Scope and Depth of Circassian Question Incrementally Increases in the North Caucasus

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 13 Issue: 15

On July 3, the prime minister of Adygea, Murat Kumpilov, received a member of the Jordanian parliament, Munir Sobrok. The visitor from Jordan reportedly came to Adygea to explore the situation in the republic and make inquiries as to whether the Adygean authorities were prepared to accept Circassian refugees from Syria. Sobrok informed the Adygean officials that Jordan’s King Abdullah II was willing to help all Syrian Circassians fleeing Syria, including those who wanted to relocate to the North Caucasus. Sobrok reportedly stated that the Jordanian authorities do not put obstacles in the way of Syrian Circassians escaping violence from that country by crossing into neighboring Jordan. The details of the Jordanian envoy’s visit to Adygea were revealed by the vice president of the International Circassian Association, Mugdin Chermit, and a member of the organization Adyghe Khase-Circassian Parliament, Rashid Mugu. Strangely, the head of Adygea, Aslan Tkhakushinov, declined to meet King Abdullah’s envoy, citing a lack of time, and an aide to the prime minister, Timur Khatsats, said he did not know of a planned meeting between the two. Pressure by two opposing sides – officials in Moscow and the Circassian activists in the North Caucasus – must have resulted in a state of denial on the part of Adygean officials. At a conference in the city of Maikop on June 30, the Adygean leadership was harshly criticized by Circassian activists for inaction in regard to facilitating the Syrian Circassians’ repatriation (

Approximately 40 Circassian students from Syria study at the university in Maikop. Republican authorities and university staff vowed to support the students from Syria, who cannot return to their country because of the violence there. The officials called on the Circassian students from Syria to start filing the necessary documents for obtaining residence permits in Russia ( The Syrian Circassian student population in Kabardino-Balkaria is estimated to include 90 individuals. Beslan Khagazhei, a Circassian activist from the organization Peryt, stated that at the start of July 2012, there were over 300 Syrian Circassian refugees living in Kabardino-Balkaria, and that refugees from Syria continued to arrive in small groups. Circassian activist Boris Pashtov said that the Circassian organizations facilitated the repatriation not only of ethnic Circassians, but also of ethnic Balkars and Karachays, who are often seen as rivals of the Circassians in the North Caucasus (

Meanwhile, other North Caucasian nationalities have discovered that their compatriots are also caught up in the Syrian civil war. On July 4, the official Chechen Infonews agency reported on a visit to Kabardino-Balkaria by the first deputy head of the Chechen government’s department for external affairs, Yusup Zubairaev. According to Zubairaev, ethnic Chechens in Syria are asking the Chechen government to resettle them in the North Caucasus. It turns out that along with ethnic Circassians, members of other North Caucasian ethnicities are among the refugees from Syria in Kabardino-Balkaria ( If official Grozny decides to join forces with the Circassians to lobby the Kremlin for a comprehensive resettlement plan for North Caucasians in Syria, their combined efforts are likely to be significantly more productive than at present.

The Russian analyst Sergei Markedonov, who is currently on a fellowship at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank, recognized that the Circassian question has increased significantly in importance in the Caucasus over the past several years. Markedonov cited Georgia as a significant external factor that affects the situation in the North Caucasus and deplored the fact that Moscow had failed to provide a systemic response to the Circassian problem ( In May 2011, the Georgian parliament officially recognized the Circassian “genocide” by Russia. On June 29, Georgia’s parliament passed the comprehensive “State Strategy on Relations with the Peoples of North Caucasus” ( On July 13, a conference related to the issues of the Circassian question ended in Tbilisi. Conference participants touched on a wide array of issues, including the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, the Syrian Circassians, human rights violations in the North Caucasus and the problems of Circassian civil activism (

The perception that Moscow is doing nothing to resolve the Circassians’ problems runs very deep among Circassian activists. Asked by Kommersant why the Circassians are so intent on raising the Circassian issue and angering the Russian authorities, the head of Khase, Ibragim Yaganov, responded: “Why should the truth make the Russian authorities angry?” Yaganov noted Moscow’s lack of attention to the Circassian problem. “[U]nfortunately, up to now we have not been given [in Russia] any serious public space for discussion,” he said. “However, if the Russian state does not provide us with such an opportunity, we will look for it in other territories, in particular in Georgia, in Europe or in America. We have no other alternative.” According to Yaganov, the repatriation of the Syrian Circassians and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi are intimately linked, as the Olympics are scheduled to take place on the territory from which the ancestors of the Syrian Circassians were expelled by Russia (

The core of the Circassian problem appears to be the presence of a multi-million strong Circassian diaspora outside Russia that is de facto barred by Moscow from permanently relocating to the North Caucasus, as if the fall of the Iron Curtain has never taken place in the North Caucasus. The conflict in Syria has further galvanized Circassian activists, and the more Moscow postpones finding a resolution to the Circassian issue, the more negative is the issues “emotional background.” According to Albert Kazharov, a deputy of the Russian Federation Council (upper house of parliament) from Kabardino-Balkaria, an estimated 2,000 Syrian Circassians want to relocate to the North Caucasus, but the shortcomings of Russian legislation prevent them from returning because of bureaucratic obstacles (

Despite Moscow’s persistent attempts to renounce and ignore the Circassian problem, this issue has gained momentum due to the changing map of the Middle East, rising Circassians activism, and Russia’s own actions in the Caucasus, which have spurred Georgian policymakers to adopt a proactive approach toward the North Caucasus. Increasingly, even Russian experts on the region now reluctantly admit that Georgia’s policy is having an important effect and that Moscow is having difficulty finding a response to the Circassian question.