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Russia: Sochi Games and the Circassian Genocide

The mountaineers leave the aul, by P. N. Gruzinsky, 1872

The mountaineers leave the aul, by P. N. Gruzinsky, 1872. Public Domain

In 2014, the Russian resort of Sochi will host the Winter Olympic Games [ENG], but the 700,000-900,000 of ethnic Circassians [ENG] living in Russia or in the diaspora are trying their best to prevent the country from having its Olympic games in peace.

The Circassian people demand that the Russian government acknowledges the 19th century Muhajir [ENG] (Circassian Genocide), where about 90 percent of the local Circassian population was killed or displaced by the Tsar Alexander II. The problem is even more serious considering that Sochi is the exact place where one of the worst episodes of the genocide took place, as Dina Tlisova, from the blog Mass Communications WHS, reports [ENG]:

Others, like the Circassians oppose the Olympics because the main place, called the Red Valley was where the CIrcassian Genocide took place in 1864 and 97% of the Circassians were killed and deported to the Ottoman Empire, Syria, Jordan and other countries. The graves of dead soldiers that were buried near the place are bulldozed and dug out to be replaced by amusement parks. Officially, Russia did not recognize the Circassian Genocide, thus the issue does not receive enough attention.

Martim W Lewis, from the GeoCurrents.info blogs, adds [ENG] more information on the genocide:

Having fought the Circassians for roughly a century, Russia’s leaders decided to expel the population. Some 80 to 90 percent of the Circassians were forced out; most found refuge in the Ottoman Empire, but nearly half died in the process. Today the Circassian population in Russia has recovered to number some 900,000. In Turkey, roughly two to four million people are of Circassian descent, and the Circassian community in Jordan numbers about 150,000. It is doubtful, however, whether Circassian culture can survive outside of the Caucasian homeland.

The Circassian ethnic group comprises the Adyghe [ENG] , the Abkhaz [ENG], the Ubykh [ENG], the Cherkess, the Shapsugs and the Kabardins [ENG], mainly in northwestern Caucasus (south of Russia) within the Autonomous Republics of Adyghea, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karatchaevo-Therkessia, but also in a large diaspora all over the world, but mostly in Turkey, Jordan and the USA.

Historical Circassia today is divided between six regions of the Russian Federation but nearly 90 percent of the global Circassian population now live outside of Russia, according to the Circassian World website, which gives us some more information over the Circassian people and their diaspora, the second largest from Russia.

The Circassian people have long demanded the recognition of its genocide, although Russia has kept silent about every protests, demonstrations, websites end books asking Russia to do so and also protesting against the Olympic games in Sochi, such as the protest in New York City last October, showed in the video by Sokarov below:

According to “NoSochi2014“, a website created to put more pressure on the Russian government and to gather support for the cause, the date of the games will coincide with the 150th anniversary of the genocide, which is quite emblematic for the Circassian people. To make  the situation even worse, Sochi, the city named after the Circassian ethnic group Shache who lived there until 1864, lays exactly over the bones and blood [ENG] of thousands of Circassians dead during the war’s last battles and the city was the last capital of independent Circassia. In addition to this, Radio Adiga explains [ENG] that the hill named “Red Hill” will be used in ski events. It is just outside of Sochi and it was the place of a bloody battle where many of people where murdered.

Used under CC

Used under CC

The Russian government has declined [ENG] every attempt to discuss the matter. In 1994, the former Russian president Boris Yeltsin recognized that many Caucasian people had fought against the Tsarist regime and that it was legitimated. Although he did not recognize the Russian response as “genocide,” the Jamestown Foundation blog says [ENG] it was the closest any Russian government has come to the recognition:

The recognition issue has quite a history of its own. Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's 1994 statement acknowledged that “resistance to the tsarist forces [in the 19th century] was legitimate,” but he did not recognize “the guilt of the tsarist government for the genocide.”

And as for the Russian RuNet, bloggers such as Yuri Mamchur, from Russian Blog, have reported on the games and said that the city was fortified to resist against Circassian invasions and had been a part of the Russian Empire since 1829, without even mentioning [ENG] the bloody battles or the huge displacement of the local population during the 19th century:

From the 15th century the coast was controlled by the local mountaineer clans, nominally under the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire. It was ceded to Russia in 1829 as a result of the Russo-Turkish War.

In 1838, the fort of Alexandria, renamed Navaginsky a year later, was founded at the mouth of the Sochi River to protect the area from Circassian incursions. During the Crimean War the garrison was evacuated from Navaginsky in order to reinforce active forces. The fort was rebuilt in 1864 under the name of Dakhovsky, or Dakhovsky Posad (as it became known in 1874). In 1896, the settlement acquired its present name, derived from the local Sochi River. Town status was granted to Sochi in 1917.

Finaly, Em Kâ Bé, from Share Brook, questions the International Olympic Committee, comparing [ENG] its decision to choose Sochi to choosing Auschwitz as a place for the Games:

One cannot say the International Olympic Committee is an organisation that is involved in humanitarian and/or political causes, only to close its eyes or put its head in the sand. In fact, I would bet the Games could be held at Auschwitz and it wouldn't raise an eyebrow at IOC over that issue. Only sport. Sport for the sake of sport, disembodied of the rest. Just sport. In the blood and in the money whatever the cost. As long as it's only sport.

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