Tag Archives: Circassian Emigrants

A Crush on Syria, by Sergey Markedonov

Russia’s Motives for Supporting Syria’s Current Regime Are Pragmatic, but Diplomats Are Failing to Articulate Them Properly

Comment by Sergey Markedonov
Special to Russia Profile

The Russian Foreign Ministry declared last week that it considers the statements by the United States and its European allies regarding the illegitimacy of current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad unacceptable. According to Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, such statements “are counterproductive as they give a false signal to the opposition that there is no reason to engage in dialogue, that it’s better to expect help from NATO and the West, as was the case in Libya.” So why is Russia so stringently opposed to Western intervention in this Arab country?

Civil strife in Syria has lasted for a year now. The United Nations estimates that over this period about 5,500 people have been killed. Right from the start of the conflict Moscow has been consistently opposed to foreign military intervention and regime change. It called for the rejection of any one-sided assessment in favor of dialogue by the opposing sides and shared political responsibilities between them. This raises a legitimate question: what determines the Russian diplomats’ stance?

As Daniel Treisman, a professor at the University of California in Los Angeles, aptly put it: “Western commentators typically attribute such behavior to Vladimir Putin’s personal paranoia or to attempts to rekindle the nation’s wounded pride and assert Russia’s superpower status. Look a little closer, however, and Russia’s actions seem motivated more by calculated – albeit sometimes miscalculated – realpolitik than by psychological impulses.”

Attempts to explain Moscow’s position on the Syrian issue from the perspective of the Putin regime’s non-democratic nature are out of touch with reality. Sure, Moscow is in league with China or Venezuela on this. But the United States and other NATO countries also identify themselves with Bashar al-Assad’s opponents like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar, which do not share Western democratic values.

Meanwhile, one year ago Saudi Arabia sent 1,000 troops, while the United Arab Emirates dispatched some 500 police officers, to intervene in the internal political struggle in Bahrain, which resulted in a harsh crackdown on anti-government protests. Eight activists were sentenced to life in prison. It’s telling that neither Washington nor Brussels showed the slightest concern about the “suppressed Bahraini democracy and human rights.”

What, then, are Moscow’s motives, if they are not just a question of supporting “a spiritually close dictator?” From my point of view, “the Syrian question” in Russia is a three-dimensional phenomenon. The first dimension, strictly speaking, has nothing to do with Syria. It concerns Moscow’s long-running dispute (often together with Beijing and New Delhi) with the West about the relationship between sovereignty and intervention in the domestic political process. That controversy dates back to the ethnic conflicts in the Balkans.

For the sake of objectivity, it is worth noting that Moscow has not always been consistent. In August of 2008 it recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, even though over the previous 17 years it built its relations with Georgia on the basis of Georgia’s territorial integrity. Yet in 2008 the Kremlin did not push for regime change in Georgia by supporting the alternative “people’s government.” In any case, in most situations Russia does not take kindly to regime change imposed from the outside.

It is perhaps no secret that international institutions erode state sovereignty. Much has been said about the ineffectiveness of the United Nations. However, preserving the integrity of the United Nations has never been of abstract, but of practical significance to Moscow. While that may not be much, it does allow Russia to hold on to the status of a beneficiary in global politics, gained by the Soviet Union in 1945. Without that, Moscow’s voice in international politics would be much weaker.

The second has to do with bilateral Russian-Syrian relations. As Treisman rightly said, “Russia has real commercial interests in Syria. Contracts to sell arms to Damascus – both those signed and under negotiation – total $5 billion. Having lost $13 billion due to international sanctions on Iran and $4.5 billion in canceled contracts to Libya, Russia’s defense industry is already reeling. Besides arms exports, Russian companies have major investments in Syria’s infrastructure, energy and tourism sectors.” But that’s not all. The Russian naval forces have a base on Syrian territory. The base in the Syrian port of Tartus is Russia’s only military object in the Mediterranean Sea. And there have so far been no alternative proposals from Moscow’s other partners.

The third has an internal Russian dimension to it. It is related to the situation in the North Caucasus, the most problematic region of the country. From the moment Russia first launched the first military operation in Chechnya in late 1994, Moscow faced the problem not only of such decisions’ internal legitimacy, but also of how to minimize the risk to its foreign policy. In this case it is about a region inhabited by millions of Muslims, connected to the wider Muslim world through thousands of networks. There was never a common position in relation to Russia’s North Caucasus policy in the Arab world (and there is none now), considering the diverse interests of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Qatar.

But while Damascus supported the territorial integrity of Russia and condemned the terrorist attacks carried out first by separatist forces and later by the Islamic underground, Qatar played host to one of the leaders of the unrecognized Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. Moreover, Bashar al-Assad clearly took Russia’s side during the “five-day war” with Georgia in 2008, calling it a “guarantor of peace” in the North Caucasus Region. Now that growth in Islamic sentiment is more or less the only practical result of the “Arab Spring,” the defeat of the secular Assad regime cannot but be a cause for concern in Moscow.

One interesting fact: during the presidential campaign in Russia, Mikhail Prokhorov, who positioned himself as a liberal, sharply attacked Western policy in Syria. His argument then was largely based on those concerns, especially since among the opponents of secular power in Syria there are many people who are willing to support the “just struggle of the brothers in faith” in the North Caucasus.

Another equally important Syrian “Caucasus factor” is the situation of the Circassian community in that country. The community, which has been loyal to the Syrian authorities, is now suffering from the civil conflict. It’s no coincidence that the Circassian community has appealed to Russian leadership with requests for repatriation. According to Sufian Zhemukhov, a political analyst and journalist, the “‘Syrian question’ has given the Kremlin the only real chance to decouple the Circassian problem from the Sochi Olympics. This will not solve the Circassian question, but it will remove the issue from the agenda before the Olympics games. The resettlement of the Circassians from Syria to the Caucasus will marginalize anti-Russian activists in the Diaspora.”

Thus Russia’s interests in Syria should not be viewed solely as “phantoms of the Cold War” and the complexes of Russian leaders. To a large extent, Moscow’s approaches are pragmatic. Unfortunately, until now Russia has been unable to articulate its interests in an understandable way and to defend them with well-formulated arguments.

Sergey Markedonov, Ph.D., is a political analyst and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Russia and Eurasia Program, in Washington, DC.

Source: Russia Profile


Russia, The South Caucasus and the Caspian: A Handbook, by Patrick Armstrong

Russia, The South Caucasus and the Caspian: A Handbook

Patrick Armstrong Ph.D.

Ottawa, Canada, August 1998

Executive Summary

The Caspian Sea area is shaping up to be one of the biggest sources of oil and gas in the world. A conservative estimate gives about one-sixth the amount of oil as there is in the Gulf area. Every major oil-connected company (including many Canadian companies) is involved today in the oil business in and around the Caspian. Other interests will pull the West, into the area.

The Caspian area – particularly the Caucasus – is extraordinarily complicated: there is no other like it anywhere. Dozens of distinct peoples claim it as their home. Many more peoples have arrived “recently” (ie in the past millennium). Since 1991, six wars have been fought in the Caucasus and none of them has produced a final settlement. There are at least nine outstanding border disputes – ten if one counts the Caspian Sea itself. The area is so uniquely complicated, with such an entanglement of ethnic and historical concerns, that ignorance of its complexities can be fatal for wise policy.

This paper is intended to be a reference guide and not to be read straight through; continuous reading would, therefore, reveal a good deal of duplication. The Table of Contents has been arranged so that the reader can directly turn to the sections of concern.

The sections are summarized below.

  • Oil and Gas” discusses current expectations of Caspian hydrocarbon reserves. It is thought that the Caspian area contains at least 100 billion barrels of oil and 500-600 trillion cubic feet of gas. But, as much is not yet explored, there may be more.
  • The Land” gives an overview of the geography of the territory under discussion.
  • The Peoples of the Caucasus” describes the extraordinary ethnography of the Caucasus in which are found, at least, twenty-six distinct peoples who call the area home. In addition to the “natives”, the years in the Russian and Soviet Empires means that many other peoples now make the area home.
  • History” sketches the major events of the Caucasus from early times to the present. Generally speaking, the Mountaineers (the peoples of the North Caucasus) were independent until conquest, after a tremendous resistance, by Russia in the Nineteenth Century. The South Caucasus had lost its independence centuries before to Ottoman and Persian power. It was conquered (if Muslim) or “liberated” (if Christian) by Russia during the Nineteenth Century until, by 1900, for the first time in history, one power ruled the whole Caucasus. All peoples tried for independence after the collapse of the Tsarist Empire but were brought under communist power. Demands for independence re-appeared after the fall of the Soviet Empire.
  • Memories are long in the Caucasus and the section “National Dreams and Nightmares” recounts the national myths of the area. Georgians dream of the Greater Georgia of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. Armenians cannot forget the massacres of Armenians by Turkish power. Azerbaijanis seek to find their identity whether as Turks, as Caucasians or as Muslims. Mountaineers dream of a Mountain Republic, free from outside power. The collapse of Soviet power liberated all these dreams and nightmares.
  • Diasporas” speaks of the large and influential populations of Armenians and Mountaineers who have transported their national myths to their new countries.
  • Soviet legacies” briefly touches on the problems and – even – the benefits of seventy years of communist rule on the area.
  • Sufism-Wahhabism – An Islamic Fissure” discusses a tension that has already caused strife in Chechnya and Dagestan and may cause much more. The traditional form of Islam in the east North Caucasus – Naqshbandi Sufism – appears to be under threat from a rigorously purist form of Islam from Arabia – Wahhabism.
  • Post 1985 wars” gives a brief account of the wars fought in the area since the Gorbachev reforms began to release the pressures built up by the communist system – the Karabakh war between Armenians and Azerbaijanis; the Ingush-Ossetian troubles; the Russo-Chechen war; the Georgian civil war; the war between the Abkhazians and the Georgians and between the Ossetians and the Georgians. This section is the most argumentative portion because the fairly widely held belief that Moscow started and maintained these troubles must be combated. In most cases, these wars have their origins in Stalin’s border decisions, which the world recognized in 1991 and 1992.
  • Potential Border Disputes” deals with some potential war-causing territorial and ethnic disputes. These have not so far caused any great amount of violence but could explode.
  • Historical Hatreds” attempts to describe the attitudes that Armenians and Azerbaijanis; Georgians and Russians; Chechens and Russians have towards each other. These attitudes – hatred or contempt for the most part – greatly affect relations in this small area.
  • The sections “Kalmykia” and “Tengiz Oil and Gas Field” move the reader out of the Caucasus proper to the north end of the area. The Tengiz field is already producing and one of the possible pipeline routes from it passes through Kalmykia. Output may also be connected to the central Caspian fields and so this area may become connected to the Caucasus.
  • Caspian Sea Borders” discusses one of the initial problems: the littoral states cannot agree on how to divide up the Sea. However, now that Moscow has virtually agreed to the position that Baku has held all along, this issue is close to settlement and the entire area will likely be exclusively divided among the littoral states.
  • Pipeline Routes” briefly discusses the principal routes suggested for the exit of the oil and gas to their customers. A vexed question which has attracted some extreme statements, it seems that the Russian and Georgian routes will certainly be used while the others depend on the price of oil.
  • National Interests” sets out what the players can expect to gain from the Caspian hydrocarbons. President Aliyev of Azerbaijan has very cleverly involved almost all players in almost all possibilities. This represents a force for stabilization as nearly all can become “winners” of something. But, three players – Armenia, Karabakh and Abkhazia (and the last two are the local military powers) – have been altogether left out. Russia’s involvement is also discussed and it is argued that Moscow’s involvement is no more or less malign than anyone else’s and that any attempt to cut Moscow out of the profits is, simply, impossible.
  • Federalism” highlights what is probably the only stable long-term solution for the area in which a mono-ethnic “homeland” state can only be established by war.

A number of appendices complete the Handbook.

If there is as much oil and gas in the Caspian as there seems to be, the Caspian, and all the peculiar problems of the peoples who live nearby, will be the stuff of headlines, international meetings and briefings for years to come.

>>Download the full-text document in PDF format (1. 06 MB)

Patrick Armstrong received a PhD from Kings College, University of London, England in 1976 and started working for the Canadian government as a defence scientist in 1977. He began a 22-year specialisation on the USSR and then Russia in 1984, and was Political Counsellor in the Canadian Embassy in Moscow from 1993 to 1996.

Western Caucasian Dolmens, V.I. Markovin

Western Caucasian Dolmens, V.I. Markovin


Anthropology & Archeology of Eurasia, vol. 41, no. 4 (Spring 2002), pp. 68– 88.
© 2003 M.E. Sharpe, Inc. All rights reserved.
ISSN 1061–1959/2003

Vladimir Ivanovich MARKOVIN

Western Caucasian Dolmens
Mysticism, Scientific Opinions,
and Perspectives on Further Study

If a scientific thought has sustained the touchstone of criticism,
it will remain a link in the golden chain of knowledge. 

—Arnold Joseph Toynbee, A Study of Historya

Every type of monument from the western Caucasus gains certain popularity from time to time. When this happens, it receives extensive coverage in the media and newspapers, radio, and television run endless stories on it. This was the case with the tower structures in Chechnya and Ingushetia in the 1960–70s. Lively debates about the Alans’ antiquities were held and are still being held in the Northern Osetia, Karachai-Cherkessia, and Kabardin-Balkaria. Recently in Krasnodar region and Adygeia, enormous interest in the dolmens has arisen. The region surrounding the town Gelendzhika was especially lucky in this regard. The interest was caused not by specialists’ scientific research, but by small books by Vladimir Megre, published as part of the series “Ringing Cedars of Russia” (Megre 1997a,b; 1998). Enjoying great success, these books caused a sensation, not so much among local inhabitants as among vacationers. The dolmens’ sites became a place of pilgrimage, and the monuments themselves, a place of worship. People adorn their foothills with flowers and turn to them with their questions and requests. Such touching scenes were shown once on the television show “Travelers’ Club.” They were so impressive that they attracted the attention of the Dutch archeologist Albert Becker, who was visiting Russia. He managed to visit a “Black Sea Mecca” and photograph “pilgrims” praying near the dolmens (Trifonov 1999).

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The Circassian “genocide” is no longer as badly neglected as it was. – An interview with Stephen Shenfield

November 2009

Stephen Shenfield, author of the famous article ”The Circassians: A Forgotten Genocide?” thinks that increased Circassian nationalism has generated a threat perception that makes Russian policy harsher and more repressive. He shared with CircassianWorld.com his thoughts on factors that may bring about a positive change in Russian policy toward the Circassians. CW gratefully acknowledges the insights that Mr. Shenfield has kindly shared with us.

The views expressed in this commentary are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Circassian World.

Profile: Stephen D. Shenfield comes from Britain, where he initially qualified as a mathematician. In the 1970s he worked in the Government Statistical Service. Later he specialized in Soviet Studies, obtaining a Ph.D. from the University of Birmingham. In the 1990s he went to the USA to take up a position as researcher at Brown University’s Watson Institute of International Studies, also teaching in the university’s International Relations Program.

Since 2000 he has been a freelance translator and writer. He produces the Research and Analytical Supplement to Johnson’s Russia List, an e-mail listing on Russian affairs (for an archive of past issues, see http://www.cdi.org/russia/johnson/jrl-ras.cfm).

He is the author of two books – The Nuclear Dilemma: Explorations in Soviet Ideology (Routledge, 1987) and Russian Fascism: Traditions, Tendencies, Movements (M.E. Sharpe, 2001) – as well as numerous articles, book chapters, etc. A collection of his recent articles on political and economic issues is online at http://www.scribd.com/doc/16325984/World-Socialism-40

  I think your article ”The Circassians: A Forgotten Genocide?” which was published in the book ”The Massacre in History” was the first extended work about the ‘Circassian Genocide’ which was written by a Western writer. How did you decide to write about it and will we see similar works in the future?

STEPHEN SHENFIELD:  First of all, I was not the first Western scholar to write about the Circassian “genocide.” A substantial article on the topic by Willis Brooks appeared in the journal Nationalities Papers in 1995. I cite it in note 8 to my essay. Perhaps there were others over the years whose works attracted little attention at the time and later sank into oblivion. Only a thorough bibliographical search, covering the various Western languages, would enable us to determine who was first.

I acquired an interest in Circassian history through my love of maps. I have been fascinated by maps ever since I discovered their existence as a child. A friend of mine at Brown University had a sideline dealing in antiques. He was not very successful in this endeavor and decided to give up and sell off his stock cheap. I bought from him a number of 18th and 19th century maps of Europe, Russia, and the Middle East.

Poring over these maps, I discovered that there used to be quite a sizeable country in the Caucasus called Circassia that grew smaller and finally disappeared altogether, swallowed up by Russia. Curious to learn more, I searched the university library for literature on Circassia. I found a number of books by 19th century authors who had traveled in the Caucasus, and also a Russian-language edition of a book by the Circassian historian Trakho. I realized that I had stumbled across a whole dimension of history that seemed to have been almost completely forgotten, at least in the West.

I do not plan any similar works in the future. Since leaving Brown University in 2000, I have been working freelance. I earn my living mostly by translating academic texts from Russian for the translation journals published by M.E. Sharpe of New York. So I am not well placed to devote myself to in-depth scholarly research. But from the point of view of historical scholarship that doesn’t matter, because there are now several new people working in the field. In particular, I would draw attention to the important work of Irma Kreiten of the University of Southampton, whose article appeared recently (June 2009) in the Journal of Genocide Research.

So the Circassian “genocide” and Circassian history in general are no longer as badly neglected as they were. I am glad to have played my part by helping to revive interest in these subjects.

CW: How might Circassians use the Sochi 2014 Olympics as a platform to voice their concerns regarding their homeland and create a dialogue with the Russian Federation with regard to their concerns?

  Assuming that the Olympics do take place, which is by no means certain in view of the economic situation, I expect them to be preceded by the detention of many potential protestors and accompanied by a massive police presence. I also expect that known Circassian activists from abroad will not be allowed to enter the country. So it will be extremely difficult to use the games as a platform. A few people may slip through the net and mount a brief protest before they are bundled away. If the incident is noticed by the media, it may bring a little publicity to the Circassian cause. But I do not see what it will do to promote a dialogue.

The first question to ask about dialogue is whether it is possible at all, and if so under what conditions and with whom exactly? You cannot conduct a dialogue with a country, but only with specific people.

I do not think that dialogue is possible with those who rely on a policy of terror, repression, and intimidation and are incapable of understanding anything else. Under Putin such people were in the ascendancy. The situation now is more ambiguous.

When Medvedev took over as president, he and Putin came to an agreement on the division of authority between them. Russian analysts call this system a “tandemocracy” (from the word “tandem” – a bicycle made for two). The details of this agreement are secret, but it seems reasonable to suppose that the “force structures” – the police, armed forces, and security agencies – remain under Putin’s control, even though the Russian constitution places these structures directly under the president, not the prime minister.

So Medvedev is not a “real” president. He may gradually become a real president, but only as the result of a protracted power struggle. As he appoints more officials on whose loyalty he can count, his real power should increase. But can he avert the threat of Putin’s return to the presidency?

Although Medvedev tries to avoid public confrontation with Putin, it is clear from the views he has expressed that the two men have quite different approaches to policy. Medvedev is more liberal, open-minded, and conciliatory. He has a much more sober appreciation of the depth of the problems that Russia faces. And he is more inclined to be honest about the past, as shown by his opposition to the recent attempts to rehabilitate Stalin.

Therefore I think there is a chance of fruitful dialogue with Medvedev and his people. A start might be made by contacting one of the think tanks with which he has links. Of course, those who seek such a dialogue must be “respectable” in Russian terms. Above all, they must constantly emphasize that they respect the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.

CW: Under what conditions should Russia solve the three main goals of the Circassian nation: 1) the recognition of the genocide 2) the repatriation of the Diaspora, and 3) the re-unification of the Circassian territories into one region in Russia?

  On the question of the genocide, I should first say that I never reached the categorical conclusion that what the tsarist government did to the Circassians qualifies as genocide. I consider it a borderline case. The tsarist government resolved to expel the Circassians from their homeland, as quickly as possible and without regard to the suffering involved, but not to wipe them out to the last man, woman, and child.

Raising the question of genocide in such a borderline case gets you into nitpicking arguments that can go on forever without being resolved. We see this in the argument between Russian and Ukrainian nationalists over whether the famine in Ukraine in the early 1930s was genocide. That is another borderline case.

I suggest asking the Russian authorities to recognise not “the genocide” but the fact of the cruel, ruthless, and unjust treatment of the Circassians by the tsarist government. Even this will be far from easy, given the attachment of so many Russians to a false idealized view of Russia’s imperial past.

The return of the Diaspora and the unification of the Circassian territories are even more difficult. At present, it is quite an achievement simply to preserve the autonomous ethnic territories in face of the official campaign to abolish them altogether. Many Buryats wanted to unite their three territories in eastern Siberia. Now there is a single Buryat territory because the other two (Ust Orda and Aga Buryat) have been abolished.

Another problem is that even relatively liberal-minded Russians tend to view ethnic territories as archaic and inherently discriminatory. Western ideas about ethnic groups as “invented” or “imaginary” communities have further legitimized this attitude. A case in point is my friend and colleague Valery Tishkov, director of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In his recent writings he appeals to us to “forget the nation.” He takes a firm stand against violations of the human rights of members of ethnic minorities, but he does not recognize ethnic communities as political actors with specific collective rights.

CW:  How can Circassians work together with other ethnic minorities within the Caucasus to help protect their rights as an indigenous people of the Caucasus and eventually to create a unified republic?

  The important thing is to understand that nothing can be achieved except by working together with the other peoples of the Caucasus in pursuit of shared goals.

Even those who might be sympathetic to Circassian aspirations in principle – and that includes myself – worry about the possible exacerbation of conflict over land between Circassians and neighboring ethnic groups such as the Karachai and Balkars. Such conflicts already exist and they are surely bound to get worse as more and more Circassians return to their ancestral homeland – unless a clear understanding is reached with the other peoples living in the Caucasus. An understanding on the use and allocation of land, water, and other vital resources as well as on the distribution of political power.

That is why dialogue with public organizations representing all these other ethnic groups is at least as important as dialogue with the Russian authorities.

CW:  If you were advising President Medvedev, what policy with regard to the Northwest Caucasus would you recommend and why?

  I would not venture to give him advice, except to point out to him that Russia has its own real experts on the region, people who have spent their lives studying the region and its problems, who know its history, languages, cultures, ecology, economy, and so forth. Let President Medvedev and his colleagues listen to them and pay heed to what they say.

I am not a real expert on the Caucasus, by the way. I am sometimes considered one, but that is because – to quote one of my favorite Russian proverbs – “in the absence of fish, even a crayfish is a fish” (pri bezrybii i rak ryba).

CW:  Do you see a change in Russian policies toward the Northwest Caucasus in light of increased Circassian nationalism in the homeland and abroad.

  I think it has generated a threat perception that makes Russian policy harsher, more repressive.

CW:  Do you see Circassians being threatened with the rise of a Cossack national movement making it more difficult to preserve their own way of life, customs and languages?

  To the extent that it is just a matter of dressing up in Cossack costume (which was in fact copied from Circassian costume), singing and dancing, the Cossack movement is no threat. But as an indoctrinated, organized, and armed paramilitary force, the Cossack movement is a threat to all non-Slavic minorities – and not just to their customs and languages, but to their physical security, even their lives. We see this most clearly from the Cossack attacks on the Meskhetian Turks.

The Cossack movement is also an obstacle to recognition of the cruel and unjust treatment of the Circassians and other mountain peoples of the Caucasus under the tsars. After all, it was above all the Cossacks who meted out those cruelties. It is hard to see how an undiscriminating emotional attachment to the Cossack heritage can be combined with an honest recognition of historical truth.

CW:  The proposed shortfalls in financial aid in the form of subsidies from the Centre to Republican elites in the North Caucasus could become a catalyst which increases the cycle of violence in the North Caucasus. Do you think that the rise of nationalism and religious fervor in combination with this could make it impossible for Russia to control the North Caucaus?

 I don’t think that is yet an immediate prospect, but over the long term anything is possible.

CW:  How does the independence of Abkhazia affect Circassian thinking in both the diaspora and in the North Caucasus?

  I don’t know. It may be too early to tell. If Abkhazia remains within Russia’s sphere of influence, Circassians may become more inclined to pursue their goals within the framework of the Russian Federation, and that in turn may help to bring about a positive change in Russian policy toward the Circassians. The Abkhazian authorities may even assist in this process and act as a mediator between Russia and the Circassians.

CW:  Currently, the Circassian community in Russia is becoming increasingly adamant about the recreation of a single Circassian political entity, and Moscow appears firmly opposed to this. Since the Circassians and Abkhazians see their causes as interrelated, could this increasing tension within Russia cause the Moscow government to withdraw their support from Abkhazia?

 Maybe, but the Kremlin has other, countervailing strategic and economic motives for supporting Abkhazia, and these may grow stronger over time – for instance, as a result of increased Russian investment and military deployment in Abkhazia. Some Russian experts pointed to the Circassian problem as a reason for caution in extending recognition to Abkhazia, but Moscow went ahead just the same. So there is potential for a positive outcome to interactions within the “Russia – Abkhazia – Circassians” triangle.

CW:  Do you think it is wise for Abkhazia to remain independent rather than to incorporate into the Russian Federation? Does Abkhazia have the resources to create a viable state or will it need the infusion of large amounts of foreign aid?

  Incorporation into the Russian Federation would only be wise if Abkhazia could count on ethnic and regional autonomy within the RF, and the recent experience of centralization in center—regional relations suggests otherwise.

I think Abkhazia needs an infusion of resources, but not necessarily in the form of aid. It needs foreign investment, from Russia or elsewhere, to restore its capacity in tourism, tropical agriculture, etc. – the  areas in which it specialized within the Soviet Union.

CW:  Does anyone in America really think that Abkhazia/S. Ossetia will ever return to Georgian control?

  “Ever” is a long time. If the US builds up Georgian military might as the “Israel of the Caucasus” while Russian power in the North Caucasus collapses, then why not? But in the current economic climate I think the US will also be forced to retrench and reduce its foreign military commitments.

CW:  Is it likely that the US position regarding recognition for Abkhazia (in particular) and S. Ossetia (secondarily) will alter?

  This position follows from US support for Georgia as a client state. It could change as a result of either general US retrenchment or yet another upheaval within Georgia (or a combination of the two).

CW:  Mikheil Saakashvili has publicly stated that he has learnt a lot from Richard Holbrooke, whom he regards as his mentor. Since Holbrooke has long been close to the Clintons, will it be necessary for Holbrooke to leave the Administration before any change is likely to take place?

Saakashvili will suck up to whoever is in power in the US. If and when there is a change in US policy, I think it will arise primarily from a change in circumstances rather than personalities.

CW:  Since the US/EU stance on the two above-territories since the collapse of the USSR has effectively achieved the precise opposite of what that stance was designed to achieve (by pushing the regions into ever closer ties with Russia), how can there be any logical defence of continuing that policy?

  The precise opposite of what that stance was OSTENSIBLY designed to achieve. The “logic” is that Saakashvili is “our man” in the Caucasus – “a son of a bitch butour son of a bitch,” as J.F. Kennedy once said (if my memory does not fail me) – and we’ll do whatever it takes to keep him happy.

CW:  For many years it was assumed that there would be no solution for any of the 3 Transcaucasian hotspots (Abkhazia, S. Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh) without a solution for all three. Is it still felt in America that all three must be treated alike? Since it is surely inconceivable that Abkhazia/S. Ossetia will ever return to Georgian control, how does this affect the future of Karabakh?

 I don’t think that America really cares very much about consistency in its policy toward various conflicts. Otherwise why did it recognize Kosovo? Karabakh is a headache for US policy, with Azerbaijan’s oil pulling in one direction and the domestic Armenian lobby in the other. Perhaps Turkey will sort it out for them?

– Thank you.
Metin Sönmez, CW


John Colarusso, Irma Kreiten, Stephen Shenfield and Glen Howard at a conference on Circassians held at Harvard Kennedy School.


Further Reading

– The Circassians: A Forgotten Genocide?, by Stephen D. Shenfield 
– JRL Research & Analytical Supplement – Special Issue: The Circassians, RAS Issue No. 42 
– Tataria and Chechnya – A Comparative Study, by Stephen D. Shenfield 
– Origins and Evolutions of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict, by Stephen D. Shenfield


Russian Fascism: Traditions, Tendencies, Movements

by Stephen D. Shenfield (M.E. Sharpe, 2001 – Armonk, New York and London)

“How strong,” asks Shenfield (Soviet studies, Univ. of Birmingham, U.K.; The Nuclear Predicament: Explorations in Soviet Ideology) “are fascist traditions, tendencies, and movements in Russia today?” The author concludes that fascist tendencies are alive and well in Russia yet have weak roots and shallow support. In The Faces of Janus: Marxism and Fascism in the Twentieth Century (Yale Univ., 2000), James Gregor invoked the popular definition of fascism, which focuses on the outward manifestations of totalitarianism, imperialism, and xenophobia, and tied it to Soviet institutions. Shenfield, however, differentiates between this popular definition and the more precise academic one, which sees fascism as “an authoritarian populist movement that seeks to preserve and restore premodern patriarchal values within a new order based on communities of nations, race or faith.” This precise definition allows him to compare Russian political parties and organizations accurately to each other and assess the depth of fascism in Russia. The beginning and end of the book are exciting, though the middle bogs down a bit. Recommended for academic and public libraries. Read more…

Papers respecting the Settlement of Circassian Emigrants in Turkey

Papers respecting the Settlement of Circassian Emigrants in Turkey

Presented to the House of Commons by Command of Her Majesty, in pursuance of their Address dated June 6, 1864.

London, Printed by Harrison & Sons.

The full original papers in PDF can be downloaded by clicking here (1.61 MB)

Sir H. Bulwer to Earl Russell. – (Received April 23)

Constantinople, April 12, 1864

My Lord,

The continued advances of the Russians in Circassia, and the ill-treatment experienced by the natives from Russian troops, have led to an almost complete emigration from the country: 25,000 have already reached Trebizond, and others are endeavouring to escape in small boats at every risk. The conglomeration of vast quantities of these people, who have no industrial habits, threatens the health and peace of any one locality, and the loss of life which is occasioned by their hazardous attempts to escape from their conquerors isshocking to humanity. The Turkish Government is therefore about sending vessels to Trebizond to remove the emigrants thence, and place them in different parts of the Empire; and it is also in negotiation with the Russian Chargé d’Affaires here, in order to be able to adopt some measures by which those unfortunate people, who, after the most heroic attempts in defending the country where they were born, are at last obliged to abandon it, may be able to seek asylum with safety in the Ottoman dominions.

I understand that the Russian Chargé d’Affaires has shown no difficulty, as far as he is concerned, in entering into arrangements with the Porte, and has applied to his Government for further instructions.

(Signed) Henry L. Bulwer

PS. – I may take this opportunity of transmitting to your Lordship a Petition which has been addressed to Her majesty the Queen by the Circassians, together with a translation of the same.



“Our most humble Petition to Her Magnificent Majesty the Queen and Emperor of England is to the effect that —

It is now more than eighty years since the Russian Government is unlawfully striving to subdue and annex to its dominions Circassia, which since the creation of the world has been our home and our country. It slaughters like sheep the children, helpless women, and old men that fall into its hands. It rolls about their heads with the bayonet like melons, and there is no act of oppression or cruelty which is beyond the pale of civilization and humanity, and which defies description, that it has not committed. We have not, from father to son, at the cost of our lives and properties, refrained from opposing the tyrannical acts of that Government in defence of our country, which is dearer to us than our lives. But during the last year or two it has taken advantage of a famine caused by a drought with which the Almighty visited is, as well as by its own ravages, and it as occasioned us great distress by its severe attacks by sea and land. Many are the lives which have been lost in battle, from hunger in the mountains, from destitution on the sea-coast, and from want of skill at sea.

We therefore invoke the mediation and precious assistance of the British Government and people – the guardian of humanity and centre if justice – in order to repel the brutal attacks of the Russian Government on our country, and save our country and our nation together.

But if it is not possible to afford this help for the preservation of our country and race, then we pray to be afforded facilities for removing to a place of safety our helpless and miserable children and women that are perishing by the brutal attacks of the enemy as well as by the effects of famine; and if neither of these two requests are taken into consideration, and if in our helpless condition we are utterly annihilated notwithstanding our appeals to the mercy and grace of the Governments, then we shall not cease to invoke our right in the presence of the Lord of the Universe, of Him who has confided to your Majesty sovereignty, strength, and power for the purpose of protecting the weak.”

“We beg your Excellency [Sir Henry Bulwer] to be the medium of making known to the great British Government and to the glorious British nation our condition of helplessness and misery, and we have therefore ventured to present to your Excellency our most humble petition. A copy of it has been submitted to the Sultan’s Government and to the Embassies of other Powers.”

(Signed by the people of Circassia)                                        29 Sheval, 1280 (April 9, 1864)


Papers Respecting the Settlement of Circassian Emigrants in Turkey.

Presented to the House of Commons by Command of Her Majesty, in pursuance of their Address dated June 6, 1864

London, Printed by Harrison and Sons. Pages 2 and 3.

Enclosed  in  Despatch  No.3  From  Sir  Henry  Bulwer  to  Earl  Russell,  Constantinople,  April 12, 1864 (FO 881/1259)


Consul-General Murray to Earl Russell. – (Received May 17)


Odessa, April 29, 1864.

My Lord,

I have the honour to report that information has reached me that Vardan and Sochyi have recently been occupied by the troops under the command of Major-General Heyman, who encountered no resistance. The mountaineers are in most distressing condition, and are emigrating to Turkey as fast as boats can be found to take them away.

Grants of land in the conquered districts will now be offrerd to such of the Azoff Cossacks as desire to settle in the South if the Caucasus, and every encouragement will be given them to do so.

His Imperial Highness the Grand Duke Michael has recently made a tour of inspection in the South.

(Signed) E.C. Grenville Murray.


Papers respecting the Settlement of Circassian Emigrants in Turkey.

Presented to the House of Commons by Command of Her Majesty, in pursuance of their Address dated June 6, 1864

London, Printed by Harrison and Sons. Page 4.

Consul Dickson to Earl Russell. – (Received May 17)


Soukoum-Kalé, March 17, 1864.

I feel it is a painful duty to report a deed that has come to my knowledge, which has so exasperated the Circassians as to excite them to further resistance, however desperate their case may be.

A Russian detachment having captured the village of Toobeh on the Soobashi River, inhabited by about 100 Abadzekh, and after these had surrendered themselves prisoners, they were all massacred by the Russian troops. Among the victims were two women in an advanced state of pregnancy, and five children. The detachment is question belongs to Count Evdokimoff’s army, and is said to have advanced from the Pshish valley.

As the Russian troops gain ground on the coast, the natives are not allowed to remain there on any terms, but are compelled either to transfer themselves to the plains of the Kouban or emigrate to Turkey.


Papers respecting the Settlement of Circassian Emigrants in Turkey.

Presented to the House of Commons by Command of Her Majesty, in pursuance of their Address dated June 6, 1864

London, Printed by Harrison and Sons. Page 2.

Consul Dickson to Earl Russell. – (Received May 17)


Soukoum-Kalé, April 13, 1864.

The Ubikh and Fighett tribes are fast embarking for Trebizond. In fact, after their land having been laid waste by fire and sword, emigration to Turkey is the only alternative allowed to those mountaineers who refuse to transfer themselves to the Kouban steppes and contribute periodically to the militia.

The condition of these poor people is described by eye-witnesses as most distressing. In the hurry of departure the overcrowding of boats is so little heeded as to lead to frequent disasters, while such of their horses and cattle as war and famine have spared are being sold for a few paper roubles.

In some instances the emigrants, sooner than see their weapons (may be heir-looms in the family for centuries) exchange hands with the enemy, have flung them into the sea.

With a view of introducing Russian colonization in the conquered districts the Government offer grants of land and other privileges to the Azoff Cossacks who may desire to settle there. Government employés indiscriminately, who may have served ten years in the Caucasus, will be entitled to claim an allotment if the land.


Papers respecting the Settlement of Circassian Emigrants in Turkey.

Presented to the House of Commons by Command of Her Majesty, in pursuance of their Address dated June 6, 1864

London, Printed by Harrison and Sons. Page 3 and 4.

Consul-General Murray to Earl Russell. – (Received May 17)


Odessa, April 29, 1864.

My Lord,

I have the honour to report that information has reached me that Vardan and Sochi have recently been occupied by the troops under the command of Major-General Heyman, who encountered no resistance. The mountaineers are in most distressing condition, and are emigrating to Turkey as fast as boats can be found to take them away.

Grants of land in the conquered districts will now be offrerd to such of the Azoff Cossacks as desire to settle in the South if the Caucasus, and every encouragement will be given them to do so.

His Imperial Highness the Grand Duke Michael has recently made a tour of inspection in the South.

(Signed) E.C. Grenville Murray.


Papers respecting the Settlement of Circassian Emigrants in Turkey.

Presented to the House of Commons by Command of Her Majesty, in pursuance of their Address dated June 6, 1864

London, Printed by Harrison and Sons. Page 4.

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