Friday, October 14, 2011

Russia / Circassian Genocide

Genocide Claims Muddle Russian Olympics
By Thomas Grove
Reuters dispatch on, October 13, 2011
"Muhammed Cherkesov remembers his grandparents whispering about the Russian soldiers who drove his forefathers at gunpoint from their mountain homes down to the Black Sea coast in the mid-19th century. The forced migration of the Muslim Circassians into the lowlands in and around Sochi where they were deported beyond the Russian Empire's borders killed about a third of the population through disease, starvation and exposure to the elements. A century and a half later Russia wants to hold the 2014 Winter Olympics in the very same broad valleys and mountain slopes around Sochi that Circassians say hold the bones of their ancestors. 'We're talking about holding the Olympics over a mass grave of Circassians,' said Cherkesov, a leader for the minority in Karachay-Cherkessia province in the North Caucasus, a patchwork of mostly Muslim regions along Russia's southern flank. Many Circassians believe 1.5 million of their predecessors perished as Russian soldiers embarked on a mass expulsion of their people to ease the czar's conquest of the Caucasus region. European and Russian imperial historians say that number may be closer to 300,000. Circassian extremists say they want to turn back the clock and gain independence from Russia. Most stand behind an increasingly vocal campaign to urge Russia to recognize the killings as genocide and to pave the way for the large Circassian diaspora to return to its historic homeland. Russia has said the deaths were among the tragedies of war that both sides suffered as the czar was closing his grip on the Caucasus Mountains region, but denies that amounted to genocide. 'We are not asking for any material compensation from Russia, we want Russia itself to say that unjust actions were taken against the Circassians and that this was the land of Circassians,' said Cherkesov, speaking to Reuters in his spartan office surrounded by pictures of his forefathers dressed in traditional long red coats and high black boots. Of the nearly 8 million Circassians worldwide, only about 700,000 live in Russia. The rest are the descendants of the men and women who refused to bow to Russian rule and were carried off by the ships of the Ottoman Empire, which resettled them in the far-flung stretches of its territories. [...]"

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