Monday, May 21, 2018

‘Tlapqghakakwad’ Overcome – Circassians Mark 154th Anniversary of Genocide

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 21 – History, it is often observed, is written by the victors; but those who look like victors at one point may turn out to be the defeated at another and those who appeared to be the vanquished may come back Phoenix-like and win a larger and longer victory than anyone – including themselves – could ever imagine.

            Today, Circassians around the world mark what they call tlapqghakakwad – the Circassian word for “death of the nation” – the anniversary of Russia’s expulsion and killing of their ancestors in 1864 after more than a century of resistance to Russian imperial advance into the Caucasus.   

            That act of genocide by the Russian state reflected the desire of its rulers to have the land the Circassians lived on but without the Circassians, an example of the extrapolation of the infamous comment of a Russian general that “Russia needs Armenia; it doesn’t need Armenians.”

            By that Russian action more than 150 years ago, the Circassian state was destroyed, the Circassian nation decimated, and the Russian empire extended, certainly appearing seeming to appear to justify Russian claims of victory and the Circassian recognition that they had suffered tlapqghakakwad or “death of the nation.”

            But in fact, the Circassians who now number more than five million in the diaspora in the Middle East, Europe and North America and who count more than 500,000 people in their traditional North Caucasus homeland that the Russian state has carved up have come back to life and can look beyond 1864 in which they and not the Russian oppressors will be the victors.

            Mobilized by the contemptible decision of Vladimir Putin to hold the 2014 Olympics on the killing fields of Sochi where the ancestors of today’s Circassians were murdered, brutalized and expelled, the Circassian community both at home and in the diaspora is stronger than it has ever been.

            That can be seen in the demonstrations and commentaries by Circassians this week. (Among the best are  and  But it can be even more clearly observed in the actions of the Circassians chronicled by one of their number in an important new book. 

            In Circassia (Xlibris, 2017), Adel Bashqawi, a retired pilot who was born in Amman, traces the history of his people from antiquity up to the struggles of today. (It is from him that the current author has learned so much about the Circassians and it is from his book that I learned the Circassian word tlapqghakakwad.

            But his book and the history of the Circassian people points to another conclusion: those who have been defeated at one point or another can come back in triumph.  And on this sad anniversary of Russian oppression, I am confident that Bashqawi’s subtitle Born to Be Free captures far better what is going on among the Circassians than anything else.

            A nation that remains committed to freedom cannot be defeated, however many defeats it suffers. And I believe that Circassians will again be victorious and free once again while those who thought they had committed “the death of a nation” 154 years ago will be seen as the ultimate losers. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Pan-Mongol Sentiments Re-Surfacing among Buryats

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 20 – It has long been an axiom of Eurasian analysis that pan-Mongolism emerges only when Russia and/or China are weak. That has certainly been true in the past, but with Mongolia now a much more independent country than ever before in modern times, it may be time to modify the assumptions underlying that approach.
            Three recent developments suggest that: First, Moscow has forced the liquidation of the office of the plenipotentiary representative of Buryatia in Ulan Bator, apparently fearful that it was promoting the restoration of closer ties between the two Mongol peoples than the Russian government is prepared to tolerate.

            Instead, it has concentrated any ties between the Buryat Republic within the Russian Federation and the Mongolian government through a single official in the Russian embassy in Ulan Bator, an individual who is known to be a vocal opponent of Buryat national causes (

            Second, despite this, Buryat officials and Buryats more generally are intensifying their contacts with their Mongol counterparts, seeking Moscow’s permission for expanded ties with Mongolia and urging the Buryat government to promote Mongol language classes in the republic’s schools (

            The latter if successful could lead to a rapprochement between the two Mongol languages, Khalka and Buryat, and thus help promote the view widely held by many Buryats to this day that they are part of a broader Mongol nation, something that already informs the statements of some Buryat activists (

            And third, the self-described Pan-Mongol Party in Emigration based in Baku is using the Internet to reach out to Buryats in particular. It has become more active following the decision of the Buryat Republic parliament to disband the republic’s supreme court in order to save money and increase efficiency (

            Arguing that this move is but the latest step in Moscow’s campaign to destroy Buryat statehood, the party calls on all Buryats “to struggle with all their forces until complete victory.”  Specifically, it declares that “we do not recognize the collaborationist powers in Buryatia as legitimate” and declares that Russian government is “an occupation administration.”

            “We appeal to the world community to recognize Buryatia as an occupied territory, we consider that the Buryat-Mongol ethnos is being subjected to political and cultural genocide,” and, it declares, “activists of the Buryat national-liberation movement in emigration are the only legal power on the territory of Buryatia.”

            The party makes clear its final goal: “Buryatia will be independent!”

UN Now Taking Russia’s Regional Diversity Seriously in Its Demographic Projections

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 20 – A United Nations’ prediction this week that Russia’s total population will decline by 12 million by mid-century has attracted the most attention, but a far more important aspect of the UN study is that it discussed Russia’s demographic future in terms of its diverse regions rather than treating the country as a whole.

            That approach contrasts sharply with the one the United Nations, Russian analysts and many outside observers employ in which Russia like other countries is treated as a single whole rather than as one where demographic developments and problems in some regions are very different from those in others. 

            The UN study notes first of all that Russia’s cities are going to continue to grow, albeit by only three million people before 2050, with the number of Russians living in urban centers rising from 107 million now to 110 million by mid-century (

                Rural Russia in contrast is going to see its population fall by “almost 40 percent,” the UN report says, from 36.8 million now to 22.1 million in 2015. Urbanization is characteristic of most countries, the UN says; but in Russia, this process is exacerbated by the decline in the number of women in prime child-bearing cohorts and a fall in preferred family size.

            GDP per capita rates also vary widely across Russia, from European levels in the central cities, to those of Bhutan, Honduras or Papua New Guinea in Tyva. Indeed, the report suggests that large segments of the Russian Federation now have a standard of living corresponding to that of third world countries.

            The results are inevitable: the population of Murmansk Oblast has fallen by 34 percent since 1989, Sakhalin Oblast by 31 percent, and by more than 25 percent in Arkhangelsk, Pskov, Amur and Kirov Oblasts, all predominantly ethnic Russian regions.  Infant mortality in such regions is also far higher than elsewhere.

            The UN predictions, Tatyana Malyeva of the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service are “close to the real situation” as reported by the Russian state statistical agency which acknowledges that Russia’s population after a brief uptick has begun to fall again, with births falling in 84 subjects, and deaths exceeding births in 17 regions by more than 50 percent. 

            What makes the UN report significant is that when an international body approaches Russia not as a single whole but as a conglomerate of very different parts, it makes it easier for many both in Russia and in the West to take the diversity within Russia more seriously and focus attention on how Moscow is or is not promoting equality.

            And that in turn, as was the case at the end of Soviet times, has the effect of making it easier for people in Moscow and the West to appreciate and take seriously the complaints and programs of regional elites, experts and political movements rather than as often happens now treating the Russian Federation as a single homogenous thing.