Hunger striking Circassian leader suffers stroke

4 October 2017
Ruslan Gvashev (Facebook)

A 67-year-old Circassian activist on hunger strike in Krasnodar Krai has suffered a stroke. Ruslan Gvashev has been protesting for 24 days after being fined for performing a public prayer at a sacred tulip tree in the village of Golovinka, near Sochi.

According to Ekho Kavkaza, Gvashev is continuing his protest and has refused medical care.

On 3 October, Caucasian Knot quoted Gvashev’s wife, Natalya Gvasheva, as saying that her husband has been unable to speak for the last three days, and unable to get out of bed.

His relatives have appealed to the authorities of Sochi, the administrative center of Krasnodar Krai, demanding they ‘admit their mistakes and apologize to him’. Gvashev is a former head of the Circassian Shapsug Council of Elders; Shapsugs are a Circassian subgroup from Krasnodar Krai.

Gvashev performed the prayer on 21 May, which marks the Day of Remembrance of the Circassian Victims of the Caucasian War (Circassian Day of Mourning) 1817–1864.

The case against Gvashev is now being heard in Krasnodar’s regional appellate court, which is due to make a final decision on whether to overturn the fine 5 October.

Reaction in Abkazia

Ruslan Gvashev holding an Abkhazian flag (David Dasaniya/ Facebook)

As Abkhaz and Circassians share historic, cultural, and linguistic links, the decision to fine him for the traditional prayer was widely criticised in Abkhazia, and a rally in solidarity with Gvashev was held in Sukhumi (Sukhum) on 27 September. The rally coincided with annual celebrations of the day Sukhumi was captured by Abkhazian forces in 1993. Gvashev fought in the 1992–1993 war on the side of Abkhazia.

David Dasania, an Abkhazian activist and one of the organisers of the solidarity rally, has said more than 40 people, including him, will attend the trial.  

[For details, read on OC Media: Rally in Sukhumi for hunger striking Circassian leader]

Dasania wrote on 3 October that if Gvashev dies, this will amount to the ‘murder by Russian authorities’.

For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.

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