Circassians both in their North Caucasus homeland and in the diaspora are uniting to oppose the possibility of the amalgamation of the Republic of Adygea with the surrounding Krasnodar Krai. Members of the community view such a step as an attack on their nation. Their worries were triggered both by the revival of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s campaign to unite smaller non-Russian republics with larger and predominantly ethnic-Russian-populated oblasts and krais as well as by an intemperate attack from Moscow on the very existence of republics and nations within the federation. Putin’s plan for Arkhangelsk Oblast and the Nenets Autonomous Okrug is presently on hold, until at least next year; and following Circassian protests, the attack on republics and nations has been taken down from the online portal of the newspaper that carried it. Nevertheless, Circassians continue to worry that Adygea remains in Moscow’s crosshairs and are digging in to defend it (Echo Moskvy, May 28; Zapravakbr.ru, May 29).
The result almost certainly will be that any overreaching by Moscow on this issue will leave the Circassians more united than ever before. Currently, this nationality is divided between the homeland, where it numbers more than 600,000 (subdivided into three republics—Adygea, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia), and the diaspora, where they total more than seven million. Notably, the situation presages an expansion of the campaign to have members of all the Circassian subgroups (Adygs, Cherkess, Kabards, Shapsugs, etc.), which Moscow has sought to divide, to declare themselves “Circassians” in the upcoming Russian Federation census. Additionally, the threat to Adygea will likely encourage Circassians to ramp up the pressure on Moscow to allow the repatriation of their ethnic kin from war-torn Syria to the homeland. And the situation can be expected to boost broader recognition among Circassians that their future depends on the restoration of a common Circassian republic in the North Caucasus.
The Circassians and Moscow have been on a collision course for years (see EDM, June 20, 2017). But now, the danger of such a collision appears to be greater than ever, and Moscow is likely to lash out even more against all those who report on and/or support the rights of the Circassians (see Jamestown.org, April 9, 2020).
Last month, Circassians across the North Caucasus responded to the threat to Adygea and to their nation by publishing a joint appeal demanding that the authorities in the region and in Moscow remove the above-mentioned offensive article by Russian nationalist Yegor Kholmogorov and clearly state that his words do not reflect official government views (NatPress, May 25). The powers that be have done the first but not the second, although officials from Adygea have promised they will respond to the Circassians’ arguments (NatPress, June 11). At the same time and because the issues are interrelated, Circassian activists both in the homeland and in the diaspora have denounced any plans to amalgamate Adygea with Krasnodar Krai (Caucasian Knot June 2; Justicefornorthcaucasus.info, June 2). That Russian officials have seemingly not taken a clear stand on either of these issues is sparking a new wave of anger (NatPress, May 28).
Circassians have mobilized at least in part after seeing the resistance that residents of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug have shown to Moscow’s regional amalgamation plans. The resistance in that Arctic territory has been both far larger and more vocal than almost anyone expected and has succeeded in delaying its dissolution within Arkhangelsk Oblast (Znak, May 22). That resistance has received prominent coverage in Circassian outlets (NatPress, May 24).
The Circassians have three additional reasons for organizing in opposition to any change in the status of Adygea. First, they know that Adygea is the last true “matryoshka doll” non-Russian federal subject—that is, one surrounded on all sides by a predominantly ethnic-Russian region. Putin’s initial amalgamation effort in 2004–2006 had eliminated all the others. His effort to combine Adygea and Krasnodar, however, failed because of strong Circassian resistance and Moscow’s fears that such a move would trigger an explosion in the North Caucasus. However, the Kremlin leader clearly has not given up entirely, and Adygea is an obvious next target.
Second, the Circassians are aware—both from the Kholmogorov article and recent calls by the Union of Slavs in the Adygea Republic—that Moscow’s move against Adygea is a move against the Circassians in the first instance and all non-Russians ultimately. In short, it is an effort to russify the non-Russian nations and amalgamate them with what Putin calls “the state-forming nation” (Windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com, June 5). Were he to succeed, there is a danger that Circassian history in the homeland could come to an end. They have good reason to fear they would be swamped: Only a little more than a quarter of Adygea’s population of 440,000 are Adygs (the Circassian self-designation), and they would be overwhelmed by the 5.6 million people in Krasnodar, almost all of whom are ethnic Russians.
And third, the Circassians recognize that the move against Adygea directly opposes their plans for the restoration of a common Circassian republic with a common Circassian identity. They have already suffered the loss of the autonomous districts the Shapsugs had earlier, and they know if they were to lose Adygea to amalgamation, they would face a far greater threat to their future than they do now (Kavkazr, November 23, 2018). As a result, both Circassians in the homeland and those in the diaspora are showing greater unity than at any time in the past 15 years (Windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com, May 22).
Circassian activists are taking the lead in calling on members of their nation to vote against Putin’s constitutional amendments because of the threats they pose to the republics and nations (Caucasian Knot, June 15). That may mean Moscow will suspend its push for amalgamation until after the July 1 vote. But Circassians have good reason to fear, given Putin’s approach in the past, that any reprieve will be temporary and that they need to keep up the pressure to save Adygea, just as they did 15 years ago.