The Russian Internet catalogue of dissertations, Dslib.net, published a remarkable work by Aslan Kazakov, “The activities of the Kabardino-Balkarian security bodies in neutralizing the subversive actions of émigré organizations in 1920-1950.” The study was done in 2005, but its importance has only grown since then, as the public has become more aware of the Circassian question (www.dslib.net). Moscow plans to host the Winter Olympics in the Russian Black Sea coastal resort of Sochi in 2014, while the Circassians say this was their ancestral land captured and cleared by the Russians and therefore is not suitable for holding the Olympics. In the road to the Sochi Olympics the estimated seven million strong Circassian diaspora has renewed its efforts to focus the attention of the world community on the events of the nineteenth century, when the Russian empire virtually wiped out historical Circassia, killing and deporting an estimated 90 percent of its population.
Kazakov’s study remains relevant because it reflects not only the Soviet-era KGB’s tactics in what the Soviets described as thwarting deleterious foreign influences, but also may offer a glimpse into the current thinking of the Russian security services. Since the Circassian diaspora is currently actively seeking to have an impact on the processes in its historical homeland in the North Caucasus, much of the old Soviet experiences may be instructive for better understanding the Russian government’s positions. The Russian security services remain perhaps one of the least transformed surviving state institutions of the former USSR, which makes Kazakov’s study even more worthy of close examination. The author himself points out that the practical value of his opus would be in providing assistance to the government in “counterintelligence work on terrorist and extremist organizations harboring separatist ideas.” Kazakov concludes his study with a telling remark: “The examples and experience of the regional security services that passed the difficult exam of fighting émigré separatist organizations, and the subversive activities of foreign security services behind them, can be used under contemporary conditions, when there are forces interested in dismembering Russia and the state has not worked out clear mechanisms to withstand that.”
Colonel Aslan Kazakov holds a doctoral candidate’s degree in history and lives in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria’s capital. His study on the Soviet security services has a caption of the FSB’s Academy – the contemporary equivalent of the Soviet-era KGB. Judging by Kazakov’s other published articles, his personal approach to the catastrophe that the Circassians suffered at the hands of the Russian empire’s hands in the nineteenth century is complex. On the one hand, Kazakov vehemently opposes those Russian authors who do not acknowledge the genocidal practices of the Russian army in Circassia, but on the other, he insists those historical events do not bear political relevance now (https://www.adygvoice.ru/newsview.php?uid=1188).
While Kazakov’s study of the Soviet security services and the North Caucasian émigré organizations blames al-Qaeda and other unnamed foreign sources that foment unrest in the North Caucasus, he also points to Islam’s role in fueling tensions in the region. This approach coincides to a great degree with the general official view in Moscow of the insurgency in the North Caucasus, especially the hardline element, which does not mention the Russian government’s own shortcomings and mistakes in the region.
Following the breakup of the Soviet Union and the subsequent opportunities the North Caucasians received to rediscover their own past, the subject of the North Caucasian émigrés ceased to be taboo. All of a sudden, the prominent émigrés who had once been either condemned as “traitors” and “anti-Soviet elements,” or simply left in oblivion, became widely known to the public and often were portrayed in a positive light. Kazakov strives to reverse this trend, condemning some of the North Caucasian émigrés and dismissing the émigrés as a complacent tool in the hands of hostile foreign security services. “The authors of certain publications do not always use reliable sources [and] allow themselves inaccuracies, acting sometimes on purpose. The authors try to represent the subversive activities against USSR as a struggle against totalitarianism, while downplaying the importance of the [émigrés’] links to the [foreign] security services,” Kazakov complains.
In particular, the researcher rejects positive portrayals of Said-bek (the grandchild of the famous Imam Shamil), the Ossetian emigrant-activist Barasbi Baitugan, the charismatic Kumyk leader Gaidar Bammat and Majir Kachkarov, a Karachay “fascist collaborationist.” He condemns each of them for links to various security services, like those of Nazi Germany, Romany, Britain, Poland and the United States. Symptomatically, Kazakov refers to sheer numbers and pages of the documents in the KGB archives in Kabardino-Balkaria, which says nothing to the readers. So it is hard to conclude whether the researcher really has hard evidence against these people, is taking KGB archival information for granted or simply attempting to influence public opinion.
According to Kazakov, after the defeat in the Russian civil war that followed the 1917 Bolshevik coup d’état, the North Caucasian émigrés in Turkey split roughly into two groups. The monarchist group consisted of former Tsarist officials in the North Caucasus, like khan Avar, Bekovich-Cherkassky and others who wanted to fight for the old-fashioned, pre-1917 Russia. The republican group, headed by Akhmed Tsalikov and Alikhan Kantemir, was in favor of a North Caucasus independent from Russia. The monarchist group was initially the most popular since it enjoyed support from other Russian émigré circles and, reportedly, their host governments.
In 1921, the North Caucasian officers in Turkey, many of them Circassians, like Count Tembot Zhankhotovich, Bekovich-Cherkassky, Sergei Ulagai, Kuchuk Ulagai and Kelech Sultan-Girei, organized a cavalry division to invade the North Caucasus that apparently was never used. In 1923, Turkish emissaries reportedly arrived in Chechnya, where they convinced the local Muslim clergy to demand a local parliament for the Chechens that would in turn invite in the Turks.
Kazakov denotes the great variety among the North Caucasian émigré organizations that sprang to life after many people were forced to leave their homeland in the 1920’s. These organizations often had diverging visions for the region’s future but eventually drifted toward separatism, aiming to have the North Caucasus independent from Russia rather than rejoining the status-quo of imperial Russia.
The study shows that the Bolshevik government adopted quite an aggressive reconnaissance campaign from the very beginning and used Circassian cadres to infiltrate the diaspora. A spy originating from Adyghea and nicknamed “A” was dispatched abroad and helped the Soviet government to intercept important information in the diaspora in Bulgaria as early as in 1920. Another spy, originating from Kabardino-Balkaria and nicknamed “Ch” reportedly uncovered a “Turkish plot” in the North Caucasus, Azerbaijan and Georgia. It is interesting, that nearly 100 years after these events the Russian security agencies still do not reveal the actual names of those spies.