May 21: 150th anniversary of Circassia's painful history

Hasan Kanbolat

Turkey is in deep pain. Soma is not being considered a typical accident by Turks. The country is now suffering from trauma in the face of despair, anxiety, stress, rage, intolerance and disrespect for pain. The anguish and trauma has made everything insignificant.

After a proclamation of a national period of mourning, the celebrations for Atatürk, Youth and Sports Day on May 19 were cancelled. The 70th anniversary of the exile of the Crimean Tatar people on May 18, 1944 by the Soviet authorities was also overshadowed by the Soma tragedy. The 150th anniversary of the exile of the Circassians by the Russian state on May 21, 1864 is now being remembered with mixed feelings due to the mine disaster in Soma. Some 95 percent of Circassians had to leave northwest Caucasia in the aftermath of the Caucasian war in 1864. The Ottoman state resettled the survivors of the war and genocide campaign in the Balkan region. More than half of the exiled people died of hunger and illness within a few years. Circassians faced a second forced resettlement in the aftermath of the Ottoman-Russian war in 1877-78. Upon the request of Russia, they were moved from the Balkans to Anatolia and the Middle East. The Ottoman state was greatly traumatized by its defeat in the war with the Russians. The Ottoman state lost the Balkans, the backbone of its territories. In addition, they also faced a process of expansion by the Russians towards southwest Caucasia. For Circassians, May 21 is not a symbolic date in which they remember their victims alone. If they had not been exiled or subjected to genocide on May 21, 1864, Circassians would have had a large country in northwest Caucasia and a large population. But today, Circassians are dispersed across different areas including Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Iraq, Egypt, Kosovo, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece. The Circassian people in the Russian Federation live in various parts of the country including northwest Caucasia and the federated republics of Adygea, Karachay-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkar, as well as in the provinces of Krasnodar and Stavropol. There is no unity among them. Circassians now face a huge set of challenges including assimilation in connection with globalization, rapid urbanization, nationalist movements and incompetent rulers and leaders.

What do Circassians want? They want an official apology from the Russian Federation, the legal successor of Tsarist Russia, and an acknowledgement of their mistakes. They further want Russia to recognize the right of Circassians to return to their home in northwest Caucasia. They want to travel freely to the lands of their grandparents, settle there and be admitted to universities in their homeland. In addition, they are also asking Russia to resettle Syrian Circassians like it did with Kosovo Circassians in 1999. The resettlement of Syrian Circassians in the Adygea and Kabardino-Balkar republics will satisfy Circassians. As an initial step of this process, those families with children should be admitted first. The rights of Syrian Circassians to Russian citizenship should also be acknowledged. To this end, Russia should declare that they are entitled to settling in their historic homelands whenever they want. There is no need for further pains. There is no need to use May 21 as a source of tension with Russia. We need to work further on reconstructing the future and coexistence in the Black Sea region. We need friendship and peace rather than new tensions.