“Patriots of Circassia” Descend on Istanbul to Protest and Demand from Russia!

On 21 May 2011, the Turkey-based Circassian activist group, Patriots of Circassia (PoC), are organizing a demonstration outside the Russian Consulate in Istanbul to protest what they term the “Circassian Genocide and Exile of 1864”. Last year the PoC collaborated with the Caucasus Forum to stage their first protest rally but this year two groups are organizing separate rallies.

The PoC, which submitted an official letter to the Russian Embassy in Ankara a few days ago outlining the political demands of the group with regards to the “Circassian Question”, are asking their supporters to gather at the venue at 3PM and then join KAFFED’s  event “21 May - Day of Commemoration of the Circassian Exile”  at 6PM in downtown Besiktas. The deputy head of the Kabardino-Balkaria based Circassian organisation “Xase”, Zamir Shukhov, is also attending the demonstration.

The organizers have issued the following press statement for the occasion.

CIRCASSIAN GENOCIDE MUST BE RECOGNIZED AND CIRCASSIA BE REINSTATED!

Today, 21st May 2011, is the 147th anniversary of the Circassian Genocide and Exile and on this day we are one step closer to Circassia.

We Circassians (Adyghe) are the native people of Circassia. Our national traditions, language, culture and way of life have been shaped in this land over thousands of years. Throughout the history we had to fight many aggressors to defend our national values, freedom and independence and many times we paid the price for our resolve dearly.

But the expansionist and imperialist policies of the tsarist Russia from the second half of the 18th Century onwards resulted in our national tragedy, the consequences of which we are still suffering from. We lost our national liberation war against the tsarist Russia, which lasted more than a hundred years, in 1864. Consequently our motherland Circassia was invaded, entire villages and settlements were razed to the ground, our fields and harvests were burned down and our people, including women, children and elderly, were sent to exile. All aspects of Circassian existence were deliberately destroyed.

Even the official historian of the Russo-Caucasian War, Adolph Berge, reported that 400.000 Circassians had died in the war and another 497.000 were exiled, of whom many thousands would lose their lives en route to the Ottoman lands due to cold weather, hunger and disease. The eighty thousand Circassians who had remained in their homeland made up even less than %10 of the original population of Circassia. Based on the reports of those who witnessed these events themselves, it can be concluded that the war that the tsarist Russia waged in Circassia against the native Circassian population in the 18th and 19th Centuries cannot be considered an ordinary military operation. Russia’s aim was not only to acquire land but to destroy or forcibly remove Circassians and other tribes, who had taken part in the struggle for the freedom and independence of Circassia, from their homeland.

In the last one hundred and forty six years that have passed since the Russo-Caucasian War ended, the political system in Russia has changed a number of times but the attitude towards Circassians has stayed the same. The assimilationist policies towards those who had remained in their historical homeland still continue unabated while the exiled Circassians’ descendants are prevented from returning to their homeland.

Today in the Russian Federation there are around 700.000 Circassians (Kabardians, Cherkess, Adyghe and Shapsough) living in an area that constitutes less than %20 of their historical lands. Furthermore these Circassian communities are scattered through six different federal units: Kabardino-Balkaria, Karacay-Cerkessia, Adygeya, Krasnodar and Stavropol Krays and the Mozdok region of North Ossetia-Alania. Despite claiming to adhere to democratic principles, the Russian Federation is still continuing with the tsarist Russia’s policies against Circassians. As a result of this, more than three million Circassians still live in diaspora in over fifty countries facing the loss of their language and culture.

An appeal for an official acknowledgement of Circassian Genocide was submitted to the Russian State Duma on 1st July 2005. However, unable to overcome their ethnic and religious prejudices, Russian authorities refused to take legal and moral responsibility for the brutality committed by the Russian state in the past. Therefore we are calling on the World to recognize Russia’s genocidal policies towards Circassians that lasted from the 18th to 20th Century and support us in our minimal demands.

The Russian Federation should acknowledge as a fact that the tsarist Russia subjected Circassian people to a genocide and forcibly removed them from their homeland. The Russian Federation should realize that having to live in scattered communities within various units of the Federation and in many other countries is the greatest existential threat to Circassians.

Thus, we demand that

1. The Circassian Genocide and Exile should be recognized and May 21st be officially designated as “Circassian Genocide and Exile Day” worldwide.
2. The Russian Federation should set up a legal framework by which Circassians can live in their motherland as a sovereign nation.
3. Assimilationist policies in our historical homeland must cease and support must be offered for the survival of our linguistic, cultural and religious composition.
4. Repatriation of Circassians to their historical homeland must be encouraged, moral and material support for it should be provided.
5. The first step in this direction should be to provide Circassians with dual citizenship regardless of their place of residence and offer them positive discrimination in housing and employment in their historical homeland.
6. The Russian Federation should liaise with relevant authorities of the countries where Circassian diaspora live to create conditions for the survival of Circassian language and culture. For the same objective the Russian Federation should assist Circassian diaspora organisations, both morally and financially.
7. Harassment and persecution of Circassian activists and patriots in the homeland that are actively engaged in Circassian political activism must end immediately and those responsible for these actions must be prosecuted.
8. Circassians as a nation should have the right to self-determination.

Therefore we the Circassian Patriots call on Russian authorities to act without any further delay to carry out their responsibilities and the World to support us in our rightful cause.

Long live the Circassian Struggle! 
Long Live Circassia!

The Patriots of Circassia