Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Adygea Hits Back

Ethnic leaders in Adygea say they are being demonised by the Russian media
By Zarina Kanukova

Home to 80 different nationalities, the tiny republic of Adygea is fighting to shrug off a reputation as the next potential troublespot in the North Caucasus.


Here, ethnic leaders claim that they are the victims of a deliberate hate campaign launched by the Russia media which is fond of dubbing Adygea "a second Chechnya in the making". They believe that Moscow is deliberately attempting to drive a rift between the local Russian population and their Adygean neighbours in a bid to marginalise minority groups.


However, most observers argue that Adygea has the best record of racial harmony of any republic in the North Caucasus.


In ethnically diverse neighbourhoods such as Cheremushek, in the capital Maikop, Adygean youngsters organise national dances attended by local Russians, Armenians and Greeks. A large mosque is being built in the city centre. People in the streets lack the trouble-worn expressions of their ethnic cousins in Cherkessk or Nalchik.


But the Russian media insists that the republic is on the brink of war - and "The Caucasian Crescent", an explosive television documentary by the former NTV journalist, Yelena Masyuk, has claimed that the region is a breeding ground for Wahhabi extremists.


Locally, the reaction is one of resentment. Oleg Damenia, a lecturer at the Adygea State University, in Maikop, believes the discontent is deliberately being fostered by the Kremlin in a bid to "divide and rule".


"The standard of living in Adygea is continually falling and people sense this very keenly," says Damenia. "When people are faced by hard times, they try to pinpoint the cause of their problems: why is this happening to them? And that's when the authorities start 'prompting' them.


"Just as in the 1920s, there are certain organised 'educational' programmes intended to push the public consciousness in the required direction... All the social and psychological changes in the Caucasus are taking place under the influence of exterior forces."


Like many ethnic leaders in the North Caucasus, Damenia claims Russia is trying to erode national identities and transform the population into a "mechanical mass".


Yanvarbi Kalashaov, who works to repatriate Adygean emigres from abroad, agrees that "someone is finding it very profitable to create a high-pressure situation here and set people against one another".


He dismisses any comparisons with Chechnya as "absurd". "The Russians, Adygeans, Tartars and Armenians who live here have never raised nationalist questions before," says Kalashaov. "The social mood of Adygea should stand as an example for others, people live so peacefully here."


He, too, points towards economic collapse as the chief reason for dissatisfaction. "Production is falling to pieces, the bureaucratic apparatus is becoming an enormous obstacle for the average citizen, and there are other problems. But these problems exist throughout the country, not just in Adygea..."


Many leaders blame the Union of Slavs of Adygea for stirring up bad feeling between diverse ethnic groups. In recent months, the Union has staged a series of high profile debates focusing on alleged unrest in the republic - debates which have been given extensive coverage by Russia's state-run TV networks.


Vladimir Korotaev, chairman of the Union's executive committee, blames the republic's local government, headed by President Dzharimov, for creating friction between the Adygean and Russian populations.


"We never say that Adygea is a second Chechnya," said Korotaev, "but we notice that the processes set in motion by the leaders of Adygea have followed the same pattern as they did in Chechnya.


"When they say that there's peace and harmony in Adygea thanks to President Dzharimov, we argue, 'Not thanks to, but in spite of'. In my opinion, the Republic of Adygea has no future. It will eventually fragment into criminal clan groupings, which can't be controlled by any democratic process. Tribal and religious loyalties will become dominant and we'll see the same state of chaos that now grips Chechnya."


The local religious community is quick to counter any accusations of religious extremism in the republic. Enver Shumakhov, mufti of Adygea and the Krasnodar Region, comments, "At present, we have none of the conflicts that have played a role in Chechnya. And, as for the claims of certain journalists that Wahhabis from Adygea are fighting in Chechnya, this is simply false information."


Shumakhov went on to say, "In the republic, there is no conflict between one religion and another. One section of the population follows Islam, and the other the Russian Orthodox faith. There's also widespread indifference to religion which is the legacy of the Soviet era. Certainly, there's been no evidence of people trying to stir up conflicts or preach radical religious ideas..."


Zarina Kanukova is a radio, TV and print journalist based in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria


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