The member of the board of the Circassian Federation — CircassFed (Turkey) Yilmaz Donmez (Yilmaz Dönmez) talks in an exclusive interview with newcaucasus.com about his organization and its objectives, relations with Russia, the need to admit the genocide of Circassians by the Russian Empire, Circassian movement in the world and future restoration of historical Cherkessiya.
— What does CircassFed mean and what are the main aims and objectives of the organization?
CircassFed was founded 4 years ago. Since then, members of the organization have become 27 Hase of national-cultural associations of the Circassians, which are being formed in all the places of compact residence of Circassians. CircassFed represents an association of several Hase who take common decisions, and thanks to the collegial body, control their execution.
We see our major task in preserving the language, culture and national identity of the Circassians.
Nowadays, there are several times more Adygei (Circassians) in Turkey than in other countries. This is in terms of number, but we must remember that many have lost their language, customs, and their identity. The task of CircassFed is to wake these people and to return them the sense of being Adygei and those national markers that have always been inherent to the Circassians, which have always helped to recognize the representatives of our people. This is our main purpose. At the same time, we want all our thoughts and aspirations to be directed towards our homeland, we want our people to remember that their historical homeland is the Caucasus and Cherkessiya.
In addition, we, as our people, face the problem concerning the recognition of the genocide of the Circassian people.
— How did the recognition of the genocide by the parliament of Georgia in 2011 affect the Circassian movement?
— The Parliament of Georgia adopted a decision to recognize the genocide of Circassians, and, of course, this has played a significant role. Nevertheless, we don’t confine ourselves to the decision of the Georgian Parliament, and we are working to make sure that each UN member country and each member of the international community would recognize the genocide of Circassians. According to our Federation, the first country, which should recognize the genocide is the Russian Federation. Every year on May 21, we come out to the area of the Russian consulate and we remember what happened and whose fault it was. We do not blame anyone alive today; we know that it is not their fault that our ancestors were forced to leave their homeland. However, the fault of their ancestors is not forgotten, as well. Therefore, we openly declare that Russia must be first to recognize the genocide of Circassians and exert maximum efforts for the rehabilitation of the Circassians who settled around the world, so that all who wish to return to their homeland have this opportunity. Certainly, we are not saying that everything will be forgotten. However, present generations, both the Circassians and the Russians, will have an opportunity kindly refer to each other without fear and shame.
— Russia fears that in the case of recognition of genocide they will have to pay off large indemnity …
— My personal opinion (since we have not taken a definite decision during Hase) is that if Russia agreed to the payment of financial compensation, it would be great. However, money is not essential! It is impossible to compensate our loss with the money.
For example, Turkey allows two hours a week to learn the native language at its own expense. It provides various opportunities for the preservation of our identity. At the same time, Turkey is a country that does not owe us anything. However, it does provide us with such preferences. In addition, despite the fact that our historical homeland is a part of this country and due to which we were expelled, the standards of education are the same as in Turkey. That is, instead of paying indemnity or something else, the issue should have been to introduce the most favorable conditions to learn in the mother tongue.
— You mean to learn mother tongue itself, don’t you?
— No, I mean that all school subjects should be taught in mother tongue. That is, I imply the maximum facilitation of learning the language, development of culture and other relevant national markers. If all this is done, then there will be no problems with Russia. Even in the absence of any indemnities.
— If we proceed from the interests of Russia, what are Russia’s motives to rehabilitate the Circassians?
— Reputation and internal stability as a democratic state. Nowadays, if a country, which practices at least the rudiments of democracy, allows the language and culture of a small nation to disappear, this can be compared with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Such behaviour does that country no credit, but on the contrary, it is disgrace to the country, which relies upon the global hegemony, or a significant place in the world community. It is not worthy of a country.
There are about 6,000 languages in the world, while there are a total of 200 members in the UN. This alone speaks of the diversity and richness of world culture, which has experience in language preservation. Take Turkey as an example — there were about 18 languages. And that is in one country only! Moreover, this country did not want any of them to disappear. Likewise, we should try to keep all 6,000 languages, not to mention the Circassian, whose share in the extermination or expulsion of the majority of its carriers is huge …
What problem is there for Russia, if it introduces certain regulations in order to favour the Circassian language in the historical homeland, a current member the Russian Federation?
— Are CircassFed and KAFFED (Federation of Caucasian Associations in Turkey – author) competitors or organizations that complement each other?
— We are not enemies to each other. Both organizations consist of Circassians, our brothers and relatives.
The difference is that today we do not have any interests on the territory of the Russian Federation. There are no contacts, no economic projects, no financial cooperation, so we can talk about it more freely. As soon as the financial cooperation begins and you become dependent on the money that you can receive from the Russian Federation, then, of course, certain restrictions are automatically imposed on you. Thus, we take it very carefully and scrupulously in order to preserve freedom in promoting the interests of our people to the maximum. But, once again, KAFFED is the same organization, which is engaged in language and culture, as we do, and there are our friends and relatives there, our family members, same Circassians as we are. The difference is that virtually, we are not affiliated with the Russian Federation and we have no interests there unlike the KAFFED.
— Is refusal to work in the territory of Russia a deliberate position or just a circumstance?
— As soon as you begin to cooperate, you have to abide by restrictions. Therefore, we do our best to distance ourselves from the Russian Federation in order not to give our opponent (RF) an opportunity to manipulate us.
— Is it possible that the secession of CircassFed from the International Circassian Association (ICA) will have positive consequences?
— If the ICA had maintained the principles that had been laid in its creation, then we CircassFed, of course, would have been happy to take part in its work. However, the organization has completely betrayed its principles, and today, it is a perfect contrast to the idea for which it was created.
As for the benefit for the people on the whole, then the answer is people themselves. I can speak for myself, since we have not discussed the issue at Hase: regardless of any decisions taken today by KAFFED, they are not able to break up with the ICA and get out of it, since they are integrated and affiliated with each other too tightly.
… I do not say this because I have some kind of secret, insider information. Not at all! However, judging from the published information about how the discussions are being conducted, what issues are being discussed, what kind of people are talking about leaving or maintaining relationships, I do not think that KAFFED will be able to break up with the ICA. Another caveat, again, this is my personal opinion, and not CircassFed’s position — I believe that if KAFFED breaks up completely with the ICA, it will disintegrate itself …
— CherkesFED tried to work in Russia, did not it?
— We were founded 4 years ago. Having gained enough weight, we focused on helping ethnic Circassians who came from Syria. We were their main counterparties against the Turkish government. Later, we turned to the motherland. I was there last year, trying to enter into relationship with local organizations. Unfortunately, the government of the Russian Federation and the local authorities stated that they would collaborate exclusively through ICA. Since CircassFed is not a member of the ICA, it is difficult to have relations with us as this may be negatively regarded by the ICA.
After a trip home, I came to a conclusion that a few know about CircassFed. However, I have met people who both like and dislike the policy of the Circassian Federation and the latter reject it vigorously. Upon closer examination, this second category is represented mainly by those who work in the state structures of the Russian Federation.
— What are the reasons of negative attitudes towards CircassFed?
— We try to stick to the policy in order not to wriggle and twist; we call black black, and white — white. We directly say what we want from Russia. Perhaps this is the reason why many did not like it. The attitude I encountered in Russia was due to the ongoing propaganda against us. Some arguments are being invented, we are presented almost as chauvinists in order for the activists in the region to refuse to cooperate with us …
— What exactly causes negative attitude?
— Firstly, we always say openly — sooner or later Circassia has to be restored. Secondly, we always remind of the genocide of our people. In addition, we are not going to deviate from the requirement of its recognition by other countries. And, thirdly, we have regularly demanded the rehabilitation of the Circassians year after year. Based on our aims, my answer to the question ‘whether it is possible to work with the International Circassian Association’ is – ‘of course not’.
However, I believe that we need to establish contacts, to increase the number of trips so that we can show activists, representatives of national organizations, who we are and what we are without any intermediaries and ‘advertisers’.
Beslan Kmuzov, for newcaucasus.com
Photo from Y.Dönmez’s archive