Sep 17, 2014 - 2014 Olympics Was Site of Ethnic Cleansing Say Protesters, By Isaac Oommen
On the 7th of February, the 2014 Winter Olympics opened to much fanfare in Sochi, Krasnodar Krai, Russia. Cited by Russia as the most expensive Winter Games ever, the event has been called out for using much of this expense to spy on journalists and attendees. Sochi has also been cited before even winning the bid, of being the land where Russia ethnically cleansed indigenous Circassians.
“Sochi is the site of a genocide,” said Tamara Barsik, Director of Communications for NoSochi2014, the Circassian Cultural Institute and International Circassian Council. “To us, it is comparable to Auschwitz to Jewish people. It is where half of our nation was massacred, and 90% of the remaining half forced to leave.”
On 21 May 1864 Russia occupied Sochi after more than 100 years of warfare with the Circassia. About 700,000 Circassians continue to live in the Sochi area. Around 6 million live outside of the region today, in places such as Turkey, to which they were originally deported, and also in places like New Jersey, to where they immigrated.
“The Sochi Olympics reminds us that we are a minority in our homeland,” said Barsik. “They are trying to terminate a nation, and create a Circassia without Circassians. We have no right to return…we have tried but Russia has said no.”
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has previously picked controversial sites for the Games. The 2010 Winter Olympics were held in Vancouver, British Columbia (BC), Canada, where mass protests were held for having the event on occupied indigenous territory.
“The public’s objections to the 2010 Olympics were not unique to the BC Games and reflect the systemic damage that travels with the Olympic industry and the IOC,” said Alissa Westergard-Thorpe, an organizer with the Olympic Resistance Network (ORN), one of the key groups that mobilized resistance against the Games. “The situation in Sochi highlights this pattern of the Olympic industry that supports rampant corruption and financial misconduct, ecological destruction and waste, exploitation of local communities, increased military and police powers, exclusive corporate interests, restrictions on public protest and the free press, nation-wide criminalization of anti-homophobic opinions, and even the Host City’s unacknowledged history as a place of state ethnic cleansing policies.”
NoSochi2014 protesters are organizing mass demonstrations across the world in cities like New York, London and Berlin.
Russia has responded quickly to any indication of protests within Sochi or Russia. A NoSochi2014 press release, confirmed with reports by Circassian protesters and allies on Twitter, said that a total of four arrests have taken place in Sochi, and 47 in Nalichik, Russia. The press release noted that some of those arrested were Syrian Circassian refugees, and not even involved with protests.
The NoSochi website was also hacked on the eve of the Games opening, according to the International Business Times.
“The Circassian culture and community is being represented in the Sochi 2014 Cultural Olympiad,” said Emmanuelle Moreau, Head of Media Relations for the IOC, and said that the Sochi 2014 press office would know more. The Sochi 2014 Press Office did not comment, but redirected back to the IOC Press Office.
According to Barsik, the point of the Sochi Olympics is to display the power of the Russian state, and to develop Sochi into a tourist location.
“A few men are getting extremely wealthy from (the Games),” she said. “How does the IOC think that this is okay?”
Isaac Oommen is freelance journo based in the unceded Coast Salish Territories aka Vancouver. This piece was also published in the Sunday Guardian in India.