Dozens March in New York City for Circassian Recognition & Issues, by Katia Tokhtamish (Archive)
On October 4, 2007, a historical event for Circassian diaspora worldwide took place in Istanbul, Turkey and New York City, USA. In both cities, young and old Circassians alike rallied together to protest injustices inflicted on their people from the past and present. It was commemorative in the sense that Circassians as a nation, even though disjointed geographically, are finally coming together to speak out in unison regarding the injustices done to them in the past and their concerns for the present and future.
A great number of Circassians protested in New York City in front of the Russian Consulate in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Members of the general Circassian community in New Jersey and New York, which also included representatives of the Circassian Cultural Institute and the Circassian Benevolent Association, participated.
Protestors arrived in busloads and were situated in front of the consulate building at approximately 9:00 am. The protest was peaceful and police presence was scant, with only two or three officers keeping a wary eye on the situation. Passersby, curious at the spectacle, stopped from time to time to watch and ask questions. After an hour and a half of making their presence known to Russian officials inside, the protestors then made their way down towards the buildings of the General Assembly and Secretariat of the United Nations.
The group then proceeded to chant slogans and called for the United Nations to recognize their plight. Curious individuals were handed fliers commemorating the protest and its concerns, all the while under peaceful means. The protestors ranged from preteens to senior citizens, symbolizing the concern felt by all age groups within the Circassian diaspora.
In Istanbul, several Circassians also amassed in front of the Russian consulate in Taksim, Istanbul to address their grievances to the general public and show a unifying stance with those in the United States. Several dozens Circassians also attended this demonstration, which was also carried out in a peaceful manner. In the same manner as those in the United States, the Circassians in Turkey sought to inform the general public of the major issues plaguing their people today, gave short speeches, and handed out pertinent information regarding these points. Representatives from several groups attended the event, including the North Caucasian Platform and the Caucasian Forum.
Both events in Turkey and the United States focused on three main issues of concern, which all are interconnected with Circassian history:
• The site of the 2014 Olympics (Sochi, which was a Circassian city up until it was annexed by Russian forces in the 19th century)
• The genocide of the Circassian nation, which occurred in recent history, also mainly at the hands of the Russian military
• The 450th year unification of Russia-Kabarda farce that is being touted at the moment in the Russian Federation
The first is the concern Circassians and their supporters have over the site of the 2014 Olympics. Sochi, until recent times, had been a city populated by Circassians and their kin. However, this all changed after Russian armies invaded the region, forcing the exile of millions and resulting in mass atrocities such as ethnic cleansing, mass rapes, and infanticide. As a result of these tragic events, millions of refugees poured into what was then the Ottoman Empire and southeastern Europe.
Mass celebrations took place all over the Russian Federation when the announcement for the site that Sochi would be the site for the 2014 Olympics. However, this soon turned into outrage and dismay when Moscow declined to mention the historical presence of the Circassian nation in this area. This blatant omission of the Circassian nation from the history of its native homeland was seen as a slap in the face by many individuals and groups worldwide. It should be noted that Circassians cannot even return to their native lands without first having to obtain a visa from Russian authorities, a source of sadness for millions worldwide.
The second issue of concern was the genocide of the Circassians, which tore apart the fabric of the Circassian nation in the Caucasus, and annihilated more one million men, women, and children. Those who could escape managed to reach what is now modern day Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel. Hundreds of thousands perished along the way, eventually finding watery graves at the bottom of the Black Sea. It is common to see native Circassians today living along this coast to not eat seafood from it, as it serves as a painful reminder of what happened to their ancestors while crossing its waters to escape death, misery, and brutality on an astonishing level.
Today, five to six million descendants of those refugees live in various diasporas around the world. Struggles to retain their language and culture have been difficult, and assimilation is a real threat among all their communities. Many Circassians are unfortunately kept in the dark regarding the truth behind their exodus from the Caucasus. It is only in the past few years that efforts have been stepped up in order to educate people and help them become aware of their history as a people.
The third and final concern the protestors voiced regarded the recent celebrations that have taken place throughout the Russian Federation regarding the 450th year anniversary of the "voluntary" unification of Russia with Kabarda, which was a strong Circassian state in the 16th century. Based on dubious points, this unification is being celebrated currently in parts of Russia, but fails to seriously consider several factors that undermine its validity.
From the 16th century up until the 1880's, hostilities still existed between the two nations, its peak reaching with the eventual ethnic cleansing and exile of Circassians. However this event is perceived, the fact remains that the Russian empire at the time held a major contempt for the mountaineers of the Caucasus and wished to do away with them, succeeding in their goal even until today.
It is with all these points in mind that Circassians set out to voice their dissent against the unjustified attitude that is being displayed towards them and their history. It is hopefully with this intention that the peoples of the world can start to learn more about the Circassian people and the unfortunate turn of events that have plagued them from centuries ago till today.