News / Europe

    150 Years After Defeat, Sochi Olympics Divide Native Circassians

    150 Years After Defeat, Sochi Olympics Divide Native Circassiansi
    X
    February 19, 2014 8:17 PM
    As thousands of visitors enjoy the Winter Olympic venues in Sochi, there is a growing argument about the history of the land they were built on. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from Sochi that 150 years ago, Russia forcefully expelled the indigenous people of the region, a Muslim ethnic group known as the Circassians.
    Henry Ridgwell
    As thousands of visitors enjoy the Winter Olympic venues in Sochi, there is a growing argument about the history of the land they were built on. Russia forcefully expelled the indigenous people of the region, a Muslim ethnic group known as the Circassians, 150 years ago.

    Stray dogs laze next to fly-bitten cows in the muddy roads, disturbed only by the occasional tractor or beaten-up car. There is a slow hiss and lingering smell from the old overground gas pipes that snake through the village.

    Bolshoi Kichmai seems a long way from the futuristic ice domes of the Olympic Park, but it is only one hour from Sochi along twisting mountain roads.

    Ninety percent of the residents are ethnic Shapsug Circassians, the indigenous Muslim people of the northern Caucasus.

    'Gallant soldier'

    In the village folk museum, director Aisa Achmizov stokes the fire beneath a cauldron of soup. He speaks proudly of his race.

    “The word Circassian can be translated differently, but here it has one meaning - gallant soldier,” he said.

    Just a few villages like this survive near Sochi. The Circassian population was nearly wiped out in the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in 1860s.

    Hundreds of thousands were forced to flee from the beaches of Sochi on boats, and up to a third of these people drowned or starved to death. Georgia has officially recognized the expulsion as genocide.

    Mixed reaction

    Moscow has offered little recognition or apology, angering many of the millions of Circassians living overseas.

    In May this year the Circassians will mark 150 years since their defeat at the hands of Russian forces. But Circassian Governing Council local chairman Khalid Talif said few Circassians here appear interested in stirring up history.

    "It is an historical fact that Circassians were defeated by Russian forces and became part of Russia," said Talif. "But now, you will not find one person here who wants to break away and be independent of Russia.”

    Last week Chechen Islamist leader Doku Umarov invoked the history of the Circassians in calling for terror attacks against the Sochi Olympics -- saying the Olympic facilities were built on the bones of dead Muslims.

    Aisa Achmizov of the folk museum said those sentiments have no place among the Circassians.

    "There is nowhere in the world where blood has not been spilt at some point in history," he said. “The Olympics is a question for the politicians, not for us.”

    Inside the Olympic Park, organizers have erected a ‘Circassian House’ to showcase their culture. Asked by VOA at a news conference about Circassian concerns, Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov gave a robust defense.

    Last August, Circassians from all over the world came to a convention in Sochi, and not one person had anything bad to say, said Pakhomov, adding that “many visitors thought that the Circassians here are living better than they do. So everything you know is incorrect.”

    The debate over the historic fate of the Circassians in Sochi is happening far beyond the remote valleys of Bolshoi Kichmai, driven mainly by the diaspora overseas.
    Circassians here appear more interested in self-preservation and teaching their culture to future generations.

    You May Like

    Post-White House, Obamas to Rent Washington Mansion

    Nine-bedroom home is 3 kilometers from Oval Office, near capital's Embassy Row; rent estimated at around $22,000 a month

    Red Planet? Not so much!

    New research suggest that Mars is in a warm period between cyclical ice ages, and that during Ice Age Maximum over 500,000 years ago, the red planet was decidedly ice, and much whiter to the naked eye.

    Taj Mahal Battles New Threat from Insects

    Swarms of insects are proliferating in the heavily contaminated waters of the Yamuna River, which flows behind the 17th century monument

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora