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MIDEAST > Syria’s Circassians wait for trip back to Russia

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News

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Members of the Circassian Associations Federation gather in front of the Russian Embassy, demanding changes to Russian law. AA photo

Members of the Circassian Associations Federation gather in front of the Russian Embassy, demanding changes to Russian law. AA photo

Sevil Erkuş Sevil Erkuş sevil.kucukkosum@hdn.com.tr

Of the roughly 1,200 Syrian Circassians who fled from clashes in Syria and have taken shelter in Turkey, nearly half want to return to their original homelands in Russia, so Syrian Circassians are seeking changes to existing Russian immigration laws in order to be repatriated immediately.

Hundreds of Syrian Circassians, sheltered by Circassia associations in Turkey, are seeking a solution to the lengthy routine of red tape necessary to return to their homeland. Circassia associations in Turkey have appealed to the Turkish Foreign Ministry and Moscow to facilitate their speedy return.

A law adopted in Russian Parliament in 1999 allowed thousands of Circassians who fled their homes more than 100 years ago return to their homeland but did not enable the direct return of Circassians to Russia.

The law puts a quota for those who seek residence permits and then citizenship in Russia, but Syrian Circassians demand Moscow provide exceptions, as the Kremlin did in 1998 for Circassians from Kosovo, Hasan Seymen from the Circassian Associations Federation told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday.

In 1998 Russia facilitated the repatriation of some 200 Circassians from Kosovo after they were attacked by ethnic Albanians.

Recently, a committee advised the Duma not to make an exemption for Syrian Circassians, saying they had left the country of their own will during the Soviet era, Seymen said.

“However Circassians did not leave their homeland of their own will, on the contrary they were exiled and massacred,” he said.

“There are no Syrian Circassians sheltered in refugee camps in Turkey. We host them in Turkish Circassians’ houses in Kahramanmaraş, Mersin, Balıkesir, Bandırma, Biga, Antalya, Konya and Tokat,” Seymen added.

Seymen said Circassian associations in Turkey had applied to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to convince his Russian counterpart to remove the bureaucratic hurdles to allow hundreds of Syrian Circassians return to Russia.

“To our unofficial knowledge, in their last meeting Davutoğlu raised the issue with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.”

Meanwhile 2,000 Turkish Circassians have returned to their original homelands in Russia since the law was adopted in Russian Parliament in 1999.

Confirming the return of Circassian Turks to Russia, Turkish Foreign Ministry officials said those who left Turkey were still able to hold their Turkish citizenship as a gesture from the Turkish government.

Circassians were exiled en masse from their Caucasus homeland to the Ottoman Empire by Russian forces in the 19th century.

February/12/2013

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