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They called the campaign «No Sochi». Their goal was to stop this year's Olympic Winter Games from being held in the Russian city – a place where 150 years ago their Circassian ancestors were killed in battle by the Russian army, and survivors were driven out.

Circassians in North Jersey continue protest of Sochi as Olympic hostCircassians have labeled it «genocide». The Russian government does not use that word – maintaining that the killings were part of the tragedy of war.

Tonight, while the opening ceremonies are broadcast, a group of North Jersey Circassians will stand united on the red steps at Times Square, voicing their objections once again to the site of the Games.

Their crusade began after Sochi was selected as a host city in 2007. Since then, North Jersey Circassians and others around the world have traveled to Vancouver, for the Winter Olympics in 2010, and London, for the Summer Olympics in 2012, to protest against the designation.

But as it became apparent the Games would go on, the group redubbed their efforts «Know Sochi» – saying the campaign will endure long after the Olympic flame is extinguished. The plan is to continue to educate people about their ancestors and the plight of Circassians who are trapped in Syria's conflict.

«Sochi was a lesson for us, a lesson of getting together, of learning to network, of learning to communicate to the outside world, and it was just a first step to much bigger things», said Haledon resident Tamara Barsik of the Circassian Cultural Institute in Passaic County.

The North Jersey contingent – which includes Barsik and Iyad Youghar of Hackensack and chairman of the International Circassian Council – will join others in New York tonight who are opposed to the Sochi locale for various reasons. This year's Olympics have been dogged by security concerns and by protests over Russia's anti-gay laws and human rights violations. The presidents of Germany and France are among the officials who are boycotting the Olympics this year.

In October, campaign members distributed around 500 informational kits to Olympic athletes from the United States, Canada, Sweden, England, Italy, Finland and the Czech Republic.

«It wasn't a call for a boycott; we wish the Olympians luck in Sochi. But it was important to us to let the athletes know about the land they are walking on, that it was a place of a genocide», said Barsik, adding they also urged athletes to remember the lives lost.

No one answered, Barsik said.

Thousands of years

The Circassians occupied a large area in the northwestern region of the Caucasus, known as Circassia, from 2500 B.C., until the 1860s, said Walter Richmond, director of Russian Studies Department at Occidental College in Los Angeles and author of «The Circassian Genocide», published last year by Rutgers University Press.

«They were by far the largest ethnic group in the Caucasus», he said.

Richmond said conservative estimates show that 600,000 to 700,000 Circassians died in the war and during the deportation process over a 10-month period.

«Most of them died in like a period of four months», he said.

Russia has acknowledged that that part of history was a «tragedy», Richmond said.

«They do acknowledge there were a lot of deaths, and they consider it a terrible tragedy, and a result of the war, and blame it partially on the Ottomans and blame it partially on the Circassians themselves», he said.

No one at the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., or the Russian Consulate in New York could be reached Thursday. When a group of North Jersey Circassians traveled to Vancouver in 2010, the Russian government disputed their account in a statement from the press secretary for the Russian Embassy in Washington.

«There was no genocide of the Circassians», it read. «All allegations in this context have no basis».

After the war, most of the Circassians ended up in Turkey, with large groups migrating to Syria, Jordan and Germany. Historians say many from the Golan Heights, who were driven out by the Israelis in 1967, settled in Paterson – at the invitation of the U.S. government.

Today, there are an estimated 6,000 Circassians in the United States – with about 5,000 living in North Jersey towns such as Wayne, Haledon, Prospect Park and Hawthorne. There are about 700 in California, and the rest scattered across the country, Youghar said.

On the record

Because so many Circassians live in North Jersey, Barsik and others reached out to their legislators for help, and last week they got it from Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, who issued a «Statement of Support for the Circassian People».

«Given this history it is deeply disrespectful to the Circassian community for the Russian Government to use Sochi as a stage to promote themselves to the world», he wrote in the statement, which is now part of the Congressional Record. «Although I condemn the decision to hold the Olympics in Sochi, this year's Winter Olympics present the opportunity to raise the world's awareness of the historical injustices perpetrated by Russia against the Circassian people and homeland».

The statement, Barsik said, has been circulated by Circassian civic organizations in Russia.

And the grass-roots movement continues. Barsik appeared this week on AJ Stream, a daily show on Al-Jazeera. She and Youghar also met with members of Congress and members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where they lobbied for U.S. recognition of «genocide», and discussed the Syrian conflict, which has left Circassian Syrians seeking refuge.

Richmond, the college professor, said that the choice of Sochi may have been a «blessing in disguise».

«It is going to take many years to get any justice from Russia, but you have to start somewhere in raising world opinion as to who they are and what happened to them, and it's a good start», he said.

Youghar said that he's hopeful that more people will learn to understand what they are fighting for.

«Maybe honest people of the world will see Circassians out there telling the history, and talking about the tragedy, and maybe the conscious of the world somehow will wake up and will see the tragedy of the Circassians», he said. «We are going to hold demonstrations, the Circassians' work will not stop at Sochi».


Circassians in North Jersey continue protest of Sochi as Olympic host
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Опубликовал administrator, 12-02-2014, 11:47. Просмотров: 1853
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