Hasan Khalkechev, a Karachay activist and member of the Council of Turkic peoples, criticized the authorities of Karachaevo-Cherkessia for taking over Karachay civil organizations and stalling political and economic progress in the republic. Like neighboring Kabardino-Balkaria, the authorities in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, instead of fighting the opposition, created a pro-government civil movement that effectively put an end to genuine civil and political activities in the republic. As a result, the republic is not only behind other Russian regions, but also behind other North Caucasian republics, according to Khalkechev (politika09.com, July 23).
Since the Russian annexation of Crimea, comparisons between the minorities in the republics of the Russian Federation and the Crimean Tatars have become increasingly common among ethnic minorities in Russia. To their astonishment, Russian minorities find that the Crimean Tatars are much better off in many ways than the minorities within Russian Federation.
Khalkechev compared and contrasted the ethnic Karachays with the Crimean Tatars, since both have similar historical trajectories and both are Turkic-speaking peoples. “The Karachay people returned from a 14-year-long exile in 1957 and have enjoyed a form of statehood as a national republic since then,” he said. “The Karachays are the titular ethnic group in Karachaevo-Cherkessia [and the] numerically dominant group. The Crimean Tatars returned only partially, in 1989, after 45 years of exile. Within Ukraine they did not have their own autonomy, but were only part of the general population of the country. Now, the Crimean Tatars are part of the general population of the Russian Federation and an absolute minority within the Republic of Crimea” (politika09.com, July 23).
Despite the Karachays’ more favorable background in comparison to the Crimean Tatars, the Karachay activist asserted that the Crimean Tatars publish seven non-governmental newspapers in Tatar and Russian, and seven high-quality magazines. The Crimean Tatars have their own publishing house, library, theater, 24-hour radio broadcasting in the Tatar language, their own TV channel, as well as their own TV channel in Tatar for children, as well as four well-equipped schools that instruct children in four languages—Crimean Tatar, Russian, Ukrainian and English. The State University of Crimea has a Crimean Tatar–language and literature department and a Turkish-language department. In contrast to the Crimean Tatars, according to Khalkechev, the Karachays have a “pitiable” number of minutes in the Karachay-language on radio and TV. The Karachays do not have their own theater house. All of Karachaevo-Cherkessia’s print publications are published outside of the republic. The only Karachay newspaper comes out twice a week and the Karachays are the only people in Russia numbering more than 200,000 people who do not have their own magazine, Khalkechev said (politika09.com, July 23).
Karachaevo-Cherkessia, with its population of about 500,000, is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in the North Caucasus. The Turkic-speaking ethnic Karachays comprise a plurality of the population—41 percent—and are also politically dominant in the republic. Ethnic Russians come in second, with about 32 percent of the republic’s population, but are politically weak. Circassians comprise 12 percent of the population and are an influential political group despite their small numbers. Ethnic Abaza, who are related both to the Circassians and to the Abkhaz, make up approximately 8 percent of the republican population. Another Turkic-speaking people, the Nogais, comprise 3 percent of the population of Karachaevo-Cherkessia (Russian State Statistical Service, 2010 census results). Karachaevo-Cherkessia chose a distinctly different way of political development from the other republics of the North Caucasus—it contrasts in the manner it has handled the interests of its ethnic groups. Its minorities, specifically, the Abaza and the Nogais, received their own Abazin and Nogai autonomous districts within Karachaevo-Cherkessia that provide certain self-rule to these ethnic groups.
Ethnic Karachays are politically dominant in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, but even they find the situation in the republic to be unsatisfactory, as can be seen from Khalkechev’s interview. The republican branch of the Communist Party of Russia was even criticized for becoming part of the republican establishment despite its opposition to the government elsewhere. Reportedly, the governor of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Rashid Temrezov, controls the opposition through a system of cooptation and providing material incentives (politika09.com, August 3).
Temrezov’s political future is also unclear. The 38-year-old came to power in Karachaevo-Cherkessia in 2011 after his predecessor, Boris Ebzeyev, resigned from his position after failing to adequately govern this complex republic. Temrezov was known for being close to Ali Kaitov, the son-in-law of another president of the republic, Mustafa Badtyev. The latter was implicated in the murder of a group of republican businessmen that resulted in mass riots in the republic in 2004 (compromat.ru, accessed August 13). Despite his less-than-perfect reputation, Temrezov still was appointed as head of the republic, as Moscow preferred to have stability in Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Temrezov’s clan apparently promised to deliver that.
Russian officials periodically praise Karachaevo-Cherkessia for its economic achievements. The republic has also remained on the list of North Caucasus republics where the Russian government will support the development of ski resorts (yuga.ru, August 7). The budget of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, however, remains highly subsidized by Moscow—at more than 60 percent of the republic’s total expenditures (minfin09.ucoz.ru, January 20).
Karachaevo-Cherkessia appears to be a much quieter place than neighboring Kabardino-Balkaria, which has experienced a resurgence of Circassian nationalism and an ongoing insurgency. However, the special treatment the Karachaevo-Cherkessian leadership receives from Moscow shows that the republic is also in the same risk category as its neighbors. Any reckless move by the central government, or a changing economic outlook, could trigger a slide into instability in this small, but complex territory.