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Circassians Demand Division Of Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic

Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic President Boris Ebzeyev
Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic President Boris Ebzeyev
Meeting in Cherkessk on June 5, representatives of the Circassian minority demanded the division of the Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic (KChR) to recreate the separate Cherkess Autonomous Oblast that existed from 1928-1957. They have addressed a request to that effect to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and North Caucasus Federal District head Aleksandr Khloponin. It is the third such demand for Circassian autonomy in the past 17 years.

The so-called congress of the Cherkess people that formulated the demand for an autonomous oblast within the Russian Federation with the status of a separate republic was attended by the same 500-plus delegates who participated in a similar gathering in November 2008. On that occasion too, some delegates had advocated calling for a separate Cherkess republic comprising parts of the KChR, the neighboring Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, and the Republic of Adygeya. But delegates from Kabardino-Balkaria, where the Kabardians (ethnic cousins to the Cherkess) constitute a majority, declined to support that proposal. It was finally decided not to issue any such demand, but to give the Russian leadership time to address the KChR Circassians' grievances.

Foremost among the Circassian minority's complaints was the failure of KChR President Boris Ebzeyev to abide by a long-standing unwritten agreement on the division of leading posts among the republic's various ethnic groups. In line with that agreement, if the KChR president is a Karachai (as are Ebzeyev and his predecessor Mustafa Batdyev), the prime minister is a Circassian and the parliament speaker a Russian. According to the All-Russian census of 2002, 38.5 percent of the republic's population of 430,000 are Karachais, and 33.6 percent are Russians. The Circassians are the third largest ethnic group, accounting for 11.3 percent of the total.

Following his nomination as president in September 2008, Ebzeyev antagonized the Circassians by naming a Greek, Vladimir Kayshev, as prime minister and two Russians consecutively as parliament speaker. Tensions rose to the point that in March this year, the Russian, Cherkess, Abazin, and Nogai minorities addressed a collective appeal to the Russian leadership to replace Ebzeyev, whose leadership style has been described as "somnolent feudalism," as president with a Russian.

In an attempt to defuse those tensions, North Caucasus Federal District head Khloponin traveled to Cherkessk in late April and gave Ebzeyev until May 1 to name a Circassian as prime minister. But Ebzeyev failed to meet that deadline, and the man tentatively identified as his preferred choice for that position, his aide Fral Shbzukhov, was murdered in mid-May.

Ebzeyev then proposed as premier Circassian Muradin Kemov, who had served as acting prime minister since Kayshev's dismissal, rather than either of two alternative candidates whom the Circassian community preferred. Kemov attended the June 5 gathering "not in his capacity as prime minister but as a Circassian," according to Mukhammed Cherkesov, who heads the KChR-based Circassian public organization Adyghe Khase.

A second collective Cherkess grievance, according to Cherkesov, is perceived economic and cultural discrimination of the Cherkess by the Karachai majority.

The June 5 congress was also attended by representatives of the KChR's other ethnic minorities, including Nikolay Khokhlachev, a Russian who heads the Coordinating Council of National Public Organizations.

Mussa Takushinov, representing the KChR's Abazin minority, told Caucasian Knot that until now he has always opposed the idea of splitting the KChR, but now he sees it as the only solution to the mutual lack of respect between the various ethnic groups.

The delegates stressed that during the process of recreating the Cherkess Autonomous Oblast -- a process that they acknowledge will take years -- and selecting its leaders, the rights of all the ethnic groups that will live there must be respected. They further acknowledged that creating a new oblast will require changes to the constitution of the existing KChR. But Cherkasov said he does not believe that a referendum on the issue is necessary. "No one asked our opinion when they lumped us together with the Karachais," he said.

There has been no official reaction yet to the Circassians' bombshell from Ebzeyev's administration. But Karachai parliament deputy Akhmad Ebzeyev (not known to be a close relative to his namesake Boris) downplayed it as motivated primarily by unnamed Circassian interest groups out to embarrass the president.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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