Thoughts on North Caucasian Federation

Part I: The Northwest Caucasus


Or, the Recreation of Circassia

(and eventually Greater Circassia)


 Amjad Jaimoukha

(Note: This document is under construction. Last updated: 29 September 2008. Your suggestions, comments
and corrections might have a strong bearing on its final form.
The contributions of JonArno Lawson in terms of corrections and linguistic
improvement are hereby acknowledged)



It would be quite fitting for the North Caucasians to reflect on their past, take stock of their present and plan for their future. At this crucial and transitory stage of their political history, it is incumbent upon the leaders of the North Caucasian mini-republics to consider all options that are open to them and choose the one that would lead their people to freedom, democracy and economic prosperity. This region has been undergoing momentous turbulence and disasters for more than two hundred years, and the people have suffered tremendously. The way out of this situation has to be thought through by all people in the area, with no regard to ethnic origin or religion, which are two divisive issues that have to be tackled wisely and courageously. The basic tenet in this regard is that all people must be considered equal in every respect, and hopefully all historical grievances would be addressed with open minds.

This is the first part of an essay that suggests a tentative scheme of how a viable and strong confederation could be set up first in the Northwest (NW) Caucasus, and then in the whole of the North Caucasus. It is a secondary aim of this treatise to try and dispel some of the misconceptions that have come to be associated with the area and its peoples.

Some sacred principles have to be adhered to, though. No group, however small must feel disadvantaged by any political settlement. Each group must be given full freedom to express its desires and aspirations. It must be able to freely use its language of choice and develop its culture. When momentous decisions are taken as to confederation with a larger entity, a free plebiscite must be conducted. Only when the majority agree to the proposed question should action be taken in that regard. Bitterness and a feeling of inferiority are time bombs that will, unless detected early and disenabled, explode sometime in the future. The past and present teach us a lot in this respect. Some rights cannot be compromised. A workable constitution has to take account of this. All groups must have the right to secede from such an arrangement at any time according to proper procedure. This simplistic treatment of the topic is warranted because if the idea is accepted, then surely rigorous consideration will be given to the details.

The following map shows the North Caucasian republics and the location of the various ethnic groups. Some significant groups are not indicated, such as the Abaza, the Christian Kabardians in Mozdok, North Ossetia, and the Shapsugh. The Abaza are to be found near the Cherkess in the Karachay-Cherkess Republic. The Shapsugh are located to the west of the Adigey Republic on the Black Sea shore (refer to letter A on the map). There is a large Adigean community in the Krasnodar Krai that is not comprehended within the Adigean Republic. Also, following the ethnic conflicts and subsequent population transfers, some changes have taken place such as the reduction of Russian population in Chechnya, the exodus of the Mingrelians from Abkhazia and the outflow of South Ossetians from Georgia proper and South Ossetia itself. Nevertheless, this remains a useful guide for the following discussion which can become very intricate at times.


Ethnic map of the Caucasus.

Closely-related peoples are aggregated into linguistic and ethnic groups.


The NW Caucasian republics include: Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, Adigea and Abkhazia. The first three are constituent republics of the Russian Federation. Abkhazia is a sovereign state, albeit with no international recognition of its independence. The Northeast Caucasian republics include Ingushetia, Chechnya and Daghestan. Ingushetia and Daghestan are republics in the Russian Federation, whereas Chechnya is in a transitional state until the year 2001, when its political status will be determined in the ballot boxes. The following republics have signed the Federative Treaty of the Russian Federation in 1992: Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, Adigea, Ingushetia and Daghestan. They also ratified the Constitution of the Russian Federation in 1994. Chechnya declared its independence and refused to enter into any treaty with Russia. Until 1994 it enjoyed de facto independence, but no country dared to recognize its independence for fear of incurring Russia's ire. The Republics of North and South Ossetia, in the Russian Federation and Georgia respectively, were historically part of the Republic of North Caucasus, established in 1918. Their situation merits subsequent separate treatment.

Though the North Caucasus is generally, and in a rather hackneyed manner, referred to as a mosaic of different peoples and religions, there are many common traits and characteristics that can be called upon to be the bases of unification. Abdurahman Avtorkhanov, the well-known Chechen nationalist and writer, states in his article The Chechens and the Ingush During the Soviet Period and Its Antecedents:


In spite of the existence of distinct languages and dialects, the North Caucasian
Mountaineers are essentially one people consisting of kindred tribes sharing a common
history and culture.


Some of the seemingly different peoples are in fact the same people using different names. This nominal diversity is most probably a legacy of Soviet nomenclature, or at least emphasized and institutionalized during the Soviet period. Examples abound. The Kabardians, Cherkess and Adigeans are essentially the same people. The Karachay and Balkar are practically indistinguishable to an outsider. The Abkhaz and Abaza are one and the same people. Both the Chechen and Ingush use the self-designation Vainakh. Therefore, although there are many native nationalities in the North Caucasus, the number is much less than what is conjured up when a cursory account of the area is read. Here I quote George Joffe from his article Nationalities and borders in Transcaucasia and the northern Caucasus in Transcaucasian Boundaries as an example:

Yet the tangled web of ethnicity [in the north Caucasus] is so
complex that it is difficult to see how this mass of nations,
subnations and ethnic groups could cut through the Gordian
Knot created by demography, geography and ethnicity to
clear a path to a viable political future.


Although the ideas proposed in the article are quite enlightening, there is an unwarranted overemphasis of ethnic diversity. Perhaps the North Caucasians should start to tell the world their own story.

One way of describing the aboriginal ethnic situation is as follows. In the NW Caucasus there are three major groups. The Adige who encompass the Kabardians, Cherkess and Adigeans. The Apswe nation is made up of the Abkhaz and Abaza. The Adige and Apswe are very close culturally, but they use mutually unintelligible languages, which, however, belong to the same linguistic group. The Turkic elements comprise the Karachay, Balkar, Nogai and Kumyk. The first two live in contiguous territories and their traditional culture is pastoral in nature. The other two are physically separated from each other and from the first two, but they share a traditionally nomadic common culture. The Kumyk are apparently an admixture of indigenous Caucasian and migrant Turkic speaking groups. In the central Caucasus the North and South Ossets use the self-designation Os or Iron. In the North-eastern Caucasus the Chechen and Ingush could be subsumed under the name Vainakh. The situation in Daghestan is truly complex and warrants detailed and separate treatment. Thus, it is possible to reduce the original inhabitants of the North Caucasus, excluding the Daghestanis, into five national groups: Adige, Apswe, Turkic, Iron and Vainakh. The number could further be cut down to four if the Adige and Apswe are referred to by the generic, but foreign, name Circassians.

Of course, there is great resistance to North Caucasian unificatory ideas. The Russians are loath to accept any fragmentation of the Russian Federation. Russia is still reeling from the painful sting of the Chechen conflict. It will undoubtedly do its utmost to oppose any move towards Caucasian confederation, first by political manipulation, then by threats, and ultimately by the use of force. It is very hard to convince someone to let go of something that he considers his. But the plain fact is that the Caucasus was wrested from its people in the 19th century, and then cleared of its original inhabitants through extermination and expulsion. In their stead Slav and Cossack colonists were installed to reap the riches of the land. In addition to this the Caucasians and Russians do not have many things in common in terms of history, language, culture and religion.

In their article American Middle East Policy: The need for New Thinking, Paul B. Henze and S. Enders Wimbush discuss Russia's stance vis-a-vis its colonies:

The age of imperialism is past. All the great empires that dominated the world at the beginning of the 20th century--and all of the smaller ones too--are gone. Britons, Frenchmen, Italians no longer dream of empire. They assuage their imperialist guilt by helping their former colonies stabilize and prosper. Austrians and Turks would consider countrymen deranged who advocated recreating the Austro-Hungarian or Ottoman empires. Unfortunately things are different among Russians. Politicians and military men call for restoration of the Russian Empire. A recent poll reported more than 2/3 of all Russians longing for return of the Soviet Union! Even as the demoralized Russian army in Chechnya was preparing to withdraw, a sign at the entrance of the main Russian military base near Grozny proclaimed: "The Caucasus was ours, is ours, and will remain ours!"  That is imperialism and colonialism at its worst. Russia has to come to terms with the end of empire.
... Russia still has an almost unlimited ability to disrupt and confuse situations both at home and in its "Near Abroad". No where has it done this more irresponsibly than in the Caucasus. The mistakes of its Caucasus policy have cost the Russian people heavily. Russia is lagging badly in devising realistic policies for dealing with the North Caucasus. Soviet habits keep Russia from recognizing the advantages of new thinking about the Middle East [including the Caucasus].


It is absolutely anachronous at this stage of human political development that whole peoples continue to be hostage to the whims of another people, regardless of how much greater the other people's numbers are. One wonders what it is in the Russian psyche that allows any justification for such a state of affairs. Perhaps it is actually paranoia that dominates the Russian mind. The centuries under Tatar rule must have unsettled their balance of liberality. But this does not mean that they should wreak their vengeance on other people (the Caucasians have been suffering enormously from such imbalance). Perhaps a way out of this hole is to convince Russia that a strong and prosperous southerly neighbour would be of benefit to it. Such a state will have to deal with Russia on friendly terms, as Russia will be its strongest ally. It cannot afford to be antagonistic towards Russia. A Caucasian federation would not sever links with Russia and ally itself with Turkey or Iran. Caucasians have come to know better. Russian people must be made to understand that cultural and linguistic variety actually enriches human culture and civilization. Openness to the West must surely convince the Russians that their language is not of universal standing and that its culture has a lot to learn from Western and other cultures. The age of forceful acculturation is in the past. It must not be allowed to return. People have suffered enough.

A softer approach to unification is possible. In order not to incite a vehement Russian reaction, the federation could be initially formed within the Russian Federation. When all the federative steps have been taken then the North Caucasian Federation might demand a confederation with Russia on an equal basis, although this again might run counter to Russia's colonial instincts. No matter how soft the approach, conflict is inevitable.

Some observers believe that after the Chechnya debacle some powerful nationalist circles in Moscow have been fostering instability in the region surrounding Chechnya in order to weaken the North Caucasian republics and create grounds for direct Russian military intervention, or at least tightening of central control over the region. The geopolitical and strategic importance of the Caucasus to Russia could not be overstated. It affords access to the warm seas. After Ukraine's independence, the NW Caucasus shore has become Russia's only outlet to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. The Caucasus has tremendous natural resources. Its economic prospects are excellent. The Caspian oil pipe-line routes run through Caucasian territories. In short, Russia will not relinquish its hold on the North Caucasus without a fight.

It is one of the central policies of Russia in the Caucasus, and for that matter in all CIS countries, to foster instability and chaos in order to project images of mutually antagonistic and politically immature peoples and nations that need the helping hand and direction of a strong Russia. North Caucasians must have the vision to dispel this negative stereotype and convince the civilized world that they do deserve a place of their own under the sun.

Georgia has been inimical to any form of North Caucasian federation that involves Abkhazia. It views such a union as the end of any claim it has on Abkhaz territory. Furthermore, it conceives a North Caucasian federative state as an instant geopolitical threat. This paranoia is somewhat incomprehensible and totally unjustified. Both North Caucasian and South Caucasian peoples share a common Caucasian culture that goes back for millennia. Although there is no definite proof as yet of a genetic link between North and South Caucasian languages, theories of connectedness abound. At any rate, the Georgians must be convinced that a North Caucasian state poses no threats to its interests. What is more, a confederation between Georgia and a North Caucasian state could be in the cards. Narrow nationalistic dogmas have to be abandoned first.

Another source of resistance comes from those in the NW Caucasus that are benefiting from the status quo. Personal gain has always been the major motive of human action. The arsenal at the disposal of the ruling elite is quite impressive. The situation becomes even worse when the interests of the local rulers coincide with those of the central authorities, as is the case in some North Caucasian republics. The Russians have been using the policy of co-opting the local elites in the North Caucasus since 1561, when Maria, daughter of the Kabardian Prince Temriuk, was wedded to Tsar Ivan IV. This policy has proved to be useless in ensuring Russian supremacy in the area. It was only the use of brute force (and ignorance) that finally brought the region under Russia's control, and it is the presence of this force that is perpetuating it. It would be safe to assume that the removal of Russian forces from the area would quickly be followed by the ouster of the ruling elites.

Some Circassian nationalists in the International Circassian Association claim that the higher officials in the Circassian republics rely mainly on the votes of the Russian speaking electorate to keep them in power, and thus maintain the status quo. The Circassian ruling politicians can, therefore, afford to ignore the wishes and interests of the majority of Circassians. The demographic factor is very critical in this respect. Time is on the side of the nationalists because the natural increase of the indigenous population is much higher than that of the Russians, whose numbers will keep dwindling for the foreseeable future. Probably it will take a long time for ordinary people to organize and make their voices count.

The Russians living in the Caucasus have become assimilated to the Caucasian way of life to some extent, but there is the problem that they might be used by Russian nationalists as a pretext for unlawful intervention in the internal affairs of a North Caucasian federation. In 1991 the fate of the Russian minority in Chechnya was used as an emotional ploy by the then Vice-President of the RSFSR Alexander Rutskoy in order to "legitimize" direct military action in the independence-seeking republic (Marie Bennigsen Broxup, After the Putsch, 1991, The North Caucasus Barrier). 


Historical Precedents

The Russian Caucasian Wars
The ideas discussed in this essay are not new. In modern history, the notion of North Caucasian unity goes back to the middle of the 19th century. The Russian war had convinced the various nation-tribes that joint action was necessary in their effort to stem the tide of Russian aggression. The Northeast Caucasians were united under the banner of the Sufis, the last and most famous of whom being the legendary Shamil. The Chechen and Daghestanis were able to resist Russian earnest encroachment for almost 30 years, starting from 1829.

  The NW Caucasians established a federation that included twelve tribes, nine of which were feudalistic and three egalitarian ones. The British ‘envoys’ in Circassia, especially Urquhart, played some part in convincing the Circassians of the need for tribal solidarity. However, effective co-operation between the two North Caucasian flanks never obtained, and the Russians were able first to crush the Eastern Caucasians in 1859, and then to turn their full might to the west and destroy Circassian resistance in 1864. Thus, the first attempt at unification came to a tragic end. It would be more than fifty years before the next bid was made.

The North Caucasian Mountain Republic
  The Communist revolution of 1917 gave the North Caucasians the chance to reclaim their independence. In May of that year the First North Caucasian Congress elected the Central Committee of the Union of the North Caucasus and Daghestan as a provisional Terek-Dagestan Government to prepare for a free independent state. Both aboriginal North Caucasians and Terek Cossacks were united in this effort. In September 1917 a provisional constitution was ratified by the Second Congress (Abdurahman Avtorkhanov, The Chechens and Ingush during the Soviet Period and its Antecedents). The Republic of North Caucasus seceded from Russia in 1917, and declared its independence on May 11th 1918. It signed an alliance with Turkey and was formally recognized by the Central Powers, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey, and by Great Britain.

  Initially there was some degree of affinity between the Mountaineers and Mensheviks. Both were anti-communist. However, the principal aim of the Mensheviks was the restoration of the Russian empire and re-incorporation of all the former colonies into Russia. For the North Caucasians that meant going back to square one. The commander of the White Army in the Caucasus, Denikin, was intent on overthrowing the North Caucasian Republic and occupying the Caucasus. He engaged in a bitter war against the North Caucasian republican forces, which ended in the dissolution of the Republic.

The North Caucasian Emirate
  Simultaneously with the setting up of the North Caucasian Republic, left wing Osset radicals together with socialists from other minorities established a Soviet Terek Republic, which was soon overthrown by the Terek Cossacks. In September 1919, Kabarda, Ossetia, Chechnya and Dagestan declared the North Caucasian Emirate as an independent state under the conservative sheikh Uzun-Hadzhi, a Naqshbandi Chechen. He had led a revolt that succeeded in liberating North Caucasian mountainous territories. He sided with the Bolsheviks against the nationalist Mensheviks. The communists recognised his government de facto and promised full autonomy. In September 1921, the White Army was defeated by the Reds. The Emirate was abolished by the communists, despite their promises to the sheikh.

  Both the short-lived North Caucasian Republic and Emirate were able to unite all North Caucasians under one banner, which is no mean feat by all standards. The peoples of the North Caucasus had been weary of Russian Tsarist rule and they longed for the creation of an independent republic in which their aspirations and dreams of freedom could come true. The Communist Revolution offered them the opportunity to cast off the oppressive Russian yoke. However, these aspirations ran contrary to the schemes of the Russian Communists, and when the Red Army crushed White resistance, the North Caucasian Republic was violently destroyed.

  There is a poignant lesson in this episode of North Caucasian history. Although both Reds and Whites were engaged in a mortal fight, both parties were united in their goal of destroying Caucasian independence and freedom. Each time the North Caucasians sided with some Russian faction, they ended up with a knife in their back. This pattern was to be repeated after the demise of the Soviet Union, when Rotskoy and Yeltsin, the bitter enemies, were united in their stance against Chechen independence. History keeps repeating itself. It is the wise who take heed.

The Soviet Mountain Republic
  The Soviet Caucasian Mountain Republic, which was formed by the Caucasian Revolutionary Committee, established in Vladikavkaz in 1920, was proclaimed in place of the abolished North Caucasian Republic. The Republic was made up of the Chechen, Ingush, Ossets, Kabardians, Balkars and Karachay. The Soviet authorities promised the Mountaineers autonomy and internal independence within the framework of the Soviet State. The Republic lasted until 1924, when it was riven into a myriad of autonomous republics, regions and areas (Okrugs and Krais). Throughout the Soviet period, especially in the period from 1921 to 1957, there were many changes in the status and boundaries of these entities.

  The populations of the nations and regions that constituted the Mountain Republic were as follows in 1924: Dagestan 1,256,000; Chechen 525,800; Soungj 30,000; Ingush 142,500; Ossetians 302,400; Terek 508,100; Kabardino-Balkar 199,000; Karachay-Cherkess 163,300; Armavir 387,900; Maikop 292,300; Adigea 113,000; Black Sea 291,000. The total population was 4,211,200, the area 168,100 sq. km, giving a density 30 people per sq. km.

Post Soviet Developments
  After the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, some North Caucasians, especially the Abkhaz leadership, revived the idea of a North Caucasian federation as the best path open for the peoples of the area to achieve their political aims. Georgia had been single-minded in demanding that Abkhazian autonomy be abrogated, and it started to beat the drums of war. The Abkhaz sought safety by allying themselves with their kin across the mountains. Russia as a regional power had become a liability to a re-awakening North Caucasus. In his article The Unruly Caucasus, Svante E. Cornell states:

Russia's policy in the Caucasus is confused, sometimes contradictory,
and often destabilizing.
It has failed to dampen ethnic tensions
[and] has contributed to anti-Russian feelings.

The Chechen war was later to reveal that the Russian colonial mind has changed little since the middle ages, and showed Russian disregard for common humanitarian principles. North Caucasian political intellectuals had reached the conclusion that it was their duty to take their destiny into their own hands.

The Confederation of the Mountain Peoples of the North Caucasus (KGNK) was recreated in 1990 to fill the vacuum created by the collapse of Soviet rule. Its principal aim has been the (re-)establishment of a North Caucasian (Mountain) Republic. It is a voluntary conglomeration of the indigenous peoples of the North Caucasus, excluding the Daghestani's. It has always been separate from and at loggerheads with the local authorities, which are inimical to any form of political change, except in the case of Chechnya, whose leadership is in tune with the nationalistic wishes and aspirations of the majority of the populace. At first the Confederation enjoyed overwhelming popular support and it scored some noteable successes. In August 1992 the Parliament of KGNK declared war on Georgia and sent volunteers to fight alongside the Abkhaz. This intervention played a decisive role in the spectacular Abkhazian victory.

The KGNK had been on its way of becoming a major North Caucasian supra-national force when two mishaps broke its momentum. First, after the fall of Sukhumi [‘Sukhum’ is the preferred version by the Abkhaz], the Capital of Abkhazia, in October, 1993 to the Abkhaz, there was some disagreement as to the sharing of the spoils of war. Apparently, the volunteers were promised houses on the Black Sea coast, but the promise was not honoured after the war (John F. R. Right, The geopolitics of Georgia). The onset of the Chechen war disrupted the tacit and coincidental alliance between Russia and the North Caucasians. Now that the tables were turned on them, the Russians showed their true colours. Russia, which had been turning a blind eye to the activities of the Confederation prior to its intervention in Chechnya, started to view these activities as a major threat to its domination in the North Caucasus. The KGNK wholly supported the Chechens in their drive for independence. A combination of Russian machinations and local collusion caused the Confederation to lose some of its impetus. It would seem that the conservative pro-Moscow cliques in the Northwest Caucasus have won the battle.

In effect, seven years after the death knell of the Soviet State, no concrete steps have been taken towards North Caucasian federalism. Even symbolic, yet important, measures were aborted. For example, the three Adige groups still have different designations in the passport entries for ethnic nationality. It is quite against the grain and incomprehensible why two closely kindred people, namely the Chechen and Ingush, should willfully choose to take separate paths in 1992, after the proclamation of Chechen independence. There is an argument that the Ingush had been very reluctant to leave the Russian Federation for fear of compromising their claim to the Prigorodniy Region. Be that as it may, the Ingush were first trounced by the North Ossetians when they tried to reassert their historic and legal rights to the region, from which they were deported by Stalin in 1944. Then the Russians launched one of the most savage wars in the twentieth century against the Chechens in December 1994, fifty years after the mass exile. The fifty-year cycle of Russian violence against the Vainakh had made a full turn.


First ‘Logical’ Step: Federation of Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia


The Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria

On the 1st of September 1921 the Autonomous Territory of Kabardino-Balkaria was created. Before 1922 it was called the Kabardian Autonomous Oblast (Region). Afterwards it was renamed the Kabardian-Balkar Autonomous Oblast. It was upgraded to an autonomous republic in 1936, being re-dubbed the Kabardian-Balkar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. After the deportation of the Balkars in 1944, it was renamed the Kabardian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. When the Balkars were repatriated in 1957, the republic reverted back to its pre-war name. Since 1991, the Kabardino-Balkar Republic has been one of the constituent federal republics of the Russian Federation.

Kabardino-Balkaria is located in the North Caucasus in the Terek River basin. It borders Georgia to the south, the Karachay-Cherkess Republic to the west, the North Ossetian Republic to the east and the Stavropol Kray to the north. It has an area of about 12,500 sq. km, which ranks it as the 75th largest republic in the Russian Federation. Its population is slightly less than 1 million, giving it a density of roughly 70 people per sq. km (7 times higher than the average for the whole Russian Federation). It is divided into 8 administrative rayons, or regions, 7 cities and towns, and 7 urban-type settlements. The capital is Nalchik, in which about a third of the population of the republic resides. It was established in 1817 as Petrovsk-Port and kept this name until 1922 when it assumed its present appellation (In Kabardian nal is horse-shoe and chik is a diminutive suffix, apparently from the fact that the city is surrounded by hills from three sides). Other major Cities include Prokhladnyi (population 65,000), Baksan (35,000), Tyrnyauz (35,000), Nartkala (30,000), and Mayskiy (28,000). More than half a million people live in cities and towns (about 60% of the population).

There are three major ethnic groups in Kabardino-Balkaria: the Kabardians who make up about 55% of the population, the Balkar who constitute about 10%, and the Slavs (Russians and Ukrainians) who make up about 25% of the population. There are also smaller national groups: Jews, Ossets, Armenians, Germans, etc. The Kabardians mainly live in the middle and north of the republic, whereas the Balkars live mainly in the mountainous south. The Slavs are concentrated in the cities and the northeast.

There are many Kabardians who live outside the boundaries of the republic: in the adjacent Stavropol Kray, in the Krasnodar Kray to the northwest and in the Mozdok area of North Ossetia, in which they are orthodox Christians. There is also a sizeable Kabardian Diaspora in Turkey, Syria and Jordan.

The Karachay-Cherkess Republic

Karachay-Cherkessia was Founded on 12 January 1922. Until 1926, the Republic was called the Karachay-Cherkess Autonomous Oblast, then it was divided into the Karachay Autonomous Oblast (Region), which was abolished in 1943, and the Cherkess National Okrug (Area), which was redesignated after 1928 as Autonomous Oblast. From 1957 to 1991, the area was reunited and called the Karachay-Cherkess Autonomous Oblast, a region of the Stavropol Kray. Since 1991 it has been a full republic in the Russian Federation.

The Karachay-Cherkess Republic is located in the North Caucasus, in the upper Terek River Basin. It borders on Abkhazia to the south, the Kabardino-Balkar Republic to the east, and the Stavropol and the Krasnodar Krays to the north. The area of the republic is 14,100 square km, the 74th largest area in Russia. It has a population of about 600,000, which ranks it 73rd in the Russian Federation. The population density is 42 persons per sq. km. About half the population live in the cities and towns. It is divided into 8 administrative rayons (regions), 4 cities and towns, 10 urban-type settlements. The capital Cherkessk, which was Founded in 1804, has a population of about 150,000. Before 1931, Cherkessk was called the Stanitsa of Batalpashinskaya [it is quite ironic that a Circassian town should be referred to as a stanitsa, which is Russian for a Cossack village. The Oxford English Dictionary has an entry stanitza], before 1934 Batalpashinsk, then until 1937 Sulimov, then until 1939 Yezhovo-Cherkessk. Other major cities in Karachay-Cherkessia: Ust-Dzheguta (population 35,000), Karachaevsk (25,000), and Teberda (10,000).

The major ethnic groups are: 33% Karachays, 14% Circassians, 11% Abazins, 3% Nogais, and 36% Russians. The Karachay live mainly in the south of the republic and are linguistically and ethnically very close to the Balkars. The Cherkess are Kabardian in language and ethnicity and they live in the north of the republic. The Abaza live at the foothills of the main Caucasus Range at the upper reaches of the Great and Little Zelenchuk, Kuban and Kuma rivers. They are ethnically close to the Cherkess and Kabardians. They speak a language that is related to, but mutually unintelligible with Kabardian. The Abaza are ethnically and linguistically very closely related to the Abkhazians who live just across the Caucasus Mountains.

From these introductory accounts of the republics, it should become obvious that when the North Caucasian republics were constituted at the beginning of the Soviet period, divisive criteria were used to sow seeds of division and conflict. None of the five native ethnic groups in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia have been happy with this state of affairs. But the Soviet authorities never bothered to take local sentiments into account. Any contradictory opinions were regarded as seditious, and their holders were summarily punished.

A more equitable solution would have been for both regions to be established as one republic so that the natural ethnic, linguistic and cultural continuum of the Kabardian-Cherkess and Balkar-Karachay could be maintained. Another solution would have been to set up two republics along ethnic lines (Kabarda in the north of the present Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia, and Karachay-Balkaria in the south), with federal union between the two, which is desirable and perhaps inevitable from economic and other points of view.

One of the lingering legacies of the Soviet era that has to be dealt with, is that there are no direct road or railway routes between the two republics, or between any other two NW Caucasian republics for that matter! An overland journey between Nalchik and Cherkessk, for example, has to go through Pyatigorsk, which is outside the boundaries of both republics in the Stavropol Krai. The railway route is even more circuitous. The main strategic NW Caucasian road and railway hubs, namely Pyatigorsk, Mineralnyi Vode and Gheorghyevsk, all lie just outside the present borders of Kabardino-Balkaria, but within historical Kabardian territory.


Unification with Adigea

Once the first step is taken, it would become a pressing matter to incorporate the Republic of Adigea, which lies in the valleys of the Kuban and Laba rivers at the foothills of the North-western Caucasus Range. On July 27th 1922 Adigea was established as an autonomous region (oblast) in the Krasnodar Krai, or District. It shifted many times between various administrative units until it was reincorporated in the Krasnodar Krai as an autonomous region in 1937. In 1991, it was upgraded to a republic within the Russian Federation, and the president and legislative assembly (Xase) were elected and its government formed.

Adigea has a population of about 500,000, which ranks it 71st in the Russian Federation, and an area of about 7,800 sq. km, 77th in terms of size. The density is about 65 people per sq. km. Urban population is about 270,000 (54%), and the rural population 230,000 (46%). The Republic is made up of 7 administrative rayons (regions), 2 towns and 5 urban-type settlements. Maikop, which has a population of 180,000, roughly 70% of the urban population, has been the capital of the republic since 1936. Prior to that Krasnodar, which is just outside the republic, was the administrative centre. Maikop was founded in 1858 and is famous for its oil fields. Its airport provides transport service to other regions of the Russian Federation. Adigeysk, formerly Teuchezhsk, which has a population of about 20,000, is the other major city in the republic. It is an important industrial centre.

The republic is made up of several ethnic groups: The Adigeans, who number about 180,000 people (36%), the Slavs (Russians, Ukrainians and Cossacks), Armenians and Tatars. It has the highest percentage of ethnic Russians (~ 55%) of all the North Caucasian republics. There are also considerable Adigean communities just outside the republic in the Krasnodar Krai. The Adigeans are ethnically related to the Cherkess and Kabardians (all three groups use the self-designation ‘Adige’), and their language is mutually intelligible with Kabardian. The Adigeans, who were made up of about twelve tribe-nations prior to the Russian conquest of Circassia, were the people most devastated by the Russo-Circassian war. Many of the tribes have ceased to exist. A whole nation, the Ubykh, was exterminated. The Russians extirpated the mighty and numerous Abzakh who used to form the link between the Eastern Circassians (Kabardians) and the Western tribes (Ch'axe). This severed the connection between the two groups. The consequences of this separation will be discussed shortly.

This stage is not as theoretically easy as the previous one. The first real obstacle is that Adigea is physically separated from both Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia. Maikop is at a distance of 160 km from Cherkessk. The shortest distance between Karachay-Cherkessia and Adigea is about 30 km, and between the latter and Abkhazia about the same. The easy way out is to claim a strip of land between Adigea and Karachay-Cherkessia (and a further corridor extended to Abkhazia at a later stage). Another solution would be to join the two republics by incorporating the region between the south-east of Adigea and the west of Karachay-Cherkessia (and the north of Abkhazia at a later stage). This area of about 1,000 sq. km is mountainous and sparsely populated. This is justified from a historical point of view because prior to the conquest of Circassia by the Russians all the intervening land belonged to the Circassians. The present day residents of these strips must be given the choice of either becoming citizens of the new state or given compensation to resettle somewhere else. These solutions entail that new roads and other connections between the two republics may have to be made.

The second problem is that Adigea is economically integrated with the surrounding territories. Again this is no disadvantage because the newly created state will by necessity maintain and develop its economic ties with Russia. A disruption would be most detrimental to both parties. There is already a contract of co-operation between Adigea and its Circassian sisters, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia.

A third problem is that the percentage of Slavs in the new state would become very high (40%). Again this imbalance could be redressed by encouraging the diaspora Circassians to resettle in the Caucasus (there are more than a million Circassians outside the Caucasus, though how many more is a matter of conjecture). There are hundreds of Circassian villages in the Turkish countryside whose populations are absolutely indigent. These villagers may be persuaded to return "home", as it were. This political step is feasible, but it must be preceded by a will to action. Recently the Circassians in Kosovo Polje in the Yugoslav Federation have been voluntarily transferred to their ancestral lands in Adigea to escape the ethnic war in the province. This has set a landmark precedent for Circassian repatriation. If the Karachay-Balkar are threatened by this, then they may also encourage the considerable immigrant communities in Turkey to move back to the Caucasus.

  At this stage it is worthwhile to consider the situation of the Shapsugh community on the Black Sea shore near Sochi, which numbers about 15,000 people. Its homeland used to be an autonomous area within the Krasnodar Krai, but it was abolished in the 1920's and at present enjoys no political status. It is physically separated from the Adigey Republic by about 20 km. However, it could be connected to it and the nearby Abkhaz Republic by two corridors, or by incorporating the intervening territory, which historically belonged to the Circassian nation.



Abkhazia is a strip of land that lies on the eastern shore of the Black Sea. It extends from the Psou River in the north to the Inguri River in the south. It is bordered by Russia to the north, by Georgia to the south and east, and by Karachay-Cherkessia to the east and north-east. It is 8,660 sq. km in size, with an estimated population of 517,000 in 1993. The 1989 Soviet census gives a population of 525,061. The capital city is Sukhumi with a pre-war population of 100,000. Other major cities include Tkvarcheli, or Tkuarchal (55,000), which is an industrial and mining centre, Gagra (75,000), Gudauta (90,000) and Ochamchira (85,000), all of which are sea resorts, Pitsunda and Novy Afon, which are spas. There were 575 villages before the 92/93 war.

Abkhazia came under Soviet control on 4 March 1921. It was recognised as one of the constituent republics of the Soviet Union under the title of the Abkhazian Soviet Socialist Republic on 21 May 1921. In February 1931 the status of Abkhazia was demoted to an autonomous republic within Georgia. On 25 August 1990, Abkhazia declared itself to be a full Soviet Socialist Republic, its status before 1931, and seceded from Georgia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Abkhazia proclaimed its independence.

Prior to the 92/93 war, ethnic Abkhaz made up about 20% of the total population of Abkhazia, and 2% of Georgia. However, after the conflict the Abkhaz percentage rose dramatically due to the exodus of Mingrelians, who together with other Kartvelians made up about 40% of the pre-war population, the flight of Greeks and other minorities, who were subjected to massacres by the Georgians, and the influx of diaspora Abkhazians mainly from Turkey, who were previously discouraged by the Georgian authorities from repatriation.

Abkhazia is the only North-western Caucasian state with de facto independence (its independence is now recognized by the Russian Federation and Nicaragua), that is not part of the Russian Federation, and that enjoys access to the Black Sea shores. Between 14 August 1992 and 30 September 1993, Abkhazia was the scene of a small-scale, but fierce, conflict between the ethnic Abkhaz and the Georgians which resulted in the end of Georgian hegemony in Abkhazia and the expulsion of about 150,000 ethnic Georgians (mainly of the Mingrelian ethnic group) from the southern and south-eastern parts of Abkhazia. The Abkhaz were given support in terms of man-power and arms by the Confederation of Mountain Peoples. The volunteers were mainly Kabardian, Abaza and Chechen.

This war was the culmination of decades of resentment and mutual distrust caused by the arbitrary incorporation of Abkhazia as an autonomous republic into Georgia by Stalin in 1931. Prior to that, Abkhazia had been a full-fledged republic in the Soviet Union since March 1921. It was this divisive and myopic move that sowed the seeds of the present conflict in the region. The Georgians are loathe to part with Abkhazia, which could be easily turned again into a lucrative tourist region, and the Abkhaz are fearful of Georgian encroachment and domination and the subsequent threat to their culture and language and even to their very existence. The two Caucasian peoples are interlocked in inextricable mutual antagonism. This is quite a pity because both nations suffer under tremendous economic and social hardships that require all their precious resources to alleviate. Be that as it may, and until pan-Caucasianism comes to the fore, it would seem that in the foreseeable future the two groups will have to follow their destinies in divergent ways.

The Abkhaz leadership, amongst other options, which include independence and joining the Russian Federation as a constituent republic, has considered joining a Mountain Caucasian Republic of some sort, such that they share their fate with other North Caucasian peoples, as a guarantor of Abkhazia’s territorial integrity, as one of the viable settings for preserving and advancing Abkhazian culture and language, and as a safeguard against loss or compromise of their national identity.

The Abkhazians have been in contact with the North Caucasians since August 1989 when the first meeting of the Assembly of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus was held in Sukhumi. In November 1991 the third session of the Congress of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus was held in Sukhumi. The participants ratified a document entitled Treaty for a Confederative Union of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus, the first article of which proclaimed the new Confederation to be ‘the legitimate successor of the independent North Caucasian Republic (Mountain Republic), created on 11 May 1918’. The following peoples participated in the conference: the Abaza and Abkhaz (representing the Apswa nation), Adigeans, Kabardians, Cherkess, and Shapsughs (representing the Adige people), Avars, Darginians, Laks (from Daghestan), North and South Ossetians, and the Chechens and Auxov-Chechens (from the Nakh group). (Hewitt: Abkhazia: a problem of identity and ownership).

Abkhazia is adjacent to Karachay-Cherkessia to the north-east. As mentioned above, the Abkhaz and Abaza are essentially the same people. In the 14th century AD the Abaza left their original land in north Abkhazia and immigrated north-east to their present location. It would seem natural from an ethnic point of view to unite the two people. Also the union of Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia and Adigea still lacks an outlet to the sea. Therefore, the inclusion of Abkhazia would make the union more viable. On the other hand, Abkhazia must be feeling quite isolated with the Georgians ready to pounce at the slightest chance, and the Russians being ambivalent and blockading the northern border and the naval ports. Abkhazia must be united with a larger Northwest Caucasian state if it is to have a better chance of survival and development. It has nothing to fear from such a union. Having the same culture as the other North-west Caucasians and a related language, it is not threatened by cultural or linguistic assimilation.

The Abkhaz seem to be the most politically active in the NW Caucasus in promoting the idea of a North Caucasian State. Their enlightened leadership has been taking great strides towards national consolidation and intra-national rapprochement. They have been earnestly encouraging the substantial Abkhaz and Abaza diaspora in Turkey to return to their ancestral land. On the other hand, one gets the feeling in the NW Caucasian republics in the Russian Federation that although the leadership pays lip-service to diaspora re-emigration, it regards the potential returnees as a threat to republican security. The writer observed that the issue of travel visas for Kabardino-Balkaria to Jordanians of Caucasian descent has been made very difficult since the onset of the Chechen war. It would seem the Russians view diaspora Caucasians as potential freedom fighters intent on rolling back Russian hegemony. The acquiescence of the republican authorities (or perhaps it was their initiative in the first place?), reeks of collusion.

Rationale for Union: Turbulent Past and Pent-up Resentment

Before discussing the problems and potential conflicts that might undermine federation, it is worthwhile to consider briefly the cumulative detrimental effects that the Soviet period had on the NW Caucasian communities.

By the end of the 1920’s, collectivisation as an economic and social policy was initiated and it caused North Caucasian traditional economic and social structures to collapse. Caucasian political figures and intellectuals were subjected to ruthless systematic pogroms. The policy of centralisation, another name for rule by Moscow, was pursued at all cost. All decisions, no matter how trivial, were made in the Capital. Local initiative was frowned upon. The level of backwardness and stagnation were hidden behind propagandist embellishments. It was only after the demise of the Soviet Union that the full extent of devastation was revealed.

Native cultures were made subservient to Russian culture. Customs and traditions were jeered at. According to Communist creed the whole history of the North Caucasian peoples was reduced to an eternal struggle between the exploitative feudal lords and the exploited masses. It was the intervention of the Russians that freed the North Caucasian folk from their evil overlords. A very simplistic overview indeed!

Starting from the 1970’s a systematic process of Russification was started which put great pressure on the local vernaculars. Russian was made the sole language of instruction at schools and the native languages came to be studied like foreign languages. These arbitrary measures undermined the status of North Caucasian languages and subsequently caused the emergence of a new generation more Russified and less attached to its native language and culture. This creation of a no-man's-land situation was yet another manifestation of the myopic policies of colonial Russia.

It is no hidden fact that there have been problems, not to say conflicts, between the Kabardians and Balkars, and between the Cherkess-Abaza and the Karachay. After the spectacular and rapid collapse of the Soviet Union, euphoria was accompanied by paranoid feelings and perceptions of threats and victimisation among minorities in ethnic republics which affected even the titular groups. Freedom without the basics of civic society turned into a self-cutting edge.

The Balkars have tried three times to secede from Kabardino-Balkaria to set up their own republic. The last attempt was on 17 November 1996 when the leaders of the Balkar nationalist movement adopted a resolution to secede Balkaria from the composite republic and declared it as a sovereign republic in the Russian Federation. The leader of the independence movement was Sufyan Beppayev, a former Lt.-General and deputy commander of the Caucasus Military District. These moves were denounced by the republican leadership, who summoned the separatist leaders for talks. Ten days later, Beppayev renounced his role in the events and charged that the Balkar nationalist leadership had been hasty and emotional in promulgating secession. Some suspected that he was appeased by being offered a post in the republican government.

Prior to that, in 1994, the Executive Committee of the National Council of the Balkar People called for the division of Kabardino-Balkaria into two separate Balkar and Kabardian republics. In the 1980s several congresses of the Balkar and Karachay peoples adopted resolutions calling for the establishment of separate and independent republics. No call for unification of the two people has been detected by the author from either quarter in the recent past. However, after the Balkar return from exile, in 1957, and throughout the 60’s, there were some voices that called for unification with the Karachay, but then these demands died down. Perhaps such a move is not on the agenda of either people. On the other hand such a step might be considered as an inevitable future consequence of establishing two independent republics.

There are grounds to believe that the majority of Balkars have never supported such separatist tendencies. In 1995 a referendum showed that 96% of the cast votes sided with maintaining the status quo. But it would be very hard to envisage a viable republic with a population of 100,000 and an area of less than 4,000 sq. km. (There is still dispute as to the boundaries of a break-away Balkar republic. The number quoted for the size is a rough estimate). The resulting break-away republic would be trapped between the high mountains in the south and presumably resentful Kabardians in the north. Mount Elbrus, on which the Caucasian Prometheus, Nesren Zchach'e, was chained as a punishment according to the Nart legends, is such a potent symbol of Circassian identity and culture that it would be impossible for the Kabardians to accept being deprived of it.

The Balkars, together with the Karachay, Ingush, Chechen, Crimean Tatars and Volga Germans, were deported en masse in 1943/4 on the pretext of collaboration with the invading German forces. The Germans were lured by Azeri oil and they endeavoured to gain the sympathies of the Caucasian population. In 1943 the Red Army reclaimed the occupied Caucasian lands. Thereafter the Balkars, amongst others, were accused of treason and then exiled to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. This mass deportation was very cruel and inflicted untold deaths and hardships on these hapless peoples.

Starting from 1957, the death-dealing "errors" were admitted and some of the exiled nations were rehabilitated and allowed to return to their homelands by Khrushchev. (The lands of the Crimean Tatars have never been fully returned to their rightful owners. These unfortunate people are still locked in a struggle with the Russians to redeem their ancestral homeland.) However, the Balkar claim that not all their pre-exile lands were returned to them. The Kabardians counter that they were more than generous when they returned Balkar territory. The original homeland of the Balkars was on the southern mountainous areas of the republic. After repatriation they were given lands in the southern plains that were traditionally the possession of the Kabardian princes. Be that as it may, the important point in this discussion is not who is right and who is wrong, but rather that there are conceived causes for resentment and possible conflict.

The Kabardians themselves did not escape Stalin’s deleterious post-war Diktats. A whole region in the northeast, Mazdok, was severed from the body of Kabarda and incorporated into North Ossetia. Also the northern boundary of the republic was pushed back to shrink the area to roughly half its pre-war size. These measures cut off a substantial proportion of Kabardians from their mother republic. Boundaries have to be equitably adjusted to redress the arbitrary decisions that were made during the Soviet period. This is also important for the Adigeans, large communities of whom are found outside their titular republic, and other groups.

At this point it is worthwhile to mention that it is most essential that arbitrary and barbarous acts of mass exile and murder should be prevented from happening ever again. This is one of the compelling arguments that the destiny of the North Caucasian nations must not be left in the hands of the Russians, nor anyone else for that matter. The West must be convinced that it is its moral and human responsibility to allow these small nations the chance to practice the Western ideals of liberty and self-determination. On the other hand, these peoples must prove to the world community that they are capable of taking control of their destiny. They must project an image of maturity and mutual understanding and co-operation.

The Cherkess and Abaza have always tended to play the Russian card in their antagonism with the Karachay. Being lesser in number, the former two groups have tended to undermine the perceived Karachay numerical supremacy and dominance. In effect they play into Russians hands. Russia must be pleased with such a situation, as it allows her to pull the strings and play one group against the other in order to maintain her central control of the republic. The Cherkess and Abaza have no chance whatsoever of breaking away and constituting a separate state. Their combined number is about 150,000 and the area that they would control is about 5,000 sq. km, not a realistic basis for political autonomy. Their continued game of tug of war on the side of the Russians can only keep the republic destabilised and propagate Russian rule. Their energy would be better spent demanding that they be united with the Kabardians at this stage, and with Abkhazia later on. On the other hand, some Karachay demand that a separate state be declared. They are, however, in the minority.

Perhaps what is common in the case of Balkar and Cherkess-Abaza is the obsessive and destructive fear of being dominated by a larger ethnic group. The two groups seem to express these trepidations in negative ways: demands for a separate republic and the desire to reduce autonomy in Russia’s favour, respectively. These feelings of inferiority could be allayed by joining the kindred groups together, that is the Kabardians with the Cherkess-Abaza and the Karachays with the Balkars. In this case the total number of the Kabardian-Cherkess-Abaza group would become about 650,000 people, and that of the Karachay-Balkar 300,000 people. Each group would form an autonomous, and equal, entity in a federation that is made up of two republics. The overall population of the federation at this stage would be 1.6 million people and the area would be about 26,600 sq. km. Though this is still a small state, it is definitely healthier than the two present republics that are perhaps on the verge of ethnic explosion.

It is noteworthy that neither the Balkars nor the Karachay signed the Treaty for a Confederative Union of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus which was ratified by the participants in the third session of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus, held in Sukhumi in November 1991. However, both peoples were members of the Republic of North Caucasus. This apparent regression warrants further investigation.


Economic Potential of the New State

At this stage of development there would be a state with an area of about 44,000 sq. km and a population of 2.5 million. The economic viability will be discussed by referring to the current situation in the individual republics.

The republic was Ranked 72nd in Russia in GDP in 1995. The republic boasts of considerable natural resources. There are many rivers that flow through the republic. The Terek River has many tributaries, the main ones being the Malka, Bak(h)san, Cherek, and Chegem rivers. A shipping canal is located in the north of the republic. The potential of hydroelectric power is estimated at 2 million kwt without damming, with a full capacity of 8 million kwt.  Mineral water springs flow from the mountains at an estimated rate of 12,000 cubic metres per day. The flora varies chiefly with altitude. Beech, oak and hornbeam deciduous forests can be found in the lower- and middle-altitude mountains. Birch and pine forests, sub-alpine and alpine meadows predominate in the high mountains. The soils are dark brown and black in the plains. The fauna is mainly represented by bears, wild boars, martens, roe deer, chamois, ibexes, and pheasants.

There are deposits of molybdenum-tungsten ore in Tyrnyauz, complex ores, gold, facing stones (granite, diabase, marble, tuff), and other building materials. The Elbrus area is a center of tourism, mountaineering, and mountain skiing at Terskol and Itkol. Tourism is the single most important contributor to the republican budget. About 1.5 million tourists visit the republic every year. The Nalchik mineral spas, which have become famous as curative and leisure centres, attract many people from within and without the Russian Federation. The Nalchik sanatoriums specialise in treatment of cardiovascular, nervous, gastric, liver and gall-bladder diseases, metabolic disorders and for rehabilitation of patients with spinal and limb ailments. There is a centre for asthmatic diseases at the foothills of Elbrus. The potential for expansion of the tourist sector is virtually limitless.

Agriculture is an extremely important economic activity. Wheat, barley, millet, corn, hemp, fodder grass, vegetables, potato and sunflower seeds are cultivated. Horticulture is also very important. Animal husbandry, which is one of the traditional occupations of the populace, is also extant. Dairy and beef cattle-breeding, buffalo-breeding, horse-breeding, and sheep-breeding in the north and in the mountains are fairly well developed. The Kabardian horse is famous for its endurance and it is considered to be the best mountain horse. Silkworm breeding is also supported. The republic is ranked 59th in the Russian Federation in total agricultural production which should be juxtaposed to the fact that it is ranked 75th in terms of size. The food industry, which accounts for 23% of the total industrial production, produces meat and dairy products, canned fruit and vegetables, starch, and wine.

Industry is ranked 69th in Russia in terms of total industrial output. The main industrial centres of the republic are Nalchik, Prokhladnyi, Baksan, and Tyrnyauz. The main industry is machine-building, which accounts for 32% of total industrial output. Electrical engineering articles and instruments, wood-working machine-tools, cables, tractor trailers, automobile silencers, oil drilling equipment, diamond tools, abrasives, artificial leather, polyethylene materials and automatic machinery are produced. The power and energy sector, which has a 10% share in total industrial output, is represented by the Baksanskaya Hydroelectric Power Plant. The non-ferrous metallurgy (9%) is represented by the Tyrnyauz Tungsten-molybdenum Conglomerate Works and the Nalchik Hydrometallurgical Works. The building industry is of local importance. It is ranked 71st in Russia in capital investment.

  In terms of exports, the republic was ranked 73rd in Russia in foreign trade sales in 1995. The republic exports metals, especially tungsten and molybdenum concentrate (35%), canned fruit and vegetables (34%), machines and equipment (16%), including oil drilling and pumping equipment, medical equipment and wood lathes, artificial diamonds and tools made from them, electric cables, artificial and raw leather and furs.

  The republican transportation infrastructure is in need of major expansion and renovation. There are two main railway lines, Armavir-Groznyi and Prokhladnaya-Chervlyonaya. A dense road network in the north is built around one main highway, Rostov-Baku M29. There is an airport in Nalchik.

  The health Service in the republic offers 47.7 doctors and 123 beds per 10,000 persons. Higher education is reasonably advanced with 12,000 students being enrolled in 3 universities and colleges, and 8,000 more in 10 specialised schools. There are many research institutes and centres: the Research Institute of History, Language, Folklore, Literature and Economics of the Republic; Kabardino-Balkarian Centre of Russian Academy of Sciences, the Vysokogornyi (Alpine) Geophysics Research Institute; Research Institute of Applied Mathematics and Automation, the Neutrino Observatory, the Astronomical Observatory, the Medical-Biological Centre, the Ecology Monitoring Centre, the North Caucasian Scientific Geographic Station, the North Caucasian Agricultural Research Institute, an agricultural experimental station, History, Philology and Economics Research Institute, the North Caucasian Branch of the International Informatics Academy, the Institute of Horticulture, and the Circassian International Academy of Sciences.

The republic was ranked 57th in Russia in per capita GDP in 1995. It is blessed with abundant natural resources. Its dense river system provides the sources for the Kuban River and its tributaries, the Bolshoy Zelenchuk River and the Bolshaya Laba River, both of which are located in the republic. The Kuma River forms part of the Caspian Sea Basin. The source of the Bolshoy Stavropolskiy Canal is also located in the republic. Its flora varies according to altitude. There are steppe, forest-steppe, beech, oak and hornbeam deciduous forests, fir, pine and silver fir coniferous forests, sub-alpine, and alpine meadows. The soils are mainly black and mountain-forest. The fauna is represented by: Bear, lynx, wild boar, red deer, roe deer, chamois, and ibex.

There are deposits of iron ore at the Urupskoye deposit, coal, facing stones (granite, marble, marble limestone), and other building materials.

The republic is ranked 59th in Russia in total agriculture production. The main grains cultivated are wheat and corn, which account for 34% of production. Fodder grass accounts for 47% of production. Vegetables, potatoes, sunflower, and sugar-beets are also farmed. Animal husbandry consists of dairy and beef cattle-breeding, horse-breeding, sheep-breeding in the north and in the mountains. Bee-keeping is also a major activity. Food processing is a major industry that contributes 25% of the total industrial production. Meat and dairy products, canned fruit and vegetables, sugar, and other products are produced.

In terms of total industrial output, the republic is ranked 69th in Russia, which puts it on par with Kabardino-Balkaria. The main industrial centres of the republic are Cherkessk, Karachaevsk, and Ust-Dzheguta. The chemical industry, which has a 26% share of the total industrial output, produces varnishes, paints, and resin articles (in Cherkessk).

The building materials industry (16%) produces cement, lime, building gypsum, and crushed stone. The machine-building industry (11%) produces refrigerating machinery and low-voltage electrical equipment. The ferrous metallurgy is represented by copper ore mining in Urup.

The republic was ranked 76th in Russia in foreign trade sales in 1995. The republic exports mineral products, specifically cement and facing stones (99.6%).

There is one main railway line, Nevinnomyssk- Ust-Dzheguta, and a well developed road network in the north.

Health services provide 30.4 doctors and 118 beds per 10,000 persons. Mountain health resorts are located in Dombay and Teberda. 5,000 students are enrolled in two local universities and 5,000 more in six technical schools.
There are many research centres: The Karachay-Cherkess Research Institute of History, Language, Folklore, Literature, and Economics, the Astrophysical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and an agricultural experimental station.

Other important indices include: income per capita: 48% of federal average; living costs: 83% of federal average; subsistence level: 78% of federal average; infant mortality in 1994: 15.1:1000; unemployment by the end of 1994 (official figures): 2.6%; industry (1993, %): fuel and power generation complex (TEK): 7, treatment of raw materials: 23.3, machine building: 11.4, chemical industry: 25.6, light industry: 32.2. 

The Republic was ranked 74th in Russia in per capita GDP in 1995. It is mainly agrarian, but has a developing industrial sector. The republic boasts vast mineral and other natural resources, which include considerable deposits of brick clay, loam and high quality limestone. There are deposits of molybdenum, tungsten, poly-metals, rare-earth metals, silver and gold, in the republic's mountains. Mercury, barite and wolfram are also available. There are also reserves of oil, gas, gas condensate and building materials. Light Maikop oil is world-famous.

  The Republic is very rich in water resources. The north boundary passes along the Kuban River, which originates in the Karachay-Cherkess Republic, including the Krasnodar artificial reservoir. The large tributaries are the Laba River (north-east boundary) and the Belaya River.

Adigea's natural beauty is legendary. Its mountains offer a variety of climatic zones. The mineral waters are well-known for their curative properties, and they have been used for treating various diseases. They contain iodine, bromides, zinc, cobalt, barite, etc. There are also medicinal mud resources. There are about 125 vertical and horizontal karst caves, which can be used for speleological sporting pursuits and for treating various lung diseases. Canoeing has been practised in the Belaya river since 1972. Investment in the existing alpine skiing facilities would be potentially lucrative. Different slopes are available for beginners and for those who demand more challenging descents. Gliding is becoming popular and is attracting many fans to the area. There are many natural facilities available for mountain and rock climbers and for trekking enthusiasts. The Fauna includes bears, wild boars, roe deer, foxes, and deer. The development of the tourist industry would undoubtedly pay handsome dividends for investors. It is estimated that about 20,000 tourists visit the republic annually.

  More than 60 kinds of agricultural produce are cultivated, due to the favourable climatic conditions. The Republic is ranked 66th in Russia in total agricultural production. The soil is black in the plains, and mountain-forest soil predominates in the mountains. The most important products are corn (maize), winter wheat, both of which contribute 45% of total agricultural product, fodder grass (31%), barley, rape-seed, sunflowers and tea. Sugar-beet, hemp, oil-producing plants, vegetables, including tomatoes, apples, pears, plums, cherries, grapes and medicinal herbs such as ginseng are also cultivated. Rose-oil and macaroni are also produced. Poultry-farming is the main contributor to the agricultural income. Chicken, geese and ducks are bred. A local turkey-breeding farm is one of the largest in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Dairy and beef cattle-breeding, sheep-breeding in the mountains, fish-breeding, and Bee-keeping are important. There is a renewed interest in the traditional art of horse breeding. Research Institutions include the Adigean branch of the Russian Institute of Plant Growing which is concerned with the development of the agricultural sector.

  Industry is ranked 74th in Russia in total industrial output. The main industrial centres are Maykop and Adigeysk. Food processing is the key industry. It has a 54% share of the total industrial output. Meat and dairy products, tobacco, vegetable oil, essential oil, sugar, and wine are produced. The republic is among the 5 largest producers of canned fruit and vegetables in Russia (Adigeysk).  Heavy industry is represented by the well-developed machine-building, machine tool manufacturing and metal-working complexes. Machine-building contributes 12% of the total industrial output. Metal-cutting machine-tools, equipment for the timber industry, radio devices and instruments, communication equipment, water-purifying systems for industrial enterprises, milling lathes, container-type gas stations, cylindrical reduction gears, production of packing and corrugated cardboard, strands for steel cables, strings and twine, and confectionery are examples of industrial products. Fabmai, the tin factory, is one of the biggest in the Russian Federation. There are also cement, glass, coloured marble and granite factories. Ceramic pipes and other products, and good quality pottery are also produced. The building industry, which is ranked 70th in Russia in capital investment, is of local importance.

  The forestry industry, which contributes 14% of the overall industrial output, is well developed. Forests cover 40% of the republic's territory. There are large deciduous oak, beech, and horn-beam forests, and wild fruit-trees in the mountains. Coniferous fir, silver fir, and pine forests are to be found higher in the mountains. The main industries include: pulp and paper, wood working, which is one of the traditional industries, manufacture of furniture, parquet planks, Timber, lumber, tanning substances, etc. Various woods are exported to many wood-working and furniture factories in the North Caucasus.

The republic's annual foreign trade volume has reached about $30 million. Although this figure may seem to be tiny, it must be remembered that it hasn't been long since foreign economic activity was liberalised in Russia. It was ranked 75th in Russia in foreign trade sales in 1995. The republic exports furniture (45% of all republic's export), canned food and essential oils (43%), machines and equipment (11%). The republic trades with more than 30 countries, including Germany, the USA, Turkey, where there is a significant Adigean diaspora, Great Britain and Italy. There are more than 40 joint ventures with companies from the USA, the UK, France, Turkey, Syria, the Czech Republic, and others. Oak barrels, washing machines, furniture, carpets, honey and medicinal herbs are some of the products of these companies. The principal exports include furniture, with a 45% share of all republic’s exports, food products, canned food, seeds of oil-bearing crops and essential oils (43%), machines and equipment (11%), machine tools, gears, and cardboard. The republic imports mechanical engineering products, consumer goods, ferrous metals, and oil products.

Rail transportation is based on sections of the main railroad lines, Tuapse-Armavir, and Krasnodar-Novorossiysk. Automobile transportation plays the leading role in the republic's economy. A network of roads exists in the north.

There is one university in which 5,400 students were enrolled. 6,000 students were enrolled in 6 specialised schools. Research centres include: The Adigean Research Institutes of History, Literature and Economics.

The Health Service provides 35.2 doctors and 114 beds per 10,000 persons.

Prior to the 1992-3 conflict Abkhazia was a veritable haven for tourists due to its sub-tropical climate, which is quite unique in the area, its prime seacoast resorts and exquisite scenery. Its major cash crops were tea, tobacco and citrus fruits. Abkhazia is known for its coal-mining and agriculture. Vineyard growing, forestry industry, livestock breeding, fishing are some of the principal economic activities. The following statistics are quoted from a document entitled Abkhazia published by the Abkhazian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: annual income $750 million (tourism and trade 40%, agriculture 36%, industry 24%); per capita income $1,400; export $150 million; tourism $100 million.

Abkhazia has been devastated by the war, and the subsequent continued sporadic conflict. Economic recovery has been slow due to instability and the Russian blockade. It would be very hard to envisage any substantive improvement in the absence of an equitable political settlement with Georgia. In these conditions, it is difficult to obtain reliable information regarding the economic situation in the area.

If the country is rebuilt and investment is lured in, then the sky is the limit. However, there is a desperate need for managerial skills and entrepreneurial spirit and initiative, which are woefully lacking in the region due to decades of communist ideology. People must be re-oriented and re-educated in order to develop their managerial and business skills. Modern technology must be introduced. Outside help in this regard is very crucial. But this does not mean that the state is condemned to subsist on good-will and charity. The initial donations and investment together with the relevant expertise will help to upgrade and enhance the infrastructure to support the envisioned projects and create a new class of managers and decision makers that could run the show once they acquire the requisite skills and know-how. The benefit for foreign investors would potentially be great. In a stable and secure environment the natural riches of the area would ensure handsome returns on most well-planned investments.

North Caucasian Federalism and the West

The role of the West in establishment of North Caucasian federation is very important. The West must act as a counter-balance to Russian dominance in the area. However, it is quite clear that the whole region could be sacrificed in a super-power deal, in return for another region of influence offered to the West. As was mentioned above, Russia considers the North Caucasus of vital importance from geopolitical and other points of view.

The policies of the West in the Caucasus are simplistically directed through the principle of dichotomy by contradiction: one rule for Russians, another for non-Russians. The examples of Chechnya and Abkhazia are quite telling in this regard. When the Abkhaz conflict erupted in August 1992, the West regarded the matter as an internal affair and did not interfere. However, the United Nations was involved in the conflict from its very beginning. Russian troops and foreign observers were dispatched to the area to monitor and keep the peace. When Russia invaded Chechnya in December 1994, again it was considered an internal Russian affair, but this time the United Nations had nothing to do with the conflict. This is quite puzzling given that, according to International Law, Abkhazia and Chechnya had the same status in the defunct Soviet Union. If the UN could mediate in Abkhazia, why not in Chechnya. Clearly such meddling was considered as taboo. It is totally incomprehensible why the destruction of an entire nation by a dominant one should be considered a prerogative sanctioned by International Law and, tacitly, by the West. Why is the West selective in its application of its "Universal Humanitarian Principles"? This question deserves full consideration and study. It is apt at this point to quote Paul B. Henze and S. Enders Wimbush again from their article American Middle East Policy: The Need for New Thinking:

The indulgent U.S. response to the Russian assault on Chechnya was shameful. Beijing's suppression in Tien An Mien entailed barely 1% of the casualties and none of the destruction of property that the Russians were responsible for in Chechnya (not only against Chechens, but equally against Russians). If Beijing deserved to be ostracized, why not Moscow? Why go on tolerating Russian bullying of other ex-Soviet states? Why give every appearance of conceding a Russian entitlement to meddle in the affairs of the "Near Abroad"? Throughout a half century of decolonization, America recognized no such entitlement by any other ex-imperial power. The U.S. condemned Britain and France when they attacked Egypt in 1956. America wholeheartedly welcomed independence for Algeria, India, and dozens of other ex-colonial countries. America has a history of more than 200 years of opposing colonialism throughout the world. It has always given assistance to new nations to consolidate their independence. [Yet] the Clinton Administration gave no thought to imposing sanctions against Russia for its genocidal assault on Chechnya.

Perhaps it is misinformation that is distorting the West’s view of the North Caucasus. The Russian press and media tend to portray the whole Chechen nation as arms-toting mafiosi and Chechnya as a din of corruption and vice, or as a fundamentalist Islamic state. In fact there is a blatant Russian streak of racism directed at the whole Caucasian peoples. All persons from the Caucasus are nick-named "Black Arses", presumably on account of their darker complexion. Many Western journalists and writers who went into Chechnya with pre-conceived stereotypical ideas about the Chechen came out full of respect for their humanitarian traditions and their ancient and noble way of life. Most probably the North Caucasians have to start to learn the media game in order to defend themselves against Russian media hysteria and to present their case in front of the International Community. 



Orthodox Christianity is the main religion in Abkhazia, where more than 70% of the Abkhaz adhere to it. The rest are nominally Sunni Muslims, but actually adhere to their ancient beliefs and religions. There have been many misconceptions regarding this point. Some Western observers report that the Abkhaz are Muslim and lump the nation into the middle-eastern Islamic continuum. It is obvious that these reporters are not really interested in the truth. The Georgians have also been keen on encouraging this image for obvious propaganda purposes and to appeal to Western repugnance of terrorism with its concomitant association with Islam. The diaspora Abkhazians are all Sunni Muslim. It is reported that some of these upon their return to their ancestral land were surprised to learn that the majority of native Abkhazians were Christian. Some religious people even went so far as to suspend support for the Abkhaz in their conflict with Georgia on religious grounds.

All the other indigenous NW Caucasians, including the Abaza, are Sunni Muslims except for a small Orthodox Christian Kabardian community in Mozdok in North Ossetia.

Non-native religion has never had a significant effect on Circassian modus vivendi in the Caucasus. Its effect on the Circassians’ behaviour and outlook on life has been superficial. The more potent formers of their spiritual life have been paganism and animism, ancient traces of which are still to be found in their beliefs. Another important component is the customary law (Adige Xabze), which is a rigid code of conduct that regulated the behaviour of the Circassians for hundreds of years. The tenuous hold religion has was plainly demonstrated in the Abkhaz-Georgian conflict when Muslim North Caucasians fought hand in hand with the Christian and Muslim Abkhazians, who are only nominally different, against the Christian Georgians. There was no love lost between the Christian Abkhaz and Christian Georgians.

However, the Circassians in the diaspora have been affected by the belief systems of the people with whom they have been living for more than a hundred years, mainly Turks and Arabs, and a considerable degree of assimilation has occurred which divorced them from their original beliefs and traditions. This is a very significant point that has merited little attention so far. The diaspora Circassians tend to be more religious than Caucasian Circassians. This fact has been creating some friction between the two groups. Most diaspora Circassians frown upon some of the customs and traditions of native Circassians that contravene Islamic law. Toast making at feasts is an ancient Circassian custom. Yet, it is considered unlawful to drink alcohol in Islam. Some of the visitors to the Caucasus go back with tales of besotted golden-mouthed orators who quickly forget their empty talk once they become sober. The resulting tension underlines the accumulating differences between the two groups. The situation will be under control for the foreseeable future because the numbers of Circassian returnees are small. But if the numbers are ever to increase, then the situation must be kept under careful watch lest differences cause the two groups to become antagonistic, which would defeat the whole purpose of the exercise.


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