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Russian Olympics clouded by 19th century deaths
March 21, 2010 / 11:43 AM / in 8 years

Russian Olympics clouded by 19th century deaths

* Apology demanded for mass murder before 2014 Olympics

* Call for Georgia to recognise deaths as genocide

By Amie Ferris-Rotman

TBILISI, March 21 (Reuters) - A Muslim diaspora is demanding the Sochi 2014 Olympics be cancelled or moved unless Russia apologises for the 19th century deaths of many of their ancestors in the location where the Winter Games will be held.

The Circassian diaspora, Muslim indigenous people from the northwest Caucasus now scattered across the globe, join a swelling list of opponents to the Games -- from environmentalist group Greenpeace to Amnesty International.

Circassians argue the Sochi Games are as insensitive as hosting a sporting competition on the grounds of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz.

2014 marks 150 years since a tsarist military campaign wiped out 300,000 Circassians in and around Sochi. Although recorded by Russian imperial historians in 1864, no nation has recognised the deaths as genocide.

Deportations and turmoil led many Circassians south to Turkey and elsewhere, and their seven million or so descendants are spread across the world from the United States to Jordan to Israel. About 700,000 remain in the northwest Caucasus.

“The Games are part of Russia’s policy of eradicating Circassian history,” said U.S.-born Lisa Jarkasi, co-founder of No Sochi 2014, a lobbying group comprised of 30 Circassian organisations.

“They are constructing on a mass grave. We need to put a stop to this,” she told a North Caucasus conference organised by U.S. think tank Jamestown Foundation.

No Sochi 2014, which held protests at last month’s Vancouver Games as well as in New York and Istanbul, has appealed to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to reconsider the chosen site but has not received an answer.

The Sochi 2014 Organising Committee, in a statement to Reuters, said: “It is not our responsibility to comment on historic or political events or activity”. The Kremlin declined immediate comment.

On Saturday Circassians, using documents from the state archives in Tbilisi, formally presented Georgian lawmakers with a resolution asking them to recognise what occurred as genocide.

Should ex-Soviet Georgia agree to such a move it would likely further strain relations with Russia, still in tatters after the two fought a brief war in August 2008 over Georgia’s breakaway region South Ossetia.

The closest the Russian government has come to apologising for the bloodshed was in 1994 when former President Boris Yeltsin acknowledged that resistance to tsarist violence was legitimate. (Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman, additional reporting by Denis Dyomkin in Moscow; Editing by Matthew Jones)

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