The Georgian Parliament will be asked to recognise the genocide of the Circassian (‘Cherkess’) people committed by Russia in the 19th century. A document to this effect was adopted at a conference held by the Jamestown Foundation in Tbilisi on March 21 and entitled “Continuing Crime: Circassians and the Peoples of the North Caucasus Past and Future.”
The alleged Circassian genocide ostensibly happened during the Russo-Circassian War, conducted in Circassia (present day Russia’s Krasnodar Krai, republics of Adygea and Karachay-Cherkessia), the northwestern part of the Caucasus. The war ended in 1864 with annexation of these lands to the Russian Empire. During the 1860s much of the Circassian population was expelled from their lands. Historians site figures as large as 500,000 and greater. A large fraction of them died in transit. This expulsion and other actions of the Russian military has given rise to a movement for international recognition of the alleged genocide.
Nugzar Tsiklauri, Chairman of the Georgian Parliament’s Committee on Relations with the Diaspora, said that the document contains request for the Parliament of Georgia to recognise the genocide of the Circassian people by the Russian Empire, though it is not currently recognised by any state. It is difficult at this point to talk about whether MPs will support the appeal, however, he said.
Tsiklauri also said that Moscow might be irritated by this appeal but it can also get upset over anything, including even the March 20 rugby match, which resulted in a Georgian victory.
The appeal will be officially delivered to the legislature at the end of May. The Georgian Parliament is likely to recognize the genocide because it can use the issue as a political weapon against Russia, said journalist Fatima Tlisova, one of the leaders of the Circassian lobby.
Additionally, the move may elevate Georgia’s standing in the region. “The fact that the Circassians have decided to have close relations with the Georgian Parliament opens up a new perspective for us,” Tsiklauri said. “Georgia can now become the regional centre which will influence the processes developing in the North and South Caucasus,”
The appeal on the part of Circassians is not surprising and relies on many similar precedents. “Such requests are numerous worldwide,” said Mamuka Areshidze, Director of the Caucasus Institute of Strategic Studies. “Armenia’s activity has provoked responses and the Parliaments of France, Sweden and America have adopted resolutions about the genocide of Armenians. Why is it not possible to do the same for the Circassian people?”
Areshidze said that it will be salutary if Georgia stretches out a hand to the Circassian people and attempts to discuss their tragedy at a high political level. He also said that this will be unpleasant for Russia and “no one in Moscow will be surprised.”
However he said that official Tbilisi must not be led by emotion when discussing this issue. In 1992-1993 Circassian people fought against Georgians with the Russians and the Abkhaz […] During the August war in 2008 Circassians also held support actions in favour of Russia in front of Georgian Embassies worldwide.
Areshidze said that the Circassians thought that by showing this support they would persuade Russia to agree to recognise the genocide and not hold the Olympics in Sochi. However, “they did not gain anything from these rallies,” the expert said.
Iad Iugar, head of the Circassian Cultural Institute of New York, said during the conference that currently the aims of Circassian movement are to form their own State, to obtain recognition of the genocide and prevent the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics taking place. The participants of the conference said that the Olympic Charter directly prohibits holding the Olympics in places where large numbers of people have been killed and accordingly it is unacceptable to hold the games in Sochi.
According to Areshidze those Circassians attending the conference in Tbilisi favoured Abkhazia’s independence from Georgia. “I think the reason for this is that we have not had any contact with the Circassian nation for a long time and no steps have been made towards the North Caucasus peoples,” he said. “In this period Russia has been conducting an information war against Georgia.”
Circassians’ support for Abkhazia notwithstanding, the de-facto independent republic have not recognized the fact of genocide even though Abkhazians are a kindred people of the Circassians.
Representatives of Circassian diasporas from different countries, except Turkey, attended the conference. The Circassian diaspora in Turkey refrained from attending the conference because it was afraid of spoiling relations with Russia, said Glen Howard, President of the Jamestown Foundation and one of its organisers.