Activists Contend Political Obstacles to Repatriation of Circassians to Russia

I have an article dealing with this subject and the many problems the Syrian War creates for Moscow vis-a-vis the Caucasus. I have to wait concerning its possible publication elsewhere, but if it turns out it won’t be published in that place I’ll put the article here.

In the meantime, this is a translation of an article in “Kavkazskii Uzel” (The Caucasus Knot) that discusses one of the more disturbing aspects of the problematic repatriation process for Circassians from abroad, especially Syria.

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Activists Contend Political Obstacles to Repatriation of Circassians to Russia

The Russian authorities create bureaucratic obstacles for Circassian repatriates from Syria and Turkey, and foreign Circassians do not have the opportunity to obtain citizenship under a simplified procedure, activists from Adygea and Kabardino-Balkaria have declared. Many repatriates reject the idea of ​​resettlement in Russia because of the low standard of living in the country, said the head of Adyge Hase in Kuban, Asker Sokht.

As ” Caucasian Knot ” has written, the Krasnodar Regional Court refused to reconsider the decision on depriving a repatriate from Turkey, Muammer Koblev, Russian citizenship. Koblev came to Russia from Turkey in 1995, married a Russian citizen, and in 1997 he became a Russian citizen himself. According to the defense, Koblev is being prosecuted for supporting one of the founders of the International Circassian Movement, Ruslan Gvashev.

The simplified procedure for acquiring Russian citizenship is not available for Circassian repatriates from Syria and Turkey due to the political situation, says Valery Khatazhukov , head of the Kabardino-Balkaria Human Rights Center.

“A few years ago, Vladimir Putin, in his address to the parliament, stated that Russian compatriots are those who speak Russian and are carriers of Russian culture. Hence this attitude to Circassian repatriates,” Khatazhukov told the “Caucasian Knot” correspondent.

In Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia and Adygea, Adyghe is the state language, but Circassian returnees have to pass an exam in Russian, which is often impossible, he stressed.

“Their native language is the state language, and knowledge of the Russian language for a repatriate is not necessarily in these conditions. This contradicts the constitutions of our republics and the Constitution of Russia, which recognizes these languages ​​as state languages ​​in these republics,” Khatazhukov said.

According to the human rights activist, the case of Muammer Koblev is the first case of repatriate who already had Russian citizenship being deprived of it by the court. However, delaying the procedure for obtaining a residence permit and citizenship by officials of the migration service is a common practice in recent years.

“They are coming from Syria, where there is a humanitarian catastrophe. Between 150 to 200 thousand Circassians lived there before the conflict. We know for sure that there is an unspoken rule: Russian embassies and consulates around the world do not accept documents from Circassians. There are no quotas for their entry to Russia. Russia has simply turned its back on them, “says Valery Khatazhukov.

After the outbreak of hostilities in Syria, the Circassian public repeatedly appealed to the Russian leadership to rescue the Syrian Circassians, whose ancestors were expelled from their historic homeland as a result of the Caucasus War. Appeals asking Syria’s Circassians to live in Russia were sent to the State Duma and executive authorities, Olga Efendiyeva-Begret , head of the Ochag public organization from Kabardino-Balkaria, reported to the Caucasian Knot correspondent.

According to the activist, one recent appeal was sent by the Kabardino-Balkaria Human Rights Center to the Directorate General for Migration of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. This appeal was supported by Adyga public organizations and people from Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, Adygea and other regions of the country who were simply concerned.

“The provision of temporary asylum, temporary residence permits, residence permits and citizenship to representatives of the Circassian people is carried out in the manner established for foreign citizens and stateless persons …”, she quoted the department’s reply.

“Considering that our compatriots put their lives at risk every day and the death toll has gone into the hundreds, the response to the appeal can be called cynical. After reviewing the answer, we sent appeals to the Russian Prosecutor General asking him to conduct a prosecutor’s check and protect the rights and interests of ethnic Circassian compatriots in Syria, “said Efendiyeva-Begret.

According to the activist, these appeals were ignored. According to Efendiyev-Begret, Circassian repatriates face difficulties even at the stage of invitations to Russia and acquisition of visas. If invitations and visas can still be obtained, repatriates face new difficulties, including financial ones, in processing their migration status in their historic homeland. As an example, she cited the case of Tariq Topchu.

In 2014, the authorities tried to deport three students: citizens of Syria, ethnic Circassians. Young people were detained in February 2014 during uncoordinated actions against the Sochi Olympics, she said.

“And the guys did not take part in the action, but only appeared near the venue of the event. The next day, the Federal Migration Service of Russia in Kabardino-Balkaria decided to deport them for violations of immigration laws,” said Efendiyeva-Begret. Subsequently, the court’s decision was appealed to the Supreme Court of Kabardino-Balkaria.

Sokht: repatriates are afraid of the standard of living in Russia

Russia is the only country that grants citizenship to Circassians from Syria, Asker Sokht, head of the Adege Khase public organization in Krasnodar Region, told the “Caucasian Knot” correspondent.

“Moreover, many states are essentially closed to the entry of citizens of Syria, and the granting of citizenship of the EU, USA, Turkey, Jordan to an absolute majority of them is out of the question. Our compatriots are going through the process of obtaining Russian citizenship and integration into Russian society quite successfully, “said Sokht.

According to the activist, the citizens of Syria who arrived in Russia in 2011–2012 are fully integrated into society. “The call for the Circassians of Syria to the Armed Forces of Russia is gaining momentum; this is one of the most important fundamental signs of the state’s trust in our compatriots. I think our compatriots will be actively involved in law enforcement agencies in the near future,” he said.

Sokht considers the case of Muammer Koblev unique and claims that it “does not reflect the situation as a whole.” He expressed the hope that his question would be settled within a legal framework and without politicization.

According to Sokht, the Russian authorities do not impede the entry of Circassians into Russia from different countries of residence and do not create special obstacles to their repatriation. However, many Circassians who wanted to move to Russia change their plans themselves after trial visits to the country and an examination of the socio-economic situation . Many repatriates are disappointed with the level of the education system, medicine, economics and security in Russia, he noted.

“It’s legal to come to Russia and live legally in it. There is a fundamental problem: to find your place in the labor market. This requires knowledge of the Russian language, proper qualifications and the job itself. There is no hope for social support from the state in modern Russia. With my hand on my heart, we have to quite objectively say that compared to the EU countries, the USA, Jordan, Israel, we are decisively losing in many ways, if not entirely, because there is only one country where life for Circassians not comparable with Russia: Syria. In the 1990s, the Russian embassy in Syria granted citizenship to Syrian Circassians, and it was received by more than 2500 people, but even in wartime, the vast majority of them did not return to Russia. The problem is not physically living in Russia, but in how to live there, not knowing the language, not having work and a source of livelihood. Many Russian citizens live below the poverty line,” said Soht.

According to the activist, Circassians from Turkey who want to obtain Russian citizenship face opposition from the Turkish consulate. The authorities of this country perceive the Circassians as “a loyal, reliable and educated part of the Turkish people”, and are trying to eradicate the idea of ​​repatriating Circassians to their historic homeland, Asker Soht said.

No quota for immigrants in Adygeia

In 2018, not a single repatriate moved permanently to Adygeia, since no quotas were allocated, although in 2012 a quota was allocated for 450 people, said Adygean Shamsutdin Neguch , a Circassian activist.

“450 is a common quota for people of all nationalities: Adygas, Russians, Armenians, Georgians – repatriates to the republic. We did not have the right to allocate all quotas to Circassians: it was so that the republic accepted more than Circassians, I’m not talking about refugees from Donbass “, Neguch told the” Caucasian Knot “correspondent.

He links the reduction of quotas with the complexity of the procedure for obtaining a residence permit and citizenship. “The procedure for obtaining citizenship is very complicated; even the officials of the migration system didn’t know much. And if the quotas were not met, they were cut from year to year,” said Neguch.

According to the activist, there is no official program for the adaptation of repatriates in the republic, all help is provided by ordinary people. “People themselves help them with money and things, in order to support them at least a little, they collect the most necessary things for visitors,” said the representative of “Adyghe Khase.”

According to Shamsutdin Neguch, the authorities are reluctant to draw up Circassian documents for legal residence in Russia. He cited as an example the expulsion from Russia of a student of the engineering and technical department of Adyghe State University, ethnic Circassian Anazor Arslanuk in 2017.

“I personally came across the fact that the migration service separated families. The wife and son were extended permission to stay, and the husband and daughters were denied without giving reasons. The officials couldn’t give us a clear answer on what principle this was done,” the activist said.

According to Neguch, because of persecution by law enforcement agencies, a repatriate from Turkey, Muammer Koblev, lost his business in Russia – a network of stores in Krasnodar, Tuapse, Lazarevskoye, and Maykop.

“We will appeal the decision to deprive him of his citizenship, but there is no hope for the court. We have prepared appeals to the authorities of Russia and our republics. Lawyers speak in one voice: the reason for depriving him of his citizenship is so insignificant that it cannot be taken into account in normal legal proceedings. This is an administrative offense and a maximum fine,” Neguch concluded.

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