Syria and the North Caucasus

Writing in North Caucasus Analysis, Valery Dzutsev discusses the plight of Syria’s relatively large (anywhere from between 50,000 to 150,000) ethnic Circassian community. In spite of the Kremlin’s continued support for the Assad regime, in recent months some 350 Circassians have relocated to Russia’s North Caucasus region, and amid the growing humanitarian crisis in Syria it looks as though this number may soon increase.

Apart from the foreign policy dilemmas, the Syrian crisis clearly has domestic implications for Moscow. In particular, some Russian analysts believe that relocating Syrian Circassians to the North Caucasus and the corresponding increase of the Circassians’ influence in the areas adjacent to the city of Sochi could obstruct the 2104 Winter Olympic Games. Moscow is worried that its direct rival in the region, Georgia, is also supportive of Circassian initiatives – in particular, their opposition to the 2014 Olympics. The Kremlin is reportedly also afraid to yield to any popular demands from “below,” at the regional level, since it is regarded as “encouragement of separatism.”

In particular, Dzutsev believes, 

It will be harder now for the Kremlin to ignore calls from the North Caucasus to allow the repatriation of Circassians and other North Caucasians from Syria. It will also be difficult to put a cap on the number of Circassians who want to return to their historical land, since the vast majority of people of North Caucasian descent in Syria are ethnic Circassians. Moscow’s effort to keep the North Caucasus isolated from the world may prove to be increasingly untenable.

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