the genocide at sochi

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Beginning Friday night, hundreds of millions of people will tune in to the Winter Olympics, which Russia hopes will prove to the world that the country has re-emerged as a world power after its long, post-Soviet funk—and that Sochi itself deserves “international resort” status. Elided from this narrative, though, is what took place in exactly the same spot 150 years ago, when Sochi's indigenous residents were routed by the Imperial Russian Army, the survivors herded onto ships and exiled, never to return.

Unacknowledged by Vladimir Putin’s government, the ethnic cleansing of the mostly-Muslim Circassians is considered Europe’s first modern genocide by many historians, and provides a gloomy backdrop to the Olympic glamour in this subtropical city—not least for surviving Circassians who are furious over being excluded from the celebration in Sochi.

Circassians have lived on the Black Sea coast since at least the time of the ancient Greeks. They have their own language, but at the time of the Russian invasion they were largely illiterate—they had no Anne Frank, no one who recorded the details of their destruction. The closest equivalent was an anonymous Circassian who sent an appeal to Queen Victoria, dated April 12, 1864.
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