* Tom Gross: I enjoy the Winter Olympics – especially the ice figure skating – as much as anybody. But while marveling at the games, which officially open tonight, we might ponder why there is near total silence by the “international community” about the neighboring territory of Abkhazia, which has been militarily occupied and ethnically cleansed by Russia since 2008 -- with barely a peep of protest from the likes of Oxfam. Nor much interest in the fact that the first modern genocide -- of the Circassian people -- took place in Sochi, and that the 3-to-5 million-strong Circassian diaspora say that Sochi belongs to them, and they are calling this the “Genocide Olympics”.
* Russia used the cover of the 2008 Summer Olympics (while world attention was diverted elsewhere) to occupy Abkhazia, a short drive from Sochi, and South Ossetia. (See this dispatch from August 2008: And the Olympic gold for brutality goes to... )
* Eugene Kontorovich: “The Russian proxy regime in Abkhazia now engages in what the West regards as a major crime elsewhere – bringing settlers into the occupied territory to solidify the demographic balance against the few remaining Georgians.”
* Much of the materials for the massive Sochi Olympic construction projects – rock and cement – are taken from Abkhazia.
* Eugene Kontorovich: “The EU has recently taken the position that it would be illegal to do business with Israeli companies that operate in the West Bank. By this standard any participation in the Sochi Games – from corporate sponsors, to contributions and fees from national Olympic committees – would be forbidden. Making ‘ending occupation” the centerpiece of U.S.-EU foreign policy while playing the Occupation Olympics magnifies the extent of the West’s Caucasian capitulation.”
* Tom Gross: Unlike Israeli claims that it needs to maintain certain security measures in the West Bank to prevent rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and on Ben-Gurion airport, and to prevent suicide attacks throughout Israel, Russia has no such needs for its occupation of Abkhazia and the dozens of other occupied territories Russia presently holds.
* Joshua Keating : One controversy surrounding the Olympics that’s gotten relatively little attention is the ongoing campaign against the games by the global Circassian community. The choice of Sochi as a venue has highlighted a tragic but largely forgotten chapter in the region’s history. The Circassian Genocide, after a last stand by the Circassians at Sochi in 1864. As many as 625,000 Circassians may have died and up to 800,000 were deported.”
* “In one small but significant development, the governor of Krasnodar province, where the games will take place, acknowledged that ‘This land has not belonged to the Russian Empire, it belonged to Caucasus nations, to Circassians.’”
* Tom Gross: I attach two articles below, followed by some links to some other articles about the non-sporting side of the Sochi Olympics. There is also an article by Frank Bruni about the persecution of gays elsewhere. It is not only in Russia where there is discrimination against gays. Russia’s hardly the worst. In Cameroon, for example, a gay rights activist was killed last summer after being tortured with a hot iron.
As I have pointed out several times in these dispatches, states such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mauritania and Sudan officially kill gays. In Nigeria, gays have been publicly whipped. In Cameroon, two men aroused suspicion and were arrested because “they drank Baileys Irish Cream.”
* You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.
1. “Putin’s Occupation Olympics” (By Eugene Kontorovich, Reuters, Feb. 5, 2014)
2. “Did the age of genocide begin in Sochi?” (By Joshua Keating, Slate, Feb. 5, 2014)
3. “Love, Death and Sochi” (By Frank Bruni, New York Times, Feb. 3, 2014)
4. “Journalists’ computers, phones hacked ‘almost immediately’ in Sochi” (NBC News, Feb. 5, 2014)
5. “Russian official lets it slip that there are cameras in the Olympic hotel bathrooms” (Slate, Feb. 6, 2014)
6. “Journalists’ horror at Sochi hotels” (Daily Mail, Feb. 5, 2014)
7. “Journalists at Sochi are live-tweeting their hilarious hotel experiences” (Washington Post, Feb. 5, 2014)
8. Russia leaks “F--- the EU transcript” (Recording)
MOSCOW VIOLATES LEGAL PRINCIPLES THE WEST CLAIMS TO HOLD MOST DEAR
Putin’s Occupation Olympics
By Eugene Kontorovich
February 5, 2014
The upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi has naturally led to a critical look at the host country’s human rights record, with particular focus on issues such as the treatment of gays and journalists.
Yet in a less-noticed offense, Russian President Vladimir Putin is using the Olympics to advance his violations of international law – namely, as a tool for expanding Russia’s control over the occupied Georgian territory of Abkhazia. Despite the conquest of a neighboring nation – an action almost unheard of since World War Two and banned by the U.N. Charter – the international community has scarcely protested.
Russia has used the proximity of the Olympics to solidify its latest conquest. The main town of Abkhazia, Sukhumi, is a short drive from Sochi. Much of the materials for the massive Olympic construction projects – rock and cement – are taken from Abkhazia. Russia has quartered thousands of construction workers for the Games in Sukhumi, further blurring the lines between Georgian territory and Russia proper.
Russia and Georgia had clashed over the latter’s border provinces since the breakup of the Soviet Union. In 2008, Russia fought Georgia, its tiny neighbor, in a brief war that resulted in Moscow fully conquering two pockets of territory – South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In international law, these territories remain occupied parts of sovereign Georgian territory.
After the war, Russia recognized occupied Abkhazia as an “independent” state. Following the lead of Turkey’s “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” Russia sought to present the situation as one of cession and self-determination rather than aggressive conquest.
But other countries have not bought the ploy, and continue to regard Abkhazia as an occupied Georgian territory. Abkhazia is a puppet, propped up entirely by Russia. Its residents have been given Russian passports, its economy runs on Russian grants, and its territory is controlled by the Russian military. It is a de facto conquest of Russia – violating international norms of sovereign borders.
Right after the 2008 war, Western nations threatened various diplomatic wrist-slaps for Kremlin’s conquest – suspending G8 membership and the like. None of those measures materialized. Indeed, in the Alice in Wonderland world of international diplomacy, Russia remains a member of the Middle East Peace Quartet, whose principle goal is ending what it sees as Israeli occupation. And instead of sanctions, Russia gets to host the Olympics, using newly conquered Abkhazia as a staging ground.
Moreover, the Russian proxy regime now engages in what the West regards as a major crime elsewhere – bringing settlers into the occupied territory to solidify the demographic balance against the few remaining Georgians.
The totality of Russian control was demonstrated in late January when, just weeks before the Olympics, Russian forces unilaterally moved the Russian border seven miles into Abkhazia. The extraordinary timing of the action shows Russia has understood that the world is giving it a free pass when it comes to the conquest of its neighbors.
The international silence about the deepening occupation of Georgia seems even more like acceptance when contrasted with the diplomatic outrage the U.S. and EU express about what they regard as occupation elsewhere.
For example, the EU has recently taken the position that it would be illegal to do business with Israeli companies that operate in the West Bank. Of course, by this standard any participation in the Sochi Games – from corporate sponsors, to contributions and fees from national Olympic committees – would be forbidden. Making “ending occupation” the centerpiece of U.S.-EU foreign policy while playing the Occupation Olympics magnifies the extent of the West’s Caucasian capitulation.
Four years ago, former U.S. ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker wrote that “attending the 2014 Olympics … would make all of us complicit in cementing in practice Russia’s changing European borders by force, even if we reject those changes in principle.” Now, the cement has set – cement that was itself taken from Georgia.
As Ukrainians protest Kiev’s fall into Russia’s rebuilt sphere of influence, Western nations must understand that such developments did not come out of nowhere. Countries in the region, like Ukraine and Armenia, have been paying attention as Moscow forcibly reconstituted parts of its old empire – violating legal principles the West claims to hold most dear.
DID THE AGE OF GENOCIDE BEGIN IN SOCHI?
Did the Age of Genocide Begin in Sochi?
By Joshua Keating
Slate (online magazine)
February 5, 2014
Of the myriad controversies surrounding the upcoming Olympics, one that’s gotten relatively little attention – at least outside Russia – is the ongoing campaign against the games by the global Circassian community. The choice of Sochi as a venue has highlighted a tragic but largely forgotten chapter in the region’s history. The Circassian Genocide, book published last year by Occidental College historian Walter Richmond, makes a compelling case that Sochi was the site of modern Europe’s first genocide, a crime against humanity that presaged many of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.
The Circassians, who also self-identify as the Adyghe, were once one of the predominant ethnic groups of the North Caucasus, predominantly Sunni Muslim and speaking a distinctive group of languages. They also had the unfortunate historical luck to have lived between two expansionist empires – Czarist Russia and Ottoman Turkey – at the worst possible time.
Russia had gradually pushed southward into the Caucasus from the 16th through the 19th centuries, making efforts to “pacify” the local inhabitants, forcing them out of their traditional homes in the mountains to more accessible and controllable areas along the coast. This often involved giving Cossack groups the right to settle in the region.
Neither empire had much infrastructure in the region, but in 1829, Russia and Turkey – after a two-year war – signed the Treaty of Adrianople, which formally recognized the czar as the ruler of Circassian territory along the Black Sea, which accelerated Russia’s efforts to consolidate its control over the areas.
As one Russian general put it at the time, Alexander II thought that the Circassians “were nothing more than rebellious Russian subjects, ceded to Russia by their legal sovereign 50 the Sultan,” when in fact they were “dealing with one and a half million valiant, militaristic mountain dwellers who had never recognized any authority over them.” Clashes between Circassians and Cossacks were frequent, and often resulted in punitive raids by Russian forces. St. Petersburg also began a policy of strongly encouraging the Circassians to move to Turkey.
The plight of the Circassians became a cause célèbre in Britain during the era of the “Great Game,” often accompanied with exotified portrayals of their traditional life. (The beautiful Circassian woman was a popular trope used in European advertising and pop culture in the 19th century.) During the 1853–1856 Crimean War, British agents encouraged the Circassians to rebel, and the locals anticipated a military intervention in the Caucasus that never arrived (a fate that would repeat itself for other victims of mass atrocities in the decades to follow).
As Richmond writes, the Treaty of Paris, which ended the war, had “declared Circassia a part of Russia but did not accord the Circassians the same rights as Russian Subjects. The Russians could deal with them as they wished, and St. Peterburg chose to treat them as an enemy population occupying Russian land.” The Circassians were, in effect, stateless people.
After the war ended, Alexander decided that rather than attempting to pacify the Circassians, they should be forcibly relocated to Turkey. And in 1859 the military began a campaign of destroying Circassian villages and massacring their inhabitants to drive them to the coast.
With the fairly cynical encouragement of the Ottomans, many Circassians resisted, but the “Caucasus War” was a one-sided affair and Russia declared victory after a last stand by the Circassians at Sochi in 1864, after which the formal evacuation of the group by ship from the Black Sea coast to Turkey began.
Despite a horrific humanitarian catastrophe taking place along the coast, with those waiting for boats to take them away dying in massive numbers from typhus and smallpox amid a brutal winter, Russian troops continued their campaign of destroying Circassian villages in the mountains, creating thousands more refugees. Turkish ship owners did not help the situation by overcrowding their boats and charging exorbinant fees to the refugees.
Richmond quotes a Russian officer describing the scene around Sochi as the Russians were celebrating their victory: “On the road our eyes were met with a staggering image: corpses of women, children, elderly persons, torn to pieces and half-eaten by dogs ; deportees emaciated by hunger and disease, almost too weak to move their legs, collapsing from exhaustion and becoming prey to 4 dogs while still alive.”
Nikolai Evdokimov, the general in charge of the operation, wrote annoyedly, of a subordinate, “I wrote to Count Sumarokov as to why he keeps reminding me in every report concerning the frozen bodies which cover the roads.”
According to Richmond’s estimates, about 625,000 Circassians died during the operation. And somewhere between 600,000 and 800,000 people were deported.
Did the deportation of the Circassians constitute a genocide? Richmond argues that under the modern international legal definition, which refers to acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” it does.
It also featured a number of eerie portents of crimes to come. Evdokimov used the Russian word “ochishcnenie,” which means “cleansing,” to describe the forced migration of the Circassians, more than a century before a similar Serbian word gave the world the term “ethnic cleansing.”
The fortunes of the Circassians were not improved much in the subsequent years. The language and religion of the few who managed to remain in the Caucasus were suppressed by the Soviets, though they were spared the fate of the Chechens, who were deported en masse under Stalin. Most were dispersed across the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East, and in a cruel twist of fate, some were once again the victims of an ethnic cleansing campaign in the Balkans during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877.
About 1,500 Circassians returned to the Caucasus after the collapse of the Soviet Union, including 200 repatriated after they were attacked by ethnic Albanians during the Kosovo war. More recently the Circassians have been in the news when hundreds of them fled their longtime homes in Syria back to Russia to escape the civil war. A number of them are currently applying for permanent residence in their ancestral homeland. Israeli Circassians have also held protests over what they believe is discriminatory treatment in recent years.
Today there are about 3 million to 5 million Circassians living abroad and about 700,000 in the Caucasus. The post-Soviet Russian government has been slow to recognize the extent of what happened to the group and has strongly resisted attempts to label it as genocide – the anti-Russian government of nearby Georgia did so in 2011 – portraying Circassian nationalism as merely an outgrowth of the region’s Islamic radicalism. The global community commemorates Circassian Genocide Memorial Day every May 21.
However, the decision to hold the games in the symbolically important city of Sochi has focused new attention on the issue, with Circassian activists in New Jersey launching an international campaign against the “genocide Olympics.” The group has been protesting since Vancouver, and one of its pamphlets informs athletes that they’ll be “skiing on mass graves.” It’s possible that local activists may attempt to stage some sort of opposition at the games themselves, though the authorities have been coming down hard on protests of all kinds.
TOP READER’S COMMENT
In one small but significant development, the governor of Krasnodar province, where the games will take place, acknowledged that “This land has not belonged to the Russian Empire, it belonged to Caucasus nations, to Circassians.”
Given the painful memories associated with Sochi, it’s understandable that Circassians have reacted with outrage to the choice of venue. But it also may be the only thing that could have reminded the world of a largely forgotten tragedy.
THE DANGERS OF DRINKING BAILEYS IRISH CREAM
Love, Death and Sochi
By Frank Bruni
The New York Times
Feb. 3, 2014
There are few moments sweeter, more humbling or more thrilling than telling someone you love how you feel.
As soon as Roger Mbede did that, he was damned.
This happened in Cameroon, which, like many African countries, treats homosexuality as if it were a curse, a scourge. He lost sight of that, and made the mistake of sending several text messages that were too candid, too trusting.
“I’m very much in love with you,” one of them said, and the man who got it, apparently worried that he was being set up, turned Roger in. Law enforcement officers scrutinized all of his correspondence for suggestions of sexual activity with people of the same gender, which can lead to a prison sentence of five years.
One of his lawyers, Alice Nkom, told me that they also made him strip so that they could examine his anus, as if the ultimate proof would be there. This isn’t unusual in such interrogations, she said, and it was just the start of his degradation after his March 2011 arrest. The end came last month, when he died at 34.
I’ll come back to that. But first, the reason I’m sharing his story.
On Thursday the Olympics begin. Worldwide attention will turn to Sochi, Russia, and there will be a spike in commentary about Russia’s dangerously homophobic climate, which has already prompted discussion and protest.
But while this will be an important reminder of the kind of persecution that L.G.B.T. people endure in a country openly hostile to them, it will also be an incomplete one. Russia’s hardly the worst.
Although it has an easily abused and utterly ridiculous law against so-called gay propaganda, it doesn’t technically criminalize same-sex activity. About 75 other countries do, and by the laws or customs of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mauritania, Sudan and certain parts of Nigeria and Somalia, such activity is even punishable by death. Gays, it turns out, are handy scapegoats, distracting people from the grave problems that really hold them back.
In Nigeria, the president signed new legislation last month that establishes 14-year prison sentences for anyone who enters into a same-sex union and 10-year sentences for people who publicly display same-sex affection or who simply participate in gay groups. There have since been accounts of gay people being rounded up. A man in northern Nigeria was publicly whipped for having had sex with another man seven years earlier. A BBC reporter described how the man screamed during the 20 lashes.
L.G.B.T. people in Jamaica live in fear, despite a fresh, hopeful push by some Jamaicans to repeal a law that permits long prison sentences for sodomy. Mobs there have chased people believed to be gay, and last year a transgendered teen was reportedly killed — stabbed, shot and run over with a car — in a hate crime.
Strains of Russia’s florid bigotry can be found in its neighbors, too: Lithuania, Latvia, Moldova, Ukraine. Ty Cobb, the director of global engagement for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, which is about to publish a world report, noted that many traditionalists in these countries cast L.G.B.T. people as the emblems and agents of a decadent Western culture.
Human Rights Watch recently examined Kyrgyzstan and found that while the country doesn’t criminalize same-sex activity, the police there detain, taunt and shame gay men routinely and with impunity.
The group also investigated Cameroon, where it says a gay rights activist was killed last summer after being tortured with a hot iron. Over the last three years, according to the group, at least 28 people in Cameroon have been prosecuted for homosexual conduct.
Two men were hauled in for questioning because lubricant and condoms had been found in their house. Another two men aroused suspicion because of their feminine dress and beverage choice. They drank Baileys Irish Cream.
Nkom was involved in their case, as she was with Roger, whose story she and another of his lawyers, Michel Togue, fleshed out for me.
In prison, where he spent more than a year, he was apparently roughed up. Raped, too. He got sick, and while news reports mentioned a hernia, Nkom told me that he also had testicular cancer. He didn’t get proper treatment, she said, not even after his release, partly because he went into hiding, terrified of being put away again.
His relatives didn’t intervene in his medical care. They spurned him, she said, contributing to the isolation that hastened his deterioration.
Back before the text message, back before the dread label of homosexual was hung on him, Roger had confidence. He had respect. He studied philosophy at a local university, with an eye on a teaching career.
“He was the hope of the family,” Nkom told me. “He was the one who had a future.”
Then he shared what was in his heart. And that future was gone.
FURTHER READING ABOUT THE NON-SPORTING SIDE OF THE OLYMPICS
(So far Edward Snowden has nothing to say about this....)
* NBC News’ Richard Engel: My Computers, Cellphone Were Hacked ‘Almost Immediately’ In Sochi
* Russian Official Lets It Slip That There Are Cameras In the Olympic Hotel Bathrooms
* Journalists’ horror at Sochi hotels. The few that did get rooms, were met with stray dogs, half-built walls, a lobby with no floor and yellow water spitting from the sinks.
* Journalists at Sochi are live-tweeting their hilarious and gross hotel experiences
(The above links contains a number of pictures.)
I may add extra links here in the coming days, if you refresh the page.
RUSSIA LEAKS “F--- THE EU” TRANSCRIPT
The White House has reacted with fury after Russia yesterday leaked an embarrassing telephone conversation that they hacked between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, during which she says “Fuck the EU”.
Nuland adds: “I don’t think it’s a good idea,” for Klitschko to go into the government.
-- Tom Gross