ISTANBUL — Midnight was long gone and the back streets of Istanbul lay dark and deserted, when Kuban Kural was walking home from an evening’s campaigning for the Circassian cause one night this spring.
Suddenly, the interior lights of a parked car flared on, and Mr. Kural found himself staring straight into the pale eyes of his pursuers.
Then, the motor started up, and the car began to move slowly toward him.
“That was perhaps the worst moment of all,” Mr. Kural, 29, said in an interview in Istanbul this week, recounting a month of such encounters that the police and prosecutors in Istanbul are still studying.
Neither the authorities nor, indeed, Mr. Kural would have taken these incidents so seriously, were it not that six other Caucasian activists have been gunned down in the streets of Istanbul over the past four years.
In the most recent attack, three Chechen militants were shot and killed last September with silencer-equipped guns as they were getting into a car outside their home in Istanbul. Three other Chechen activists were killed in similar fashion in separate attacks in September and December 2008 and in February 2009.
None of the victims were Circassian; all were living in Turkey as refugees from the Chechen war, in which they had fought for independence from Russia. For that reason, analysts suspect that the perpetrators, who have not been apprehended, are linked to Moscow.
“It is quite open, quite clear who did it,” Guner Ozkan, an expert on security issues in the Caucasus with the International Strategic Research Organization in Ankara, said this week. “Russia does that,” he added, pointing to similar killings of Chechen militants in Vienna, Dubai and other places.
Oliver Bullough, the author of “Let Our Fame Be Great,” a recent book about the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the 19th century, agreed. “The balance of probability is overwhelming that at least some of these were committed by Russian agents or people sent by Russia,” Mr. Bullough said by telephone from England this week.
The Russian Embassy in Ankara did not reply to requests for comment by telephone and e-mail. The Russian authorities have offered no comments on the killings, except for a statement by Russian investigators last year, quoted by Interfax, saying that two of the three men killed in the most recent Istanbul shooting were suspects in the bombing of Domodedovo Airport, which serves Moscow, in January 2011. Previously, the office of the Chechen president, Ramzan A. Kadyrov, a Moscow ally, has denied his involvement in the killings of any of the Chechens.
The case of Mr. Kural, the Circassian activist, is different from the others: Not only is he not Chechen, but also he is a Turkish citizen.
Mr. Kural’s first name comes from the Caucasian region, Kuban, from which his forebears hailed. He is one of several million Turkish descendants of the Adyghe and Ubykh peoples, commonly known as Circassians, who were forcibly evicted from their homeland in the Caucasus by Russian troops in 1864.
About a million Circassians, 90 percent of their total number, were expelled from their lands on the eastern shores of the Black Sea at the time, according to Mr. Bullough’s research, and 300,000 to 400,000 perished.
Today, most Circassians live in Turkey as a relatively well-integrated ethnic minority of three million to five million. Other Circassians are in Israel, Jordan and Syria as well as the United States, where there are sizable communities in New Jersey and California.
The Circassian community in Turkey has recently begun to join Kurds, Laz and other minorities in calling for recognition of its ethnic identity and protection of its language and culture. The Ubykh language became extinct with the death of its last native speaker a decade ago.
“It is partly a result of the democratization process of the past 10 or so years,” Mr. Kural said of the fledgling Circassian movement. A recent rally to commemorate the events of 1864 drew around 5,000 participants in Istanbul in May.
New York Times, 12.07.2012