Circassians Demand Russian Apology For 19Th Century Genocide

Circassians Demand Russian Apology For 19Th Century Genocide

by Paul Goble

The Cherkess Congress, an organization that unites representatives of the various Circassian peoples in the Russian Federation, has recently called on Moscow first to acknowledge and then to apologize for tsarist policies against their ancestors in the 19th century, policies that Circassians say constituted a genocide.

The Cherkess Congress announced in Maikop on 5 July that the office of the president of the Russian Federation Council has acknowledged receipt of their petition, a document that included both a written appeal and a CD containing more than 500 archival documents ( That appeal points out that Russian forces behaved very differently in their wars against the mountaineers of the North Caucasus than they did against European countries. In the case of the latter, the tsarist troops behaved more or less according to the written and unwritten laws of war.

But with regard to the North Caucasus, the appeal says, the tsarist forces acted in ways that allow one to conclude that their real goal was to "remove entire peoples from the ethnic map." Anyone who thinks otherwise must explain the "unheard of cruelty" and "repressions against the civilian population" that took place.

In the tsarist campaign against the Circassians, a campaign that lasted five years after Imam Shamil surrendered in 1859, official tsarist statistics show that more than 400,000 Circassians were killed, 497,000 were forced to flee abroad to Turkey, and only 80,000 were left alive in their native area, the appeal points out. This unprecedented (up to that time) "ethnic purge," the appeal continues, means that the Russian Federation as the claimed successor to the tsarist empire and the Soviet Union has a moral and legal obligation to acknowledge what happened and to issue an apology, the Cherkess Congress appeal argues.

So far, Moscow has done very little in that direction. Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's May 1994 statement admitted that North Caucasian resistance to the tsarist forces was legitimate, but the current appeal notes that he did not recognize "the guilt of the tsarist government for the genocide committed against the peoples of the North Caucasus."

In 1997 and 1998, the leaders of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic and of the Republic of Adygeya sent appeals to the Duma to reconsider the situation and to issue the needed apology. But to date, there has been no response from Moscow, and the Circassians cannot say what has been the fate of their requests.

The Cherkess Congress puts forward two additional arguments in support of their demand, one that they say must be met before the end of July 2005. On the one hand, they note that such an apology is important not only to the Circassian groups living in the Russian Federation but also to "the approximately 3 million of our compatriots abroad" -- a reference to politically important groups in Turkey and elsewhere. And on the other, the Cherkess Congress appeal notes that there is ample precedent for the Russian government to do what they asked. In April 1995, for example, the Duma recognized the killing of Armenians in Turkey in 1915 as a genocide because the Russian parliamentarians said the facts warranted such a designation.

Consequently, the appeal continues, the Russian Duma "would be demonstrating before the entire world its good will and ability to be consistent in the realization of the widely proclaimed in Russia principles of freedom and democracy, humanism and justice, and in the rejection of xenophobia and national, racial, and religious intolerance" if it acknowledged the tsarist genocide against the Circassians.

So far, there has been no response from Moscow to this latest appeal, one that was probably triggered by the demands of other groups for Moscow's acknowledgement of past misdeeds and by the Kremlin's efforts to merge the Republic of Adygeya into the surrounding Krasnodar Krai, a move the Circassians bitterly oppose.

Source: Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

15 July 2005, Volume 8, Number 23

Until December 2006, Paul Goble was vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. While there, he launched the “Window on Eurasia” series which at that time he distributed directly via e-mail. Prior to joining the faculty there in 2004, he served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He writes frequently on ethnic and religious issues and has edited five volumes on ethnicity and religion in the former Soviet space. Trained at Miami University in Ohio and the University of Chicago, he has been decorated by the governments of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for his work in promoting Baltic independence and the withdrawal of Russian forces from those formerly occupied lands.

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