Winter Olympics anger Circassian people: 'Slopes build on graves of our ancestors'

    7:14 AM, Feb 17, 2014   |    comments
    • Share
    • Print
    • - A A A +

    SOCHI (CNN) - Long before Sochi was Russia's Olympic showplace, it was home to the Circassian people, an ethnic group expelled by the Russians in the 19th century. Some Circassian artists say the Olympic ski slopes are built on the bones of their ancestors.

    A local folk song is a piece of tragic history. It mourns the death of a prince, killed in a war fought long ago between Russia and the Circassians. The singer's Circassian ancestors once dominated what today is part of southern Russia.

    Russia won its war against the Circassians 150 years ago, the last bloody battle of the conflict was fought in Sochi on the site of the winter Olympics.

    Holding the Olympics in Sochi on the 150th anniversary of the Circassians' last stand, is a historical and geographic coincidence that has left some Circassians profoundly disturbed.

    Sheomir Guchepshoko is a Circassian artist. He created an entire gallery of paintings focused on what he refers to as the Circassian genocide. He said, "We lose land, we lose people. Thousand, million people. That's why we can't forget about it."

    Part of what infuriates Circassians in the city of Maykop, located about 150 miles north of Sochi, is that no mention of the 19th century massacre and deportation of the Circassians was made in the run-up to the winter games.

    In fact, the subject seems to be taboo during the Olympics. When some Circassians tried to protest, accusing Russia of building ski slopes on the graves of their ancestors, police detained dozens and refused to respond to allegations from activists that some of the detainees were alter badly beaten in police custody.

    Guchepshoko knows his grim historic message could anger Moscow. He said, "If I will keep silent, nobody, nobody will know about this problem, this part of our history."

    That history and culture nearly destroyed more than a century ago is kept alive by singers and storytellers, determined to share their traditions with the next generation.

    Most Watched Videos