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The Supreme Court of Russia has overturned a decision to strip a Circassian Turk of his right to live in Russia, ordering a local court to hear his appeal.
Tarik Topçu, who goes by the Circassian name Shamis Khotko, had his temporary residence permit annulled by the Interior Ministry in August 2018, after the ministry accused him of supporting terrorism.
On 29 December 2018, the Supreme Court of Kabardino-Balkaria refused to hear an appeal of the ministry’s decision, as Topçu did not submit it within the required three days of the ministry’s decision.
Topçu told OC Media he did not receive notification of the decision until after the three days had expired.
‘They just don’t want to see me here because of my past, in that I have political experience’, Topçu told OC Media in January. ‘They don’t want me to communicate with people in our homeland, and they know very well that I have nothing to do with terrorism or extremism’, he added.
In a closed hearing on 10 April, the Supreme Court in Moscow ruled that the case must now go back to the court in Kabardino-Balkaria who must hear the appeal.
The court considered the case without the presence of the plaintiff, whose interests were represented by his lawyer. According to Topçu, he was not allowed to attend the hearing because the case was classified as a ‘state secret’.
‘We won the trial. I'm very happy! I think that the “conspiracy” was broken’, Topçu told OC Media following the verdict.
He said that last week, he received a document from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kabardino-Balkaria proving that no administrative or criminal investigation was being conducted into him.
‘This is the proof that they cancelled my residency permit for Kabardino-Balkaria without any investigation, that everything I was accused of is a lie,’ he said.
Human rights activist Aslan Beshto, the head of the Kabardian Congress, said he was positive about Topçu’s appeal, given that there was no active investigation against Khotko.
Topçu, a journalist of Circassian descent born in Turkey, came to Kabardino-Balkaria in May 2017 on a student visa. The following year, he received a three-year residency permit.
‘To discourage Circassians from returning to their historic homeland’
Circassian activists have long complained that they are discriminated against by Russian authorities.
The Kabardino-Balkarian Human Rights Centre is currently supporting another Circassian from Turkey, Muammer Koblev, whose Russian citizenship was revoked in August 2018 by the Central District Court in Sochi.
According to Koblev, the court accused him of not living at the address he had registered in 1996–1997, and thus violated the law. Koblev received his Russian citizenship in 1997 after he married a Russian citizen.
In December 2018, the Krasnodar Regional Court, where he appealed the decision, upheld the lower court’s decision.
Koblev told OC Media that he was now filing a complaint with the Court of the Regional Presidium and if they refused to hear the case, with the Supreme Court of Russia. The court will announce its decision by 10 May.
According to Valery Khatazhukov, head of the Kabardino-Balkarian Public Human Rights Centre, Koblev ‘has been a citizen of the Russian Federation for almost 20 years, and his spouse is also a citizen of the Russian Federation. We are sure that there are no grounds for depriving him of his citizenship’.
Shamsudin Neguch, a Circassian activist from Adygea, told OC Media that according to the lawyers he consulted, the grounds on which the court made its ruling were ‘not enough even for a penalty’.
Beslan Kagazhey, a lawyer from Kabardino-Balkaria and a board member of public organisation Peryt, told OC Media that the attempt to expel Koblev and Topçu was a part of ‘preventive measures’ by the security services to ‘discourage’ Circassians from returning to their historic homeland.
Right of return
According to Khatazhukov, Russia does not want to recognise Circassians as Russian compatriots, which would allow ethnic Circassians in the diaspora to return. The 1999 law on compatriots entitles descendants of ‘peoples historically resident in the territory of the Russian Federation’ to Russian citizenship.
The Russian Empire conquered Circassia, which spanned the entire northwest Caucasus, in the second half of the 19th century. During and after the conquests, the overwhelming majority of the Circassian population was killed or deported to the Ottoman Empire, and the former Circassian lands were gradually settled by Russians and other ethnic groups.
According to Russia’s 2010 census, there are 720,000 currently living in Russia, making up the majority in only the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, with smaller communities living in Krasnodar Krai, Adygea, and Karachay–Cherkessia.
According to Aslan Beshto, the Circassian diaspora currently numbers 5.5 million–7.5 million people, in more than 50 countries.
The Committee for the Affairs of Compatriots in the Republic of Adygea told OC Media that there were around 2,000 repatriated Circassians currently living in Adygea.
In Kabardino-Balkaria, according to public organisation Zhegu, which assists in the return of compatriots, there around 1,800 Circassian repatriates.
In Karachay–Cherkessia, according to local Circassian group Adyghe Khase, there are only 37.
Repatriates include those from Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and a number of European countries.
Asker Bora, an activist from Kabardino-Balkaria, told OC Media that all of the repatriated citizens made the personal choice to return, either at their own expense or with the help of private funds from public organisations and individuals.