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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cherkess Group Says It Will Secede

Supporters of the losing candidate in the race for president of Karachayevo-Cherkessia say their Cherkess ethnic group will secede from the mountainous republic and create its own territory.

"We can live peacefully, but only if separated," political activist Ali Konov said of the Cherkess' relations with the republic's dominant ethnic group, the Karachai.

Konov, campaign manager for Cherkess leader Stanislav Derev's presidential bid, said an informal division of the republic between Cherkess and Karachai had already begun.

"Even kids in school here have been moved to form classes" consisting of either group, Konov said Wednesday in a telephone interview from the republic's capital, Cherkessk.

Konov could not say, however, exactly how the Cherkess, who are dispersed throughout the republic and dominate only in one of the republic's districts, could secede.

Derev, a vodka magnate who serves as mayor of Cher-kessk, won 18.6 percent of the vote last month in the republic's first presidential elections, according to the local election committee.

He lost to Karachai leader and retired army General Vlad-imir Semyonov, who polled some 75 percent but has not been declared the republic's first president because Derev has appealed the vote result in court.

Derev and his supporters say the election was rigged by officials from the administration of the outgoing appointed head of the republic, Vladimir Khubiyev, who is a Karachai. Derev supporters have staged protests in Cherkessk and blocked roads as tensions flared between the two groups.

The republic's top court earlier this month declared the poll valid, but Derev appealed and Russia's Supreme Court is now to take up the case.

Derev has been accused by his opponents of fueling ethnic conflict and harboring aspirations for a "greater Cherkessia" across the territory of neighboring republics. The region is populated with a patchwork of ethnic groups such as the Adyg and Kabardin, who are closely related to the Cherkess f unlike the Karachai, who belong to a different, Turkic-language group.

The Karachai and Cherkess account for 30 percent and 11 percent of the republic's population. The balance of power, however, lies with ethnic Russians, who account for some 40 percent, and the Russian speaker of the local parliament, Igor Ivanov, who was appointed by President Boris Yeltsin to temporarily run the republic.

Experts also said that it would be next to impossible to divide the republic among Karachai and Cherkess.

"Theoretically, it is clear that such dual-ethnic republics have no future, and the federal authorities lack both will and resources to divide the two groups," said Alexander Iskandryan, head of the Center for Caucasian Studies in Moscow.

Iskandryan said tensions between Karachai and Cherkess will continue to flare no matter who gets to run the republic.

Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin united Karachai and Cherkess into one province in 1922. Lenin's successor, Josef Stalin, deported the Karachai to Kazakhstan during World War II, accusing the entire nation of wanting to collaborate with German invaders.

The Karachai were allowed to return in 1957, only to discover that most of their enclaves had been taken over by Cherkess and Russians. They were allowed to settle throughout the republic, thus making any peaceful division of the province along ethnic lines nearly impossible.