July 25, 2015

Circassian Activists Ready to Demand Separation From Karachaevo-Cherkessia

Adyghe Khase–Circassian Parliament conference, June 27


Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: 137July 22, 2015

By: Valery Dzutsev

Circassian activists plan to resume the work of the Extraordinary Conference of Circassian People in Karachaevo-Cherkessia this coming autumn. The plans were discussed at a meeting of the Circassian organization “Adyghe Khase–Circassian Parliament,” which took place in the city of Cherkessk, on July 8. According to the leader of the organization, Muhamed Cherkesov, the material wellbeing of the Circassians in the republic has recently significantly deteriorated in the republic. The Extraordinary Conference is likely to demand the return of the Circassian autonomous republic that existed prior to 1957. A majority of the estimated 60,000 Circassians in Karachaevo-Cherkessia reside in the Adyge-Khabl and Khabez districts of the republic; so, according to Circassian activists, separation should be easy to achieve (Natpressru.info, July 10).

Moscow is unlikely to listen to Circassians demands to separate them from Karachaevo-Cherkessia, because Circassians in the republic are a relatively small group—about 12 percent of its population—and Moscow has sought to enlarge regions, not shrink them. Still, the disenfranchisement of Circassians in Karachaevo-Cherkessia could destabilize the situation in the republic and beyond. While ethnic Circassians are a small minority in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, they are a majority in neighboring Kabardino-Balkaria. In the past, Karachaevo-Cherkessia went through a cycle of instability, during which Karachays—who, at about 41 percent of the population, make up a plurality in the republic—and Circassians clashed for leadership in the republic. Turkic-speaking ethnic Karachays dominate the republic’s politics, while the Circassians (a.k.a. Cherkes) are the second titular nationality in Karachaevo-Cherkessia and periodically attempt to improve their position.

At an Adyghe Khase–Circassian Parliament conference on June 27, the deputy head of Karachaevo-Cherkessia’s Khabez district, Renat Magomedov, alleged that republican officials ignore the needs of the Circassian-populated areas of Karachaevo-Cherkessia. According to Magomedov, a private fund provides support for much of the Khabez district’s social infrastructure. The district official said he hoped the Circassian activists would help him to improve communication with republican officials. Adyge-Khabl is another Circassian-populated district in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, and it is in a similarly difficult situation, according to district officials. District deputy head Haji-Murat Utegushev stated at the conference that preschoolers lack facilities, schools need repairs, and hospitals and roads are decaying. The republican government reportedly provides assistance to non-Circassian districts, but neglects the Circassian-populated areas. According to Adyghe Khase–Circassian Parliament leader Cherkesov, the broader issue in the republic is rampant discrimination against Circassians in Karachaevo-Cherkessia (Kavkazsky Uzel, June 29).

Another of the republic’s indigenous ethnic groups, the Abaza, also complains about mistreatment by regional authorities. Abazins are linguistically related to both Circassians and the Abkhaz and make up an estimated 7 percent of the population of Karachaevo-Cherkessia. The leader of the Abaza civil organization, Janibek Kuzhev, told the Rosbalt news agency that the republican government ignores the needs of the Abaza people in Karachaevo-Cherkessia and that their towns and villages are gradually decaying, as young people leave their homes for neighboring Russian regions and Abkhazia. Even after a recent flood that destroyed the livelihoods of many Abazins, the authorities reportedly did not extend a helping hand to the affected population. A special Abazin district was established in 2006 to accommodate the interests of the Abaza people. However, according to Abazin activists, the district has not received sufficient infrastructure investment to function properly (Rosbalt, July 9).

Karachaevo-Cherkessia is the only republic in the North Caucasus that chose to fragment itself politically to some extent. The Abazin district was established in 2006 on the basis of Abazin villages and towns in the Prikubansky, Ust-Jegutinsky and Khabez districts after mass protest actions of the Abazins in 2005. Ethnic Nogais, another Turkic-speaking people who comprise only 3 percent of the population of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, established their own district in the republic in 2007. The Nogai district is made up of only eight villages, and its population is about 15,000 people. The Abaza people are apparently dissatisfied with the current status quo, because they received nothing other than the formal designation of an Abazin district. With the main source of financing for the republic—subsidies sent from Moscow—apparently drying up (see EDM, June 22), the struggle for resources and ethnic tensions in Karachaevo-Cherkessia are on the rise.

Despite the low profile of Karachaevo-Cherkessia in the news in the past few years, the republic has seen mass protests. In fact, Karachaevo-Cherkessia is the only republic in the North Caucasus that in the past two decades experienced the physical ousting of its governor by angry protesters. In 2004, after several members of prominent Karachay families were killed by Ali Kaitov, the son-in-law of then republican president Mustafa Batdyev, protesters stormed the government building in Cherkessk, and Batdyev fled (Newsru.com, November 10, 2004). Moscow’s envoy to the North Caucasus, Dmitry Kozak, managed to bring Batdyev back, but the protesters’ demands were largely satisfied, with Kaitov, the perpetrator of the crime, receiving a lengthy prison sentence and Batdyev eventually stepping down. With its smaller ethnic groups increasingly feeling sidelined and willing to challenge the status quo, Karachaevo-Cherkessia could be entering another period of instability.

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