Circassian activists and their supporters in Ukraine continue working on a project for recognition of the Circassian “genocide.” On February 13, Dmitro Linko, a member of the Radical Party of Oleg Lyashko, registered the new legislation in the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada. On February 16, the project proceeded on to the parliament’s Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and Interethnic Affairs for preliminary consideration. Lyashko proposed the same legislation back in September 2014, but the parliament of Ukraine was soon disbanded and the initiative fell through. Designed to convince Ukraine’s parliament to recognize the “genocide” of Circassians in the Russian Empire, the project cites the Ukrainian people’s own deprivation and hardships in the common “prison house of nations” (the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union). In particular, the declaration cites the support of the international community for the recognition of the Holodomor (Hunger-extermination) in Ukraine in 1932–1933, and calls on the country’s parliament to do the same with other nations that suffered. The Ukrainian project also cites the Kabardino-Balkarian parliament’s recognition of the Circassian “genocide” back in 1992 along with more recent recognition of the Circassain “genocide” by Georgia in 2011. The legislative proposal envisages organizing an international conference on the issue in Ukraine and launching a scientific discussion of the topic (Mesoeurasia.org, February 17).
A poll by a Circassian website found that more than 80 percent of the 4,200 people polled supported Ukraine recognizing the Circassian “genocide” (Aheku.org, February 16). Given the tensions between Ukraine and Russia, some politicians in Ukraine are inclined now to adapt a more proactive policy toward the disaffected minorities in the Russian Federation. In turn, Circassian activists are keen on using this opportunity to obtain recognition from yet another state in the post-Soviet space, Ukraine. Back in May 2014, Circassian activists and their supporters asked the Ukrainian government to recognize the Circassian “genocide” and found quite a few sympathizers.
Historical accounts by Russian military officers and historians in the 19th century leave little doubt that the Russian army used extreme cruelty to force Circassians from their homeland or simply deported them in large numbers. Famine and disease were engineered in historical Circassia to break Russia’s adversaries. The Black Sea coast occupied a prominent place in Russian strategic thinking, while the Caspian Sea was seen as a much less valuable asset. So, the Circassians who populated large swaths of land on the Black Seacoast suffered nearly total extermination at the hands of the Russian army, while the North Caucasians in the eastern and central parts of the North Caucasus largely managed to hold on to their homeland. Circassian activists say that even today the Russian government is continuing a genocidal policy toward the Circassian people. In particular, the large and vibrant Circassian diaspora in Turkey has extremely limited access to their homeland. A recent example was the deportation from Russia of a Turkish scholar of Circassian origin, Erdogan Boz, in November 2014 (see EDM, December 3).
Ironically, Boz belongs to a Russia-friendly Turkish organization, KAFFED, which has tried to stay on good terms with Moscow. In a recent letter, Boz asked the Kabardino-Balkarian rights activist Valery Khatazhukov to help him to visit the North Caucasus. According to Boz, he was deported from Russia without an explanation and even officials at the Russian embassy in Ankara told him they did not know why he was denied entry (Aheku.org, February 9).
According to the well-known Russian expert on emigration and refugees, Anna Gannushkina, prior to 2015 foreigners prevented from entering Russia on political grounds were not given a reason. In 2015, new legislation came into force requiring the government to inform those barred of the reason they were not allowed to visit Russia. Nine government agencies in Russia have the right to refuse an entry permit to a foreign visitor. According to Gannushkina, if the visitor is turned down for political reasons, the ban normally has no time limits, and there is no mechanism to lift the ban. At least now visitors denied entry into Russia can make inquiries about the reason for the denial, even though Gannushkina admitted she did not know if Russian officials actually responded to such requests (Kavkazsky Uzel, February 12).
The Russian government seems to deny the Circassians even the basic right to associate freely with their cross-border kin, thereby creating even greater demand among them to seek support abroad. With the Russian-Ukrainian armed standoff in eastern Ukraine continuing, the Ukrainian side is significantly distracted as a result of Russia’s assaults and cannot pay much attention to Circassian pleas for recognition. However, when and if the war stops and tensions dissipate, the Ukrainian government is likely to adopt a much more proactive policy toward the minorities in the Russian Federation than in the past. The North Caucasus is a natural area for Ukraine to start supporting the disaffected peoples, such as the Circassians and others national minorities.