Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
According to the 2002 national census, there are 128,528 Adygey in the Russian Federation. The majority of Adyghey live in the Adyghey Republic, formerly the Adyghey Autonomous Oblast in Krasnodar Krai, and in Krasnodar Krai. There is also a large diaspora Adyghey community in Turkey, although retention of the Adyghey language is reportedly very low among this community.
Adyghey were part of the Circassian people until the 1920s, when they were divided from Cherkess and Kabards. Adyghey areas became an AO in July 1922. Leading members of the Adyghey resented the fact that they were not given republican status. In 1991 Adygheya was given the status of an autonomous republic, albeit one entirely enclosed within the Krasnodar region.
Of all of the territories of the North Caucasus, the Adyghey region historically has had the highest concentration of Russians. In August 1991 Adyghey created a special commission to oversee the return of expatriates, primarily the large communities in Turkey. The first All-Adyghey Congress was held on 28 March 1992. Large numbers of Russians in the Adyghey regions have identified themselves as Kuban Cossacks. They demanded their own Cossack region in Krasnodar Krai but have also supported the Adyghey. Some Adyghey participated in the movement to unite Circassian peoples.
Inter-ethnic relations in Adygheya were complicated by two major factors. The first is the trend towards the amalgamation of national territories designated for specific ethnic groups to larger neighbouring districts. From 2004 some Russian officials, including figures within the Krasnodar regional administration, had proposed such a merger for the Adyghey Republic and Krasnodar region. Supporting arguments for such a merger included the fact that Adygheya was already an enclave entirely surrounded by Krasnodar, Adygheya’s dependence on subsidies from Moscow and the economic benefits to Adygheya arising from Krasnodar’s relatively prosperous economy rooted in tourism. Many Slavs in Adygheya reportedly supported the merger, claiming that they suffer ethnic discrimination at the hands of the Adyghey minority and that their status as a majority should ensure proportionate representation in republican structures, regardless of the fact that they live in the designated national homeland of another group.
Adyghey leaders have been opposed to the merger, which would leave them a tiny minority within a much larger Russian-dominated region. In April 2005 a mass rally protesting the proposed merger took place in Maikop, while in February 2006 the lower chamber of the Adyghey parliament rejected a draft law on referenda, which would have provided a legal basis for a republican referendum on the merger.
Adygey have struggled to have their minority status recognized. On 16 March 2012, a well-known political activist of the Adygey Republic filed a civil claim to the Maikop City Court regarding a refusal to register his civil society organization. The Maikop City Court dismissed his claim and stated that Kabardinians, Adygey and Shapsugs should be all regarded as belonging to the Cherkess people. On 25 May 2012, the complainant’s appeal was rejected by the Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court of the Adygey Republic.
Inter-ethnic tensions have reportedly emerged in the Adygey Republic between the Adygey minority and Kurds, whose number has increased significantly from 262 in 1989 up to 4,528 Kurds in 2010 as a result of migration from political tensions and conflict in their countries of origin. Though only amounting to a little over 1 per cent of the republic’s population, tensions have emerged over social and cultural differences.
Minorities and indigenous peoples in
- Kabards and Balkars
- Karachay and Cherkess
- Khants and Mansi
- Meskhetians or Meskhetian Turks
- Russian or Volga Germans
- Ukrainians, Belarusians and Kazakhs