Lawmakers in Georgia have recognized the mass deportation and killings of ethnic Circassians by Tsarist Russia in the 19th century as genocide.
Parliament said on May 20 that ethnic cleansing and pre-planned massacres of Muslim Circassians had taken place in the Sochi area of southern Russia.
The Russian army deported the Circassian tribes to Turkey after winning a war in the Caucasus that ended 147 years ago on Saturday.
“The majority of Circassians perished and the rest had no alternative but to flee the country,” said Nugzar Tsiklauri, the head of a Georgian parliamentary committee for relations with diasporas.
“Just a small part of the population stayed in Russia and as a result a number of ethnic groups disappeared from the world arena. Thus, actions undertaken by the Russian Empire could be classified as genocide and ethnic cleansing.”
The move has been welcomed by members of the Circassian diaspora.
“Today is a very significant day for all Circassians inside the Caucasus and outside the Caucasus,” Iyad Youjahar from the Circassian diaspora in the United States told Reuters.
“This is the day when the crimes against the Circassians for the past 140 years have started to stop. And we have hopes that, from today on, we will continue positively in the future and we will continue constructing and reconstructing our nation Circassia in the Caucasus.”
Nonetheless, there were dissident voices who questioned the wisdom of the decision, which some say could strain Georgia’s relations with its neighbor, Russia, which have yet to recover from a brief war in 2008 over the Moscow-backed separatist provice of Southern Ossetia.
“To put it mildly, the decision was made hastily,” said opposition politician, Jondi Bagaturia.
“I think the political context of this decision has also not been taken into account — political implications both externally and internally — and no threats that can follow this decision have been considered either.”
Georgia is the first country to recognize the events in question as genocide.
compiled from agency reports