Interview with Paul B. Henze, August 2008

August 1, 2008 
Dear visitors,

The second  interview of the series which began with Prof. Paul Goble in March will continue with Paul Henze, who has a long-standing interest in, and publications-record on, the Caucasus. Over recent months the Caucasus has found itself even more than before in the spotlight. Abkhazia in particular has come into sharper focus following Kosovo's independence. The Circassians, who are close relatives of the Abkhazians and who have shared with them much of the same tragic destiny, are watching (whether we speak of those living in the North Caucasus or of those in the diaspora-communities) the unfolding of events with a sense of unease. Because of this we have decided to concentrate on Abkhazia for the purposes of this extended interview. acknowledges with thanks the insights Mr. Henze has shared with us.

The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Circassian World.

Profile: Paul Henze was a Resident Consultant at RAND’s Washington office 1982-2002, working on projects relating to U.S. foreign policy, Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, Turkey, Russia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.  A graduate of the Harvard Soviet Program in 1950, he had a 30-year career in government and government-related organizations.  He was a member of the original team that directed Radio Free Europe and served in Munich from 1952-58.  Subsequently he held positions in the Departments of Defense and State.  He served in the US Embassy in Addis Ababa 1969-72.  He served in the U.S. Embassy in Ankara 1974-77.  During 1977-80 he served with Zbigniew Brzezinski in the U.S. National Security Council.  Among other duties there he chaired the Nationalities Working Group, an interagency task force that focused on the non-Russian regions of the USSR. 

He was a Wilson fellow at the Smithsonian in 1981-82.  During recent years he has made frequent visits to the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 1992 he headed an international observer team to Chechnya and at the end of the year was a member of a team that went to Abkhazia.  In 1997 he participated in the Shamil bicentenary celebrations in Dagestan.  He was a member of a US NATO Association mission to China, Central and South Asia in 1998.  He has made 8 extensive visits to Georgia since 1991 and is Vice President of the American-Georgian Business Development Council.

CIRCASSIAN WORLD: In the 19th century the only people in Transcaucasia to fight against Russian encroachment were the Abkhazians, who battled alongside their cousins in Ubykhia and Circassia, whereas Georgia was already allied to Russia and thus helped the tsars to crush North Caucasian resistance. You have written eloquently about the Circassian struggle to preserve their independence; why do you treat with such disdain the parallel aspirations of the Abkhazians?

PAUL HENZE: The question implies historical judgments which are not widely accepted by historians.  Russian encroachment against all Circassian-related peoples which began as early as the 16th century reached its height in the mid-19th century and culminated in what can only, in current terms, be called ethnic cleansing.  The Abkhaz were not a primary target of the Russian advance, the major Circassian groups were.  Since ancient times Abkhaz history and politics had been closely intertwined with those of northwestern Georgia.  After 1864 at least half the Abkhaz population was either killed or expelled to the Ottoman Empire.

As Moscow's grip on the Soviet periphery was weakening, various places saw an explosion of nationalism. One such region was Georgia, where from late 1988 there was a huge amount of anti-minority rhetoric. The first ethnic clashes occurred in the Azerbaijani area of Georgia (Dmanisi-Marneuli) and in Abkhazia, both occurring in July 1989. Tensions remained high thereafter, as Georgia's first post-communist president Zviad Gamsakhurdia began his war in South Ossetia, and then, as Gamsakhurdia was ousted and a civil war began between his supporters in Mingrelia and the supporters of the military junta that ousted him, a junta that was eventually led by Gamsakhurdia’s long-time foe, Eduard Shevardnadze. If you had been advising the Abkhazians at this time (i.e. during the regimes of Gamsakhurdia and the junta that ousted him), what advice would you have given them, in the light of the anti-minority hysteria still then rampant amongst the Georgians?

HENZE: Zviad Gamsakhurdia was a disaster for Georgia and for the Caucasus as a whole.  His emotional extremism was a reflection of the intense ethnic strains two centuries of Russian domination of Georgia and contingent regions caused.  His efforts to maintain Soviet-period domination of minorities in Georgia exacerbated their attitudes and drove them into the arms of nostalgic communists and Russian ultra-nationalists who wished to maintain domination of Georgia, or, if that proved impossible, to exploit minority aspirations to undermine and complicate Georgian desires for full independence.  Anti-Russian Georgians fell into this trap.  The advice we* gave Abkhaz leaders in the fall of 1992 was to avoid letting themselves be used as tools of die-hard communists and Russian ultra-nationalists and seek compromise with the Georgians as a basis for future constructive relations within a framework of political autonomy.  We gave the same advice to Shevardnadze, who cannot be equated with Gamsakhurdia in any respect.  Unfortunately, events in Abkhazia had already escaped rationality--extreme nationalists in Georgia obstructed Shevardnadze's efforts to effect a moderate solution in Abkhazia.  Violence resulted in destruction of much of the region's infrastructure, its rich agricultural resources, and flight of more than 2/3 of its population including Armenians and Greeks as well as Georgians.  Abkhaz leaders, with a drastically reduced population, proved incapable of political creativity and let themselves be manipulated by their Russian-nationalist and ex-communist sponsors.  The result has been that Abkhazia, potentially one of the most productive and attractive regions of the entire Caucasus, was wrecked and remains a wreck to this day.

*We = the members of the International Alert mission which visited Georgia (including Abkhazia) in late 1992.

CW: The war began on 14th August 1992 and ended officially on 30th September 1993. On the Abkhazian side 4% of the population was killed. Essentially all that Georgia (whether under Shevardnadze or Saakashvili) has offered since is a return to the 'status quo ante bellum'. When a side starts a war and loses it, should it not have to pay some consequence? Why should the Abkhazians return to the selfsame status within Georgia that had led to war in the first place, which is what the international community seems to have been demanding of them for the last 15 years?

HENZE: Opportunities for political creativity on the basis of practical realism among both Georgians and Abkhaz have been repeatedly advertised and publicized during the past decade and a half by the international community and independent observers.  All Georgian efforts have been rejected by Abkhaz leaders who remain beholden to Russian nationalists.

As a citizen of a country founded on the principle of self-determination, do you not think that this principle should be afforded more importance than that of territorial integrity, which latter in essence merely enshrines someone's drawing of a line on a map at some point in history?

HENZE: ‘‘Self-determination’’ has never been recognized as an absolute international principle, though there is much to be said for it under realistic circumstances.

Given the present US administration's boast to have been conducting a 'war on terrorism' for the last 7 years, is it not embarrassing for Washington to be so supportive of a regime which over the years has given active support to terrorist activities inside Abkhazia by such organisations as The Forest Brethren and The White Legion, whose activities are strangely reminiscent of the bombings that have recently taken place in Abkhazia (Sukhum, Gagra and Gal)?

HENZE: No, Washington does not regard Georgia as having a ‘‘terrorist regime’’; neither do European countries or those of the Middle East.

What difference, if any, will there be in America's attitude towards Georgia (and specifically towards its conflict with Abkhazia) if (a) Obama is elected president, and (b) McCain is elected president?

HENZE: In all likelihood, whatever successor follows President Bush, there will be very little change in US attitude and policy toward the Caucasus.  The Caucasus is not a subject of partisan contention in Washington.  There is no evidence that a new President would change the basic US position toward Georgia, Azerbaijan or Armenia.  The US will continue to deplore Russian oppression in Chechnya.  It will continue to support Azerbaijan's efforts to maintain its control of its oil.  It will continue to encourage cooperation among independent Caucasian republics for their mutual advantage.

If you were advising the US president (or one of the presidential candidates), what policy with regard to Abkhazia would you argue for and why? Do you think it is possible for Russia and the US to cooperate in resolving the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict?

HENZE: Russia has shown no inclination to cooperate with anyone in ‘‘solving’’ the Abkhaz problem which it wishes to keep alive as a means of harassing Georgia.

Is it really in (a) Georgia's interests and (b) NATO's interests for Georgia to become a NATO member? How will the conflicts between Tbilisi and (a) Tskhinval and (b) Sukhum affect NATO's decision on Georgia's membership?

HENZE: Georgia strongly desires NATO membership.  The Abkhaz and Ossetian problems are obviously obstacles to NATO membership, for NATO is not eager to take responsibility for situations of this sort.  Russia clearly wishes to exacerbate these situations to hinder NATO expansion.  Barring a change in Russia's attitude--or a change among the Abkhaz and Ossetes  whereby  they  would recognize their true interests and no longer let themselves be political playthings of Russian nationalists--little change is likely to  take place.

For what purpose have America and its allies been giving Georgia such lavish military aid over recent years?

HENZE: The US and its European allies, in accordance with their basic international principles, have been steady supporters of Georgia's independence and development and will in all likelihood continue to be.  Expectations which some Abkhaz and Ossetes might have of basic changes in their policies are unrealistic.

You are known as an expert on Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. What relevance, if any, does the Ethiopian experience have for the Caucasus? In particular, is there anything relevant to be learned from the ethno-federal regime set up by the Menawi regime?

HENZE: There is a great deal to be said for federalism as a principle of political organization.  Whether it is advantageous for federalism to be based entirely on ethnic structuralism remains an open question.  The Ethiopian experience with ethnic structuralism has so far been positive.  So, for the most part, has India's.  Federalism in the United States has no relationship to ethnic considerations.  Creative exploration of federalist solutions for problems of all parts of the Caucasus would be a constructive way out of current impasses which only exacerbate situations and inhibit economic and political development.

Moscow's policies for the North Caucasus often seem misguided and deleterious for the region's interests. What could the USA and the West do to alter these policies and help improve economic and social conditions across the North Caucasus?

HENZE: The US and its European allies have little basis for influence on developments in the North Caucasus, though they will undoubtedly continue to sympathize with  the desires of the peoples of this area to enjoy greater freedom and opportunities for development.  Independent and pseudo-democratic Russia has continued the same approach to the region which Imperial Russia developed from the 16th century onward: Divide and Rule, i.e. set one people against another.  This has not worked to anyone's advantage, least of all Russia's.

If Moscow fails to improve conditions across the North Caucasus, some believe that this region might one day slip out of Russian control.  If this were to happen, then Russia would still be nearby and perhaps even next door.  What sort of relations would an independent North Caucasus be likely to have with Russia?  Would the currently antagonistic relations between Georgia and Russia be a model or would the more client - patron one such as that existing between Armenia and Russia be more likely?

HENZE: Armenians show some indication of realizing the disadvantages of letting themselves be pawns of Russia.  In spite of long-standing Russian efforts to keep Armenians in tense relations with Turkey, when Armenians now flee, tens of thousands of them go to Istanbul and other parts of Turkey!  The same is true for North Caucasians--though they have, for the most part, always had a warm attitude toward Turkey.  Their chances of becoming independent, except within the framework of a collapse of Russia itself, are very slight.  Russia is not able to pacify the North Caucasus effectively, but it is able to continue to keep the region in a condition of economic, social and political confusion and turmoil.  Unfortunately there is little evidence that Russia will abandon this traditional course of action.  Russia is a long way from reaching the kind of conclusion France did in respect to Algeria, or that Britain did in respect to the Indian Subcontinent.  Continued domination of the Caucasus costs Russia heavily, both in immediate expense and in lost revenues and productivity, but oil- and gas-rich Russia goes onward on the same course.  A severe economic downtown in Russia might have the effect of causing a more honest assessment of the value of trying to hold on to the North Caucasus - and at the same time encouraging instability in the South Caucasus.  There is little likelihood of this in the near future.

How could Circassians act in order to unite and create a global national agenda? What should be the priority points?

HENZE: Circassians, both ‘‘at home’’ in the Caucasus and abroad in the US. Turkey, and other parts of the Middle East, display an encouraging sense of their history and the value of taking advantage of every opportunity for asserting themselves.  In contrast to the Abkhaz, who have let themselves become pawns of Russian nationalists, the Circassians have been skillfully opposing Russian efforts to limit their autonomy and restrict their contacts with their countrymen in other parts of the world.  Circassians have learned to benefit from the Internet.  If they can continue to maintain their strong spirit and motivate their young people to assert themselves, they stand a fair chance of reviving as an important element in the Caucasus and the Middle East.

Do you think that is there a possibility for Circassians to survive as possessors of their own language and culture in the diaspora?  What are factors that affect this process?

HENZE: So far, after almost a century and a half of dispersion, Circassians have managed to keep their language and their history alive among important segments of their diaspora.  Hopefully this can continue.

What can the North Caucasian, including Abkhazian, diasporas do to help improve conditions across the (North) Caucasus?  Could they play a role as a lobby in Moscow for the welfare of their cousins?

HENZE: Lobbying in Moscow in the Putin-Medvedev era is not a promising activity.  Lobbyists would not last long.  Circassians cannot gain much by associating themselves with current Abkhaz efforts because Abkhaz leadership is subjugating itself to Russian interests while Circassians have a clear vision of their own interests.

Do you think that there is a possibility that Russia will recognize the Circassian Genocide? If yes, please explain what kind of results would be likely to follow.

HENZE: The Circassian ‘‘genocide’’ was at least as drastic as the Armenian  ‘‘genocide’’ of the early 20th century which Moscow has publicized and exploited for the past half century.  But there is not the slightest evidence that Moscow - as opposed perhaps to individual Russians - might recognize that the ethnic cleansing after 1860 was ‘‘genocide’’.  Instead Moscow celebrates the conquest of the Caucasus and refuses to apologize for the ethnic cleansing.

What would be your ideal status for the Caucasus and its peoples (both north and south of the great mountain-range), and how realistic would be that ideal?

HENZE: A federalized Caucasus based on free association of all the peoples of the region and cooperation among them for economic and social development, would be ideal.  India might in some ways be an example for this kind of solution.  It is extremely unlikely now, only ‘‘pie in the sky’’.  If Russia should collapse and fragment, it could begin to come about.  Unfortunately, over the centuries Caucasians have become addicted to bad habits of contentiousness and uncooperativeness, so they will have to shed these.  That will take time.  Europeans, including Turkey, would not hinder this kind of evolution if Caucasians themselves took the initiative.  The prospect of closer association with the European Union should give incentive to Caucasians to bring themselves into an improved political condition, just as this prospect is having a positive effect on the extreme nationalism of Serbia now.

Who would have thought that a European Union was possible in 1938?  Who would have thought that the Baltic states, pawns of both Hitler and Stalin in 1939, would survive to become independent members of the European Union in 2008?  Dismal as prospects for the Caucasus seem now, the possibility of dramatic change in the future should be envisioned, discussed, and kept as an idealistic possibility for the future.  

-Thank you

Paul Henze, Washington, Virginia,  1 August 2008

Metin Sönmez, Circassian World

Read more
Interview with Paul Goble, March 2008

Paul Goble
March 12, 2008

Background: Circassians, also known as the “Cherkess”, call themselves as “Adyghe” and have very close and strong ethnic solidarity ties with the Abkhazians and Ubykhs as all these three nations originated from a common 'proto-nation' and share many cultural values and customs in all aspects of their national lives. Circassian tribes include Kabardians, Besleneys, Shapsughs, Chemguys, Bzhedughs and others. hosts a series of interviews with Caucasus specialists and researchers, particularly those dealing with issues related to the Circassians. The first interview was conducted with Professor Paul Goble. Interviews will continue with different individuals in the near future. acknowledges with thanks the insights Mr. Goble has shared with us.

Metin Sönmez 

Profile: Paul GOBLE is director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. In 2004 prior to assuming those positions, he worked for more than 25 years in a variety of roles addressing similar issues in both the government and the private sector in Washington, D.C., Read more...

The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Circassian World.

CIRCASSIAN WORLD: At what level in the US administration is the Circassian issue located, so to speak, and what kind of support could be forthcoming to the Circassians considering different future options ranging from the maintenance of the status quo at one extreme and a drive to independence at the other extreme and (negative) modifications in the current ethnic federalism model being in the middle of the prediction scale?

PAUL GOBLE:  The Circassian issue is not an orphan in Washington, but its various aspects mean that it is sometimes the focus of senior people and sometimes of more junior ones who have responsibilities for other issues.  Because Circassians live in many countries and form significant groups in American allies like Turkey and Jordan, they are a major concern, but as a community in the North Caucasus, they probably don’t have any one person in the US government focusing exclusively on them. Instead, as in my time 20 years ago, they are probably followed somewhat erratically by the person responsible for “religion, nationalities and dissent.”  Your can imagine which aspect of that gets the most attention.

What kind of analogies can you draw between the policies of the 19th century British Empire and 21st century USA regarding the Circassians and other North Caucasians?

GOBLE: The British were an imperial power; the United States is not. On the one hand, that means that the US is less supportive of existing arrangements than the British tended to be, something that could work in favor of the Circassians. On the other, the British were far more attentive to ethnic and religious minorities than the US tends to be, recognizing their significance as players in the great game of international politics.

What can the Circassians do to make sure that Moscow does not make another attempt to undo any of the Circassian republics? What about the transitory stage of uniting all the Circassian republics into a region?

GOBLE: Moscow has only itself to blame for its current problems. It was Putin after all who opened the door to combining all the Circassian peoples in a single republic, something Stalin had made sure would not happen. That does not mean that the Circassians will achieve their goals. Some in Moscow understand how significant and thus dangerous that community could be. And they will do what they can, including the use of force, to prevent it. But that does not mean Moscow will be able to stop the Circassian peoples from coming together. 

Do you think it is realistic to believe in the possibility of a kind of North Caucasus wide Unified Caucasus Confederation which may even merge with the Southern Caucasian countries to create a pan-Caucasian union in a way revitalizing the brief Caucasus wide unification experiences in the period between the fall of the Tsarist rule and the arrival of the Bolsheviks between 1917 and early 1920s?

GOBLE: I personally see no chance of a South Caucasus confederation anytime in the near future. I think there could be a Mountaineers Republic in the North, but that the emergence of a new Greater Circassia is far more likely.

What do you think about the Wahhabi factor in the Nalchik attack of 13-14 October 2005?  Could you say that foreign intelligence services were involved in this event?

GOBLE: Moscow chooses to invoke the Wahhabis – its preferred term for any Muslim group it does not like and that does not like Russia – on each and every occasion to prevent the West and especially the US from objecting to its brutal suppression.  I do not think that the Wahhabis or even people close to them were responsible for the attack on Nalchik or for the deaths that occurred there. 

What kind of analogies and lessons should the Circassians draw from the different aspects of the First and Second Russian-Chechen wars especially considering the attitudes of the USA and rest of the international community?

GOBLE: The Kazan Tatars say that what they learned from these two post-Soviet Russian campaigns in Chechnya is that you can be as independent as you want as long as you don’t say so. I suspect that is a useful if temporary lesson for the Circassians as well. 

There is considerable Circassian population in Turkey and several countries in the Middle East, Europe and the USA itself. Do you think that this population has the capacity to be a pressure group (lobby) for political issues related with the North Caucasus in Turkey and/or elsewhere in the near future? 

GOBLE: Absolutely.  Were there not five million Circassians in the diaspora Moscow would be behaving much worse than it has and the Circassian communities now inside the Russian Federation would be suffering even more than they are.  I hope that links between the currently divided Circassian nation will strengthen over time and that those who can will lobby Western governments and in the first instance Western media to pay attention to Moscow’s crimes in the Caucasus.

What kind international mechanisms can be developed that could facilitate the repatriation of the diaspora Circassians back to the Northwest Caucasus in collaboration with the Russian authorities and the support of the international community?

GOBLE: Right now, Circassians are better off with a large diaspora than with many of its members returning. But eventually the right of return must be insisted upon. I hope the Circassians inside the Russian Federation and abroad will exploit the run up to the Sochi Olympics to talk about their expulsion and the need to restore their homeland with them in it.

The Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty started its North Caucasus service five years ago, which is a great achievemet in itself, but still the Circassian transmission is restricted to 20 minutes of news per day. The service could be extended to one hour a day by the inclusion of cultural and folkloric programmes. What could the Circassians do to influence the people who determine the kind of service that is transmitted?

GOBLE: As someone who urged the US Congress to create a Circassian Service, I believe that it has played a positive role but must be expanded.  I would like to see it increase its broadcast time but even more I would like to see it expand its online presentations, the best way to reach the Circassians in the region. 

Cultural support could be very important in uniting the Circassians in the diaspora and the homeland Caucasus. The official cultural institutions in the Caucasus were all used in the celebrations of Circassia's so called voluntary 'union' with Russia, which means that these institutions are still held hostage by the Russians and used to propagate Russian hegemony. In this regard, how can the Nart TV, which was recently established by the Circassians living in Jordan, receive international support to provide an alternative source of information without jeopardizing the support and goodwill of the (semi) federal Circassian republics in the Russian Federation, e.g. Adyghey, Karachay-Cherkess and Kabardino-Balkaria?

GOBLE: No one except a few fools in Moscow and the West thinks that the Russian imperial advance in the Caucasus led anyone to think about voluntarily joining the Russian state in the eighteenth century, the nineteenth century, the twentieth century or now.  The first rule in this business is to tell the truth, even if that entails some costs. Of course, some officials dependent on Moscow’s sufferance won’t like it and may harm things. But it is wrong to play to them. It is critical to play up the truth. 

Does the USA have any direct communication links with the Abkhazian authorities? Do the Americans and the Abkhazians ever talk and listen to each other face to face without the interference of third parties like the Russians or Georgians?

GOBLE: I have not worked for the government for some time so I cannot say. I hope that someone in Washington is paying attention, including talking to people. It is important that everyone knows what is going on. Of course, such meetings must take place in a way that does not subvert their purpose, that is, they must occur so that they will not generate the kind of reaction that no one who supports the ideas of the right of nations to national self-determination could not possibly want.

The last time Abkhazia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba was due to visit the UN to present Abkhazia’s case he was denied a visa by the US authorities. Is it acceptable that one side’s representatives should be denied access to the UN in this way, and is it likely that there will be any change in the US position once the presidential elections are out of the way? Which party (Republicans or Democrats) will more equitably treat the Abkhazian case, or does it not really matter?

GOBLE: I would hope that visas would not be used in that way in the future.  As far as the future is concerned, there is a big range of views within both parties, and consequently, it is difficult to say which one would do what until we know more than we do now.

There is a very big ethnic Armenian community living in Abkhazia - probably even outnumbering the ethnic Abkhazians. These Armenians are clearly known to have been living in peace with the Abkhazians for a very long time. They are taking important roles in the economic and political life of Abkhazia, and, most importantly, during the Abkhazian-Georgian war, they actively fought together with the Abkhazians against the Georgian forces and since then they are openly supporting the Abkhazians’ bid for independence. How do you perceive this pro-Abkhazian Armenian reality about which nobody talks?

GOBLE: You are right; no one talks about this. It is important that people start talking about it. Such knowledge will complicate the lives of those who oppose the rights of peoples in this area to live freely and in their own ways.

What differences have you detected in attitudes towards the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict between America (and Western Europe) and the Russian Federation (and the former USSR)? How do you account for these differences, and which more accurately reflect the essence of the problem?

GOBLE: As far as one can judge from official statements, Moscow wants to use Abkhazia as a lever against Tbilisi rather than support the aspirations of the Abkhaz people, while the United States believes that a Georgia that offers all of its citizens equal rights is a better choice for everyone concerned than further fragmentation.  In many ways, the Russians are more worried about territories; and the US is more worried about people.

Is it likely that the Transcaucasian ‘hot spots’ (Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Karabagh) can be settled one by one, or will there be a holistic resolution to these problems?

GOBLE: Each is different, but each will require a comprehensive approach rather than the step by step one now being employed. There are just too many questions that have to be answered and too many things that have to be lined up to assume that this is possible in a  step by step approach.

Given that the West does not wish to see the Russian Federation consolidating/widening its influence in Abkhazia, has its pro-Georgian position since the start of the war in August 1992 not produced precisely the opposite outcome?

GOBLE: I disagree. While I am critical of the US approach which seems to me too deferential to Moscow, I think more and more Abkhaz recognize that Moscow is not their friend. It wants their territory and it wants to use them as a tool to advance Russian interests, not theirs.

And finally, do you believe that the relevant experts of the diplomatic service and the academic community of the USA really have sufficient, in-depth knowledge of the Abkhazians’ political history with the Georgians? The same question can be also asked about Circassian-Russian relations or other North Caucasus related issues.

GOBLE: In 1989, the US government had only one person working fulltime on all the non-Russian peoples of what was then the Soviet Union. I was he, and I know how ridiculous that was. There are more people working on these issues, but there need to be still more.  Only with better knowledge will come better policies, although we need to recognize that better knowledge by itself will not guarantee, only make possible, better outcomes.

Thank you.

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Musa Shanib: The 21st of May Sounds The Alarm Again!

(Also known by the Russianised name Yuri Shanibov)
May 2009 

Dear Circassian World visitors,

We will commemorate the 145th anniversary of the tragic defeat and brutal dispersal of the Circassian people on the 21st of May 2009. Against this background, we share here the thoughts of Dr. Musa Shanib(ov) regarding the significance of this date, and the challenges the world Circassian community currently faces. We acknowledge with thanks the insights Dr. Shanib has shared with us. 

Profile: Musa Mukhamedovich Shanibov

President of the Confederation of the Peoples of the Caucasus (CPC), Chairman of the Congress of Kabardian People. Born 25 May 1935 in the city of Nalchik in the Kabardino-Balkar ASSR, he graduated from the Law Faculty of Rostov University, a Candidate of Philosophical Sciences, Doctor of the Chair of Political Science of the Kabardino-Balkar State University. He worked in the post of Secretary for Ideology at the Kabardino-Balkar Regional Committee (VLKSM: All-Union Youth Communist League of Lenin). Founder and Scientific Director of the Centre for Sociological Research of the Kabardino-Balkar State University. Doctor of Sociology of the International Personnel Academy (Kiev, The Ukraine); Doctor of Sociology of the International Open University (California, USA); Honorary Professor of the Abkhazian State University. From August 1989 he was Chairman of the Coordinating Council of the Assembly of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus; from 1992 First Deputy-Chairman of the Congress of the Kabardian People. In September 1992 he was arrested on a charge of inciting inter-ethnic strife, which gave rise to disturbances in Kabarda; on 27 September he fled and from October 1992 found himself in Abkhazia. For his part in the war he received the title Hero of Abkhazia.

On Shanibov's initiative, the headquarters of the Confederation of the Peoples of the Caucasus was set up in Gudauta for the provision of help to Abkhazia. According to his own statements, he felt himself secure only in Chechenia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. He considered that it was the politics of Russia and Georgia which led to the Caucasian War.

The Russian (Русский) version in PDF can be downloaded by clicking here (245 KB) 

CIRCASSIAN WORLD: What significance does the tragic date of the ending of the Russo-Caucasian War have for the Circassian world?

MUSA YURI SHANIB(OV): The Circassians began to mark the tragic date of the ending of the Russo-Caucasian War in 1961. This became a symbolic clarion, rousing the Circassians from a century's enforced silence. The awakening affected all the disconnected parts of the Circassian world which had been scattered to 53 countries by irresistible hostile forces. This clarion restored to the Circassian world the memory of their ancestors' unprecedented, century-long heroic struggle for Motherland and Liberty. Furthermore, 'Clarion – 21st May' gave an understanding to the young generation, reared in the historical Motherland and abroad, of the truth concerning the tragic fate of the Circassians in the past; this gives hope for the future, even though there are difficulties in the present. 'Clarion – 21st May' from the moment of its revival showed to the Circassians themselves and to the whole world the main value of the Circassian world's past, present and future, namely Liberty, which gives one the chance of living in accordance with one's own national character and mentality. The brilliant Russian poet, Mikhail Lermontov, who became the first rhapsodist of the Circassian world, clearly wrote about this in the poem 'Izmail Bey':

Fear of neither violence nor the grave
Could from their native steppes
Separate them: shame of fetters
Was brought to them by hostile forces!
Sweet to the Circassian is silence,
Sweet is his native land,
But freedom, freedom for a hero
Is sweeter than motherland and calm.

«Clarion – 21st May» gave all Circassians the chance to appreciate that the search for Liberty forced upon the greater portion of the Circassians in foreign regions was a tragic error and that Liberty has high value only when obtained in the Motherland. As the second millennium moved into the third there were signs that in the near future the disparate Circassian world might be able to take decisive steps towards unifying Liberty and Motherland. The tragedy which dispersed the Circassians across the entire world might swing round and take on a positive aspect. As the Russian proverb says: «Nothing bad without something good». The Circassian diaspora will then be able to bring together in the Motherland the positive experience of progressive development from 50 countries. The first condition of recognising and utilising such an opportunity is guaranteeing the unity of the Circassian world. This unity, above all, must be constructed through intensive intercourse, the almighty word and all-conquering wisdom in thoughts, in hearts and deeds by all Circassians, no matter in which countries they live and in which languages they converse. Then, even far removed from the Motherland and in conditions of temporary loss of some part of the mother-tongue, the Circassian world will not lose its own identity — in thought and heart, mind and action the people will for ever be together. And this will give to the Circassian world the possibility of successfully deciding the problems facing it in the new millennium. So may it be!


CW: Which year from the history of marking the 21st May has been for you the most memorable?

SHANIB: The most memorable not only for me but also for many was 1991, when timed to coincide with this date in May was held the Universal Circassian Congress. The Circassian world from all over the globe came together for the first time since the end of the Russo-Caucasian War. This was a glorious and joyful event, when Circassians who were born and grew up in different countries of the world embraced one another as brothers «with tears in their eyes». Then was established the International Circassian Congress, transformed later into the International Circassian Association [ICA]. As president of the first organ of Circassian unity in history at my suggestion, which was handed to the president of the republic via the Rector of our university, Prof. V. Tlosmanov, was elected Yuri Kalmykov, a great Circassian of the 20th century and Marshal of Justice of Russia. Under his leadership and after his demise, which was a tragedy for the Circassians, the ICA has done great work to secure the unity of the Circassians, the rebirth and development of the Circassian world. And today the ICA continues to work to decide the questions currently pertaining to this noble effort.


CW: Each year, as time goes by, differs from another. Does the political situation in the Circassian world in 2009 lend anything special to the tragic date of 21st May?

SHANIB: The political situation in the Circassian world over the last two years and in the current year of 2009 must be judged to be complex. And an especially complex situation is unfolding precisely in Kabarda and Cherkessia. Neither in the ruling politicial circles, nor in intelligentsia-circles, nor in the social movements do they yet recognise that Kabarda and Cherkessia are at the present time at the centre of the attention of powerful international and Russian anti-Caucasian forces. In the afore-mentioned centres the powers and intellects of Kabardino-Cherkessia are not even close to sensing what is happening and what the said anti-Caucasian forces are doing against the interests of the Circassian world. In actual fact, what these anti-Caucasian forces have declared publicly to the whole world about the future of the peoples of the Caucasus cannot but rouse serious anxieties.

This future of ours was «diagnosed» by the Deputy Speaker of the Russian Parliament, leading Caucasus-hater, V. Zhirinovsky, who presents himself in the guise of a prophet while pretending to be a little buffoon. It is plain that he was giving voice not only or not so much to his own personal opinion or the opinon of his Liberal Democratic Party. This opinion stated by him is, without a doubt, shared by a certain section of the supreme leadership of Russia. In his pre-election programme Zhirinovsky declared in the parliament of Russia that in a single hour the fifty peoples of the North Caucasus will lose their senses and, it is unclear how or why, will abandon the territories they have inhabited for millennia; the 39 nations of Daghestan will depart for Iran; the Chechens and Ingush will go to Georgia; North Ossetia will be relocated to the South, whilst the Ingush (our prophet has forgotten that he has despatched them to Georgia and has assigned them one further route to travel), the Kabardians, the Balkars, the Karachays, the Cherkess, the Abazinians, the Nogais, the Adyghes will be transported to Abkhazia. And, as a result, in the view of Zhirinovsky, Southern Russia, the North Caucasus, will by 2030 be «cleansed» of the non-Russian population, which is hostile to Russia. In similar roguish fashion, V. Zhirinovsky and his supporters are hammering into the heads of the fascist portion of the Russian population the idea that the peoples of the North Caucasus are the chief foes of the Russian people. Voters, casting their ballot for Zhirinovsky's party, do not understand that the main and most dangerous enemy of the Russian and other peoples of Russia is Zhirinovsky himself, and thus they give him their votes. In the elections to the parliament of Kabardino-Balkaria the party of Zhirinovsky – 5 Zhirinovskians – got into the new parliament, and among them there were two Kabardians who perhaps will start, according to the prediction of Zhirinovsky, a campaign for the resettlement of Kabardians to Abkhazia!

I have written in many outlets on this and other current problems. But not one of them has received a normal response. Thus, the «new» (more precisely, the resurrected old) leaders of the Kabardian social movements have refused even to discuss the materials set forth by me. The social activists of the Circassian diaspora in the world's leading countries are even less aware of this situation. I have tried to draw the attention of the Circassian activists in Turkey and Germany to the concrete written materials handed to these leaders by me personally and which reveal in point of concrete facts the seriousness of the anti-Kabardian/anti-Cherkessian programmes, plans and measures pursued by international and Russian forces. They did not even understand what was being discussed in my materials. For this reason they already now avoid me when they visit Nalchik for a session of the International Circassian Association and even refuse to meet...

Sadly, no-one in Kabarda and Cherkessia and among the diaspora abroad notices or imagines that they are failing to notice facts which testify to the preparation in Kabarda of a new round of blood-letting among the muslim youth. Thus, the government newspaper «Kabardino-Balkarian Pravda [Truth]» publishes the defamatory article by some Inalov (in mockery of Prince Inal, the progenitor of the Kabardian princes) about the Kabardians being in the grip of Wahhabism and that it is essential to organise yet another thrashing for them. The Kumyk Kazikhanov and the Ossetian Tsakoev publish in their newspaper «The North Caucasus» libellous accusations against Kabardian muslim youth for their adherence to Wahhabism and that the same fate awaits Kabarda as the shootings and torchings seen in Chechenia. Moscow's «Novaja Gazeta [New Paper]» publishes a lengthy article in which, on the basis of a forgery, it is asserted that the entire Circassian world (Russia's Circassians and the diaspora) are an Al-Qa'eda reserve, potential global terrorists. A certain academician, the Balkar Zalikhanov, and his crew come out with slanderous falsifications against the Kabardian people, and the government of Russia does not put a stop to his threats to organise «bloody armed conflict» with the Kabardians, if they do not yield to him Kabardian lands for the formation on them of a Karachay-Balkar federation... On all these problems I have written to the organs of power in the Russian Federation and the Kabardino-Balkar Republic, to the procuracy of the Kabardino-Balkar Republic, in the cities of Nalchik and Moscow, the security-organs and to the newspapers. But nowhere have I received a normal response, only silence, formal letters and excuses.

Against this background, the previous administration of the president of the republic launched an attempt to change the 21st May into a Day of Remembrance of the Adyghes. Certain social organisations of Kabarda came out strongly against this. And, it would seem, they have rejected the idea for the time being. But, there will evidently be no more measures taken in regard to a Day of Remembrance of the Adyghes, the Circassians – the victims of the Russo-Caucasian War.

The 21st of May sounds the alarm again! It is a call for us remember the main reason for the defeat of the Circassians in the century-long war for their Motherland and Liberty, namely the lack of unity among the Circassians and the absence of common efforts for opposing impending dangerous challenges. In our opinion, the Circassian world is once again faced with impending serious and dangerous challenges. The future of the Circassian world depends on how we answer these challenges. A unified and timely manifestation by the Circassians in 50 countries of the world might fundamentally alter the situation which is developing and being strengthened by anti-Circassian forces. But is such a unity among the whole Circassian world possible, if there is no unity among the elites of the Kabardian people?

Such in general are the specifics of the socio-political conditions in which we shall in 2009 be marking the most tragic date in the multi-millennia history of the Circassians, namely the 21st of May 1864.


CW: Every year you speak at the funereal meeting on 21st May in Nalchik. To what central idea do you intend to devote your speech this year.

SHANIB: If I were to speak at such a meeting in Nalchik this year of 2009, then I would devote my address to the problems laid out in my answer to your previous question. But I'm convinced that I shall not be given the chance to speak at this meeting. Yes, in all likelihood, what is arranged will not even be a meeting. I think that it will be a small farce, somewhat resembling a meeting, that will be played out.

Thank you.

15.04.09 Nalchik


 With the Kabardian volunteers. Abkhazia, Autumn 1993

Shanib(ov) being greeted in Abkhazia by the Chorus of Abkhaz Veterans‏

Shanib(ov) playing mandolin at home, 1970s‏

Shanib(ov) explaining Freud to students, 1970s‏

Prof. Shanib(ov) in his Nalchik state university office, 2003‏

Musa Shanib(ov) & George Hewitt. Sukhum, Abkhazia, 2008

Photo Credits:
+ Georgi Derluguian ''Bourdieu's Secret Admirer in the Caucasus.'' © All rights reserved.
+ George Hewitt

Bourdieu's Secret Admirer in the CaucasusBourdieu's Secret Admirer in the Caucasus
A World-System Biography

University of Chicago Press, 2005.

by Georgi M. Derluguian

ourdieu's Secret Admirer in the Caucasus is a gripping account of the developmental dynamics involved in the collapse of Soviet socialism. Fusing a narrative of human agency to his critical discussion of structural forces, Georgi M. Derluguian reconstructs from firsthand accounts the life story of Musa Shanib—who from a small town in the Caucasus grew to be a prominent leader in the Chechen revolution. In his examination of Shanib and his keen interest in the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu, Derluguian discerns how and why this dissident intellectual became a nationalist warlord.

Exploring globalization, democratization, ethnic identity, and international terrorism, Derluguian contextualizes Shanib's personal trajectory from de-Stalinization through the nationalist rebellions of the 1990s, to the recent rise in Islamic militancy. He masterfully reveals not only how external economic and political forces affect the former Soviet republics but how those forces are in turn shaped by the individuals, institutions, ethnicities, and social networks that make up those societies. Drawing on the work of Charles Tilly, Immanuel Wallerstein, and, of course, Bourdieu, Derluguian's explanation of the recent ethnic wars and terrorist acts in Russia succeeds in illuminating the role of human agency in shaping history.

Read more