Monthly Archives: April 2014

Mikheil Saakashvili Keynote


On February 14, 2014, The Jamestown Foundation held a conference on Russia and the North Caucasus After the Sochi Olympics in the Root Room at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The conference featured keynote speaker Mikheil Saakashvili, the former President of the Republic of Georgia. Speakers at the conference focused their discussion on the impact of the Sochi Olympics on the future of Russia and on the North Caucasus as well as the radicalization of jihadists in the North

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Circassia: Peacefully Boycotting the Sochi Olympics



Circassians continuing to use peaceful methods in their ongoing struggle “for the unity, preservation and development of the Circassian people”

Below is an article published by the World War 4 Report

A boycott of the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics hasbeen called by leaders of the Circassians, who are demanding that the 19th-century Czarist military campaign against their people in the region be officially recognized as a genocide. A delegation of Circassians from the diaspora—including Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Germany and the US—has travelled to the North Caucasus to visit the historic sites of their ancestors’ homeland before the Games and raise awareness of their campaign.

Terrorist threats against the Olympics have of course complicated the matter. Heads of nine Circassian organizations—seven based in Russia and one each in Turkey and the US—have issued a joint statement condemning the December terrorist bombings in Volgograd. The statement affirms the signatories’ shared commitment to use only peaceful methods in their ongoing struggle “for the unity, preservation and development of the Circassian people.”

Sochi was once the capital of Circassia, an Ottoman dependency from the 17th century until it was taken by Czar Nicholas I in the Russo-Turkish War of 1828. But the Circassians, or Adyghe in their own tongue, put up resistance to Russian rule for decades to come—finally resulting in a campaign of massacres and mass deportations in the 1850s and ’60s under Alexander II. Mostly cleansed of Circassians, the territory was incorporated into the Kuban Oblast—under the domination of the Kuban Cossacks, who had carried out much of the persecution and atrocities. This was divided by the Bolsheviks into other administrative entities in the 1920s (principally the Kubansko-Chernomorskaya Oblast and Mountain People’s Autonomous Republic), but in a 1937 re-organization the Kuban oblast was basically re-established, now under the name of the Krasnodar Region. Sochi, today a resort city, remains within Krasnodar Krai under the Russian Federation. In recent years, the Kuban Cossacks have reconstituted as a paramilitary force that helps police Krasnodar Krai.

Lands set aside for the remaining Circassians after the Revolution are small and fragmented. The Kabardino Autonomous Region, established by the Bolsheviks in 1921 as homeland for the remnant Circassians as well as Kabardins and Balkars (all predominantly Muslim peoples), became Kabardino-Balkaria in 1957, when the Balkars, who had been deported by Stalin to Central Asia during World War II, were allowed to return. Kabardino-Balkaria survives today as a constituent republic of the Russian Federation, some hundred miles to the southeast of what had once been the Circassian heartland and is now Krasnodar Krai. Circassians also declared an Adyge Autonomous Province after the Soviet collapse in 1991, which likewise survives, although surrounded on all sides by Krasnodar Krai. A Karachai-Cherkess Autonomous Province was also declared by Karachais and Circassians at this time, which lies between Krasnodar Krai and Kabardino-Balkaria, but the Circassians (Cherkess) constitute only some 10% of its population. (See map.)

The big majority of the 3 million Circassians today live in Turkey, Syria, Jordan and other former areas of the Ottoman empire. Diaspora leaders have opposed calls by Russian nationalists for dissolving the Adyge Autonomous Province and absorbing it into Krasnodar Krai. (World Bulletin, Feb. 1; Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso, Jan. 28; GeoCurrents, Jan. 27; The GuardianVOA, Jan. 24; National Geographic, January 2014; Circassian World, Sept. 2009; BBC News Kabardino-Balkaria profile; University of Pennsylvania Circassian History; Russia’s Periphery Kabardino-Balkaria page; Center for the Study of Genocide and Human RightsKrasnodar Region General Data)

Circassians have ironically met with persecution in the diaspora as well, at the hands of both Turks and Arabs. In our recent report on Cricassians under threat in Syria, we incorrectly reported that they are a predominantly Christian people. They have been predominantly Sunni Muslim since first coming under Ottoman rule 400 years ago, but are apparently still considered suspect by contemporary Salafists and jihadists.

The current Circassian campaign has drawn parallels with First Nations protests at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

– See more at:

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Sochi Olympic largesse barely touches nearby Circassian villages


Take a drive north of Sochi into the hills and it won’t take long to escape the Olympic bubble. Gone is the new highway. The slick railway ends. The road turns to gravel, then mud, where cows roam free with passing cars. The spending spree didn’t spread its wealth as far as the neighbouring Circassian villages of Bolshoy Kishmai and Mali Kishmai. Some still hope it will, while others are resigned and say it will never happen.

“I didn’t receive anything and I won’t receive anything,” one woman, Sonya, explains to us as she shovels dirt for her garden. Sonya is Circassian, a Muslim ethnic minority native to the Caucasus with a long history of persecution under the czars and, later, Stalin.

“An improvement to our standard of living, so things would be better.… would be good. But I’m pretty sure we will never see this happen.”


Nina Chernachenko watches the Olympics on her television. She can’t afford to attend the Sochi Games in person, unlike some luckier people in her community. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

Another villager, Nina Chernachenko, invited us into her home to escape the cold and pelting rain. She has indoor plumbing; not everyone here does. While there is a large natural gas pipeline less than a kilometre from her village, she does not have gas heating in her home. Instead, she watches Olympic coverage on television, in the one room with an electric heater.

“It’s too bad people won’t see your [news] report here in Russia,” Chernachenko tells me. “Maybe Putin would give us a better apartment.”

Then she laughs, uncomfortably, and adds: “Hopefully they don’t expel us.”

To create the Olympic Park and its marvellous venues, Russia bulldozed everything in its way. Anyone who didn’t like the plan got pushed aside.

But 150 years ago, another group that angered the state was dealt with even more harshly. The Circassians are indigenous to this region, but were expelled by the Russians after the Caucasus War.

Most were pushed onto ships and deported across the Black Sea to the Ottoman Empire. Many of those who survived the crossing were killed by disease. The ones who remained in Russia were resettled to far-off lands, or killed en masse.

The population went from 800,000 to just a couple of thousand very quickly.

We visited two villages where Circassians now live, though some of the traditional mountain people prefer to be called “Adyghe” (pronounced “a-dee-gee”). Our first stop was an apiary, full of wooden houses for bees, with an elaborate roundhouse designed for hordes of visiting tourists. Except – there aren’t any.

The village has gone to considerable expense, but seems doomed to learn “if you build it, they won’t necessarily come.”

The woman selling honey and trinkets told us: “People come here [to the Black Sea] to holiday and to swim. But they have no idea how the Circassians live, our traditions, our dances, our culture. Many never knew we were here.”

The Circassians lobbied to be included in the extravagant Sochi opening ceremony. While it featured multiple facets of Russian history, the role of the country’s indigenous people was not part of it.

Circassian farmer Rashid Achimikov says he felt excluded from the Sochi Games. “At every other Olympics, they always show the indigenous people of that country during the opening ceremonies. It’s sad.”

There is an exhibit, complete with well-attended daily stage shows inside the Olympic Park. But no one is rushing to the hills around Sochi to visit their ancestral lands.

The Circassians are reluctant to criticize anything. Many Russians are. Those we met spoke positively about hosting the Olympics. They share in Russia’s pride. One farmer pulling hay out for two of his cows made it to one of the signature events, Russia taking on the U.S. in men’s hockey. (It didn’t end well for the Russians so we didn’t ask too much about it.)

Halid Tlif, an elder we met by a fire inside the village’s makeshift cultural centre along the river, explained, “Our destiny has been very tragic, what happened to our people, and now we have to try so hard to hold on to our culture and our traditions, for what our ancestors fought for.”

As the crow flies, the villages lie only about 40 kilometres north of Sochi, a place where buckets of money spilled freely into Olympic projects. But the inkblot of cash did not reach much farther on the map.

For the Circassians in the hills, life is unchanged by the party below.

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