Open letter to Circassian members of the State Council – Khasa of the Adygeya Republic

It was with great disappointment and outrage that we learned of the appeal of the State Council – Khasa to the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) to include a Circassian component in the planned 2014 Olympics in Sochi, as well as the subsequent affirmative response of the ROC. The appeal you have participated in apparently states that now Circassians will be among the dozens of other ethnic groups involved in the cultural component of the Olympic celebrations. In light of this development we would like to ask you a simple question: What led you to believe you had the right to represent five million Circassians from around the world when you participated in this request? Moreover, which Circassian told you it was a good idea to support these Olympics and to have our people sing and dance on the very location of the massacre and deportation of our ancestors? If you are unaware of the damage you have done to your people, please allow us to explain the consequences of your actions.

To most informed Circassians and scholars of the region, it is now beyond any doubt that Circassians are facing extinction within the next few generations. Circassians around the world are responding to this crisis by organizing and lobbying for recognition of our genocide, application of indigenous rights, and repatriation rights, among others. Recent direct appeals to Russian authorities for these rights have been categorically denied or ignored. You may recall that the official appeal of your predecessor colleagues to the federal structures in the mid-1990’s is still unanswered. As a result, activists in the Diaspora have been appealing to governments and institutions around the world to apply the necessary diplomatic and economic pressure on Russia to convince them to have honest dialogue with us Circassians, and to develop a good-faith plan to help us save our culture.

The shocking insensitivity of locating the Olympics in Sochi has been leveraged to make the world aware of the plight of Circassians; to our genocide, to the brutal thoroughness of the ethnic cleansing in and around Sochi, and to the gross violation of human and indigenous rights in our homeland. How seriously do you think the world will consider our appeals while our own people are dancing and celebrating these Olympics? All we have is the truth of our history. This is the basis for obtaining the rights we need to save our nation. By your participation in this appeal you have done more to help Russia deny the truth and rewrite our history than all the propagandists in Russia. Who in their right mind would believe that the proud and noble Circassians would sing and dance for their oppressors on the very site where they were butchered and exiled? This would be unthinkable for even the most submissive and meek person. Therefore, observers can only assume that it must be the activists who are lying, and not the Russians. How else can they explain what they are witnessing?

There has always been a deep sense of gratitude among the Diaspora for their compatriots in the homeland. It is these people who preserved whatever they could of our nation, despite tremendous challenges. Our brothers in the homeland have worked and suffered more for their people than most of us can imagine. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the Diaspora could finally start to play a role in helping the national cause, and they have done so on a reliable and consistent basis. Each group had a role to play, and all understood that unity and cooperation was absolutely essential. Recently, circumstances have required the Diaspora to step up their work for the sake of their people. It is understood that the situation in the homeland presents significant limitations to what the Circassians there can do. Circassians in Russia cannot speak critically without risking their safety. If there is silence in the homeland regarding important political issues, this is understood and respected by the Diaspora.

The problem arises when Circassians work against the interests of their people when they do not have to. Circassian members of the Parliament who participated in this request to the ROC must have known the harm this would cause to international Circassian activists. So the question must be asked; was this done to harm the efforts of the Diaspora, or did the Circassian deputies of the State Council – Khasa sincerely believe that this would help Circassians achieve their goals? If the latter, then what exactly did we gain for the humiliation of desecrating our own history? Was it worth sabotaging the Diaspora’s efforts? Or was that actually the goal?

Do you actually believe that the same regime that is systematically destroying our culture, and seeks to dissolve your entire republic, will let the world know the truth about us? We will be represented as nothing more than one of the many ethnic groups of Russia. Yet, Russia will now have support of these Olympics from official Adyghea, and they will use it to silence all of our appeals on the international stage. You have helped Russia institutionalize the lie against us to the world.

Beyond the significant damage your actions have done to efforts towards obtaining Circassian rights, there is an even deeper cultural damage. Dignity is perhaps the single most sacred and celebrated characteristic of Circassians. It is the basis of our loyalty, courage and self-sacrifice. Our tradition is one of safeguarding not only our individual dignity, but that of our entire people, the living and the deceased. As an example, out of respect for the dignity of our fallen forefathers, many Circassians would not even eat fish caught from the Black Sea, because so many of them died there. Such was our self-respect and reverence for our people. Today, we are asking for permission to dance on the graves of these same ancestors. This presents a serious dilemma for future generations of Circassians. How can we tell our children about the honor and dignity of our people when they can see with their own eyes how cheaply we sell this dignity?

In addition to the moral and strategic shortcomings of your actions, we would like to note the technical issues that disqualify the validity of your initial appeal.

1. Sochi, the city where the Russian government plans to hold the Olympic Games is not an administrative part of Adyghea Republic, and you as elected representatives should have been aware of this. The Constitution of the Republic of Adyghea stipulates the conditions when you, together with your ethnically Russian colleagues, may be paid for managing affairs on behalf of your constituents within the borders of the Republic, not in neighboring territories;

2. The Republican Parliament has no legitimate right to make the request that it has because a) Only 2% of the worldwide Circassian population lives in the Republic, and are therefore represented by the Parliament of that Republic, b) The non-Circassian deputies and their respective non-Circassian constituents, approximately 75% of the population, have no right to speak for Circassians on what is without question a Circassian issue. The Olympics are not a Republic event or a Russian event. They are an international event. If, and how, Circassians are to represent themselves at this international event must be decided by the international community of Circassians;

3. The name “Adyghea” is not an arbitrary name. It is derived from the post-genocide remnants of the titular people. To have the descendants of the colonists, who make up the majority of the population of the Republic and who support the official Russian stance of denial of the Circassian Genocide, determining the Circassian response to these Olympics is a clear violation of both human rights and indigenous rights, as well as common decency. That the decision of these people on this issue happens to be extremely damaging to the Circassian cause is, obviously, no surprise.

The only hope for our survival is a reunited Circassia, the unconditional right of return and the right to self-determination in our homeland. Every day, greater numbers of Circassians are realizing that this is only feasible path. We have many things on our side to help us achieve this, such as truth, history, justice, morality, international law, and our dignity. These are much more valuable than ten minutes on a stage singing and dancing. Please consider these things next time you decide to speak for your entire people.

Circassian Association of California – Adyghe Khasa, USA
Tscherkessisches Institut Muenchen, Munich, Germany
Circassian Cultural Institute, New Jersey, USA
Nafna Association, Israel
Radio Adigha, Israel 
Caucasus Forum, Istanbul, Turkey

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