ISSN 2330-717X

Moscow’s Aggression Against Ukraine And Indigenous Peoples Deeply Interconnected – OpEd

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Russia’s acts of genocide against Ukraine arose from its “centuries-long oppression of the indigenous peoples” on its own territory, the native peoples of the Republic of Sakha say. And because these actions remain both unrecognized, they are not only continuing but “spilling over into neighboring countries.”

In a new collective letter released by the Sakha Pacific Association, these peoples describe how Russia has acted toward the indigenous peoples within its current borders and how these actions have both shaped and been affected by its imperialist approach to other peoples beyond those borders (teletype.in/@sakhapacifistassociation/AOiJ3QjiYQI).

“Historically, Russia expanded its borders by subjugating territories that were the homelands to many indigenous people,” the letter begins. “Ethnic cleansing, forced relocation, assimilation, russification, cultural erasure, and resource exploitation all went hand in hand with the conquering of these regions.”

“This dark side of Russian history has never been widely discussed or acknowledged, particularly within the country, where the forced hierarchy of cultures and ethnicities has long been normalized, portrayed as natural and reproduced through cultural products.”

Instead, “the idea of “people’s friendship,” proclaimed by the Soviet Union, still influences many people’s opinions. It helped to spread the illusion of homogeneity. Images depict the titular nation, “Russians,” as the center of the narrative, surrounded by minorities” who are presented as “’wild and uncivilized’” and on their way to becoming Russians.

Not surprisingly, these tensions came to a head with Moscow’s declaration of mobilization for its war in Ukraine. “Most of the people drafted from remote areas were either misinformed about the war or had no idea that the draft was happening.  Here, 4,883 km away from Moscow, 4,750 men were expected to be recruited.” 

This number does not “follow principles of proportionality and the consistency regarding the list of those who were not to be mobilized according to the law.” Moreover, “among then are people over 55 years old, full-time students, people with disabilities, and others off-list who are taken away by this totalitarian system.”

Indeed, “according to the Constitution, it is illegal to draft small-numbered indigenous peoples of the North. Nonetheless, helicopters land in remote, small Arctic communities, gathering people who are uninformed of their rights and can barely speak Russian, to wage war against Ukraine.”

This use of helicopters was especially disturbing and infuriating because the authorities had no trouble sending helicopters to remote villages to seize men even though for years people in Sakha have had to wait for days or weeks or even longer to get a helicopter to take them for medical treatment.

The mobilization order came at the time of seasonal change, a critical period for northern communities. “As the first snow meets the ground, the following questions arise: how will children, the elderly, and women get through the winter in the extreme climate conditions with the absence of essential community members?”

On September 25, Yakut women “organized a peaceful demonstration – hundreds of daughters, sisters and mothers gathered to protest, shouting “No to war!”, “No to mobilization!”, “No to genocide!”. State propaganda attempted to portray it as a rally in favor of mobilization. But all video evidencs, however, show that is a misinterpretation of what actually happened.”

“The widespread international response to this action – mostly among people with no experience of living in a totalitarian country for decades – has been that Yakutians have just woken up and are only against mobilization, not against the war [but] it is important to highlight that the prevailing majority of those who have access to information in the Sakha Republic have never supported the war: simply because it is not our war” (stress supplied). 

A week later, the people of Sakha tried to organized another protest, but it was suppressed by security forces brought in from outside the republic because in the view of Moscow “their local colleagues were not active enough” in reining in members of their own nations.

“Our rights are violated by the state we happen to be part of due to imperial gluttony. The illusion that a political regime is trying to immerse society in has no solid ground beneath it. Russia, the Soviet Union, and the Russian Empire have been continuously hostile towards the population of indigenous peoples residing within their territories” (stress supplied).

“The state has managed to take our names, eliminate our languages, exhaust our lands, and pollute our waters. Its long-running campaign involves the current ethnic cleansing as a well-planned move to eradicate indigenous peoples, many of whom no longer exist or have up until now survived in populations of fewer than ten.”

The time has come “for us to speak up and start these complicated conversations, both locally and globally. We must acknowledge the ethnocide of indigenous peoples of Russia as well as the never-ending exploitation of fragile ecosystems that leads to the intensification of global warming processes and has long-lasting effects on a planetary scale.”

“By means of this letter, we seek solidarity with the indigenous communities and their allies worldwide. We would like to ask you to help spread our story and share what is happening to indigenous peoples in Russia.”

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as 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. He has 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. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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