Why are the 2014 Sochi Olympics so controversial?

Nearly all of the media attention around the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, has revolved around the Islamist terrorists that want to install a Caucasus Caliphate in the region. The media's not wrong to do so. The Caucasian insurgency is a very real threat to stability in the region. A lot of innocent people died in Volgograd last month and the self-promoted "Emir of the Caucasus," Doku Umarov, has promised many more Volgograds in retaliation for hosting the Olympics "on the bones of many, many dead Muslims buried in our land." 

Religious rhetoric aside, Umarov hits upon a pretty important and completely ignored point: 150 years ago, Sochi was home to one of the most horrific starvation genocides we've seen. Sochi was once host to the Caucasian nation of Circassia. The Caucasus are resource-rich, home to some of the first and most robust copper and silver mines in human history, but disorganized and labor-poor. When 19th century Russian imperialism arrived, with its motto of expand-or-die, the Caucasian nations didn't stand a chance.

History has been kind to Tsar Alexander II. His agricultural reforms and abolition of the serfs spurs historians to treat him as a sort of Russian Abraham Lincoln. But agricultural reform and abolition of the serfs created new problems for the Tsar. The 1861 abolition left Russia's new poor thirsting for new land. Circassia was close; Circassia had fertile, untilled ground; Circassia was Muslim; and Circassians were one of the pesky Caucasian nations that wouldn't take Russian rule lying down. There was no need for debate, the answer was obvious. By the end of 1861, Russia began to eradicate Circassians in order to open land to Christian farmers

Depending on how you look at it, Alexander II's results were spectacular. 600,000 Circassians died from "starvation, exposure, drowning, and massacres in a concerted campaign by the Russian Empire." A smaller number, no more than 400,000, was lucky enough to receive a resettlement in Turkey where they were forced to live in the harshest regions of Anatolia. By 1864, Circassia was empty, allowing the Russian freedmen to farm the land. 

To the statistician, the Circassian massacres are another datum point on a chart of people unfortunate enough to become fifth columns in larger states. To the human rights activist, it's an ethnic cleansing overshadowed by the larger genocides in Armenia, Ukraine, Germany, Poland, and China. But to the Caucasians, it's their ancestors and the Sochi Olympics are being held on their tombs.