scandalous remarks about them made by Russian State Duma deputy Sergei Markov. The First Caucasian Information channel, a Tbilisi based Russian-language TV channel, asked several Russian public figures, including Markov, about Georgia’s recognition of the “Circassian genocide,” inflicted by Russia in the nineteenth century. In a brief interview, Markov told the agency: “They [the Circassian activists that advocate or support recognition of the “Circassian genocide”] are venal whores and traitors of their own people. They will find their place in the junk yard.” The member of the Russian parliament’s lower house suggested that the “right Circassians” might take revenge on the “traitors.” Only in the Russian Federation, according to Markov, can the Circassians enjoy the privilege of developing their culture and even a certain degree of statehood, while they are deprived of these opportunities in other countries where the Circassian diaspora resides (

In his online blog, Markov admitted making the scandalous remarks and said he would have edited out the word “whore” if he had the opportunity to do so, but nonetheless defended his positions and condemned the First Caucasian Information channel as the Georgian government’s “provocation” tool. “[Georgia’s president Mikheil] Saakashvili attacks Markov via the provocations and falsifications of his channel, because he feels that Markov’s position is to support peace in the Caucasus and strengthening friendship of people,” explained Markov (

The Georgian parliament’s vote on May 20 to recognize the “Circassian genocide” evoked a high-spirited reaction from the Circassian diaspora and the vast majority of the Circassians who live in the North Caucasus. Eighty-two percent of 183 online users on a Circassian web resource expressed support for Georgia’s move ( So in an attempt to denigrate the Circassian activists, Markov in fact offended a significant portion or possibly even most of the Circassians living in the North Caucasus.

The coming 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi have attracted significant attention to the plight of the Circassians, who occupied that area several generations ago, in the nineteenth century. The Circassian activists argue that because their ancestors in Sochi suffered mass killings and deportations by the Russian empire, contemporary Russia, which officially presents itself as the Russian empire’s heir, should take steps to alleviate the consequences of those actions, or have the Olympics be moved to another place. The official reaction of Moscow to the recognition of Circassian genocide was initially muted, but still vehemently hostile. Thus, the Circassians in the North Caucasus are clearly on the winning track by riveting public attention to these questions. In an online press conference for readers of the Circassian websites and, the moderate Circassian leader Ibrahim Yaganov boasted of intense interest in the Circassian issues in Moscow. “On the 6th [of June] I am going to a conference in the Federation Council, on the 8th [of June] there will be another conference in the Russian Public Chamber,” Yaganov said. “I think our [Circassian] issue has made it to a completely different [i.e. high] level” (, June 6).

However, even moderate contemporary Circassian leaders in the North Caucasus have become very critical of Moscow as the Georgian recognition of the “Circassian genocide” explicitly portrays the Russian conquest of the North Caucasus as a colonial war. This raises unpleasant questions about the current status of the North Caucasian republics and raises inevitable analogies for both Moscow and the North Caucasus.

“Colonial times are a bygone era,” Yaganov concluded. “Many developed nations have gotten rid of their colonial past and apologized to the enslaved peoples. Russia, regretfully, has not been able to overcome this obstacle. Imperial ambitions still dominate [the country]. It is precisely this that is disintegrating and annihilating Russia today. Russia is on the verge of a breakup” (, June 6).

Meanwhile, the security situation in the largest republic in the North Caucasus, populated with Circassians, is still very precarious. On June 12, the deputy head of the police department fighting extremism, the so called Center E, in Kabardino-Balkaria, Khasan Bogatyryov was killed in Baksan during an operation. The attackers managed to escape (, June 12). Earlier on June 10, the police claimed another victory as 6 rebel suspects were killed in an operation in the mountainous Elbrus district in Kabardino-Balkaria (, June 10).

The Kabardino-Balkarian insurgency sustained serious setbacks as the Russian security services wiped out the leadership of the insurgents at the end of April. Despite notable losses, the Kabardino-Balkarian insurgency apparently still poses serious challenges to the government, as news of new attacks come from the republic on a regular basis. The counterterrorism operation regime imposed on most parts of the territory in February 2011 still remains in effect, including an official ban on tourists visiting the region. If the Circassian activists manage to advance their cause in the Circassian-populated areas, there is a real chance that the insurgency will subside in these regions. However, it is still unclear whether Moscow is willing to give that kind of leverage to peaceful Circassian advocates or prefers to wage a low-key war against the underground armed groups. There appears to be an emerging consensus in Moscow that the Circassians in the North Caucasus should be given relatively modest benefits in exchange for abandoning their opposition to the Sochi Olympics.