Sunday, September 3, 2017

Could Genetic Testing Threaten Moscow’s Control of the North Caucasus?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 1 – Now that genetic testing is becoming easier and less expensive, ever more people in Russia as elsewhere are learning about their genetic backgrounds, something that ultimately has political consequences despite the fact that ethnicity and citizenship are not based on genetics but on history and culture.

            That is because some may learn that their genetic background is both different and more complicated than they suspect, with some Russians who are inordinately proud of their national links, for example, discovering that they in fact descend from numerous ethnic groups, something historians have long known but that genetic testing makes clear.

            But there is a more intriguing possibility among some non-Russian groups, especially those that Moscow has sought to split up into separate nationalities as part of its divide-and-rule strategy, because genetic testing may underscore common ancestral links that Moscow has tried to obscure.

            That is perhaps particularly the case with the Circassians, a nation that resisted Russian imperial expansion for more than a century and that the Russians and then the Soviets divided up into more than half a dozen ethnic groups to weaken the group that the center’s genocidal expulsion had not succeeded in destroying.

            If these various Circassian groups learn from genetic testing that they are in fact one nation in terms of ancestry, it will be easier for activists to promote the revival and intensification of a common Circassian identity more difficult for Moscow to keep them from demanding that Greater Circassia be restored.

            That possibility makes particularly interesting reports from Adygeya, the self-designator of Circassians, that Moscow scholars have launched a two-week genetic-anthropological expedition to form a genetic portrait of the population there (  and

            If similar programs are carried out in other Circassian areas, including among the Shapsugs of Sochi, the Kabards of Kabardino-Balkaria, and the Circassians of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, or if individuals in these places seek such testing on their own, that would almost inevitably have political consequences far beyond what Moscow would like. 

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