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Sochi in History


I suppose there aren’t a whole lot of places in Russia where horrible things haven’t happened. But still:

History has largely been kind to Alexander II, the Russian czar who freed the serfs in 1861, just two years before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 (the two world leaders even corresponded about their plans.)Modern historians refer to him as the “Czar-Liberator” and compare him to Mikhail Gorbachev for his willingness to engage with the West and reform Russia.

But on the occasion of the 2014 Winter Olympics being held in Sochi and the surrounding areas, it’s helpful to look back and remember that 600,000 locals died from starvation, exposure, drowning and massacres in a concerted campaign by the Russian Empire to expel the Circassian people, as they were called, from the region. The Circassians and the other inhabitants of the Caucasus region did not fit into the Czar’s reform program, because he viewed them as an inherent risk to the security of Russia’s southern frontier and the nation is still coming to terms with the consequences of the czar’s expulsion of the Circassian people today.

The czar’s approval of this rapid expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Circassians to the Ottoman Empire resulted in an ethnic cleansing through disease and drowning as overcrowded ferries crossed the Black Sea. The Ottomans were unprepared for the influx of refugees, and the absence of adequate shelter caused even more deaths from exposure. Those Circassians who attempted to remain in the Russian Empire and fight for their land were massacred. Sochi’s “Red Hill,” where the skiing and snowboarding events will take place during these Olympic Games, was the site of the Circassian last stand, where the Imperial Russian armies celebrated their “victory” over the local defenders.

Really, this is like holding the Olympics on the site of Wounded Knee.

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  • Erik,
    Also too, having the games along the “Trail of Tears.”

    • Tybalt

      But in this case it’s not accidental; it is one of the reasons why they are there.

  • jackrabbitslim

    The Red Hill Resort! Almost as luxurious as the Donner Party Mansion or the lovely Fort Pillow Spa.

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      Almost as luxurious as the Donner Party Mansion

      …try the “veal”!

  • The Circassian diaspora which as a result of the 1864 genocide is 90% of the population has been protesting against Sochi as the site of the Olympics for years now. They live now mostly in Syria (where the issue of repatriation to the Caucasus is one of life and death), Turkey, and Jordan with smaller groups in Palestine and New Jersey. The foremost expert on the events of the 1860s in Circassia is probably Walt Richmond at Occidental College in Los Angeles.



    • Anonymous

      Interestingly, the Circassians and the druze are the only two non-Jewish ethno-religious groups that are subject to Israel’s mandatory conscription law.
      Also, an interesting factoid: Israel’s best soccer player is a Circassian who made his name playing for the Kazan (i.e Russia’s official Tatar) football club.

      • Thlayli
      • I am not sure why the first is at all odd. The Circassians are not Palestinians Arabs, but rather a non-Arab people indigenous to the Caucasus. As such this small population group is not considered a “security threat” by the Israeli state as are Christian and Muslim Arabs indigenous to Palestine. Generally, states want to conscript as many people as possible. Exemptions are sometimes made for a variety of reason, but I know of no state that has limited conscription to a single ethnic group.

    • JoyfulA

      One tiny good result of the Sochi Olympics is answering my question of whatever became of the Circassians. From my work, I have noticed them now and then in ancient and olden times, yet they are on no modern maps, and I have often wondered.

      Thanks for the posts, Otto!

      • Actually there are modern maps of where the Circassians live for instance the Karachai-Cherkess (Circassian) Republic. The Circassians were split into three groups by the Soviets, the Adyge, the Cherkess (Circassians), and the Karbardians. There are the following republics in the North Caucasus of the the Russian Federation: The Adygea Republic, a Karachai-Cherkess Repbulic, and Karbardino-Balkar Republic. In total there are about 600,000 Circassians (Adyge, Cherkess, and Karbardians combined) still in the Russian Federation versus about 1 million in Turkey, a hundred thousand in Jordan, and about hundred thousand in the rest of the world combined.

        • The figures seem to be inconsistent. Other figures give 700,000 still in the Russian Federation and up to 3.7 million in diaspora of which over half are in Turkey.

          • Barry Freed

            I believe there are still a few thousand in Egypt.

            • A few, but the Circassian presence in Egypt is much older than that in Turkey, Jordan, and Syria. In the former it can be traced back to the Mamluks in the 14th Century. Whereas the bulk of the diaspora in Anatolia and the Levant are descended from people expelled in the 1860s.

  • Shit, that’s probably why Putin picked it.

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      Is that where they’re holding the Biathlon? Because that would add an extra “FU” to the whole historical inappropriateness.

    • Ronan

      Indeed. Wouldn’t put it past him

    • Actually, yes it was but it has backfired somewhat. 1864 is the 150th anniversary of the genocide and putting the Olympics at Sochi was meant to show that the area was indisputably Russian. By being so blatant, however, Putin gave the Circassians their best PR weapon to publicize their cause in the last 150 years.

  • Here’s hoping the mishaps at the hotels and so on are the result of poltergeist activity that culminate with Vlad the Imprisoner falling down an open manhole.

  • Fascinating history; also far from the first time the Olympics have been held in the site of past atrocity.

  • Denverite

    I spent time in Sochi around the turn of the millennia (long story). It was about a decade after the fall of the USSR. It was a lot of fun, in a very kitschy way — I suspect that vibe is now gone. Also, so much vodka. It was served in carafes with dinner.

    • DrS

      How was the ketchup?

      The ketchup I see here in Russian markets comes in tubes, like toothpaste.

  • jon

    I’m loving the new Olympic events, especially snowboarding down a mountain of skulls.

  • cpinva

    given Russia’s history of pogroms, along with the 10’s of millions lost during WW’s I & II (and the revolutions), it’s surprising that there’s anyone left in the country.

    “Really, this is like holding the Olympics on the site of Wounded Knee.”

    don’t give USOC any ideas!

    • UserGoogol

      Well, hosting the Olympics in a very poor and very rural part of South Dakota would be a bad idea regardless of its historical backstory.

  • KmCO

    I’m actually boycotting the Olympics this year. This has been really, really hard for me on account of how much I usually love watching the Olympic games, but I just can’t support the bullshit (to put it kindly) that is Putin’s Russia.

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  • I have lots of issues with the Sochi Olympics, but this isn’t one of them.

    We should all get away from the idea of “sacred” land. Nothing is actually sacred. Supernatural, superstitious bullshit is just that. And plenty of people died in many parts of the world where life goes on.

    Wounded knee is in the middle of nowhere, but in urban areas you have to reuse the land.

    • Coconino

      In my living, I have to do a lot of tribal consultations. I tell you, every single tribe with whom I’ve ever consulted and all the rest would have strong issue with your proposition not to hold any land sacred. And they’d be right.

  • Let Our Fame Be Great by Oliver Bullough is mostly about the Circassians, and quite good.

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