National Geographic : 2014 Jan
118 national geographic • January 2014 warriors of the mountains, who refused to accept the tsar’s offer to live in Siberia or emigrate to the Ottoman Empire. The Circassians made their last stand in the small canyon that is now called Krasnaya Poly- ana, or red glade, a name some erroneously at- tribute to the bloodshed of the battle. After their surrender in 1864 the Circassians were expelled, and refugees died by the thousands on their way to Sochi. Survivors were shipped to various cor- ners of the Ottoman Empire. Some of them died aboard the Turkish vessels, cast overboard into the Black Sea. Since the announcement that Sochi would host the games, the Circassians’ plight has made global headlines as activists in the diaspora have tried to shine a light on what they regard as genocide. Protests were held in cities around the world, in Istanbul and New York, Amman and Vancouver. “We didn’t go to Russia to fight. They came here to fight us. We lived here several ages,” Dzhantimirov says. “ The whole war was start- ed for these beautiful lands.” Dzhantimirov is not an activist. He voted for Putin in the 2012 election. “We have lived in Russia for years and years,” he says. “We have lived side by side, and we have respected each other, and we will stay in Russia. But history is history, and there’s nothing wrong with talking about it.” PYOTR FEDIN SITS at his desk, a dissatisfied suc- cess, a mere landowner instead of the alpine entrepreneur he once was, and he tells the story of how government power made it so. The ’90s had just begun, and Fedin did what every other shrewd Russian was doing: He opened a business. It was the start of free enterprise, the beginning of what contemporary capitalist Russia would be- come, a place of trial and error, of encouraging successes and compounded failures. It was a time of pressing on, for there was no turning back to the way things were before. Fedin and his partners surveyed the peaks of Krasnaya Polyana. They cleared the pines and erected metal towers in their place. The drive- shaft from a seafaring vessel powered the ski lift. Yet few came to ski Fedin’s groomed run. Those wealthy enough to have such bourgeois interests chose the status resort of Courchevel, France, not provincial Krasnaya Polyana. Things began to change one day in 2000, when the new president, Vladimir Putin, rode Fedin’s lift to the top of the mountain, then capably navigated his way down. As Russians ascertained what this new leader could do, as he faced down his enemies and closed ranks with his allies, as Russia solidified, Putin returned to Fedin’s slope time and again. Fedin’s son, Dima, taught ministers and minders and oligarchs how to carve a turn, how to stop, and how to save face while falling. The aspi- rants would not miss their chance to mix with the man who was becoming a type of ruler they recognized from Russia’s long history. Fedin weathered the inclemency of the Russian economy, while his partners fell out, sold out. Then, as the spoils of an oil-market boom filtered through Russian society, his resort became profitable. But only the naive enjoy success in Russia. Things you build attract the attention of those who can take them away. The calendar turned to 2008, and a Gazprom plane arrived from Moscow. As Fedin recalls it, the men from Russia’s largest company, the state-controlled gas monopoly, suggested that he join them for a ride. And in veiled language that anyone could understand, while the Gazprom plane flew north over Rostov, then Voronezh and Tula, the men looked at Fedin and said, “We re- spect you.” They offered a figure to buy him out. Fedin knew there was nothing he could do. At the darkly prismatic Gazprom tower in Moscow, Fedin signed the papers placed before him. “I can see your face,” the man with the contracts said After their surrender Circassian refugees died by the thousands on their way to Sochi. Survivors were shipped to various corners of the Ottoman Empire.