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Rally in Sukhumi for hunger striking Circassian leader

27 September 2017
Ruslan Gvashev holding an Abkhazian flag (David Dasaniya/ Facebook)

A rally in solidarity with a 67-year-old Circassian activist was held in Sukhumi (Sukhum) on 27 September. The former Shapsug leader has been on hunger strike in Krasnodar Krai for more than two weeks.

Ruslan Gvashev, who fought in the 1992–1993 war on the side of Abkhazia, began his strike on 11 September after being fined for performing a public prayer at the sacred tulip tree in the village of Golovinka, near Russia's Sochi. Gvashev is a former head of the Circassian Shapsug Council of Elders; Shapsugs are a Circassian subgroup from Krasnodar Krai. Abkhaz and Circassians share historic, cultural, and linguistic links.

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.

[Read on OC Media: ‘The Great Day of Unity’ vs ‘the tragedy of the genocide’: Kabardino-Balkaria’s contradictory public holidays]

Sukhumi rally

A rally was held in Sukhumi on 27 September to coincide with the Day of Liberation of Sukhum, annual celebrations in the city’s Park of Glory on the day Sukhumi was captured by Abkhazian forces in 1993. Gvashev fought in the 1992–1993 war on the side of Abkhazia.

Circassian Tulip Tree in the village of Golovinka (Natpressru.info)

Organisers of the rally said the event would be held ‘calmly and without provocation’.

‘If the protesters fail to achieve positive results with respect to Gvashev, some of the protesters will go on a hunger strike’, Caucasian Knot quoted David Dasaniya, one of the organisers, as saying. ‘Gvashev requires an elementary apology’, he added.

According to him, Gvashev is ‘ready to die and is consciously going to do it’.

‘Imagine that, God forbid, Ruslan Gvashev dies. Unsustainable demonstrations, unauthorised rallies will start in the whole Circassian world. We act as patriots of Russia and do not want [the situation] to be bad in the south of Russia. We are for peace in the Caucasus’, Dasaniya added.

According to Ekho Kavkaza, a rally also took place on 24 September in Israel, which has a significant population of Circassian Shapsugs. Another was held on 22 September in Turkey.

Sochi’s Lazarevsky District Court imposed a ‎₽10,000 ($170) fine against Gvashev on 2 June for ‘organising an unsanctioned demonstration’, Caucasian Knot reported.

According to them, the fine was suspended by Krasnodar Krai Regional Court on 2 August but then reinstated again by the original court on 30 August. The complaint will now return to the regional appellate court, which will make a final decision in the beginning of October.

[Read on OC Media: Unambitious state-backed Circassian groups hide a growing nationalism in young Circassians]

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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