Wednesday 5 February 2014

The Sochi Olympics, Circassian Genocide, and the Crescendoing Circassian Voice

Amjad M. Jaimoukha     

5 February 2014

The Circassian Issue has witnessed a quantum jump in international interest since the start of the new millennium. This auspicious development is the result of two factors: the emergence of a new crop of Circassian writers and intellectuals proficient in global languages in the early years of the 2000s, and the choice of Sochi, located in historical Circassia, as the venue of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in 2007. The voluble opposition to the Sochi Olympics by some Circassian groups and the revival of the issue of the 19th-century Circassian Genocide have been successful in heightening international awareness of the Circassian Issue.

The Sochi Olympics present the Circassians with a golden opportunity to showcase their culture and folklore. The Russian authorities have promised a substantive Circassian component in the Games’ cultural programme. It is the Circassians’ “fifteen minutes of fame” – a crucial period for the Circassian Issue. The (now futile) campaign to boycott the Olympics should metamorphose into a determined drive to promote Circassian culture and the relevant Circassian issues. All vocal and eloquent Circassians must make their mark.

The Circassians in the Shapsugh Region and the Republic of Adigea will take an active part in the cultural programme of the Sochi Winter Olympics. For the authorities and cultural institutions in Adigea it is difficult to overestimate the significance of the Circassian component in the programme of the Cultural Olympiad, for they consider that the international event is a great opportunity to showcase Circassian culture and folklore, and to raise the profile of the Republic at the global level. Therefore, the Republic is in full gear in preparation for the mega event. A substantive Circassian cultural programme has been prepared by the Adigean and Shapsugh authorities that will ensure the visibility of Circassian culture and folklore to the participants and visitors of the Sochi Winter Games. [Read a complete report on the Circassian Cultural Component in the Sochi Winter Olympics, prepared by the Centre for Circassian Studies:]. 

The fear is that the concerned Circassian authorities will present a programme (only) in Russian, with no English content, and thus botch the chance to engage and impress the wider world. Fortunately, the Centre for Circassian Studies, of which I am Director, has published substantive materials on Circassian culture and folklore on its media outlets:

  • “Circassian Culture and Folklore” Facebook page: []
  • “Circassian Voices”: []
  • “Circassian Minstrels” Channel on YouTube: []

Despite increased international attention accorded to the Circassian Issue, awareness of Circassian matters at the global stage remains well below par, due to a number of factors, including: isolation of the Circassian scholars and intellectuals in Circassia; nominal divisions (Kabardian, Cherkess, Adigean, Shapsugh; the Circassians have an over-arching self-designation: "Adiga"); linguistic barriers (publications in Circassia are overwhelmingly in Russian and Circassian, rarely in Western European languages); lack of appreciation of the global importance of Circassian culture and folklore; the puzzling diffidence and apathy of the Circassians towards crucial matters that affect them as a nation [the Shapsugh and Adigean Circassians are the recent exceptions], and their reluctance to disseminate their national culture, and the indefatigable efforts by the Russian State to perpetuate divisions amongst the Circassians and to frustrate the efforts to achieve the legitimate aspirations of the Circassian nation. The Russian State is only too aware of the heightened sense of nationhood of the Circassians and considers this as a potential threat to its hegemony over the Northwest Caucasus.

The international community, especially the Europeans, should pay more heed to the plight of the Circassian nation and help it out of its isolation, and extend more substantive support to the Circassians, who in turn must do more, much more, to plead their case where it matters with complete sincerity. Circassian activists must grasp the priority issues facing their nation, and work diligently to tackle them in a proactive and collective manner. They must learn the eloquent language of diplomacy.

Beyond the Olympics, the principal national issue for the Circassians is to effect unity and integration towards the establishment of a modern independent state. However, this crucial issue is at the moment treated as a sideshow, even by the Circassians themselves. The long-term survival of the Circassian language and culture are contingent upon the Circassians reclaiming the reins of their destiny and prioritizing the preservation and development of the national heritage in face of precipitous and indomitable Russification and globalization. The Circassian literary figures have come to terms with the imminent demise of Circassian literature. The Circassian Genocide was an utterly horrible tragedy, the first systematic genocide in recent history, and the Circassians look forward to the day when it is universally recognized. However, at present, the most pressing issue is the preservation of the national ethos. Simply put: “No language and culture, no nation!”

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