Circassian Diaspora Calls on Circassians in Russia to Declare Themselves Members of a Single People
Window on Eurasia, by Paul Goble
Staunton, September 15 – Arguing that Circassians living in the Russian Federation will be asked during the upcoming census not who they are but who they want to be, leaders of the more than five million-strong Circassian diaspora abroad are calling on their co-ethnics to overcome Soviet-imposed divisions and declare themselves members of a single nation.
Yesterday, Circassian websites in Turkey, Jordan and the West posted an “Appeal to Circassians Living in the Motherland from the Patriots of Circassia, saying that the rapidly approaching census in the Russian Federation will require people living there to declare “who you are” (www.cherkessia.net/bakisacimiz.php?id=3221).
The appeal said that it had “no intention” to try to tell Circassians living in Russia what they should say because “if we can today say that we still have a motherland, then we owe this to you who have continued to live there despite everything, and we believe that you are fully aware of all this.”
At the same time, the authors of the appeal continue, the diaspora is doing everything it can to merit the name “’Patriots of Circassia.’” And the diaspora believes that “the upcoming census of the population has vitally important significance for the Circassian (Adygey) people” as a whole.
“Those, as part of the genocide of our ancestors, sent them into exile, divided you who remained in the motherland into five parts and cut off our ties with our history, self-consciousness and fatherland,” the appeal says. “Today namely this fragmentation threatens our people, our existence and our future.”
The diaspora leaders say that they “believe that the Abadzekhhi, Kabardinians, Shapsugs, Ubykhs, Bzhedugi, Chemguy… (and all Adygeys) are alike and are one single people. We call ourselves in our native language ‘Adygeys,’ all others call us ‘Circassians,’ and our ancestors preferring the name ‘Circassia’ called their motherland ‘Circassia.’”
During the Russian census, the appeal says, “you will not be asked who we are today but who we want to be in the future.” Consequently, Circassians must “put an end to the fragmentation once and for all” and proudly “declare to the entire world: ‘De Dyadygeshch – We are Circassians’” and want “to be one people and one nation.”
If Circassians fail to take this opportunity, the appeal continues, and identify themselves as they were required to do in the past as Adygeys, Kabardinians, Shapsugs and so on,” they will be “approving the extension of our fragmented situation and Russification, Turkification, or Arabization.”
Given that even Russian scholars at the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology have declared that “we are one single people,” it is unfortunate, the authors of the appeal note, that this issue has not received the necessary attention from “the leaders of our society, our social organization, the International Circassian Association, and the leaders of our Republics.”
And the appeal concludes: “Long Live the Struggle of the Circassian (Adygey) People on the Path to the Establishment of One Single People!”
In advance of the census, which is unlikely to be repeated for another decade, many different peoples and many officials each with their own agendas are pushing for people to identify one way or another in the expectation that such declarations will have a profound effect on the future of their peoples.
The Circassian case is especially sensitive for three reasons. First, as the authors of this appeal certainly now, if large numbers of Adgyeys, Kabardinians and Cherkess identify as Circassians, that could weaken the position of those titular nationalities in the existing republics of the North Caucasus even if it set the stage for a broader unity.
Second, the Circassian push for a common identity, something that the Soviet and Russian governments have done whatever they could to undermine, now represents a direct challenge to Moscow because such assertions are closely linked to efforts to cancel the Sochi Olympics which are slated to take place at the site of the 1864 genocide of the Circassians.
And third, in contrast to many of the other efforts to promote new identities or as in this case restore pre-existing ones, the Circassian effort touches on foreign policy issues in a major way because while there are only about 500,000 Circassians in the North Caucasus, there are more than five million in Turkey, the Middle East, and the West more generally.
Navigating around all these issues is thus complicated not only for the Circassians but also for the Russian powers that be, and this appeal, given its circulation, is the latest and potentially the most fateful of the efforts by Circassians to overcome the Soviet inheritance and build their own future.