- Category: Research & Analytical Supplement to JRL
- Published on 28 April 2012
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Section 1. Before the Russian conquest
* Stephen Shenfield: Who are the Circassians?
Ancient deities of the Circassians
* Ibragim Yaganov: The traditional way of life of the Circassians
Section 2. Conquest and deportation
* John Colarusso and Walter Richmond: The conquest and deportation of the Circassians
"The Northwest Caucasus: Past. Present, Future," by Walter Richmond
"On the path to genocide: Russia’s 'final subjugation' of the Northwest Caucasus in comparative perspective," by Irma Kreiten
Songs of lament
Section 3. Circassians today
* Nusret Bas, MD: The Circassian diaspora in Turkey
* Matthew A. Light: Territorial restructuring in the Russian Federation and the future of the Circassian republics
* Fatima Tlisova: The war on Circassian nationalism
* Stephen Shenfield: Prospects and dangers of Circassian nationalism
Can journalism be independent?
Almost all of this issue is devoted to the Circassians. (1) The Circassians or -- their own name for themselves -- Adyg are the descendants of the indigenous inhabitants of the Northwest Caucasus. After an armed resistance to Russian conquest that lasted 101 years (1763 1864) longer than in any other part of the Caucasus almost all of the survivors were deported to the Ottoman Empire.
To many readers this may seem a rather obscure topic. However, a revival of national consciousness among Circassians is currently underway and it is very probable that problems associated with this revival will acquire increasing salience in coming years.
I myself came across the Circassian theme pretty much by chance. While browsing in the library of Brown University, I happened to come across some old books by 19th-century travelers describing a country called Circassia and a people called Circassians. Like many others, I had been unaware that there was any such country or people, though perhaps I had seen the words somewhere without understanding them. At about the same time, an antiquarian friend offered me some 18th and 19th century maps of Russia and Europe. From these I learned where Circassia used to be and traced the stages by which the expanding empire of the tsars swallowed it up.
My curiosity was piqued. A little more research, mainly in the Russian-language literature, led to an essay “The Circassians: A Forgotten Genocide?” that was published in a collection entitled “The Massacre in History” (eds. Mark Levene and Penny Roberts, Berghahn Books, 1999). After some years during which I focused on other research topics, I was surprised to hear from Mr. Metin Sonmez, a young man of Circassian origin who lives in Turkey and runs the excellent CircassianWorld website. Mr. Sonmez had somehow discovered my essay and wanted to place it on his site and also have it translated for publication in Turkish in the journal of a Circassian organization. Permission was obtained from the original publisher and this was done. (2) Since then I have received touching messages from Circassians in various countries thanking me for “remembering” and writing about their people.
Not that I was the first contemporary Western scholar to write about the Circassians or their deportation. The acknowledged expert on Circassian language, myth, and culture is Professor John Colarusso, while accounts of the Circassian deportation by Willis Brooks and Paul Henze appeared before mine. My account happened to be the first that, thanks to Mr. Sonmez, was brought to the attention of a broad Circassian readership.
Circassian Studies is gradually emerging as a new academic specialization. With regard specifically to the deportation, the most important new scholar is Irma Kreiten (Universities of Tubingen and Southampton), whose work will undoubtedly become the authoritative analysis of the topic.
So far there have been two academic conferences on Caucasian Studies. The first (“The Circassians: Past, Present and Future”) was held at the Jamestown Foundation on May 21, 2007. The second conference (“Russia and the Circassians”) was held under the aegis of Harvard University’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy on April 8, 2008. Much of this issue of RAS consists of summaries of various presentations made at the Harvard conference, prepared either by the presenters or by myself, although it is far from being a complete report of the conference.
The material from the conference is interspersed with other material related to the Circassians. To distinguish the two kinds of material, I precede the titles of items from the conference with an asterisk.
I have organized the conference material by broad chronological categories into three sections:
Section 1. The Circassians before the Russian conquest
Section 2. Conquest and deportation
Section 3. Circassians today (both in Russia and in the diaspora)
I conclude with some reflections of my own about the future prospects and dangers of Circassian nationalism.
(1) The last item (under DEBATE) is connected to a topic in the previous issue.
I have already written a little about the Circassians in RAS 37 (items 5 and 6).
(3) See the works of John Colarusso, also the 1995 article by Willis Brooks referenced in note 8 of my “forgotten genocide” essay.
Most people have no idea who the Circassians are. This was brought home to me when I chanced upon a blog written by Andy McSmith, a senior reporter for the British newspaper “The Independent” with “vast experience in political journalism.” Responding to someone who claims to be of partly Circassian descent and speaking as a man who has traveled widely in the Caucasus, he writes:
“So far as I know, no one has ever come across anyone who says: ‘I am a Circassian.’ Nor, indeed, is there a place called Circassia.”
He admits that 19th-century Russian literature contains references to the Circassians, especially to the beauty of Circassian women, and suggests that the Circassians were a figment of the Russian literary imagination.
In the Caucasus, there is a close correspondence between the ethno-cultural map and the linguistic map, so a good way of explaining who the Circassians are is to start with languages. There are many languages in the Caucases, but we need to distinguish between “non-Caucasian languages of the Caucasus” -- languages that are spoken in the Caucasus but originated elsewhere and Caucasian languages in the narrow sense, that is, languages that are indigenous and unique to the Caucasus.
Non-Caucasian languages of the Caucasus belong to several families Indo-European (e.g., Russian), the Turkic branch of Altaic (e.g., Azeri, Balkar, Karachai), the Mongolic branch of Altaic (Kalmyk), and Iranian (e.g., Osset). Caucasian languages proper belong to three families: Northwest, Northeast, and South. These families, while all “Caucasian,” are not closely related.
The main language (in terms of number of speakers) in the South Caucasian family is Georgian. The Northeast Caucasian family includes Chechen and Ingush and many of the languages spoken in Dagestan. Circassian is historically the main language of the Northwest Caucasian family. Others are Ubykh and Abkhaz. Members of the Ubykh group also consider themselves Circassians, so we have here a single ethnic group with two distinct languages. Abkhaz do not regard themselves as Circassians but acknowledge kinship with them.
In turn, Circassian has several dialects, associated with the different “tribal” groups. These dialects fall into two groups: West Circassian and East Circassian (or Kabardian). (1)
The Circassians can be traced back to ancient times. Like the ancient Greeks, they had a strong ethno-cultural identity without being politically united. Right up to the conquest, they lived in villages (auls) by means of agriculture, livestock rearing, beekeeping, metalworking and other crafts.
In religion they had their own pantheon in ancient times. From the 6th century they were under the Christianizing influence of Georgia and Byzantium, and from the 15th century under the Islamizing influence of Ottoman Turkey. However, neither Christianity nor Islam ever became firmly entrenched: they often mixed with ancient beliefs and with one another (e.g., ancient deities became saints but kept their shrines).
The Circassians evolved a complex feudal structure with princes, nobles, free commoners, and serfs. In this respect they differed from the Chechens, who were all free commoners (uzgen). There are indications of a matriarchal or at least matrilineal family in primeval times, but in the historical period the family was strongly patriarchal. For instance, a father had the right to sell his daughter into slavery. He might sell one daughter in order to pay for another daughter’s dowry. In this way many Circassian women entered Turkish harems.
From the late 18th century a process of democratization began in Circassian society. In some tribes the feudal structure was simplified, in others done away with altogether. I don’t know why this happened; some authors connect it with Islamization. The process was incomplete at the time of conquest and deportation. Mr. Barsaqua tells me that some noble families took their servants into exile with them and reconstituted feudal relations in their settlements in Turkey.
(1) The term “Circassian” is sometimes used narrowly to refer to the western dialects only, as distinct from the two Kabardian dialects, and sometimes used to include the latter. There is also an ambiguity in usage of the term “Kabardian”: it may refer to both eastern dialects or to only one of them (the other being Besleney).
Like other peoples of the North Caucasus, the Circassians have preserved ancient sagas about the Narts a race of monstrous giants who once lived in the Caucasus. (1) In some versions the Narts are presented as the ancestors of the Circassians, in others as a neighboring people with whom the ancient Circassians interacted and who later became extinct.
Kumakhov and Z.Yu. Kumakhova are researchers at the Institute of Philology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. They analyze the lexicon of the Nart sagas with a view to discerning how the ancient Circassians may have lived their pantheon, the geography, flora and fauna of their environment, their social and family structure, clothing, weaponry, units of measurement, number and color symbolism, etc.
The authors note that the complete absence of the idea of monotheism from the sagas testifies to their great antiquity. There is a “great god” Tkhashkho who is superior to other deities, but even this is a late innovation. The names of many gods and goddesses came from other unrelated languages, including languages of the Indo-European family, suggesting their adoption from other peoples (for instance, from the Hittites of Asia Minor). In some cases (e.g., Amysh, guardian of livestock rearing) a figure who appears sometimes as a god may also appear as a Nart. Thus, the Narts seem to have been perceived as an intermediate level between human beings and gods.
Other deities were:
Washkho - god of the sky
Shible, later called Yele - god of lightning and thunder
Sozresh - god of tilling
Psatkhe - god of the soul
Psitkhe - goddess of water
Mazitkhe - god of the forest and of hunting
Mezguasshe - goddess of the forest and of hunting (2)
Tlepsh - god of fire and of the blacksmith’s craft
Tkhagalej - god of fertility and of the harvest
Aushijer - variously, god of war and weaponry, hunting, or travel
Pako - a god to whom the Narts made sacrifices until they fell out with him. He then sent a drought to their land.
(1) The Nart sagas have been translated into English and annotated by Professor John Colarusso. See his “Nart Sagas from the Caucasus: Myths and Legends of the Circassians, Abazas, Abkhaz, and Ubykh” (Princeton University Press, 2002).
(2) There is a beautiful song about Mezguasshe at http://www.circassianworld.com/Adyghe_Abkhaz_musics.html
To be able to defend their homeland against invaders the Circassians had to cultivate a warrior lifestyle. This was especially true of the princes and nobles, who devoted themselves to fighting. At the other end of the social spectrum, serfs who were not of Circassian origin (2) were not allowed to fight. However, a serf who showed an aptitude for fighting could be elevated to a higher social rank.
A boy started to learn fighting skills and horsemanship at an early age. Special kinds of weapons were designed for children. The relationship between father and son resembled that between superior and subordinate in the army. The father maintained his distance from his son, with the mother acting as go-between. If the mother was absent, the father would speak directly to his son but using the third person.
At age 10 the son of a noble would be sent to live with an atalyk a friend of the father who undertook to be the boy’s second father and complete his military training.
The night raid was a common custom. A small group of horsemen would quietly approach another village to rustle horses and cattle, which were then divided among them. If the border of Circassia was nearby, a non-Circassian village was raided. Otherwise a neighboring Circassian village was raided; this could lead to a blood feud. In some cases, whole families were destroyed in this fashion. But a man had to be able to fight and had to go on night raids, otherwise no father would let him marry his daughter.
There was a strong bond between a Circassian and his horse. The horse was not only his most valuable possession but also his brother. The horse was assigned a status higher than that of other animals, and was regarded almost as human.
The Circassian was also proud of his weapons. The craft of weapon making was highly developed. The best weapons were made of silver or (for princes) gold. When the Cossacks penetrated Circassia they adopted Circassian dress and weaponry.
(1) These notes reflect only part of Ibragim Yagan’s presentation. He also talked about the Circassian armed resistance to Russian conquest, the role of Circassian volunteers in the Abkhaz-Georgian war, and other matters.
(2) That is, they were prisoners of war or their descendants.
At the end of the Crimean War (1853-6), General Bariatinsky consolidated the administrative units of the North Caucasus into the Left (East) and Right (West) Flanks. As the Ossetians were always cooperative with the Russians and the Kabardians had surrendered after a devastating plague, the Central North Caucasus was subdued. Thus, the two largest groups of North Caucasus peoples still resisting the Russians, the Chechens and the Circassians, were effectively cut off from each other. After Shamil’s defeat in 1859 and the subjugation of the Northeast, the entire Russian army was brought to bear against the Northwest Caucasus. During the period 1859-1864, Circassians and their kin, the Abazas and Ubykhs, were overwhelmed.
In May 1859 the Bzhedukh tribe surrendered, followed by the Abadzakhs in November, and both were initially allowed to remain on their lands. An international force under the Pole Teofik Lapinski left in Nov. 1859, but it had proven incompetent and played no serious role in the end of the Russo-Circassian War.
The first formulation of the ethnic cleansing of the Circassians was forwarded by Emperor Alexander II:
“The Cossack community is destined to serve the government by defending the empire’s borders adjacent to hostile and poorly organized tribes and to occupy the land from which they have been taken… Only a few years of persistent pressure remain in order to completely drive the hostile mountaineers from the fertile lands they occupy and forever establish in their place a Russian Christian population.” (1)
At a meeting in October 1860, Prince Bariatinksy and General Fadeev called for “the unconditional expulsion of the Circassians from their mountain refuges.” General Yevdokimov wanted to “compel them either to resettle in the open lowlands or leave for Turkey.” The tribes that had already submitted were to be deported as well as those still resisting, such as the Shapsegh, Natukhay, Ubykh, Abaza, and Abkhaz.
There were some outside gestures of support for the Circassians’ plight. In 1861 a British delegation offered recognition, along with the Turks and French, if the Circassians united against the Russians. In response Circassians set up a capital at Sochi, created 13 administrative units and began to work on a single legal code. In1862 a Circassian delegation visited Istanbul, and sought support from Europe. Unfortunately, it was all too late and for naught, despite a multinational force and diplomacy. After an audience with Aleksandr II, who remained inflexible, the remaining Circassians, Ubykhs, and Abazas retreated to the headwaters of the Psekups, Pshish, and Psekha Rivers, where they made their final stand.
Even before the deportations, some Northwest Caucasus peoples chose to emigrate to the Ottoman Empire. In 1858-9 approximately 30,000 Turkic Nogais left, followed by perhaps 10,000 Kabardians in 1861. The Besleneys, Temirgoys, many remaining Kabardians, and some Abazas were driven to the Black Sea coast in 1861 as well. In 1862 40,000 Natukhais, who had already surrendered and accepted the Russians’ original conditions that they resettle in the lowlands, were forced to the coast in May. In 1863 a similar fate befell the Khatukays and Bzhedukhs. Cossack settlements (stanitsy) were rapidly established on the vacated land; by 1862 there were already 111.
A deportation commission was created on 10 May 1862. Each family was to receive 10 rubles compensation. General Yevdokimov declared the action completed on 21 May 1864, although his troops were still pursuing one fleeing family at the time. Cossacks were given the vacated land en masse, and the 400,000 Cossacks north of the Kuban rapidly settled Circassia. As Fadeev relates:
“The enemy no longer existed… All [the mountaineers’] crops were inherited by the Russian settlers, who were able to live there for the first year without having to plant anything.” (2)
According to Fadeev, 60,000 Circassians remained after the deportation, representing 6% of the original population, while researcher Galina Malakhova estimates 40,400 remained, or approximately 4 percent. By 1870, 70 percent of the population was Slavic.
The process of deportation brought wholesale suffering and death on an almost incomprehensible scale. A Russian officer identified only as I. Drozdov (1877) related a string of horrors he had witnessed, including half-dead women and children being eaten by dogs while still alive, and estimated that half of those who survived to embark died at sea. Ottoman reports estimate that 180,000 died shortly after arrival. While the actual number of dead is still a difficult question, it is beyond doubt that no less than one million people were deported, and that well over 50 percent of them died. (3)
In 1882, Kuban Province had only 36,000 Circassians, less then 3.6 percent of original population. All the Ubykhs were deported, and their civilization was effectively annihilated. The vast majority of Abazas, 50,000, were also deported. In 1883, Kuban Province had only 10,326 Abazas.
Thus, the Russian action resulted in roughly a 94 percent reduction in the original population of the Circassians and their kin. Does this amount to genocide?
Russia could have exterminated them, but chose not to. St. Petersburg sought ethnic cleansing (the Russian term “ochistit’” recurs throughout Yevdokimov’s reports) without regard for the welfare of those cleansed. Yevdokimov and other commanders proceeded with the cleansing in full knowledge of the catastrophic level of casualties. Stephen Shenfield calls the deportation “a case of ethnic cleansing carried out with brutal disregard for human suffering,” (4) while Paul Henze states that “the great exodus [of the Circassians and their kin] was the first of the violent mass transfers of population which this part of the world has suffered in modern times.” (5)
One must note, however. the deportation of the Cherokee and other Indians in 1838, the “Trail of Tears.” Such actions were an integral part of expansionist phases in the formation of large states or empires during the 19th century. As one of us (Walter Richmond) puts it in his forthcoming book:
“If one considers, as Henze proposes, that Russian actions in the 1860s set the precedent for future ethnic cleansings, then in terms of its ultimate consequences the deportation of the Circassians, Abazins, and Ubykhs, officially sanctioned by Alexander II, was a unique crime against humanity, regardless of what term one wishes to attach to it.” (6)
Since as with murder in the second degree, that is, an action causing death without necessarily the intention of death, one might usefully make a distinction here between intended genocide and what the Russians committed as “Genocide in the Second Degree.”
One might reasonably ask why this tragedy came to pass, despite the Tsar’s ethnocentric and bigoted views, since earlier relations between the Russians and the Circassians had been friendly. Many Russian nobles were, in fact, of Circassian origin, such as Cherkassky, Sherametov, and even Yermolov (Circassian for ‘Armenian’). Ivan the Terrible had a Circassian wife.
A shift began with the annexation of Georgia in 1801 and the desire to secure the head of the future Georgian Military Highway, which lay in Ossetia. As a result Russia began to back the Ossetians against the Circassians. Russian reaction to the adverse experience of the Crimean War (1853-6) seems also to have raised the stakes for Russia in the nearby Caucasus.
Whatever the character of earlier relations the cultural chauvinism of an expanding Russia had grown intense. As Fadeev out it,
“A fundamental difference exists between the East and West Caucasus in that the Circassians, owing to their position along the coast, could never be firmly consolidated into Russia as long as they remained in their homeland… The re-education of a people is a centuries-long process, but in the pacification of the Caucasus the time had come for us, perhaps only for a brief time, TO COMPLETE ONE OF THE MOST VITAL TASKS IN RUSSIAN HISTORY“ (my emphasis JC).
To see the conquest of this relatively small region as “one of the most vital tasks in Russian history” suggests that the significance of the Caucasus had become very high for Russia. It is a historical fact that after the conquest of the Caucasus Russia expanded across Central Asia with relative ease. Even today Russia shrouds her conquest of the Caucasus in romantic terms. Simple geopolitical considerations off an explanation for this persistent interest. Russian control of the Caucasus permitted the Kremlin to play a hegemonic role in Central Asia and the Ukraine region. In particular, Russian control of the Caucasus permitted the Kremlin to project force into the South Caucasus, and continued control makes it possible to do so again.
Russian control of the Caucasus gives the Kremlin the chance to project influence or even force into the Middle East and Iran, something she has never done with lasting effect but might yet consider attempting. Russian control of the Caucasus permitted the Kremlin to master the Black Sea, and continued control offers the potential to do establish a base for a warm water fleet. The West, including the United States, has failed to grasp these vital dimensions of the Caucasus.
With these stakes, the fate of a relatively small, independent, warrior culture of alien pedigree was of little consequence to Russia. One might even share, in a calculating fashion, the Russian estimation that without the destruction of the Circassians Russia might not have been able to secure an empire on the scale that she achieved.
(1) Tagan Khabasovich Kumykov, ed. Arkhivnye materially o kavkazskoi voine i vyselenii Cherkesov (Adygov) v Turtsiiu (1848 1874), pt. II (Nalchik: El-Fa, 2003), p. 80.
(2) Fadeev, Kavkazskaia voina, p. 201.
(3) Drozdov, “Posledniaia bor’ba s gortsami na Zapadnom Kavkaze,” Kavkazskii sbornik 2 (1877), pp. 456 7.
(4) Stephen D. Shenfield, “The Circassians: A Forgotten Genocide?” (see www.circassianworld.com).
(5) Henze, “Circassian Resistance to Russia,” Marie Bennigsen Broxup et al., eds. The North Caucasus Barrier: The Russian Advance Towards the Muslim World (NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1992), p. 111.
(6) Richmond, The Northwest Caucasus: Past, Present, and Future (London: Routledge, in press).
This will be the first book to present a comprehensive history of the Northwest Caucasus. Based on extensive research, it describes the peoples of the Northwest Caucasus, which have a significantly different ethnic makeup and history than the Northeast (Chechnia and Daghestan). The book examines their struggles for survival against repeated invasions and their ultimate defeat at the hands of the Russians. It explores inter-ethnic relations and demographic changes that have occurred in the region over time, with a particular focus on the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Use is made of recently published archival materials on the deportation of the Abazas, Circassians, and Ubykhs to the Ottoman Empire by the Russians, which is treated as the first act of ethnic cleansing in modern history.
The book also closely examines the struggles the Northwest Caucasus peoples continue to undergo in the post-Soviet era, facing pressures from organized crime, religious extremism, and a federal government unresponsive to their needs. It emphasizes the strategic importance of the region, lying on the northeastern shore of the Black Sea directly on the border between the “Christian” and “Muslim” worlds. It will be of interest to scholars of Russian history and politics, Caucasus and Central Asian studies, genocide studies, international relations and conflict studies.
Irma Kreiten began by showing how contemporary Russian observers perceived the rapid removal of a whole population from the Northwest Caucasus in the early 1860s as something new and extraordinary, although “they had difficulties in nailing down the exact nature of this ‘newness’.” What is the relationship between this new quality and the present-day concept of genocide?
Our current concept of genocide originates in the efforts of a Polish-Jewish jurist named Raphael Lemkin to obtain official recognition of the Nazi extermination of Jews (including most of his own relatives) as a special crime in international law. In 1948 the UN passed a convention on genocide, defined as acts of various kinds “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”
Besides the emphasis on physical destruction, this definition is remarkable for its focus on the intent of the perpetrators. Thus, whether an event constitutes genocide does not depend on the number killed or the extent of suffering caused, for death and suffering may be unintended side effects of a policy in pursuit of a different aim.
In order to determine the intent of the perpetrators of the Circassian deportation, the speaker examined the positions expressed by tsarist officials and military officers involved in the decision-making process that led to the deportation. In a memorandum of 1856, Count Dmitri Milyutin (later war minister) argued that the Northwest Caucasus could not be secured by merely subjugating the Circassian tribes because their “anarchic” habits and political structure made this impossible; it was therefore necessary to remove them from their lands. However, he explicitly excluded the option of extermination and suggested an exchange of populations: the Circassians would be resettled on the Don, while the Don Cossacks would be resettled in Circassia. Baryatinsky, the then army commander in the Caucasus, supported Milyutin’s proposal.
The government commission set up to examine the question opposed Milyutin’s plan as “highly dangerous” on the grounds that any attempt at deportation would provoke such resistance that the end result would be extermination. Baryatinsky responded by defending the deportation plan and indignantly denying that his intent was extermination.
A handful of sources before 1856 had clearly expressed exterminatory intent. Moreover, in 1865 General Fadeyev wrote: “It was necessary to exterminate half of the mountaineers in order to force the other half to lay down their arms.” Irma Kreiten comments: “While extermination does not figure here as an aim in itself, it is at least consciously accepted.” There does not seem to be a consensus among jurists concerning whether such “acceptance” suffices to qualify as genocidal intent.
In short, existing sources do not enable us to judge with any confidence “to which degree Russian authorities in the 1860s consciously and deliberately caused mass death as an aim in itself.” However, the plans to resettle Circassians within Russia did aim at their forced assimilation i.e., socio-cultural destruction.
Irma Kreiten contrasted two possible perspectives on exterminatory violence: events may be considered in the light of their end results or the focus may be on the cumulative process of policy formation and decision making. Some massacres have a greater degree of central organization than others, but even a highly bureaucratized operation such as the Nazi “final solution” developed gradually. The processual approach is best suited to the study of the Circassian deportation.
SONGS OF LAMENT
Source. Tragicheskie posledstviya kavkazskoi voiny dlia adygov. Sbornik dokumentov i materialov [The Tragic Consequences of the Caucasian War for the Circassians. A Collection of Documents and Material] (Nalchik: el’-fa, 2000), pp. 418 20
In the wake of deportation, the Circassian exiles in Turkey composed “songs of lament” to express their sorrow. The words of four of these songs are reproduced (in Russian) in this collection of documents on the deportation, published in Kabardino-Balkaria. The translation into English is mine. (Of course, it would be better to translate them directly from Circassian.)
The first two songs are taken from the manuscript archive of the Kabardino-Balkar Scientific Research Institute of History, Philology, and Ethnography.
DEPARTURE ACROSS THE SEA
Across the ancient Black Sea they ship us And land us in Istanbul. The morning train approaches. We flee together and bemoan our fate.
The beautiful birds suffered for us When we left the Marys Forest. Through Armavir go the trains. Our departure, woe is us, is a great misfortune. In Armavir the samovars seethe; A seething calamity was Istanbul for us. The golden time, o woe, o breast, is broken; With broken hearts we leave for Istanbul.
WE LEAVE FOR ISTANBUL
Across the Black Sea they threw us. In Istanbul they threw us down. Right away the Turkish police gather And summon us to the Sufi mosque. The Turkish bosses arrive in carriages And divide us up like a herd of sheep. “Kabardinians who have left your homeland, I assign you to residence in Tam Sharif (Syria). It’s a good place, you will live with the Arabs.” Kabardinians, woe is us, they torment us. Among the savage Turkish Tatars we shall die. We shall perish in the desert.
The next song is from an anthology of Kabardinian poetry (Antologiia kabardinskoi poezii, Moscow 1957, pp. 79 80).
THEY DRIVE US TO ISTANBUL
Black crows flap their wings. The foul Anzorov runs the show. Homeland, we won’t see you again.
They deceitfully foisted passports on us all. They cheated us, and we’re not allowed to argue. They drive us from our native land!
The train leaves without delay, The train hoots, drowns out our sobbing. Don’t forget us, dear country!
The winds ruffle our brocade headscarves. Brothers, hardly shall we meet again! They drive us, drive us out of our fathers’ land!
Someone’s harmonica weeps and sobs. There is no way back to our homeland for us. They have torn us from our native soil!
Say farewell to your dear ones, torment your heart. The Turkish consul is irritated and hurries us. They drive and carry us far, far away.
Most moving of all, perhaps, is the following song, taken from the book on the Ubykh genocide by the Abkhaz writer and public figure Bagrat Shinkuba (1917 2004), “The Last of the Departed” (Poslednii iz ushedshikh, Moscow 1988, p. 78).
SONG OF THE UBYKH
O, what a bitter fate, What a bitter fate! How vast the sea And how tiny a patch Of native land! The poor land is desolate, And the cuckoo freezes on the bough. She has no one to foretell the seasons. Have you said farewell to the dead? Have you told them we shall not return? You should have told them: The dead may not be deceived! Let us turn to face our mountains They don’t know where we are going. Let us turn and leave them a song So that it should wander, like an echo, From one mountain to the next. If a child leaves his mother, Does that mean she is to blame? Is she really to blame? “Why are you leaving, children? Of what am I guilty, children?” Our land weeps. Our land questions us. Forgive us! We are powerless to stay. We can leave you One thing only our soul. We are going forever. She remains forever.
The Circassian exiles were settled in the Ottoman Empire in accordance with a plan based on demographic and strategic considerations. The aims were to strengthen border defenses and increase the proportion of Moslems in predominantly non-Moslem areas (e.g. the Balkans). After defeat in the 1877 78 war with Russia, Circassians settled in the Balkans had to be moved again to Anatolia, Syria, and Palestine.
Conditions in the early years of settlement (up to about 1900) were very harsh and only the strongest survived. At the same time, some elite Circassians managed to establish good relations with the Palace and obtain important positions in the military and civilian bureaucracy.
The first Circassian organization in the diaspora was the Committee of Circassian Union and Solidarity, established by a group of intellectuals in 1908. This committee published the first Circassian diaspora periodical, “Guaze” (Guide), in Turkish and Circassian. It also set up schools in the Caucasus and printed books for these schools in specially designed alphabets. Other cultural, charitable and political organizations followed, including the Circassian Women Solidarity Committee, which in 1919 founded the first Circassian-language school.
The Circassian organizations supported the unsuccessful attempt to establish a Mountain Peoples’ Republic in the northern Caucasus in 1918. Circassian militias played a very important role in the War of Independence that led to the proclamation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. However, the new government did not trust the Circassians. “The revolution devoured its children”: the militia leader Pshav Ethem was accused of treason.
Like other ethnic minorities, the Circassians were placed under strong pressure to assimilate into a culturally homogeneous Turkish nation. In the period 1922 24:
- All Circassian committees, schools, and newspapers were closed down.
- Circassians were forced to change their surnames.
- 14 Circassian villages were forcibly relocated from western to eastern Anatolia.
- 150 persons, 86 of them Circassians, were deprived of citizenship and expatriated as “potential rebels.”
The pressure continued for many years. The names of Circassian villages were changed. Many families were prosecuted for giving their children non-Turkish names and the names were altered. Following the language law of 1932, campaigns were organized under the slogan: “Citizen, speak Turkish!” and notices prohibiting speaking Circassian were displayed in Circassian villages.
The situation eased somewhat after World War Two. A Circassian association was re-established in 1951. In the postwar period, the situation of the Circassians has varied with the political situation in Turkey. Circassian associations were banned after each military coup and then allowed again 3 5 years later. Also in this period many Circassians left the villages to work or study in the cities. A political division arose among Circassians as there emerged a movement of pro-Soviet Circassians who called for immediate “return” to the Caucasus.
There are currently more than 100 NGOs in Turkey dealing with Circassian and North Caucasus affairs, linked in two federations. About 80 periodicals are published on these issues.
With the advent of perestroika, it became possible for diaspora Circassians to visit the homeland and communicate with the Circassian republics in the Caucasus. Some planned to return to the homeland, but were deterred by the wars in Abkhazia and Chechnya. The Russian authorities have also placed obstacles in the way of those wishing to return. Only about 1,500 people have returned so far.
These wars did, however, politicize Turkish citizens of North Caucasus origin. On August 16, 1992 a demonstration was held in Istanbul to protest against the passive stance of the Turkish government regarding the Georgian invasion of Abkhazia. Hundreds of young men went to fight on the Abkhaz side. Five of the volunteers from Turkey were killed. (2)
According to census data, there were 100,000 Circassian and Abkhaz speakers in Turkey in 1927 and 125,000 in 1965. However, many Circassians were afraid to reveal their ethnic identity. The lowest figure for the number who survived resettlement in the Ottoman Empire is 400,000. Assuming a doubling of population every 35 years, the expected population today must be over 6 million or, if half have been assimilated, over 3 million.
At least a third of Turkey’s Circassians are still able to speak Circassian. The language has been preserved in isolated rural areas: very few urbanized people of Circassian descent speak Circassian. Under the influence of the European Union, there is now some radio and TV broadcasting in minority languages, including a weekly 30-minute TV broadcast in Circassian -- at 6.30 am! (3)
The majority of Turkish citizens of Circassian origin acknowledge the fact of their descent, but are not fully conscious of their identity. Many are fully integrated into their country of residence and do not care about or dream of returning to their homeland. …
(1) The paper of which this is a summary was prepared by Didem Bas and Fahriye Arici.
(2) The Georgian invasion of Abkhazia was an important issue for Circassians on account of the close ethnic and cultural kinship between Circassians and Abkhaz. For the same reason, Circassian activists now support the campaign for international recognition of Abkhazia as an independent state (SDS).
Besides the Circassians from Turkey, 1,400 Circassian volunteers from the North Caucasus (as well as about 500 Chechens and 500 Cossacks) crossed the main Caucasus range to fight on the Abkhaz side (information from Ibragim Yaganov).
(3) See also the paper of Professor George Hewitt on “Language Planning for North Caucasian Languages in Turkey” at http://www.circassianworld.com/hewitt.html (SDS).
My theme was the possible territorial restructuring of the three Circassian autonomous republics within the Russian Federation (Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaya-Cherkessia, and Adygeia) in particular, the Russian government’s plans to annex Adygeia to its larger neighbor, Krasnodarskii Krai.
The three Circassian republics (with a total combined population of less than two million) represent a small fraction of the region inhabited by the Circassians before the Russian conquest and the subsequent dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population. They were established during the Soviet period in the context of the policy of recognizing and accommodating the ethnic identities of (some of the) country’s indigenous inhabitants. Following the creation of the Russian Federation, they received the status of autonomous republics. Of the three regions, only in Kabardino-Balkaria do Circassians constitute a (narrow) majority of the population. In the other two republics, the largest ethnic groups are the Karachay (in KC) and Slavs (in Adygeia).
The Russian government’s plans for Adygeia were first hinted at in various pronouncements and press leaks by officials, including Krasnodarskii Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev and Dmitrii Kozak, President Putin’s representative in the Southern Federal Region. In the early 2000’s, these and other officials made guarded statements suggesting that Adygeia’s small size, poverty, and geography (as an enclave within Krasnodarskii Krai) made it non-viable as a “subject” of the Russian Federation. The proposals for “merger” (the government’s preferred term) or “liquidation” (the preferred term of Circassian politicians and activists) peaked in 2004-05.
Much to the Kremlin’s surprise, a concerted effort by politicians and indigenous rights activists in Adygeia, as well as among the Circassian diaspora, presented a rare display of public opposition to its plans. In 2006-07, the government officially shelved proposals to merge Adygeia and Krasnodarskii Krai.
However, the central government has pursued a number of policies that have the effect of vitiating Adygeia’s actual autonomy. In 2007 a new and more pliant republic president, Aslan Tkhakushinov, was appointed to replace the more independent-minded Khazret Sovmen, who had publicly opposed merger. In addition, control over several key ministries, such as customs and transport, has been transferred from the regional government in Maikop to the Krasnodarskii Krai government in Krasnodar City. Finally, recent years have seen a crackdown, at times violent, on Circassian political activists in all three republics.
Why did the Kremlin choose to make an issue of Adygeia’s autonomous status? In part, the answer may lie in its general policy of attenuating the regional autonomy rights of indigenous populations, which has included the merger of autonomous districts in other parts of Russia (in particular, in Western Siberia). The attempt to dispose of Adygeia seems also to reflect a more specific desire to rein in regional governments in the North Caucasus and cement control over the region through alliances with selected regional politicians—in this case, Tkachev. This desire may be related to the deteriorating security situation in much of the region. It may also have to do with the increasing geopolitical tensions in the Black Sea region, including Russia’s tense relations with neighboring Georgia and Ukraine, both of whom may at some point join NATO.
It is important to note that the movement for annexation/liquidation does not stem primarily from political movements within Adygeia itself. The fieldwork that I conducted in the region in summer 2006 indicates that support for merger with Krasnodarskii Krai among Slavs in Adygeia is broad but weak and relatively passive. By contrast, most Circassians in Adygeia, nearly all local politicians, and probably most members of other ethnic minorities (such as Armenians) appear to be strongly opposed to merger.
This raises the question of the potential consequences of such a move. Governor Tkachev already has a reputation as a populist and Russian chauvinist, which is unlikely to endear him to non-Russian ethnic groups in Adygeia. Moreover, the liquidation of Adygeia would be a major departure in Russian nationalities policy. By implying that other regions could be similarly disposed of, the dissolution of Adygeia could have serious destabilizing consequences, including the alienation from the Russian state of non-Russian elites and populations throughout the Caucasus.
Russia’s ethno-federal structure, while unwieldy and internally inconsistent, is nonetheless an attempt to reconcile the rights and aspirations of the country’s indigenous population with those of its Slavic majority. It is true that in Adygeia Slavs constitute a majority of the population. However, the legitimacy of Adygeia as a separate subject of the federation is rooted in the distinctive culture and tragic history of the Circassians, irrespective of their share in the population. (In this respect, Russia has more in common with such federations as Switzerland and Canada than with the United States.)
While there may indeed be valid reasons for territorial restructuring in the Russian Federation, the Kremlin’s current approach of undermining indigenous rights is likely to be counterproductive in the long run. As an alternative to the proposed Krasnodar-Adygeia merger, a more historically informed merger proposal might involve the creation of a macro-region comprised of all three republics with significant Circassian populations. Such a new region would help demonstrate the Russian government’s good faith in its dealings with its indigenous citizens in the North Caucasus.
The traditional parliament of Circassia was the Adyge Hase, a gathering of the most respected Circassians warlords, elders, poets and singers of heroic ballads convened in emergency situations to make decisions on war and peace.
A new “Adyge Hase” was established in Maikop at the beginning of Gorbachev’s perestroika, although unofficial Circassian movements had started to gather regularly in Nalchik in the early 1980s.
In 1989 the Congress of the People of Kabarda was founded in Nalchik, led by Yuri Kalmykov. Nalchik was also the base of the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus (CMPC), led by Musa Shanibov.
The first congress of the International Circassian Association (Dunei Pso Adyge Hase) was held in Nalchik and Sukhum (Abkhazia) in 1991. The ICA consisted of 18 Adyge Hases from 16 countries. Its program declared its main goal to be the formation of an independent and united Circassia.
In 1994 the CMPC was destroyed by the authorities. Kalmykov died of a heart attack. In 2000 the ICA gathered again in Nalchik, but was taken under complete control by the Kremlin. The building where the congress was to take place was surrounded by police, while selected delegates were invited to a meeting in another building where they were presented with a fait accompli: a new leading commission consisting of FSB and former KGB officers.
The new leadership declared that the ICA would concern itself only with cultural matters. It would not engage in political activity or act in contravention of Russian laws. There was no need for a united Circassian state because the homeland of the Circassians was the Russian Federation. Delegates were warned that anyone who did not support the new commission and its policies would not receive an entry visa in the future.
PROSPECTS AND DANGERS OF CIRCASSIAN NATIONALISM
* Stephen Shenfield
The rise of Circassian nationalism is part of the worldwide resurgence of the politics of ethnic identity, of the search to recover and affirm ancestral “roots.” This resurgence, no doubt, has deep causes. Arguably, it is a reaction to the homogenizing cultural impact of globalization. (1) However that may be, we may expect Circassian ethno-politics to gain strength, perhaps quite rapidly, in both the Caucasus and the diaspora.
Ethno-politics is not identical to nationalism. Nationalism is not always based on ethnicity (consider the US) and ethnic movements may set themselves goals that fall short of ethnically based statehood for example, the creation of autonomous institutions (territorial or extra-territorial) within existing states, cultural and language rights, or the official recognition of past suffering.
Circassian activists pursue all these goals. All those whose views on the matter I have heard or read, however, do aspire EVENTUALLY to create an independent Circassian state in the Northwest Caucasus. They have divergent views concerning how feasible this goal is likely to be in the foreseeable future. Some relegate it to an indefinite future and concentrate their efforts on preserving Circassian language and culture. Others are more optimistic. But none of them, it seems, oppose the idea of a Circassian state in principle. As Fatima Tlisova points out, the goal of a state was enshrined in the original program of the International Circassian Association.
My “gut reaction” to this is that the world does not need yet another nationalist movement, yet another ethno-national state. Especially in areas of high inter-ethnic tension like the Caucasus, such state-building projects inevitably entail more ethnic cleansing, more injustice and bitterness, more bloodshed. I therefore feel some regret that through my scholarly work I have inadvertently contributed to the rise of Circassian nationalism. I am happy to help in preserving an ancient culture and in restoring historical truth, but how is this to be separated from fuelling nationalism and ethnic conflict?
I could also make a pragmatic case in favor of renouncing the goal of a state. The possibility of creating a Circassian state is contingent on the collapse of Russian power in the North Caucasus. Such a prospect cannot be excluded. Indeed, certain trends point in that direction in particular, increasing alienation from Russia among indigenous ethnic groups (even, as Professor Colarusso observes, among traditionally loyal groups like the Ossets) and a net out-migration of ethnic Russians from the region. However, Moscow is able to take countermeasures, such as supporting the Cossack movement in the North Caucasus. It can restrict or even cut off links between the Circassian homeland and the diaspora and block all attempts at “return.” Above all, Moscow has military preponderance and the economic resources to maintain it. Russia’s withdrawal from the North Caucasus is at best a remote and uncertain prospect. And even if Russia did withdraw there would still be major obstacles to overcome, both locally and at the international level.
Renunciation of what is in any case a low-probability outcome would have the advantage of facilitating less ambitious goals that are more feasible in the near term. As Circassian nationalism becomes more salient on the Kremlin’s “radar screen” as a result, possibly, of the protests planned for the Sochi Olympics in 2014 (2) we can expect greater intolerance of any expression of Circassian identity. Official recognition of the truth about the past will certainly be out of the question if its political consequence is perceived as being the de-legitimization of Russia’s sovereignty in the region. Concessions on the part of the Russian government are conceivable only if demands for them are accompanied by reassurances that Russia’s territorial integrity is not at stake.
I would also suggest that there is not an “either or” choice between “not caring about the homeland” and “dreaming to return to the homeland.” It is quite possible for a diaspora to cultivate a spiritual and emotional link with its homeland for many centuries without returning there en masse. The obvious example is the attachment of Jews to “Zion” before the rise of political Zionism. (3)
Of course, it is far from certain that the Kremlin would be open to concessions even under the best of circumstances. In recent years Russia has been heading away from its previous identity, inherited from the Soviet Union, as at least formally and to some varying extent in reality a multi-ethnic federation toward consolidation as a unitary imperial state of the ethnic Russians. Accompanying this shift are a rehabilitation of tsarism and a restoration of tsarist institutions like Cossackdom and Orthodoxy as (in effect) the state religion, and that makes it very hard for the contemporary Russian state to acknowledge, apologize for, and dissociate itself from the cruelty inflicted on the Circassians by the Russia of the tsars.
Perhaps this whole tendency is already irreversible. If so, my “pragmatic” argument against the goal of a Circassian state is built on sand.
Even in this case, however, I still think that ethnically based nationalist movements in multi-ethnic regions are fraught with enormous peril. This is especially true in the case of a diaspora seeking to return to a lost homeland that has now been inhabited for generations by other peoples. The tragic experience of Palestine over the last century is of obvious relevance here. Consider too the post-Soviet conflicts associated with the return of peoples deported by Stalin, e.g. the Osset-Ingush conflict and yet those peoples were only away from their homelands for a decade or two!
The Crimean Tatars have managed to return in substantial numbers to the Crimea without triggering large-scale violence by pursuing a very cautious and moderate policy. They have not responded to repeated provocation and they have not demanded the return of the good land and houses that used to be theirs, instead settling on poor land that no one else wants. Despite this, their return has aroused great anxiety among the Slav population. (4)
Whatever assurances the returning people may offer their neighbors, they cannot avoid arousing anxiety as their numbers increase and they buy up more and more land. New Circassian settlers from the diaspora, unfamiliar with their social environment and not perhaps fluent in Russian as the regional lingua franca, will be resented as aliens. And a weakened Kremlin trying to hang on in the region will do all it can to stimulate fears and resentments. At some point a spiral of violence will surely be set in motion.
So in thinking about a future independent state in the Northwest Caucasus, would it not be better in all respects to conceive of that state as a multi-ethnic entity, perhaps with a federal structure? Within such an entity Circassians would still seek to realize their aspirations, but all steps taken in this direction would be negotiated with organizations representing neighboring peoples to secure their full consent even if that entailed stretching out the “return” over a lengthy period. Such a state would not be called “Circassia” (or, even worse for the purpose of reassuring neighboring peoples, “Greater Circassia”) but would have an ethnically neutral name say, Republic of the Northwest Caucasus. The concept of such a state would need to be developed further on the basis of substantive research and in close consultation with specialists and public figures from all the main ethnic communities currently living in what was once Circassia.
Another big question for any Circassian ethno-political project, whatever its specific aims, is the choice of potential allies. To whom should Circassians appeal for sympathy and support, and on what basis? Any such appeal requires framing the Circassian issue within a broader context, as part of a wider set of issues. This can be done in several different ways, and the choice of a frame predetermines the choice of political strategy and potential allies.
Four possible frames come to mind:
 The Circassians as a people oppressed BY RUSSIA. In this case the potential allies are others with historical grievances against Russia (e.g., “nationally conscious” Poles, Ukrainians, and Balts as well as other peoples of the Caucasus) and also political forces in other major powers (the US, Turkey, Japan etc.) that still view Russia as a threat, rival, or potential adversary. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
In Turkey, for instance, Circassians would ally with advocates of an expansionist foreign policy who seek to re-establish a sphere of Turkish influence in the Caucasus. In the forthcoming US presidential election, Circassians would back McCain, with his extremely hard line on Russia but also China, Iran, Syria, etc.
This strategy has a precedent in the attempt of Circassians in the mid-19th century to obtain the aid and protection of the power that was Russia’s main adversary at that time Britain.
 The Circassians as a MOSLEM people oppressed by infidels. In this case the potential allies are Islamist states and movements of various kinds Iran, Saudi Arabia, Al-Qaeda, etc.
This strategy also has a 19th-century precedent, in the alliance with Shamil.
 The Circassians as victims of GENOCIDE. In this case the potential allies are other peoples who have been victims of genocide, such as Jews and Armenians, and activists who focus on issues of the recognition and prevention of genocide. (5)
 The Circassians as an INDIGENOUS people victimized by an expanding settler empire. Here the potential allies are other movements of indigenous peoples throughout the world, from Australia to Bolivia, and all those who sympathize with them.
The International Circassian Association took a significant step toward adoption of this strategy in 1994 when it joined the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), which “represents indigenous peoples, minorities, and unrecognized or unoccupied territories” (www.unpo.org).
It would be natural to try to maximize the range of support by combining different frames. Many combinations, however, entail logical and political inconsistency. Apart from the combination of  with , all combinations are more or less problematic.
Obviously, the “war against (Islamic) terrorism” makes it difficult to combine  with , although the Chechen separatists try to do so.
Combining  with either  or  is difficult because Islamic powers are also accused of committing genocide and ill-treating indigenous peoples for instance, the Ottoman Empire in relation to the Armenians or the Sudanese regime in southern Sudan and currently in Darfur.
Combining  with either  or  is likewise difficult because the European powers and their colonial offshoots such as Australia and the US (as well as Turkey) also stand accused of the cruel treatment of indigenous peoples, including instances of total genocide such as the Arawaks and the Tasmanians. (6)
Specifically regarding the United States, Professor Colarusso draws attention to the deportation in 1838, a few years before the Circassians were deported of the Cherokees from their homeland in Georgia to Oklahoma along the “Trail of Tears.” The expanding US also deported other indigenous tribes in the first half of the 19th century (e.g., the Choctaw in 1831). Indeed, Russian officials cited the precedent of harsh American treatment of “Indians” to justify similarly harsh treatment of “our own Indians” the Circassians.
The tradition of ethnic or racial cleansing was maintained in the second half of the 19th century. New targets in this period included Afro-American communities and the Chinese settlers of California and the Pacific Northwest. (7)
How is allegiance to the US within its present boundaries to be reconciled with solidarity with the movement to restore the independence of Hawaii, which is also a member of the UNPO?
For all the cruel treatment of indigenous peoples by the Russian Empire, surely it pales by comparison with what befell the indigenes of Africa, the Americas, and Australia. General George Washington ordered the total devastation of all the lands and towns of the Iroquois, but this did not prevent him being elected president; the US capital and a state are still named in his honor.
Or compare the fate of Circassians shipped from their homeland across the Black Sea with that of Africans shipped across the Atlantic. True, in both cases many were thrown overboard and eaten by the fish. But at least the Circassians were not in chains and those who survived their ordeal did not end up in slavery. Compare also the autonomous republics of Russia’s indigenous peoples, inadequate as they may be, with the corresponding political entities in the US the “Indian” reservations.
Nor are deportations of indigenous peoples by Western powers a matter only of the distant past. In the early 1970s the British government forcibly shipped the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands to Mauritius because the US wanted their homeland for a military base (Diego Garcia) in the Indian Ocean a “strategic” rationale very similar to that which led tsarist Russia to empty Circassia of its indigenous inhabitants. (8)
(1) This is not to say that it poses an effective challenge to globalization. It may serve basically as a form of romantic escapism.
(2) See www.olympicgenocide.org
(3) Contact with Palestine took the form of pilgrimages but not large-scale settlement.
Whether Jews are really descended from the ancient Israelites is a matter of controversy. That does not detract from the point I am making, because whatever their true descent they imagined Palestine as a homeland.
(4) One factor to take into account in the case of the Crimean Tatars is that although local authorities in the Crimea are hostile to them they enjoy a measure of protection from the central government in Kiev.
(5) Mutual recognition of Armenians and Circassians as historical victims will not be achieved all that easily. They were and still are on opposite sides of the divide between Christian Russia and Moslem Turkey. Thus, the site www.tallarmeniantale.com, which is devoted to denial of the Armenian genocide, features material on the Circassian genocide (including my essay), implying that because the Circassian genocide did happen the Armenian genocide did not. The logic seems to be that if the Russians were the baddies in the drama then the Turks must have been the goodies. Moreover, there were quite a few Armenians among the army officers who took part in suppressing and deporting the Circassians, while according to some sources some Circassians took part (albeit peripherally) in the Armenian genocide. Finally, open discussion is hampered by the fact that in Turkey, where the majority of Circassians live, recognizing the Armenian genocide is a criminal offense; nor does it help matters that in some European countries it is illegal to deny the Armenian genocide.
(6) The Arawaks were the indigenous people of the Caribbean those whom Columbus encountered when he first arrived. We should change Columbus Day to Arawak Remembrance Day. For a full account, see David E. Stannard, American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World (Oxford University Press, 1992).
A similar point can be made regarding Japan’s treatment of the Ainu and other indigenous people of the outlying islands (not to mention the Chinese, Koreans, etc.).
(7) Elliot Jaspin, Buried in Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America (Basic Books, 2007); Jean Pfaelzer, Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans (Random House, 2007).
(8) For an account of how the Chagos Islanders were treated, see Ch. 1 in John Pilger, Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire (New York: Nation Books, 2007).
CAN JOURNALISM BE INDEPENDENT?
In the first item of the last issue entitled “Control of the Media: A Neo-Soviet Model?” I made the following comment:
“Media freedom is often interpreted solely as freedom from state interference. As I understand it, media are “free” when professionally competent and socially responsible journalists are free to work independently not only of government but also of corporate advertising and management -- not to mention organized crime. Free media require special arrangements for ownership, control, and finance, such as self-managing journalistic collectives funded solely by readers or viewers. (7) Why should a media outlet subservient to Putin be labeled unfree, while an outlet subservient to Berezovsky or Gusinsky (or Murdoch, for that matter) is regarded as free? Admittedly, domination by rival oligarchs has some advantages over domination by a unified power center, but it is hardly appropriate to speak of freedom in either case.”
Andreas Umland sent the following response:
“I would like to make the following brief comment on Stephen Shenfield's valuable review of "Europe-Asia Studies'" special issue on media freedom in Russia in RAS no. 41. Stephen is to be thanked for this concise and informative survey. However, I disagree with his last paragraph in which he adds his own comment on the issue of media freedom. In a nutshell, Stephen seems to assert that there is little difference between journalists being controlled by the government, on the one side, and being dependent on so-called "oligarchs," on the other (an argument, by the way, one often hears in Russia.)
“While I am sympathetic to Stephen's idealism, I think there are, at least, three differences between these two forms of control:
(1) In, for instance, Robert Dahl's classic on democracy ("Polyarchy"), it is not stated that the main channels of information should be independent per se, but that they should be outside the control by government. The reasoning behind this is simple: The government is already in control of the police, the general procuracy, the military, the security service etc. It has the monopoly of using legally weapons against people. That seems enough of control for one group of people. "Oligarchs" do not have direct access to such instruments. (They may gain access to them, but that would seem to be less a problem inherent to these magnates, than again a problem of the state apparatus in question.) Therefore, in terms of democratic theory, control by "oligarchs" is less problematic than dependence on the government.
(2) Concepts like "the state" or "the government" are abstract. Behind them, there are real people. More often than not these decision makers belong to only one political camp or even one party which is in competition with other political camps or parties. The latter usually want to take the positions of the former who, in turn, would like to keep their governmental posts. While "oligarchs" might also be interested in increasing political influence, they are, by definition, not politicians competing for state offices. Giving politicians control of mass media seems more problematic than journalistic dependence on business interests.
(3) While there is only one state or one government, there are usually several "oligarchs" per country. If competing "oligarchs" control media outlets - that would still be pluralistic. In such a case, different people who are independent from, or even in conflict with, each other would have control of major information channels. No principal problem with that in terms of democratic theory here either.
“The idea of total journalistic independence is ultimately an ideal, if not an utopia. There is always a publisher, an editor-in-chief, a financial investor, etc. on which the journalist is dependent in one way or the other.”
A careful reading will show that the difference between Andreas and myself is largely one of emphasis. I acknowledge that “giving politicians control of mass media is more problematic than journalistic dependence on business interests.” But I consider BOTH kinds of dependence deeply subversive of democracy, which requires broad public exposure to objective information and uncensored debate. So I would prefer to say: “EVEN more problematic.”
Are oligarchs “not politicians by definition”? Definitions may not allow it, but it is not all that rare for one individual to be both an oligarch and a politician. If an oligarch chooses to go into politics, he is well placed to do so. In Russia this has happened mainly at the regional level, while in Italy a media tycoon (Berlusconi) was head of state. More typically, the relations between an oligarch and “his” politician may be so close that which of them directly controls a particular media outlet is almost a matter of indifference.
I agree that there is not and can never be “total” journalistic independence, just as there can never be total democracy or total freedom or total anything else. But we know from experience that certain institutional forms do tend to allow journalists greater independence than they have directly working for a politician or an oligarch. One example is the QUANGO (quasi-nongovernmental organization), e.g. the British Broadcasting Corporation. Better still is the journalistic collective, especially if fully funded by readers or viewers (e.g. the internet TV channel “The Real News”). Thus it is outlets of this type that give us access to realistic film and commentary about what is happening in Iraq as an alternative to the sanitized Pentagon PR that dominates news coverage by the corporate media.
There are many schools of thought regarding democracy. Some stress representation, others direct participation. Some give priority to the rights of majorities, others to those of minorities. Some limit democracy to the narrowly political sphere, others extend it to society in general, including the economy, the family, religious institutions, etc. Why select one or another theorist and cite him as an authority?
Shouldn’t there be at least some connection between how we conceptualize democracy and the etymology of the word? “Democracy” is Greek for “power of the people” (“narodovlastie” in Russian). Equating democracy simply with a plurality of power centers (polyarchy), as Dahl does, makes no sense in these terms. There have been numerous polyarchic societies in which the great majority of people were disenfranchised or even enserfed and enslaved: in the ancient Greco-Roman world, in medieval Europe (with its division of power between state and church), in Kamakura and Tokugawa Japan (local lords, shogun, emperor), in the various dual monarchies, and indeed in early capitalist Europe. Polyarchy is arguably a necessary condition for democracy, but surely not a sufficient one.