The WAC web information portal interviewed the Vice-President of the international association for the development of the Abaza-Abkhaz ethnos "Alashara" Ramazan Mkhtse, who spoke about the organization, its daily work, grants, events and significant projects.

Vice-President of the international association for the development of the Abaza-Abkhaz ethnos "Alashara" Ramazan Mkhtse told in an interview with the WAC about the organization’s activities, grant competitions, the struggle for privileges for the Abaza as the indigenous people of Russia and other significant projects.

Interview by Asta Ardzinba

- Abaza are included in the "Unified List of Indigenous Minorities of the Russian Federation", approved in 2000. This guarantees them the protection of their culture and identity on the part of the state. How is this law applied in practice?

- According to the law, small indigenous peoples should be granted various benefits when they engage in traditional activities in their ancestral lands. In addition, the state should assist in the preservation of native languages. There may also be certain benefits when recruiting for the army. In theory, representatives of small indigenous peoples should not serve in the army, they should also be exempted from certain types of taxes.

- The law spelled exemption from military service?

- No, the law is rather declarative. After the adoption of the law, by-laws should appear that would help in practice to follow its letter. There are no such regulations in the case of Abaza. In other regions of the Federation, where small peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East live, such additional acts have been issued. There, the law on indigenous minorities is in force, and for every nation there is a specific development program, which is funded from the federal budget.

- How to rectify this situation?

- The organization "Alashara" since its formation deals with this issue. We tried to understand why this is happening, what needs to be done in order for the law to work with regards to Abaza. It turned out that the Abaza people were not included in one of the lists of the Government of the Russian Federation. The fact is that precise definitions should be given to key concepts in the law: "places of traditional habitat", "types of traditional activities". In our case, these concepts are simply not defined. The result was a conflict of law, when in one regulatory act we are counted as the indigenous people of Russia, while in the other we are not. As a result, all the programs and finances bypass us so far.

First, we appealed to the authorities of the KChR with a request to sort it out. Then, together with local deputies and officials, they addressed the Government of Russia, the Federal Agency for Nationalities Affairs. Every time we receive the answer that they will resolve this issue, but so far nothing happens. Our activists even lodged a complaint against the Government of the Russian Federation with the Prosecutor General’s Office, but nothing was done there either.

The same situation is with several indigenous minorities living in the European part of Russia. This, in particular, Nagaibaks, Izhors, Shapsugs. Now we all plan to unite in the Association and seek our rights and privileges together.

- Please tell us about what the organization "Alashara". How many people do you have, what is the aim of your activity?

- "Alashara" works in several regions of our country. The head office is located in St. Petersburg. The president of "Alashara", its founder and main philanthropist Mussa Khabalevich Ekzekov lives and works in this city. Even before the establishment of the public organization, Mussa Khabalevich, for many years engaged in charity work in Karachay-Cherkessia and Abkhazia, he sponsored projects for the development of Abaza culture, science and sports.

"Alashara" was established in 2011, at the same time an office was opened in St. Petersburg. In 2013, a separate division appeared in Karachay-Cherkessia, in the city of Cherkessk. At first we were five people, and during the first months of work we were preparing a program of action, defining what we want and can do for our people, what people need. We have such departments as "Medicine", "Culture", "Abaza Languages", "Family and Children", "Sport". It is clear that we do not have state resources, but in each of these areas we can help the state.

One of the biggest events is the annual Abaza Games and the Abaza Cultural Day, which coincided with the Abkhaz Day of the National Flag and is also celebrated on July 23. The number of guests at these events is growing every year. Teams from Abkhazia, Moscow, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Stavropol joined the Games. Next year we are waiting for the team of compatriots from Turkey and Jordan. This year Abaza culture day was attended by over 2,000 people. In this way, residents and guests of Cherkessk learn about Abaza cuisine, traditional costumes, national music, traditions and customs. Abaza culture is of great interest to all.

This year, a separate division of "Alashara" was opened in Sukhum.

- During its existence, "Alashara" has helped the implementation of many projects. Every year, the organization issues grants to projects aimed at preserving and developing Abaza traditional culture ...

- We not only give grants, but also want to receive them ourselves, we ourselves participate in contests. There are presidential grants from Vladimir Putin for public organizations, and we have already won one. There are grants from republican and regional authorities. Of course, we also direct these funds to useful projects.

- And who are the winners? Who participates in your contests, how is the selection process going?

- We give out grants in two directions. Firstly, these are grants to cultural figures, and secondly, grants for socially-oriented projects for public organizations or associations of citizens.

Let me name the culture grants, successfully won and implemented. These are the creation of the Abaza puppet theater, the revival of the musical orchestra in the Abaza region, the publication of more than ten books (poetry, children's fairy tales, a book about Abaza horsemakers and others), filming of all Abaza villages of the KChR at a bird's-eye view - video "Abazashta". Also due to grant funds were opened circles: choreographic in Staro-Kuvinsk and the circle of folk applied art in Inzhich-Chukun.

A socially significant grant project is the opening of a mill receiving facility in Krasny Vostok. It was won by a local entrepreneur, and now, with the help of Mussa Khabalevich Ekzekov’s funds, there is a milk receiving station in the village. This provides several jobs for station workers and drivers, and also provides an opportunity for local families to earn money by donating milk at market prices — and then the receiver sells the milk to factories. Now almost half of the village gives milk, some live for it, although at first not everyone believed in the success of the project. But it turned out to be self-sustaining and successful.

Anyone can apply for a grant. We have a website with detailed instructions on how to arrange it. Moreover, in our office you can always get advice if you do not understand something. The main thing is a good idea, the embodiment of which will be useful for fellow tribesmen. Our Expert Council and the organization’s president, Mussa Khabalevich Ekzekov, reviews all applications received and makes a decision.

- And what projects are planned or are being prepared for implementation?

- Now, together with the heads of the Abaza villages, local community and women's councils, we define important projects for 2019 for each village. Depending on the situation we help individually. For example, in Elburgan we plan to build the first museum of the Abaza people next year and move the museum exhibits from the local school. The museum itself will become the property of the Abaza region.

Another village lacks a hundred thousand rubles in their budget to create design and budget documentation, to participate in the state program of the Russian government to build a new house of culture. That is, in this case we can, by investing one hundred thousand rubles, attract approximately nine million from the federal budget to the Abaza village.

- "Alashara" is not the only Abaza public organization in the republic. How do you interact? You don’t duplicate each other?

- More than twenty Abaza public organizations are officially registered in KChR, but about nine of them are actively working. Among them are the Council of Elders of the Abaza people, the Youth Union, the Women's Council, the Union of Volunteers of Abkhazia in KChR and others. Already by the name it is clear that we do not duplicate the functions of each other, rather complement each other.

In 2016, all active Abaza public organizations united in the Association under the name "Apsadgyl" (translated from Abaza - "Motherland" - ed.). Together we are building relationships with the authorities, jointly addressing common issues that affect our entire people.

- Ramazan, tell us about the activities of the National Foundation of the People of Abaza: since when does it exist, and what is the money sent to the Fund for?

- The Foundation has nominally existed for several years, but only from this year, thanks to the efforts of many people, it began to work actively. Funds finally appeared in the Foundation’s budget. This is the money that Abaza transfer from various villages and cities. They themselves determine how to spend the money collected by them. Someone wants to tidy up the street in his village, the other one wants to build a fence at the cemetery or a sports ground.

We publish reports on revenues weekly in social networks. The guarantor of the fact that all the funds raised will be used to improve the living conditions of the Abaza is Mussa Khabalevich Ekzekov. Today there is no Abaza who our people would trust more than him. And therefore the proceeds are being made actively: in six months we collected an amount of 500,000 rubles.

This is a very important project. I think this is a new stage in our work. The process of preserving and developing the Abaza ethnos should not be based solely on the patronage of the individual, but each Abaza should contribute to it. This should become a tradition: transfer monthly, say, one hundred rubles to the National Foundation. It is simple to do: through the Sberbank application.