by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
SOCHI, Russia – A leader of Russia’s Circassian ethnic minority was arrested by authorities on Friday in the latest instance of Russia’s crackdown on protestors near the Sochi Games.
Asker Sokht, a moderate Circassian activist who has been considered an ally to the Kremlin, was arrested after dozens of Circassian activists were arrested on February 7th while attempting to protest at the Sochi Olympics. On Friday, Sokht was detained and sentenced to eight days in custody for “hooliganism and disobeying police.”
Last week, Sokht was quoted criticizing the Sochi Olympics for its opening ceremony. The February 7th opening ceremony traced the cultural history of Russia, but did not acknowledge the Circassian ethnic minority group.
“It is clear that behind the alleged hooliganism or disobeying charge against him are his critical statements about the Olympics in Sochi,” a Circassian activist group stated in a letter addressed to the regional governor demanding Sokht’s release.
Thousands of Circassians were displaced out of the Sochi Region by the Tsarist army when it invaded the Persian-controlled North Caucasus region. This event led to a fifty year war which killed thousands more Circassians.
Circassian activists have expressly opposed the Winter Olympics being held in Russia, as the Circassians claim that Sochi is the site their people’s expulsion from Russia. In 2007, an anti-Olympics campaign called No Sochi 2014 was created with the aim to “strip Russia of the Sochi Olympics based on it being the location of the Circassian Genocide.” Circassians view the Sochi Games as particularly offensive because they fall on the 150th anniversary of the alleged genocide.
Circassian activists have attempted to convince the Kremlin to acknowledge the Circassian persecution. “This is deeply sad for Circassians. Even those who weren’t strongly associated with the nationalist movement and were fairly assimilated in Russia interpret this as an insult to the Circassian people,” stated Adam Bogus, the leader of a Circassian council in the town of Maykop, which is roughly 150 miles from Sochi.
Russia has enforced a large-scale ethnic crackdown in the North Caucasus region, where Islamic insurgency has caused conflicts for years. Citizens in this region allege invasive security measures and racial profiling both ahead of, and during the Sochi games.
For more information, please see:
Al Jazeera – Russia Detains Circassian Leader Protesting Sochi Olympics – 17 February 2014
CNN – Russia Arrests Leader of Circassian Ethnic Minority – 17 February 2014
International Business Times – Circassians Protest Winter Olympics Being Held at Sochi Genocide Site – 17 February 2014
Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty – Circassian Leader Reportedly Detained Near Sochi – 17 February 2014