Staunton, September 25 – Valery Tishkov, former head of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology, says that Moscow should not grant “compatriot” status to ethnic Circassians now in war-torn Syria, thus allowing them to return to their ancestral homeland more easily, because such a step would open the way for radical Islamists to enter Russia.
Officials and activists in Adygeya, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachayevo-Cherkessia, the three Circassian republics of the North Caucasus, have long sought that status for their co-ethnics abroad, arguing that both Russian compatriots legislation and simple justice should allow the descendants of Circassians expelled from the Russian Empire should return home.
And at least in Karachayevo-Cherkessia, where approximately 600 Syrian Circassians have managed to arrive, officials treat them as “compatriots” even though Russian officials do not recognize their right to that status and have long sought to restrict their arrival (nazaccent.ru/content/17718-ekspert-status-sootechestvennika-dlya-sirijcev-oblegchaet.html).
Until now, Russian officials have argued that the Circassians of Syria and other Middle Eastern countries should not be allowed in because they do not know Circassian or Russian and have been assimilated by the Arabs. Moreover, they are clearly concerned about what such an influx could mean in ethnic terms.
At present, there are an estimated five to seven million Circassians in the Middle East as a whole, with at least 100,000 in Syria. Were any significant portion of them to return to their ancestral homeland in the North Caucasus, where there are only about 500,000 Circassians at present, that would change the ethnic balance of the region and undermine Russian control.
But now, given the refugee crisis which has increased demand and fears about the spread of Islamist ideology and activism, Tishkov has taken a much tougher position, one that likely reflects the thinking of many if not all in Moscow but that puts both him and the Russian government even more at odds with Circassian governments and activists in the Caucasus.
Tishkov told Nazaccent.ru that “the status of ‘compatriot’ [the internal quotes are his] would make it easier for Cyrian Circassians to move to the territory of the country as a result of which would exists the danger of the penetration of followers of radical Islam into the territory of Russia.”
According to the Federal Migration Service, approximately 1,000 Syrian refugees have sought asylum in Russia so far this year, far fewer than are seeking to enter Europe; but FMS head Konstantin Romodanovsky has said that “Russia is ready to accept refugees from Syria” but so far they have not shown much interest in coming.
Nazaccent.ru surveyed Russian experts on this question and reports that the majority of them said that the reasons refugees from the Middle East wanted to go to Europe rather than to Russia was economic: such people get far greater support from EU governments than they do if they come to Russia (nazaccent.ru/content/17716-migracionnyj-koshmar.html).
But Russia has not been particularly welcoming: Those who have applied for refugee status rarely get it: At present, there are only 790 people who have and most of those are ethnic Russians from Ukraine. And those who come want to go to Moscow or other major cities while officials want them to settle in depopulating ethnic Russian regions.
According to Vyacheslav Postavnin, the head of Russia’s 21st Century Migration Foundation, for Russia, “the main problem is not the Syrians but the Ukrainians. Officially there are 2.6 million of them on the territory of Russia today, but “how many more will come if the situation gets worse?”