Circassian Repatriation, by Cicek Chek

The document submitted by Cicek Chek to the ICA (International Circassian Association) on 27 February 2010.

Circassian Repatriation

Any effort to formulate a successful repatriation program requires a thorough analysis of historic and current repatriation efforts, an understanding of what has and has not worked, and why.  It is also critical to clearly define what the goals of repatriation are to all the stakeholders; the Diaspora, the current residents and the state.  A repatriation strategy that effectively aligns the interests of all of these stakeholders has a much greater chance for success.  As such, it is important to view the goals of repatriation from a much broader perspective.  In addition to the historically predominant motivation of personal reconnection with one’s heritage and Homeland, we must also include economic growth and political stability in the Homeland as equally important goals.  These three goals directly affect one another, and each is critical to a successful repatriation strategy.  Disregarding any one of these factors will almost surely lead to the failure of the other two.

Current Repatriation Regime

Circassians living in the North Caucasus and the more numerous Circassians living in the Diaspora have been seeking a radical simplification of the procedures for the repatriation of the community. Most Circassians who have tried to return have fallen under the provisions of the 1991 Russian citizenship law which requires that:

  • they give up their previous citizenship,
  • live in the country for five years before getting Russian citizenship
  • know Russian, and pass a test on the Russian Constitution,
  • keep a large sum in a bank of the republic that they try to acquire the citizenship from, and
  • people holding non-ordinary passports (diplomatic, privileged, etc) could not apply at all.

The situation has further deteriorated as a result of the adoption in 2003 of the Russian law on the legal status of foreign citizens living in the Russian Federation. That measure makes it even more difficult for Circassians from the Diaspora to return. Despite official statements from Moscow favoring increased repatriation, the current repatriation regime has been a complete failure by any measure. 

In an effort to begin to formulate an effective policy we have conducted surveys with a broad sampling of Circassians in terms of age, socio-economic status and current country of residence, on the subject of repatriation.  Given our limited resources, our sample size was relatively small, but we feel it is an accurate representation of the greater Circassian Diaspora.  Among the most commonly stated reasons for not seeking to repatriate were:

  • Loss of current employment or source of economic livelihood
  • Bureaucratic challenges regarding residency and citizenship
  • Forfeiture of current citizenship
  • Poor business and employment prospects
  • Reduction in amenities and standard of living
  • Language barrier- limited Adigabze for some and no knowledge of Russian which is a must under the existing citizenship laws for virtually all
  • Questionable legal protection of individual and property rights
  • Corruption and lawlessness
  • Separation from family and friends

By far the most common concerns were related to residency requirements, loss of current citizenship and their economic ramifications.  The loss of current employment and the poor alternatives in the Homeland prevented the vast majority from seriously considering repatriation.  In fact, of those who were seriously planning on repatriating, over 80% were at, or nearing, retirement.  This presents challenges from an economic standpoint.  Although some of these retirees may bring in a modest amount of money to cover basic living expenses, they provide little to no actual productivity, while utilizing an increasingly larger portion of public resources and services.  This is not the formula for robust and sustainable economic growth that the region so desperately needs.  Unfortunately, the most desirable repatriates, highly skilled early to mid-career professionals with growing families, are inaccessible under the current repatriation regime.  The economic cost is simply too high for them to completely break from their current country and careers.

Interestingly, it is this same highly desirable demographic in the Diaspora that is becoming increasingly aware of and concerned for their heritage and homeland.  Based on our research, there appears to be a large and rapidly growing segment of the Circassian Diaspora that believes the fate of the Circassian culture depends on the fate of the Homeland.  These Circassians believe they have a right and a duty to be involved in determining the future of their homeland.  They care a great deal about the well-being of their compatriots and of their homeland.  It is our belief that the right repatriation strategy can harness these Diaspora to provide unprecedented economic growth in the Homeland, while simultaneously allowing them to fulfill their desire for relevance and involvement.

Conditional Citizenship Repatriation Regime – An Alternative Model

The following is an outline for what we believe to be the most optimal model for a successful repatriation strategy.  It takes into account the current barriers to successful repatriation, and addresses the concerns and goals of all stakeholders.  We believe that the closer any final repatriation regime is to this model, the greater the chance for success.

The concept of immediate citizenship for indigenous peoples, as well as that of non-resident citizenship, have international legal precedence and are fully supported by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Although the granting of citizenship to Diaspora would probably not, by itself, lead immediately to large numbers of repatriates, it could, with the proper incentive structure, lead to an explosion of tourism, investment and economic growth.  For example, Citizenship of a Circassian Republic could be conditioned on a minimum amount of days spent there per year.  Or, a limited citizenship could be granted immediately, but the right to vote could be conditioned on a minimum time spent in the republic.  Voting rights can be limited to Presidential positions in the Circassian republics only, as parliamentary and district elections require a specific residence. There are a variety of possible structures that can be considered.  The key factor is allowing Diaspora the potential to have some influence in their homeland in exchange for their “partial residency” through tourism.

The amount of goodwill created among the Circassian Diaspora would be tremendous, and the act of tourism would become a patriotic duty for hundreds of thousands of Circassians.  Under a properly structured repatriation regime based on this model, it is reasonable to expect upwards of 100,000 Circassian tourists annually.  The economic benefits of tourism are well known.  Assuming each visitor spends an average of $1,000 during their stay, the direct impact of 100,000 visitors would be $100,000,000.  Using a typical indirect multiplier of 2x, which represents the secondary impact of these tourist dollars being re-spent through the economy, the total economic benefit to the region would be approximately $200,000,000 annually.

These Circassian tourists would be motivated primarily by cultural factors, and so would not require the same level of amenities and convenience as typical tourists do.  This puts less of a strain on government finances, and allows a greater portion of tax revenues generated to flow towards the needs of the local population.    In addition to providing a powerful motive to maintain a harmonious environment for all parties concerned, this framework will provide the economic growth and opportunity that is absolutely essential for attracting the most productive demographic of the Diaspora.  It gives young Circassian entrepreneurs exposure to the region and its potential, and allows for a smooth and practical transition from Diaspora to full citizenship and permanent residence.  Many of these Circassian “partial residents” will transition from tourist to investment in a second home or a local business to permanent resident.

In this way, the Circassian Diaspora themselves would build the engine for effective and sustainable Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to the Region. In modern economies it is a commonly accepted fact that FDI can have transformational effects on local economies. It increases industrialization, leads to intensive developments in the service sectors, laws and regulations to international standards, and of course increases employment. The economic benefits of FDI inflows increase social harmony through the reduction in unemployment rates and increased economic opportunities. In fact, it can be argued that improved economic and employment prospects can be the single most powerful tool for creating a law-abiding and harmonious populace.  This is of utmost relevance to the Circassian republics, considering they have among the highest rates of unemployment in the Russian Federation.  These current conditions can become a breeding ground for alcoholism, organized crime and extremism among the region’s youth.

Challenges to implementing this regime do exist, however.  There would be a significant administrative burden with so many Diaspora seeking to enroll into the program.  Coordination with the Khasas in the Diaspora would be essential.  Apprehension of non-Circassian residents could also be an issue.  However, restrictions on Circassian partial resident influence on local politics could provide adequate balance in regional governance.  The enormous economic benefit to these groups would also alleviate many of their concerns.  The physical separation of the Circassians in the region into multiple republics with different governments, rules and procedures could be quite problematic.  There are certainly solutions to this issue. However, these concerns would require a great deal of elaboration and are outside the scope of this analysis.

It is clear that the current situation requires establishing an honest and open dialog with the Russian Federation on the repatriation issue.   Just as some of the Diaspora’s perceptions regarding barriers to repatriation may not be totally valid and may require further education, the same holds true for Russian authorities.  The Russian leadership must be educated on the true aspirations and motivations of the millions of Circassian Diaspora.  The Diaspora must be viewed not as a threat, but as an asset and an opportunity.  Antagonism must be replaced with partnership.  This is solely the responsibility of the ICA Repatriation Committee.  As such, we recommend that the committee takes the following steps:

  • Define the right to repatriate according to international laws and declarations and the acknowledgement of the “special historic circumstances” of the Circassian Diaspora
  • Identify the institutions and individuals within the Russian Federation with whom to coordinate ongoing dialog
  • Select ICA members and strategy to redefine the Circassian repatriation as a win-win-win issue, and educate the appropriate Russian officials
  • Establish the necessary logistic framework and institutions to facilitate Diaspora tourism and repatriation (i.e. chamber of commerce, information resources, guides, legal & business consultants, etc.)

For historic reasons, the Circassian republics have a truly unique opportunity for enormous economic growth, as well as increased social and political stability.  This is due to the fact that there are millions of foreign compatriots who have a deep concern for the social and economic well being of these republics.  Large and growing numbers of Circassian Diaspora are eager to reconnect with, and improve the conditions in, their homeland.  Currently, there is no feasible mechanism for the Diaspora to transform their concern into beneficial action. Unfortunately, if there is not a process established that allows the Diaspora to create positive change within the current political framework, there is an increasing risk that they will attempt to change the political framework itself, from the outside.

Cicek Chek – ICA Repatriation Committee. USA.