By Paul Goble
Angered by what they see as the ethnocratic approach of the Kabard majority which dominates the Kabardino-Balkar Republic (KBR) and frightened by Circassian calls for the formation of a single republic for that nationality, the Turkic Balkars are again calling for the formation of a Balkar Republic within the Russian Federation.
The numerically small Balkar nation is unlikely to achieve its goal: Indeed, moves in that direction would not only lead to the demise of the KBR but also to the dismantling of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic, another binational state but one in which the Turkic-speaking Karachays outnumber and dominate the Circassian Cherkess.
Consequently, Moscow will do whatever it can to prevent the Balkars from achieving their goals even though there is a very real possibility that some in the Russian capital may view the Balkar effort as a useful countermove to the Circassian one, especially given Moscow’s nervousness about instability near where the Sochi Olympics are scheduled to take place.
That is especially true because Turkey, although currently home to five million Circassians, is offering itself as the leader of the Turkic-speaking world and thus may now rein in Circassian activists there if it appears that the Turkic-speaking Balkars and Karachays are being mistreated.
Both the 80,000 Balkars and the 140,000 Karachays, the two Turkic peoples in this region, are minorities within a region dominated by the Circassians. Both were deported by Stalin at the end of World War II, and when they were allowed back, they were again combined with Circassian groups.
With the demise of the Soviet Union, some in both groups pressed for their own national republic. The Balkars pushed especially hard in 1996 and then again in 2006, but in both cases, Russian officials came down hard on them, and the movements appeared to dissipate. Now, however, the Balkars are again making demands.
In March, the Council of Elders of the Balkar People called for the formation of a Balkar Republic, but on May 31, the Supreme Court liquidated that organization, arguing that the appeals of the Council violated the KBR Constitution and threatened inter-ethnic peace in that republic (www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=20272).
But the Council appealed, and the Russian Supreme Court set aside the KBR court’s decision, an action that led the Council itself to step up its demands for an independent republic and the KBR prosecutors to initiate yet another case against the Council and its members for “extremism.”
Last week, the Council announced that it was beginning the organization of an all-Balkar congress, one that presumably would involve Turkic speakers not only from the KBR but across the North Caucasus, to discuss what to do next in order to achieve “the self-determination of the Balkar people” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/173346/).
Council leader Oyus Gurtuyev said that the call for such a meeting follows meetings in “all” Balkar population points which decided to “delegate plenipotentiary authority for the defense of the interests of the Balkar people to the Council of Elders of the Balkar People,” a claim that it is plausible but impossible to check.
Gurtuyev said that his group had been “forced to take this step” after “several bureaucrats” of Balkar nationality had written to North Caucasus Plenipotentiary Representative Aleksandr Khloponin saying that the Council does not “reflect the general opinion” of the Balkar nation.
In other comments, Gurtuyev said that the Council had formed an alliance with the Karachayevo-Balkar Elbrus organization, the Balkaria group, and the Peasant Union, Having “decided to consolidate [their] forces in order to put before the government issues which agitate our people.”
Gurtuyev and other speakers stressed that the group would always act within the law, was not being funded from abroad, and was interested in negotiating over pressing issues rather than simply striking a pose. But many of the issues that the group is concerned about – such as control of or access to pasture land – are so explosive that even raising them threatens to spark violence.
Indeed, one Council leader said something that would guarantee that: He said that if the powers that be don’t meet Balkar demands, then the Balkars “will ask the federal center for self-determination or inclusion in Stavropol kray,” a move some Russian nationalists might favor but one that would call into question all administrative-territorial divisions in the region.