Kommersant: History Of Circassians

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History of Circassians
The Circassians – self-designation Adyge- are the oldest indigenous people of North Caucasus. Their language belongs to the North-West of the Caucasian family of languages. It’s unusual phonological system-an overabundance of consonants and scarcity of vowels has stimulated much interest among linguists .In the 6th century, under Georgian and Byzantine influence many were Christianised, but under the growing influence of the Ottomans, Islam replaced Christianity. However, the process was gradual .Blending with Christian survivals and even pre-Christian folk beliefs, Islam became fully established only in the 18th-19th centuries. ‘ Neither Christianity nor Islam,’ as Henze points out, ‘resulted in the creation of a distinctive priestly class who could preserve written literature or encourage literacy’ (Henze, 1986:247).

Attempts at reducing the language to writing in the 19th and early 20th century had also failed .Circassian become a literary language only after the Russian revolution .The Circassians are Sunni of the Hanafi school who tend to be non-fanatical and among whom the Adat or custom low – The Adyge-Habze – has reminded extremely strong .It is the language and the custom law that have formed the chief component parts in Circassian tribal groups speaking numerous, bu t mutually intelligible dialects, were the main ethnic element in NW Caucasus .This changed drastically when under the pressure of the Russian conquest, especially after the defeat of the Great Revolt (1825-1864) a Circassian mass exodus – ‘One of the gre atest mass movements of population in modern history ‘ (Henze , 1986) – took place to Turkey and other areas of the Ottoman Empire, including the Middle East .One and a half million Circassians abandoned their ancient homeland, leaving behind scattered remnant communities .The Russian census of 1897 recorded only 150,000 Circassians, less the one tenth of the original population .

Before the Revolution, the Circassians were one undifferentiated people with only a vague sense of national identity .After the revolution, as part of Soviet nationality policy, they were divided into separate autonomous units under different names:

The Adyghe Autonomous Province, which since the collapse of the Soviet Union has declared i tself an Autonomous Republic . The 125,000 or so Circassians-Adyge from about 22% of total population. This is the community covered by Bridges in this issue (these and the following figures are based on the 1989 census; for a 1993 population estimate see Gammer, 1995) .

The Karachai-Cherkess Autonomous Province, which also declared itself an autonomous Republic. The 52,000 or so Circassians-Cherkess are less than 10% of the population and officially share the republic with the Karachais.

TheKabardino-Balkaria Autonomous Republic, the only unit where the 391,000 Circassians-Kabardins, from almost 50% of the population, but they too share the republic with an unrelated people, the Balkars.

In addition, a Shapsug autonomous area had been established in the 1920s, but was eliminated in 1941. Recently, the 10,000 Circassians-Shapsugs have begun an active campaign to resurrect this autonomy. (many of Israeli Circassians are of Shapsug origin.)
It was also under the Soviet regime that Circassian become a literary language, or rather two literary languages .Following the Soviet populist approach to language planning, the literary language was supposed to reflect as closely as possible the dialect spoken by the people .Therefore different alphabets were devised for the western Circassians-the Adyge, and for the central and western Circassians – the Cherkess and Kabardins (Isaev, 1979) . In the first two decades of the Soviet regime, tremendous language construction work was accomplished and the mother tongue began to play an important role in almost all domains, including education . however, in the late 1930s Soviet language policy began to shift away from the emphasis on the mother tongue.
In 1938 Russian was officially decreed a compulsory subject in all Soviet schools .In the last decades of the Soviet Union, outright promotion of Russian as the language of a new community – the new Soviet People, became the chief goal of Soviet language policy and many non-Russian languages, including Circassian in both it’s varieties, were phased out of the school system as languages of instruction (Kreindler, 1982, 1989, 1995) .

The collapse of the Soviet Union has heightened Circassian national feeling both in Russia and in the Diaspora .Since the collapse, the Circassians have forged links with their brethren all over the world . The International Association of Circassian Peoples has organized world congresses in which Israeli delegations have taken a very active part .Among the issues raised are the need to revive the language in Russia and diaspora, the desirability of constructing a common literary language and a return to the Latin alphabet .


Estimated population of Circassians from all over the world



Russia900,000Caucas area
Turkey2,000,000a lot of villages all over the country
Israel3000In Rihania and Kfar kama villages
U.S.A5000New Jersey and California


Yugoslavia1500few Circassian Villages

Edris Abzakh
Rihania , Israel 1996


History of Adygeans

The Adygeans (the people’s own name for themselves is Adyge) are an ancient native people of the Northwest Caucasus, better known in historical annals as Circassians (also Cherkess). An agricultural and cattle-breeding culture arose in the Northwest Caucasus in the early Bronze age. By 3000 B.C., the Dolmen culture, whose name comes from the distinctive megaliths used as grave markers, had arisen here and reached its peak; it lasted until the last quarter of the second millennium B.C. The area where the Caucasian dolmens are found is the ancestral home of the Adyge-Abkhaz tribes. Today, there are five dolmen fields in the republic with about 200 whole and partly ruined dolmens.

The Maikop culture of the Kuban valley coexisted with the Dolmen culture. The first classical monuments of the Maikop culture in the form of large burial mounds (kurgans) containing splendid articles made of precious metals were discovered in the Kuban before the Revolution. They include the well-known kurgan excavated in Maikop in 1897 by Professor N.I. Veselovsky, which gave its name to the culture as whole. The settlements of Meshoko, Skala, Khadzhokh, and Yasenovaya Polyana are other well-known monuments of this period.

The first iron appeared here in the second millennium B.C. and led to major economic and social advances at the end of the 9th and the beginning of the 8th centuries B.C. The economic structure was represented by cattle-breeding, agriculture, metallurgy and metalworking, weaving, and spinning. This period is known in history as the Protomeatic.

The names of North Caucasian tribes, such as the Meats, Sinds, Akhei, Zikhs, and others that played a major role in the ethnogenesis of the Adyge, first became known in about 1000 B.C. In Greek and Roman sources, they are referred to collectively as Meats, and in 1000 B.C., they occupied the eastern coasts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov and the Kuban valley.

The 5th century B.C. began with the rise of cities that became craft and trading centers in the lands of one of the Meatic tribes of Sinds. Intercourse with the Greek world, accelerated the process of formation of classes and states 7among the Sinds. By the end of the 5th century B.C., Sindika had been transformed into a real kingdom. Close political and economic ties were formed with the Bosporus state. Many scientists believe that the Spartacid dynasty that ruled the Bosporus for more than 150 years was Meatic (M.I. Artamonov, E.I. Krupnov) rather than Greek.

The 7th-6th centuries B.C. saw the beginning of widespread use of iron in the Northwest Caucasus, which led to the rapid development of productive forces that transformed the entire material culture and social life. By this time, the Meatic culture was thriving on the right bank of the Kuban, on the left banks of its tributaries to the northern slopes of the Caucasian range, and along the eastern shore of Lake Meota (the Sea of Azov). The Meats lived in farming settlements, and along with farming, stock-breeding, fishing, metallurgy and metalworking, and crafts (pottery, weaving, jewelry-making, tanning, woodworking, etc.) were also well developed.

The Meats’ high level of material and spiritual culture and the influence of neighboring peoples on it are confirmed by the unique discoveries made during the excavation of kurgans near the village of Ulyap in Krasnogvardeysky District, which were first known as the Ulsk kurgans, but after a brilliant analysis by Professor A.M. Peskov in 1981-1982, were renamed the Ulyap kurgans. At the beginning of the Common Era, one of the coastal tribes, the Zikhs, appeared on the historical scene. Being in a more advantageous position than the steppe-dwelling Meats for a number of reasons, the Zikhs began to play an important role in the unification process. By the 6th century A.D., the neighboring tribes had united around the Zikhs to form the Zikh Union. Eighth-century authors refer to Zikhia as a sizable country on the eastern shore of the Black Sea resulting from consolidation of the tribes into a single Adyge people. Two other unions, namely, the Kasog in the Transkuban region and the Abazg in the southeast, formed along with the Zikh Union.

In the 6th century A.D., Byzantine influence was increasing in the Northwest Caucasus. By this time the coastal Adyge had converted to Christianity and a Zikh diocese directly under the Byzantine patriarch had been formed. Contemporary references to the Adyge as the Zikhs and Kasogs give reason to believe that the single Adyge union had split into the western and eastern Adyge (Kabardians).

In 944, after the defeat of the Khazar Khanate by the Kievan prince Svyatoslav, the city of Tamatarkha became part of Rus under the name of Tmutarakan. The territory of the Tmutarakan principality included the Eastern Crimea and the Taman Peninsula, and among the inhabitants were Slavs, Adyge, Greeks, and Alans.

The Russian Lavrentev Chronicle first mentions the Adyge under the name of Kasogs in the 10th century. Kasogs were included in the retinue of the Tmutarakan prince Mstislav, and took part in the 11th -century campaigns against Yaroslav the Wise. With the weakening of the Kievan state, the Russian princes lost Tmutarakan at the end of the 11th century. The Kipchaks (Polovtsy) took Tmutarakan from Rus, and the Slavic population of the Northwest Caucasus merged with the Adyge.

From the second half of the 13th century to almost the end of the 15th century, the Genoese, who had their own colonies of Matrega, Kopa, and Mapa in Adyge lands, had a decisive influence on the cultural and historical development of the Adyge. The population consisted of Italians, Greeks, and Adyge.

The celebrated Silk Route passed through the territory of historical Cherkessia (Circassia), as shown by archaeological finds from the Moshchevaya Balka burial ground (7th-9th centuries) on the Bolshaya Laba River, Psebai District, and the Belorechensk kurgans (13th-15th centuries). In the 10th century, the Adyge had already become a single nation. Anthropologically, the Adyge belonged to the northwestern group of Pontic Europeans, and linguistically, to the Northwest Caucasian (Abkhazo-Adygean) group of Caucasian languages. The formation of the Adyge people over the millennia took place in close contact with the tribes of Western Asia, Greeks, Cimmerians, Scythians, and Sarmatians. The main Adyge settlements were located in the northwestern foothills and plains of the lower reaches of the Kuban and on the east coast of the Black Sea from the mouth of the Don to Abkhazia. Adyge society of that time can be described as early feudal, and farming was the leading economic sector. Cattle- and horse-breeding, fishing, and crafts were well developed. The finds at the Kolosovka (8th century) and Psekups (8th-9th centuries) burial grounds and the Belorechensk kurgans, among others, are outstanding examples of premedieval and medieval Adyge culture.

The Mongol invasion changed the map of tribal settlements in the eastern and central areas of the Northern Caucasus. In 1238-1239, the Mongols captured all of the pre-Caucasian plains, and in the early 1240s, the state known as the Golden Horde had formed, whose southern borders extended to the Crimea and the foothills of the Caucasus range. Under these conditions and political circumstances, some of the Adyge (Kabardians) migrated east to the edge of the Central pre-Caucasian plain, which in turn led to the division of the common language into western (Adygean) and eastern (Kabardian) dialects and later formed the basis of the modern Adygean and Kabardian languages. From about the 1240s onward, the word “Cherkess” appears in sources. The name Cherkess, which comes from the Turkic designation for the Adyge, was adopted by other nations and became fixed in European and Eastern literature.

In the 17th century, the Adyge who had separated from the Kabardians moved back west and settled in the area of the Upper Kuban. These were the so-called Besleneevtsy. At the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, a second group joined them from Kabarda. As a result, the Adyge were divided into three nations, the Adygeans, the Kabardians, and Circassians, although besides language, material and spiritual culture, and a common consciousness, the Adyge shared a common territory.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, there was a thriving trade in Adyge slaves on the slave markets of Middle Eastern countries, especially Egypt, where sultans acquired them as additions to their Mameluke guard. The influx of slaves allowed one of the Adyge, Al-Malik-az-Zakhir Barkuk al Cherkesi, to seize power in Egypt and found the Circassian dynasty of Mamelukes, which ruled Egypt and Syria from 1382 to 1517. The Mamelukes finally disappeared from the Middle Eastern political arena in 1811. The Circassian Mamelukes left a significant imprint on the history and culture of Egypt, Syria, and the entire Middle East. They repelled invasions of Crusaders, halted the onslaught of the conqueror Tamerlane, and greatly extended the boundaries of the Mameluke state. During the period of Circassian rule, architecture progressed significantly; irrigation systems were built; and poets, musicians, philosophers, and historians enjoyed special patronage.

The decline of Christianity among the Adyge began at the end of the 15th century after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the disappearance of the Byzantine Empire from the world political map. Starting at the end of the 16th century, the Sunni branch of Islam was introduced among the Adyge through the efforts of the Crimean Tatar khans and Turkish missionaries. This was accompanied by military expansion by the Crimean khans. (The Caucasian War of the 19th century and the way the Russian Empire conducted it had a decisive impact on the strengthening and final establishment of Islam in the Northwest Caucasus.) Recognizing this danger, the Adyge (Karbardian) princes who remained oriented toward Russia, headed by Temryuk Idarov, Grand Prince of Kabarda, sent a request to Moscow asking to be allowed to join the Russian state. This political act was strengthened by the marriage of Ivan IV and Temryuk’s daughter Goshevnai (baptized Mariya). The marriage in turn contributed to the appearance of a powerful noble class of Circassian princes in Tsar Ivan IV’s entourage. From their midst came military leaders and high dignitaries of the Muscovite state, and later, during the Russian Empire, the prince, boyar, and army commander, Yakov Kudenetovich, who commanded the Russian army on the southern border. There was also Mikhail Alegukovich, generalissimo of Russia from December 14, 1695, and champion of Peter the Great, and Aleksei Mikhailovich, prince and field marshal, who became High Chancellor and President of the college of Russian foreign affairs in 1740.

By the 18th century, the Adyge occupied the territory from the mouth of the Kuban along the Black Sea coast to the Psou River and from the northern slopes of the Caucasian mountains to Ossetia; and in the first half of the 19th century, they inhabited extensive areas of the Black Sea coast and the Northern Caucasus. As Russia advanced southward, this territory shrank to 180 000 sq. km by the 1830s.

According to data of the Russian officer Novitsky, the Adyge population in 1830 was 1 820 000, and ethnic subdivisions of the Adyge were preserved, including the Shapsugi, Abadzekhi, Natukhaevtsy, Temirgoevtsy, Bzhedugi, Khatukaitsy, Besleneevtsy, Egerukhaevtsy, Makhoshevtsy, Adamievtsy, Mamkhegovtsy, and Karbardintsy.

By the 1860s, as a result of the Caucasian War and forced deportation to the Ottoman Empire, only 5% of the Adyge remained in their historical homeland. Ethnographers define the modern-day Adyge people as a dispersed nation. More than 3 million Adyge live in more than 50 countries, including Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the United States, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Germany. After the end of the Caucasian War, the Northwest Caucasus was under military occupation until 1867, and the Adyge population came under the jurisdiction of military authorities. On January 1, 1867, the military occupation finally ended and the Adyge population became part of the general population of the newly formed Maikop, Ekaterinodar, and Batalpashinsk districts. On March 21, 1888, Alexander III approved a new statute setting up the administrations of Kuban and Tersk regions and Chernomorskaya Province, which abolished civil institutions and established a narrow Cossack military governing caste without the participation of the mountain peoples. In 1914-1917, the Adyge took part in World War I in the Circassian regiment known as the “Wild Division.” The Civil War resulted in another sizable migration of Adyge to Turkey and Middle Eastern countries. The revival of the ancient Adyge people as a nation did not begin until after the October Revolution, with the formation of the Circassian (Adygean) Autonomous Region on July 21, 1922. In 1936, by order of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, the capital of Adygea was moved from Krasnodar to Maikop.

On October 5, 1991, the Adygean people achieved real statehood when the Republic of Adygea was proclaimed. The legal document On State Sovereignty of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Adygea defined the place and role of Adygea in a renewed Russia. Adygea’s new status as an independent subject of the Russian Federation was legalized by the RSFSR Supreme Soviet’s approval of RSFSR Law N 1535-1 of July 3, 1991, On the Transformation of the Adygean Autonomous Region into the Soviet Socialist Republic of Adygea. In December 1991, elections were held to elect deputies to the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Adygea, and the first parliament in Adygea’s history was formed. Aslan Alievich Dzharimov, the Republic’s first president, was elected in January 1992. In March 1992, Adam Khuseinovich Tleuzh was elected the first chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Adygea. In five years, Adygea acquired all the attributes of statehood, beginning with state symbols and ending with the adoption of the Constitution of the Republic of Adygea and the formation of state governing bodies. The Constitution of the Republic of Adygea was approved by the Legislative Assembly (Khase) on March 10, 1995.

Source: Kommersant, Russia’s Daily Online


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