Violence in Kabardino-Balkaria Continues as Circassian ‘Officials’ Reiterate Support for Kremlin-Backed Sochi Olympics
Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 14 Issue: 20
On October 18, an explosion shook the village of Dugulubgei in the Baksan district of Kabardino-Balkaria. An improvised explosive device (IED) with an estimated force of 10 kilograms of TNT exploded at a local cemetery located next to a mosque. The remains of two people were found at the site of the explosion. According to the police, they may have been preparing an attack on a funeral, but accidentally blew themselves up. Orkhan Jemal, head of the Islamic Committee of Russia and an outspoken critic of Russian policies in the North Caucasus, said that the attack most likely was organized by the security services to create a specific “nervous situation” in the republic (https://www.bigcaucasus.com/events/actual/18-10-2013/87175-kbr-0/). Also on October 18, police in Nalchik killed a driver identified as Timur Dyshekov, a 30-year-old resident of the city of Baksan. The police attempted to stop Dyshekov’s car to check his documents, but he opened fire on them and was killed by return fire. No police officers or civilians were hurt in the incident (https://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/231909/). In a third incident that day, a police lieutenant, Rustem Bzhenikov, was killed at a local hospital in the village of Zalukokoazhe by attackers using automatic weapons (https://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/231932/).
There are frequent reports from Kabardino-Balkaria of police trying to stop a motorist who then opens fire on them and is killed by return fire. These multiple stories are so alike that it seems likely the police are employing a new tactic best described as the extralegal murder of suspects followed by news reports designed to shield them from criticism. The fact that three violent incidents took place in the republic in one day shows the situation in Kabardino-Balkaria is far from stable.
Meanwhile, Moscow is leading a campaign in Kabardino-Balkaria to convince Circassians to support the Winter Olympics in Sochi. At a recent conference of Russian experts held in Kabardino-Balkaria, the head of the republic, Arsen Kanokov, repeatedly reassured the participants that both the leadership and the general population of the republic supported the Olympics in Sochi next February. Kanokov told the conference that the idea of the North Caucasus’ separation from Russia was “artificial and only suits those who are trying to destabilize the situation in southern Russia.” At the same time, Kanokov emphasized the value of the Circassian diaspora abroad for Russian foreign policy goals. At the end of his speech, Kanokov, reportedly exclaimed “We are 450 years with Russia!” (https://cir.rus4all.ru/news/20131008/724494590.html).
Kanokov’s optimism and reassurances glaringly differ from reality. All historical accounts suggest that after the Russian conquest of the North Caucasus in the 19th century, the Circassian population of the region was decimated to the point of being nearly exterminated. Contemporary Russian historians tend to portray the Circassian population loss as the voluntary departure of the Circassians from their homeland to the Ottoman Empire. Circassian historians say that Russia engaged in an act of “genocide,” cleansing the strategically important Black Sea coast of non-Russians by means of killings, acts of terror, the spread of disease and mass deportations.
There are few Circassian voices, apart from those in the government, who openly support the Olympics in Sochi. Apparently, in order to cast Russian policies toward the Circassians in a favorable light, the Russian government is using the International Circassian Association (ICA), an organization created by the Federal Security Service (FSB), to organize and host tours for members of the Circassian diaspora to the North Caucasus. On October 16, a delegation of Circassians from Syria, Turkey, Germany, the United States, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) visited Sochi and endorsed the upcoming Games. Members of the delegation met with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, who promised that the Circassian cultural tradition would be “widely represented during the Olympics.” All other statements by Kozak were too vague to count as promises. The majority of the members of the delegation came from the International Circassian Association, an organization that has supported the Olympics in Sochi from the very beginning. It is also likely that the Russian government paid for their tour (https://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/231844/).
Circassians in the North Caucasus were angered by the diaspora’s pliancy and betrayal. “It is doubtful that they did not understand that they were cynically used by the Russian authorities in a banal propaganda war against their own people,” Aslanbek Tambiev wrote on the Circassian website Aheku.org. Tambiev concluded that Moscow exposed a “fifth column” in the Circassian diaspora that would lose all the influence it may have had previously (https://www.aheku.org/news/diaspora/4943). Arambiy Khapai, a Circassian activist and one-time renowned athlete, condemned the statements by the Circassian delegation supporting the Olympics, claiming that they did not represent Circassians. Khapai further told the Natpress news agency that the authorities were preparing a conference in Karachaevo-Cherkessia at which Circassians would express support for the Olympics. So the activist suggested that Circassian activists in the North Caucasus should hold a conference to work out a policy toward those who fail to support the Circassians’ boycott of the Sochi Olympics (https://www.natpress.ru/index.php?newsid=8451).
The Circassian diaspora is highly diverse and much of it is fully aware of Russia’s role in the Circassians’ past and present troubles. Jordanian Circassians sent a letter to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili thanking him for recently raising the Circassian issue in his United Nations speech, as well as for his other moves on behalf of the Circassians. In the letter, the Circassian activists expressed their belief that the Georgian president “would not spare effort to free the peoples of the Caucasus from the yoke of colonialism” (https://kavkasia.net/Georgia/2013/1381993035.php).
With the Olympics in Sochi drawing closer, the Russian government is using propaganda tools more extensively. The Russian propaganda effort, however, is not likely to succeed because unconditional support for the Olympics in Sochi is hardly an option today for any independent Circassian activist.