Russian Authorities’ Mild Reaction to Killing of a Circassian Sparks Protests

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 15 Issue: 10

On May 13, a 25-year-old Circassian, Timur Ashinov, died in the hospital in the city of Adygeisk in the Republic of Adygea. Ashinov and a fellow Circassian were attacked by a mob at a pizzeria in the nearby city of Krasnodar in Krasnodar region on May 11. Even though the officials did not specify the reason for the attack, locals in Adygea believe that it was a hate crime committed by Russian skinheads. Frustrated by the absence of a reaction by the authorities to the incident, on the night of May 16, hundreds of Circassian blocked a highway at the village of Tlyustenhabl on the outskirts of Krasnodar. Top officials from Adygea and police officials from Krasnodar went to the scene of the protest and reassured the protesters that the people who had carried out what they called a pogrom had been identified and would be detained soon. The protesters then unblocked the highway and held a meeting in a town hall, where they formed a public committee to follow up on the investigation of the crime (

Firsthand accounts of the attack in Krasnodar suggest that the assailants targeted ethnic non-Russians and that the assault was well planned. An estimated 40 young men parked their cars near the pizzeria, which is owned by a Circassian, Ilyas Garipov. At about midnight, the thugs, armed with clubs, stormed the pizzeria. The entire episode took only 40 seconds and seven people were beaten up, including two persons who were left in critical condition, one of whom subsequently died in the hospital. One of the workers at the pizzeria was reportedly spared when the attackers recognized him as an ethnic Russian. All of the people who suffered in the attack were ethnic Circassians.

Yet, the spokesman for the Krasnodar city police, Artyom Konovalenko, told the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda that “it was still too early to talk about the causes of what happened.” Instead of substantive details about the attack, Konovalenko emphasized that the investigators’ focus was on the number of victims and what weapons were used in the attack. Initially, investigators launched a criminal case under the article in the Russian Criminal Code concerning hooliganism. A Russian civil activist from Krasnodar, Miroslav Valkovich, also dismissed the Circassians’ claims that the thugs specifically targeted ethnic non-Russians. Instead, Valkovich suggested the attack may have been related to a commercial conflict and was not carried out by Russian nationalists (

The level of agreement between ethnic-Russian civil organizations and the Russian authorities when it comes to problems related to ethnic non-Russians is a worrying sign in itself, and may be an indicator of emerging Russian fascism. While there are still some Russian activists in Moscow who may resist the growing wave of ethnic-Russian nationalism, Russia’s provinces have a profound lack of such public figures.

The authoritative Circassian organization in Adygea, Adyge Khase–Circassian Council, called on the well-known Circassian human rights activist Valery Khatazhukov to help spread information about the attack among international organizations, stating: “Sending this document to the law enforcement agencies of Russia, including the federal ones, is useless. It appears that fascism has become the norm in modern Russia.” According to the organization, it was not an accident that all the victims in the attack were ethnic non-Russians. Moreover, the attack itself was not surprising, the Circassian activists said, given that both the Krasnodar regional authorities and Moscow had contributed to this outcome. The group cited the school curriculum in Krasnodar region, saying it spreads xenophobia, as well as Russian politicians in Moscow, such as the infamous Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who openly attack ethnic non-Russians—specifically, North Caucasians (

It was only after one of the victims died that investigators launched criminal investigation into his death. Even then, however, the investigators invoked Article 111, Part 4 of the Russian Criminal Code, concerning “the intentional inflicting of serious bodily injury resulting in accidental death of the victim” (

The attack on the Circassians in Krasnodar comes at an extremely sensitive moment for the whole Circassian community. On May 21, the Circassians plan to mark the 150th anniversary of the end of the Russian-Circassian war. The Russian victory in that war sealed the fate of the Circassian people, a large number of whom were killed while the rest were expelled from their homeland. The Russian government quickly proceeded to resettle ethnic Russians in the entire area of the northwestern Caucasus, permanently changing the ethnic make-up of this vast territory.

Circassian activists attempted to attract the international community’s attention to this during the Olympics in Sochi earlier this year, demanding that the Russian authorities recognize the Circassian genocide. The Russian government has used pressure, cooptation, propaganda and outright lies to sideline the Circassian protesters. Now, it appears, the authorities are either reaping the results of the intolerance they sowed vis-à-vis the Circassians or actively inciting attacks by Russian nationalist thugs on Circassians. The use of informal groups of people to do such “dirty work” as attacking unwanted populations is not unusual for the Russian government in general and the Krasnodar authorities in particular. In fact, in August 2012, Krasnodar Governor Alexander Tkachyov openly stated that the Krasnodar region would use Cossacks to harass ethnic North Caucasians to keep them from migrating to the region. The Russian Investigative Committee predictably failed to prosecute the governor, saying that his statement did not constitute extremism (

Russian chauvinism in Russia regularly pits ethnic Russians against ethnic minorities, and the Circassians are the latest target of ethnic-Russian nationalists. This pressure may further deteriorate the public climate in the country and rally Circassians around their common grievances.