"Highlanders Leaving Their Village" by Petr Gruzinsky shows the expulsion by the Russian Empire of Circassians, the indigenous peoples of North Caucasus from their homeland after its annexation by Russia at the end of the Russo-Circassian War of 1763–1864. The peoples expelled were mainly the Circassians (Adyghe), Ubykhs, Abkhaz, and Abaza. (Image: Wikimedia)
Today, Circassians and their supporters mark the 153rd anniversary of the day Russian forces expelled Circassian nation from their homeland in 1864; but the Russian genocide directed against the Circassians did not begin on that day or end then. Instead, it began in the middle of the 18th century and lasted until the 20th, according to Merab Chukhua.
Chukhua, a professor at Tbilisi State University, the head of the Circassian Cultural Center there, and one of the authors of Georgia’s recognition of the Circassian expulsion as an act of genocide, argues that Russia’s act of genocide against the Circassians lasted far longer than that.
“The Circassian genocide began in the 18th century,” the scholar says. “It lasted more than 150 years and ended not in 1864 but in the beginning of the 20th century in connection with the continuing forced resettlement and destruction of the Circassian people,” a process that the Russian Empire stopped only as a result of the 1905 revolution.
That lengthy act of violence against the Circassians was carefully studied by Georgian and other experts, he continues, and it is one of the reasons why the Georgian parliament became the first and so far the only national government in the world to recognize that what the Russian state had done to the Circassians was a genocide.
Like the Armenians, the Circassians are dispersed around the world; but in contrast to them, Moscow actively opposes international recognition of its crimes against the Circassians as an act of genocide, Chukhua says. Instead, it has submerged the Circassians into the general category of Rossiyane.
But that ignores the fact that “the Circassians … were forcibly exiled from Circassian lands, from their own motherland” and that “Russia does not recognize this or give them the status of compatriots.” Instead, Moscow insists that it will take in only those Circassians whose ancestors Russia brutally expelled who somehow have learned Russian.
Despite the current situation, one in which Moscow tries to obscure, suppress and hijack Circassian commemorations of 1864, the Georgian scholar says that he remains optimistic about the future. “Before our eyes, a new world is being born, a new order and new governmental relations.”
“’Figures’ like Putin come and go, and Russia too will be changed,” Chukhua says. “I think that in Russia the strength will be found to say ‘no’ [to Putin’s approach to the Circassians] and to put an end to all the sufferings of the Circassian people. Russia has no other possible variant.”
If Russia doesn’t, he says, “Russia will remain a country without the Caucasus, including without the Circassians.” It must recognize the genocide of the Circassian people, and that should not be hard because it was the tsarist authorities and not the present-day Russian ones who carried it out.”
“It is a well-known fact that when a criminal acknowledges his guilt, it makes things easier for him. That would be the case for Russia today” if only it could take that step.
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- The Unsung Lament: Russian Atrocities in Caucasus
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Tags: Circassian genocide, Circassians, Crimes against humanity, History, International, Russia