The Sochi Genocide Olympics

olympicsTomorrow, the winter Olympic games begin in Sochi. For most sport fans worldwide, this event marks a celebratory moment of the world coming together in the spirit of “excellence”, “friendship”; and “respect” — core values of the Olympic Movement.

However, as this symbolic beacon of togetherness travels to the Caucasian coastal city, another flame is burning — that of a Diaspora community, the Circassians, who called Sochi home before being ousted from it by Tsarist troops 150 years ago.

But who are these people?

Well like many Jordanians and other Middle Easterners of Circassian origin, they have neither visited Sochi nor other parts of the Northwestern Caucuses, the motherland of the Circassians. However, like other minorities across the region, they associate with their ethnic identity and all it embodies in history and culture.

Loyal to the countries they have migrated to in the late 19th century (then the Ottoman Empire), the Circassians have gently worked to preserve their cultural heritage through the magical folkloric dance, music and to a much lesser extent the language. In Jordan, for example, multiple Circassian cultural and charitable organizations have been set up as early as 1932.

CircassiaHowever, the Circassian Diaspora have chosen to stay away from the convoluted politics of the Caucuses and remained largely “invisible” and “quiescent” across time And with time, Circassia’s tragic saga was rendered a missing chapter from world history.

History Untold

The ancestral homeland of the Circassians is Northwest Caucasia (between the Black Sea to the west, Caucasus Mountains to the south, Ukraine to the north and Chechnya to the east).

Having lived in this homeland for millennia, the Circassians encountered many peoples of different cultures and ethnicities, maintaining relative quietude and peace from the Middle Ages up to the 17th century.

Amjad Jaimoukha, a Jordanian Circassian scholar notes that towards the end of the 16th century, “Russia began to push south towards the northern steppes of the Caucasus in a process of gradual encroachments,” until the first quarter of the 19th century when Russian troops “embarked on a vicious war of attrition,” which the Circassians resisted courageously for 35 years, despite their meager resources, “until the last battle was fought and lost in 1864.”

More than 800,000 lost their lives and over a million were forced out of their homeland, making this exodus “one of the greatest mass movements of population in modern history” according to Paul Henz, American scholar and former diplomat.

Today, most Circassians live outside of the Caucuses, in Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Israel, some parts of Europe and the United States.

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A Message From retired U.S. Army Special Forces Sgt. Ayman H. Hatkwa who served 2 Iraq Wars and is ethnically Circassian

In the great Circassian spirit we welcome the world to our homeland, we welcome the athletes and the tourists.

What we are asking for is for them to be kind to our land, our homes and most importantly recognize that they are holding the Olympics on top of the graves our our forefathers that were killed during the great Russian expansion.

We wanted the Russians and Putin to be kind and ask us for permission and to ask for forgiveness for the atrocities committed by his people against ours.

Hope this will be a peaceful and successful Olympics.


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The Awakening

When in July 2007, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) chose Sochi as the host city for the 2014 Winter Olympics, the Circassian core was awakened, worldwide, in sentiments and in actions. Thanks to the Internet and social media in particular, Circassians started to come together, united in their fury toward the Games.

Choosing Sochi for the games “could not have been better designed to bring these scattered peoples together in outrage,” writes Colarusso.

“Sochi triggered something in all of us. It was about identity, particularly for the youth, the driving force behind the No Sochi movement,” recounts Tamara Barsik, a New Jersey Circassian and founding member of the No Sochi Committee, during her current Amman visit.

“Shortly after the announcement, we started connecting with Circassian organizations in Turkey, namely the Kafkas Forum, and organized our first demonstrations in Istanbul and New York City to not only protest the games but also to raise awareness on the Circassian tragedy,” she adds.

With time, other Circassian communities and organizations in Jordan, Turkey, and elsewhere were mobilizing their own peaceful protests and eventually led to the creation of the No Sochi Committee in 2010 which then sent peaceful protesting delegations to the Vancouver Winter Games and later to the 2011 London Olympics.

This Circassian awakening or “Renaissance” as Tamara calls it, also included dynamic efforts to connect and work with academia, human rights organizations, and the media to be aware of and acknowledge the Circassian tragedy of 1864. Circassian delegations began lobbying the U.S. Congress, Parliaments of the European Union, Canada, Georgia, Latvia, Estonia and elsewhere to officially recognize the tragic Circassians exodus.

But beyond the political activism that Sochi set in motion is the rise of a strong sense of solidarity amongst Circassians in different parts of the Diaspora. No Sochi evolved into more than just a global protest of the Games.

As the conflict in Syria escalated last year, the 25 Circassian organizations involved with No Sochi shifted their resources, both human and financial, to protect and repatriate the Circassians in Syria into Turkey and Jordan.

“This was our humanitarian calling. We put the brakes on the Sochi issue and focused on the now,” expressed Tamara. “The Syrian conflict set off another dimension of the Circassian campaign, that as a minority our struggle continues, being displaced yet once again. We have to work together,” she asserts.

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Sochi Calling

Today, as the Sochi Olympics approach, Circassians seem to be carrying their own torch — one that symbolizes not only their ancestry’s “bitter” past, but also their “sweet” and hopefully more promising future.

The IOC, keen on safeguarding the universality of the Games have indicated in an email exchange that it is their understanding that “elements of Circassian culture are already part of Sochi’s 2014 cultural festival.” If that truly is the case, it is a step forward.

This is far from being recognition of the Circassian tragedy of 1864. It is also far from what the Circassians deserve; the right of return or at the very least a recognition of that right by Russia and the international community.

The Circassian Renaissance has only just begun and will hopefully continue. We all have a responsibility to uphold our identity and ensure, in spirit, words, and peaceful actions that our past and present are recognized and respected.

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Posted by on February 6, 2014, With 3181 Reads Filed under Asia, Europe, Middle East, Russia, World. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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4 Responses to "The Sochi Genocide Olympics"

  1. ProtectUSA1st  February 8, 2014 at 10:58 am

    —-The 2014, Sochi Winter Olympics was the best ever, even better than Beijing. The big difference, since they had to build a complete city, and to turn around build the Olympic City after that.

    —-Above all unlike Beijing, the theme at Sochi was cultural including Circassians.

    —-Maria Sharapova, who was born and raised in Sochi, and the top Russian tennis player was one of the carries-olympic-torch-into-stadium-during-2014-sochi-opening-ceremony.

  2. Chandler  February 7, 2014 at 8:45 am

    Poor preparation for sure. Still athletes go. Apolitical, they go to compete. That is what athletes do. I must say, sadly enough, I found it comical and laughed about the recent published and announced reports coming from our illustrious fed. gov’t., terrorists may strike so start looking at toothpaste tubes for such explosives. It is not that I laughed at potential tragedy. I laughed because, it probably is “here we go again.” I laughed because of these mockeries of common sense and logic. Never tell what you know so the suspects don’t change their plans. I was amused and now expect something will happen now that they said it would and in what.
    They are out to execute Dzokhar Tsarnaev since they think he was 1 of 2 Boston bombers. The backpack that exploded belonged to Craft International according to their own admission and published photos. His backpack was not near this color. And, unlike one Craft International agent, after the bomb was detonated, he no longer had his backpack. Sandy Hook? If Jim Fetzer can’t convince you of this foolishness I am not even going to try. So, my point is, watch what comes next…you got it, a toothpaste tube bomber, and our gov’t will tell us, see how sharp we are? We told you so.
    If black jackets and khaki pants are seen in or near Sochi posing as security, quietly walk back to your unprepared room, get your camera and begin filming in secret. Get real scared if amputee actors arrive.

  3. ani  February 6, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    Thank you to the author and editors of VT for presenting this article.

    Living in Australia, I had not heard of Circassians until I read only recently Louis de Berniere’s moving Birds Without Wings. I will read this article again, as I have only skimmed it this time. Just wanted to say Thank You and yes, may all the people at Sochi remember all those who gave their lives. Without them, we would not be here.

  4. stephanaugust  February 6, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    Can’t wait for the analysis of the opening ceremony at Vigilant Citizen.

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