By Paul Goble
Russia’s Federal Migration Service has been sending letters to Circassians who had been allowed to return from exile in Turkey to their homeland in the North Caucasus saying that Moscow has cancelled their residence permits and that they must leave the Russian Federation and return to Turkey.
According to Asker Sokht, the head of the Adyge Khase organization of Krasnodar Kray, this represents an attempt at “the mass deportation to Turkey of Circassian compatriots” and must be opposed by Circassian organizations in both the North Caucasus and abroad (kavpolit.com/articles/predprinimaetsja_popytka_massovoj_deportatsii_v_tu-22656/).
On the one hand, Russian officials are doing little more than extending to Circassians who had held Turkish passports the same policy they have been applying to other Turkish nationals residing in Russia since the downing of the Russian jet by Turkish forces led to the deterioration of relations between Moscow and Ankara.
But on the other, such Russian moves against the Circassians appear to be about much more than that because Moscow has refused compatriot status to Circassians seeking to return to the North Caucasus from Syria and because the defining event of their national history was and remains the 1864 expulsion and genocide of the Circassians by Russian forces.
Consequently, any Russian moves to expel their descendants inevitably generate concerns and anger about Moscow’s larger agenda. Indeed, the fact that the Russian authorities have done this over the long winter holiday when few would notice suggests that even they are worried about the consequences of their own actions.
Sokht says that among the Circassians who are being asked to leave are many who have lived in Russia for decades, have applied for citizenship, have raised their children there, and have “connected their future with Russia.” Now, just like their ancestors 150 years ago, they are being told to get out.
The Circassian activist says that “the rights of compatriots must be defended and restored to the full extent” and that the leadership of Kabardino-Balkaria, of the International Circassian Association, and the Kaffed Federation of Caucasian Associations in Turkey must “immediately get involved in this situation in order to resolve it.”
While Sokht does not call for it, other human rights groups and all people of good will should join in that effort and point out to Moscow that it is not only violating the rights of a community whose rights Russian states have violated many times before but that the Russian authorities are acting contrary to their own interests by further offending the Circassians.
There are more than 500,000 Circassians in the North Caucasus, their home immemorial and the center of their state before the Russian invasion and expulsion of 1864, and there are more than five million of them in the Middle East, including in the upper reaches of the military and security communities of Turkey, Jordan, and elsewhere.