Libmonster ID: UK-1275
Author(s) of the publication: A. V. KUSHKHABIEV


Doctor of Historical Sciences Kabardino-Balkar Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences

conflict Keywords: SyriaCircassian diasporarepatriationNorth Caucasus

The political conflict that broke out in Syria in mid-March 2011 has become large-scale and protracted. It affected neighboring states and led to the activation of world powers in the Middle East region, such as Turkey, Iran and Israel.

Part of the population of the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR) opposes the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, demands his resignation and reforms. Mass anti-government actions that take place in cities of the country, including in Damascus, are suppressed by the army and special services units. The soldiers, dissatisfied with the policy of the ruling regime, left the armed forces of the SAR, created the Free Syrian Army (SAS) and began to carry out attacks on government forces. According to the UN, the death toll in the country by mid-March 2012 was 8 thousand people, many were missing 1.

The conflict has affected virtually all religious and ethnic groups in Syria. He also made drastic changes in the situation of the Circassian diaspora in this country.

Circassians is an exoethnonym, a term used by other peoples to refer to the Circassians. Adyge is an endoethnonym, i.e. the self-name of Circassians. Circassians (Adygs) include Adygeans, Kabardians, Circassians-in Russia and Circassians living abroad. Regardless of their regions of residence, Circassians are a people with a common origin, closely related languages and a single culture.

Circassians are an indigenous people of the Caucasus. After the establishment of Soviet power and the end of the Civil War, four Circassian autonomies were created in the North Caucasus: Circassian (from 1928 - Adygeya), Kabardian (from 1922 - Kabardino-Balkar), Circassian (from 1957 - Karachay-Cherkess), and Shapsug National region (1924-1945). Three official ethnonyms were adopted to denote the divided parts of the people - Adygeans, Kabardians and Circassians. In the early 1990s, the autonomous republics and regions of the North Caucasus were transformed into republics within Russia.

According to the 2010 census, there are more than 700,000 Circassians in Russia. More than 4 million Circassians live in more than 50 countries of the world, including: in Turkey-about 3.5 million people, in Syria-about 100 thousand, in Jordan-about 70 thousand, in Germany-over 40 thousand people.2


About 100 thousand Circassians live in Syria, of which more than half are located in Damascus and its suburbs. The rest live in the cities of Aleppo, Minbej, Raqqa, Homs, Hama, New Quneitra, etc. In the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Circassians were settled by the Ottoman government as military colonists in the territories of modern-day Syria, Jordan, and Palestine, which at that time were part of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman government settled the bulk of the colonists (over 50 thousand people) evicted from the Balkans in the territories of these countries after the end of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. Circassian immigration to the Middle East continued on a smaller scale until the early 20s of the last century, and some groups of Circassians settled there after the end of World War II.3

According to the Syrian Circassians, the situation in Syria is currently such that it has become difficult to survive. As a result of military operations and heavy rocket and artillery attacks, many families in Homs, as in other cities, were left homeless. The economic crisis is growing in the country. Water and electricity are constantly cut off in localities, and many businesses have closed or reduced production. Most of their employees have been laid off. The national currency is being devalued, food prices are rising, and so on.

The Circassian diaspora found itself in a rather difficult situation. Circassians-military personnel, employees of administrative bodies, members of the ruling Baath party - as well as the heads of all branches of the Circassian Charitable Society, also members of this party, declare that they are on the side of President Bashar al-Assad. At the same time

page 16

Most Circassians support the opposition by participating in various protest actions, but avoid participating in military operations, despite the calls of the rebels to join their ranks. However, according to some representatives of the diaspora, the majority of them firmly adhere to the policy of neutrality.

The policy of neutrality of the Circassians, who for decades were considered one of the loyal communities of Syria, causes sharp dissatisfaction of both opposing sides. SAS fighters, following the principle of "those who are not with us are against us", demand that Circassians support them, stating that otherwise, after the opposition comes to power, they will certainly destroy them almost within a day. To make it more convincing, SAS militants raided Circassian villages and city blocks and began to divide their houses and other property, which the opposition intends to appropriate after seizing power. Circassians ' homes are marked with signs demanding that they leave Syria, and leaflets with similar appeals are thrown at them. In response to the incessant threats, residents of Circassian neighborhoods and villages began to form self-defense detachments.4


In December 2011 - January 2012, representatives of the Circassian diaspora of Syria began to appeal to the leadership of Russia and to the leaders of Russian regions (the Republic of Adygea, the Kabardino-Balkar Republic (KBR), the Karachay-Cherkess Republic (KCR)) with requests for assistance in returning to their historical homeland. Their appeals to the President of the Russian Federation D. Medvedev and the heads of these republics received: December 25, 2011 - from 115 people; December 28, 2011-from 57 people; January 3, 2012 - from 76 people. At the end of January 2012, representatives of the Circassian diaspora of the SAR were received by the leadership of Adygea, the KBR and the KCR. They appealed to the heads of the republics on behalf of the 1,000 Circassians of Syria with a request for assistance in the repatriation of 5.

On December 29, 2011, the Federation of Circassians of Europe, on January 7, 2012, the Circassian Association of Australia, and on January 10, 2012, the Circassian Association of California also applied to the leadership of the Russian Federation for assistance to the Syrian Circassians.6

The policy of neutrality and the desire of Syrian Circassians for repatriation is explained by a number of factors. Since settling in the Ottoman Empire, many Circassians have considered their resettlement as a temporary measure and hoped to return to their homeland soon. The hope of repatriation remained with them until now. For the majority of foreign Circassians, this was the main idea that contributed to their consolidation and preservation of ethnic culture. Even today, foreign Circassians, and in particular Syrians, claim that their homeland is not the country of residence, but the Caucasus.

Under all the successive regimes (Ottoman, French, independent Syria), the Circassians adhered to the course of supporting the authorities. Since settling in the territories of Arab vilayets (provinces), their main occupation has been serving in the armed forces. During the OS period-

page 17

Separate Circassian military-police cavalry units were formed in the Arab vilayets under Russian rule. During the French mandate, the Circassian regiment operated in the Middle East Army of France. The percentage of Circassians in the security forces (army, police, special services) was also significant in the first decades after Syria gained independence. Hundreds of Circassian soldiers and officers of the Syrian army distinguished themselves in the 1948, 1967 and 1973 Arab - Israeli wars, and dozens of them received government awards.

Over the past decade, "competition"has increased in the officer corps and state authorities in Syria. In reality, officers who were objectionable to the ruling regime, including Circassians, were ousted from command positions of the armed forces, as well as from high positions in ministries and departments of the country. If at the end of the 20th century there were 30 Circassian generals in the army, police and special services of the SAR, at present there are none. Circassian officers no longer receive a rank higher than colonel. In fact, Circassians in the SAR were discriminated against.

Most Circassian young men stopped choosing a military specialty, citing the lack of prospects for promotion. It is this circumstance and dissatisfaction with their situation that has caused a significant number of Circassian youth to emigrate from Syria in recent years. Some of them are sent to the United States, Canada, Western Europe, and the United Arab Emirates. Patriotic young people want to return to their historical homeland.

Many Syrian Circassians claim that they have long had friendly relations with other ethnic and religious groups in the country, and they do not want to take part in the civil war, given the historical experience. After participating in the wars, Circassians were subjected to mass evictions every time: from the Caucasus to the Ottoman Empire; in 1878 from the Balkans (where they were resettled by the Ottoman government in the 60s-early 70s of the XIX century) to the Asian regions of the Ottoman Empire; from the Golan Heights as a result of the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 d. to Syria and the United States. In this regard, according to many of them, the only correct solution is to return to their historical homeland, and not to participate in someone else's war with unpredictable consequences.

Syrian Circassians also had another way out of this situation: in January 2012, all interested Circassians were offered to move to Turkey, as well as to the United States and Canada.7 A similar situation already occurred in the summer of 1967, when a group of Circassians deported from the Golan Heights by Israeli troops resettled in the United States at the suggestion of the government of that country. During the current conflict in Syria, some Circassians moved to the UAE, while others moved to neighboring Jordan. Meanwhile, many of them say they still hope to return to the North Caucasus.


After the appeals of the Syrian Circassians, a number of Circassian public organizations in Adygea, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia held emergency meetings, where they adopted appeals to the leadership of Russia and the leaders of these republics with requests for assistance to compatriots in Syria who want to return to their homeland.

On December 13, 2011, a joint meeting of the International Circassian Association (ICA) and the Coordinating Council of Adyghe Public Associations of the KBR was held in Nalchik. The Working Group was tasked with drawing up an action plan to assist the Syrian Circassians. On December 19, 2011, the ICA proposed a set of measures to address this issue to the CBD Government Commission on Compatriots Abroad.

On December 29, 2011, in Cherkessk, at an emergency meeting of the Council of Circassian Organizations of the Russian Federation on the problems of compatriots in Syria, a resolution and an appeal were adopted to the leadership of Russia, as well as to the heads of the republics of the North Caucasus. These documents called for "promoting state-level decisions on the protection and patronage of the Circassian community of the Syrian Arab Republic by the Russian Federation, and ensuring the right to voluntary resettlement of compatriots from abroad to the Russian Federation".8. On the same day, the Adyghe Republican Public Movement "Circassian Congress" sent a similar appeal to the President of the Russian Federation; on January 20, 2012 - the International Circassian Association; on February 11, 2012 - the public movement of the Republic of Adygea "Adyge Khase - Circassian Parliament" in Maykop; and on February 15, 2012 - the public movement "Russian People's Congress". Congress of the peoples of the Caucasus " 9.

State authorities and heads of Adygea, the KBR and the KCR expressed support for their compatriots in Syria. The head of Adygea, A. Tkhakushinov, noted :" We are working with the Russian Foreign Ministry on issues related to the possible return of representatives of the Circassian diaspora, and we are clarifying the number of people who want to relocate, " and added that this problem should be considered with due consideration.

page 18

taking into account the experience gained by the Republic during the resettlement of Kosovo Adygs 10.

President of the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic A. Kanokov said on this issue: "Circassians living in Syria need to simplify the procedure for returning to their historical homeland due to the aggravation of the situation in the country... Many people are working against the repatriation of our brothers, and a cliche about "Great Circassia"has been invented. While vast Russia has only 140 million people, and soon there will be no one to work, we invite migrants even from Vietnam and China. There is no need to be afraid of the return to the country of pro-Russian-minded, hardworking people who have preserved their native language and customs of their fellow tribesmen. " 11

On March 16-18, 2012, a delegation of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation visited Damascus, held talks with the leadership of the Circassian Charity Society, a number of ministries and departments of the SAR, and representatives of different age groups of Circassians in this country and came to the conclusion that most of them want to return to the North Caucasus 12.

Syrian Circassians note that the visit of an official delegation from Russia to Syria in order to study their problems, for the first time in 150 years of the history of the Circassian diaspora in the Syrian region, made a great public response. It was perceived by both opposing sides as a demonstration of Russia's patronage of the Circassian diaspora.


The process of repatriation of Syrian Circassians is complicated by a number of serious problems. Many of them live in the cities where the fighting is taking place. State institutions, in particular, bodies that issue foreign passports, do not function there. Documents can only be issued in Damascus. But to issue them, you need appropriate certificates at the place of residence. It turns out to be a bureaucratic vicious circle. In addition, it is difficult to reach Damascus, and movement on many roads in the country has become dangerous. If a person who wants to leave the country still arrived in Damascus, applied for a foreign passport, but he does not have any certificates, officials demand payment "for additional services".

Ahmed Stash, a Syrian repatriate and chairman of the public organization "Peryt" in Nalchik, told the author: "A lot of time and money is spent on issuing invitations and visas to the Russian Federation. It takes about 1 month to prepare an invitation from our citizens or organizations for a citizen of the SAR in the migration service. In addition, a citizen of the SAR who applied to the Consulate of the Russian Federation for a visa must pay 7000 liras and wait for another 2 weeks. Upon arrival in Russia, to obtain a temporary residence permit, the repatriate must have 2-3 more certificates with him. Each of them must be translated into Russian in Syria and certified by the Russian Consulate, which also requires time and expense. If any mistake is made during the transfer, the documents are returned for re-processing. As a result, preparing documents for traveling to Russia and obtaining a temporary residence permit costs one family from $ 2,000, which is quite expensive for Syrian citizens in the context of the economic crisis. Those who want to leave Syria are also concerned about the housing issue. Often they can't sell their homes to use the proceeds to buy housing in Adygea or Kabardino-Balkaria."

Syrian Circassians report that after learning of their intention to return to their homeland, the opposing sides began to obstruct them. Supporters of the ruling regime tell Circassians that they, as citizens of Syria, should stand up for the legitimate government. And those who intend to leave the country and call on their loved ones to do so are traitors.

The rebels tell Circassians that they can, of course, leave for their homeland, but before that they must pay their debt to Syria by taking part in the actions held by the opposition. In total, by mid-March 2012, only 70 Syrian Circassians were able to arrive in Adygea and Kabardino-Balkaria after overcoming the war zone, political and bureaucratic obstacles.

* * *

The situation of Circassians in Syria will depend on the development of the situation in the country. Even if the conflict is resolved, the number of people willing to leave the country will increase. The very fact that a significant part of the Syrian Circassians are willing to relocate not to countries with a favorable political and economic situation, but to the Russian North Caucasus with a relatively unstable situation, indicates that the repatriation of foreign Circassians is a patriotic movement.


2 Adyghe (Circassian) encyclopedia, Moscow, 2006, pp. 55-312.

Kushkhabiev A.V. 3 Essays on the history of the foreign Circassian Diaspora. Nalchik, "El-Fa". 2007, p. 64-71.



6 Ibidem.




10 Ibidem.




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