Staunton, October 10 – Many of the Circassian organizations that have demanded that Moscow allow their co-ethnics to return to their historical homeland from war-torn Syria are viewed with suspicion and hostility in Moscow because they actively opposed the holding of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, the site of the 1864 expulsion and genocide of the Circassian nation.
But now, in an indication of the worsening situation on the ground for Circassians and other North Caucasian groups in Syria, Circassian organizations supported by and loyal to Moscow and its policies are also calling on the Russian government to grant compatriot status to these groups and help them return home.
These groups stress that their co-ethnics support the Asad regime and thus Russian policy in Syria, thus confronting the Kremlin with a potentially more serious challenge. If it refuses to grant compatriot status now to North Caucasians in Syria, it may drive these organizations into the hands of the opposition and thus create problems for itself in the North Caucasus.
But if Moscow agrees, it could deprive the Asad regime of some of its most capable fighters and at the same time would open the door to a massive influx of Circassians and other ethnic groups into the North Caucasus, changing the ethnic balance there and potentially destabilizing the situation in that region.
Loyalist Circassian groups this week spoke in support of Putin’s bombing campaign in Syria in support of Asad but at the same time said that Moscow and republic leaders must do far more to assist in the return of Circassians and other North Caucasians to their historic homelands (kavpolit.com/articles/bezhentsy_ne_imejut_natsionalnosti-20494/).
Timur Zhuzhuyev, head of the Adyge Khase youth organization of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, said that he and his group support what Russian forces are doing because members of the Circassian diaspora in Syria are fighting alongside Asad government forces against Islamist radicals.
They are not the only ones doing so, he continued. “In addition to the Circassians, there are many other representatives of other Caucasian peoples who are fighting on the side of Syrian government forces. We cannot close our eyes to this” but at the same time must help those who want to leave the war zone do so.
“Any refugee, who has suffered from the war, does not have a nationality,” Zhuzhuyev argued. “We want that all the peoples of Russia treat with understanding the refugees from Syria, our compatriots. The greater portion of these are Circassians. But there are representatives of many other peoples of the Caucasus as well … All of them are our compatriots.”
Ali Aslanov of the International Circassian Association took the same position: “We approve the position of Russia [on Syria] and yet again remind everyone that a majority of our Circassian compatriots there support Bashar Asad. We ask that our country take in those” whose homes in Syria have been burned, who have lost everything, and who want to return to their historical motherland.”
No one has anything to fear from their return, he suggested, as the Circassians “in all countries are law-abiding citizens.” They “consider Russia their motherland. The Circassians have no other; everywhere else they are aliens.” At present, there are 37 Circassian returnees in Karachayevo-Cherkessia, more than 900 in Kabardino-Balkaria and more than 700 in Adygeya.
Abubekir Murzakan of Adygey Khezuzh-Cherkessia and Albert Adamokov, a Circassian activist in Karachayevo-Cherkessia, repeated the same arguments.
While less has been heard about them, there are also Daghestanis living in Syria, some of whom have suffered from the war and even the Russian bombing and who want to return home. One who returned to Daghestan earlier from Syria, Shafi Akushali, told Kavkazskaya politika about them (kavpolit.com/articles/severokavkazskaja_diaspora_sirii_nadeetsja_na_ross-20519/).
Most of the Daghestanis in Syria, he said, are descendants of people who fled there after the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78. Overwhelmingly, they are Kumyks from the southern parts of the republic. And “except for one or two,” they are now on the side of Russia and the Asad regime.
According to Akushali, “the North Caucasus diaspora has formed battalions and is fighting against ISIS. These include Daghestanis, Chechens and Adygeys [Circassians]. There are Circassians who emigrated to Abkhazia and now have returned to Syria where they have formed a national front.”
Syrian Daghestanis very much want to return home, Akushali said, and they should be welcomed because their experience will help prevent young Daghestanis from falling victim to ISIS propaganda. “But for some reason, Russia isn’t giving Syrian Daghestanis the chance to return.” Moscow isn’t saying no, but it is throwing up obstacles.
Akushali said that he personally was trying to get his own relatives into Daghestan. “They are now in Jordan. The [Russian] Federal Migration Service demands that [his] relatives get visas in Damascus. But they cannot return to Syria” for obvious reasons. He added that he believes that Moscow would change its position if Makhachkala appealed to it.