Circassians march for recognition of ‘genocide’

Circassians march for recognition of ‘genocide’

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Circassians march for recognition of ‘genocide’

Circassians march through İstiklal Avenue, carrying tombstones with the date May 21, 1864 on them. The protestors, who marched to the Russian Consulate in Istanbul yesterday demanded that the ‘Circassian genocide’ be recognized by the world. DAILY NEWS photo, Hasan ALTINIŞIK

Citizens of Caucasian origin gathered at Taksim Square in Istanbul yesterday and marched to the Russian Federation’s Istanbul Consulate, protesting the Circassian deportation and commemorating those who died in the “genocide” they claim Russia committed. The protestors demanded that the “Circassian genocide” be recognized by the world. 

A group of about 3,000 people gathered around Taksim Square and marched to the Istanbul Consulate of the Russian Federation carrying placards and chanting slogans. Protestors chanted “Murderer Russia, get out of Caucasia” and “May 21 is the day of resistance.” The group also opened a placard that read, “We will not allow the genocide and the exile to be forgotten.” 

They also issued a press statement in front of the consulate. 

Strict safety measures were seen around the Russian Consulate due to the march, to avoid further complicating the already tense situation. The Russian Embassy in Ankara protested on May 18 a conference on the state of affairs in the Caucasus held by the Istanbul Municipality, where it argued that statements by some participants called for terrorist attacks.

“This kind of hospitality toward those who openly support terrorist activities in Russian territories is casting a shadow on the positive climate of the Russian-Turkish relationship, and is not befitting the level of partnership that our countries have reached,” a written statement issued by the Russian Embassy in Ankara said. The embassy’s statement referred to two separate conferences, organized by the Istanbul Municipality and Fatih Municipality respectively last week, in which current developments in the Caucasus were discussed with very harsh language regarding Moscow.

Spokesperson for the protestors, Jankat Acı, said in front of the Russian Consulate in Istanbul that May 21, 1864, was the symbolic date of the genocide that brought the Circassians to the brink of extinction and that lead Caucasia to disaster. Acı said hundreds of thousands of Circassians were massacred in the genocide that occurred during Czar-era Russia’s invasion campaign of Caucasia. Acı also said 90 percent of the survivors were sent to exile. Those who are standing up against Russia after 148 years were the children of the generation of Circassians and other Caucasians who were exiled after surviving the genocide, Acı said.

Acı said they were full of rage “because the capital of Circassia, the symbol city of the genocide, Sochi, will be used for the Winter Olympics in 2014. It is also being used by Russia as a tool to distort historical facts. Russia is promoting Sochi as a Russian city. It continues persistently in its campaign to conceal the Circassian identity of the city, its history and the genocide.”

May 21 was a day of resistance and revival, Acı said. He demanded that the world acknowledge the Circassian genocide. “We call on each country in the world, on the Russia Federation which has inherited the heritage of the genocide; we address the national and international public: Recognize the Circassian genocide.”

Although actual Circassians constitute only one of the ethnic groups coming from the North Caucasus region in present-day Russia, all the peoples who originated from that area are generally referred to collectively as “Circassians” in Turkey. Many Circassians were forced to abandon their native homelands when Czarist Russia conquered the region in the 19th century. Most of the Circassians who fled resettled in Ottoman Turkey.