Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sochi Has a Bloody History

When the attention of the world is focused on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, it would help if some of the history of that place is known and understood:
one of the most significant issues of all surrounding the Olympics has been nearly ignored: Recognition of the indigenous people of Sochi, the Circassians. 
The Circassians, who are mostly Muslim, resided in Sochi for millennia. In the 19th century, an expanding Russian Empire coveted their territory -- which is south and east of Russia proper -- and used overwhelming force to defeat them. Russia killed around 1.5 million Circassians and expelled a similar number, mostly to the Ottoman Empire, with many dying of famine and disease. Entire tribes were decimated; for example, the Shapsugh tribe was reduced from 300,000 to 3,000 people. 
The bloodiest battle of all, which Circassians refer to as their "last stand," occurred in the vicinity of Sochi, the Circassian capital, in 1864. The Circassians describe the catastrophe that befell their people as the first modern genocide. 
The few Circassians able to remain in the Caucasus found themselves a minority in their own land, which was quickly settled by Russians. Those who were expelled or escaped were forced to migrate from country to country in search of safety and stability. 
Diaspora Circassians have faced huge challenges in attempting to preserve their identity and traditions and keep the memory of their homeland alive.
Not only are terrorists running wild throughout southern Russia, but you have unfulfilled national ambitions and widespread resistance to the authoritarian rule of Vladimir Putin. The old Soviet policy was to force the language on the people of this region. Now, they force the corruption endemic to the Russian experience. Add to that the issues with infrastructure and the inherently poor choice of venue, and the costs of Sochi may not be fully understood.

Awarding these games to a city thick in the middle of an exceptionally violent and unhappy part of Southern Russia may turn out to be one of the worst decisions made by the International Olympic Committee. Understanding the history of the Circassians and the region as a whole might have helped make a more informed decision; why is it you never see a commercial decision ever take into account history and precedent?

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