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

Caucasus: Sept ‘07

IWPR event examines heated debate provoked by celebrations of anniversary of the Circassian people’s unification with Russia.
An IWPR mission in September investigated the controversy created by last month’s lavish celebrations of the 450th anniversary of the assimilation of three North Caucasus republics into Russia.

IWPR’s event - led by IWPR North Caucasus Editor Alan Tskhurbayev from September 12 to 14 - explored the controversy caused by the celebrations of the 450th anniversary of the "voluntary incorporation" of the three autonomous republics with Circassian populations - Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachai-Cherkessia and Adygeia.

The public gatherings held in September to mark the 16th century treaty sparked heated discussions in the region, as some Circassian historians and activists contest this historical interpretation of events.

They also say that focusing on this event downplays other important events in the region – particularly imperial Russia’s colonial wars against the Circassians in the 19th century during which more than 90 per cent of the ethnic group was either killed or resettled by the Tsar army.

During the three-day event, which took place in Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, five journalists representing the republics of Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessiya and North Ossetia took part in exercises on international standards of journalism. They also met local politicians, scientists and other experts who gave an overview of the situation in Kabardino-Balkaria.

On the first day, training sessions were held on how to write for IWPR’s Caucasus Reporting Service. The second day consisted of meetings with a local historian, a politician and a representative of the Circassian congress. On the third and final day, journalists received more training, heard a short lecture on Internet safety, and then took part in a discussion on freelancing in the Caucasus.

The journalists made plans for joint articles that will come out in the Caucasus Reporting Service, CRS, as well as their own newspapers.

Marina Marshenkulova from Nalchik-based newspaper Sovetskaya Molodezh, said she hoped these kinds of meetings will become regular in the North Caucasus.

"I think it is good to build a journalistic mission under one concrete theme, since this gives us a possibility to study this issue from different points of view, including things we have never even thought about,” she said

“The experts were interesting, too, but for us journalists, the most useful thing is the unique possibility to work together, talk to each other, find common interests and share our experiences."

According to Kazbek Tautiev from North Ossetia, who works for the newspaper Osetiya: Svobodnyi Vzglyad, the mission gave the journalists an opportunity to assess the level of development of civil society in Kabardino-Balkaria and throughout the North Caucasus.

"To take one example, this region is the main place of settlement for [the people of] many nations, such as Abkhaz, Abazins, Vaidakhs, Iranians and several other groups, that have much in common in their customs and styles of life. Taking a look at their lives tells us a lot about the surrounding society,” he said.

Malika Batsaeva, from the newspaper Vesti Gor in Karachaevo-Cherkessiya, said that the mission allowed journalists to view the celebrations of the historical event in a more objective manner.

“The expedience with which the celebrations were carried out became clear to us during the mission. Thanks to all the expert meetings, we received information from all the sides and were able to broaden our views at what is going on,” she said.