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Analysis, book reviews and photography from Abkhazia and the wider Caucasus — updates when time permits

Circassian returnees evicted from Russia

Last month, Liz Fuller reported that federal authorities in Kabardino-Balkaria have started evicting Circassian returnees from Turkey who don’t possess Russian citizenship. The immediate cause seems to be Russia’s present conflict with Turkey, but the measure is consistent with Russia’s resistance towards the return of descendants of those Circassians it expulsed in the nineteenth century — the survivors of the Circassian genocide.

Allowing members of the diaspora to return to Circassia would be historically just. Instead, while Russia encourages Russian expatriates to return to Russia by offering citizenship and financial reward, it has excluded the North Caucasus from this programme.

Even though there are three (partially) Circassian republics in the Russian Federation, these have little leeway for independent policy and no control over visas and residence permits. In particular, Circassians in Russia are weakest precisely in those regions to which most Circassians would ideally return: the lands which were most thoroughly emptied of Circassians in the nineteenth century.

In Kabardino-Balkaria, time can be said to be on the Circassians’ side. Reflecting trends throughout the North-Caucasus, the percentage of Kabardin has increased from 48.2% to 57.0% between 1989 and 2010, while the percentage of Russians has fallen from 31.9% to 22.5%. But Kabarda largely escaped the Circassian genocide, since it had already submitted itself to the Russian Empire at the time.

In contrast, in Adygea, the percentage of Adyge has also increased but was still only 24.3% in 2010 (up from 22.1% in 1989), with Russians a comfortable majority at 61.5% (down from 68.0%). This means that Russia could very easily sweep aside Adygea’s leadership. It would in all likelihood use the occasion to merge Adygea into Krasnodar Krai, which completely surrounds it, and where Circassians constitute less than 1% of the population. This would place the Adyge into a situation akin to that of the Tatars in Crimea.

Krasnodar Krai, where most of the diaspora originates from, remains the land where a Circassian renaissance is most distant.

Filed under: Adygea, Circassians, Kabarda, Krasnodar Krai, Russia,

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