Circassian Question: Transformation of Content and Perception
AUTHORSV. Tsibenko (Ivan… + 2
Bylye Gody, 2015, Vol. 36, Is. 2
Copyright © 2015 by Sochi State University
Published in the Russian Federation
Has been issued since 2006.
Vol. 36, Is. 2, pp. 450-460, 2015
UDC 94; 327.39; 329.273
Circassian Question: Transformation of Content and Perception
1Veronika V. Tsibenko
2Sergey N. Tsibenko
1Southern Federal University, Russian Federation
2Southern Federal University, Russian Federation
Public space discussion of various aspects of the Circassian (Adyghe) problematics and the so-calledCircassian question became extremely hot in the mid-2000s in connection with such a significant event likethe Olympics 2014 in Sochi. The viewpoint that the Circassian question itself does not exist outside theOlympic agenda is prevailing in the Russian research environment.
The authors of the current article argue against the binding of the Circassian question exclusively tothe Olympics and consider it in a broad historical and cultural context, tracing the transformation of itscontent and perception by the international community. The article gives a retrospective picture of theCircassian question in relation to the place, time and processes of both local and global significance,identifies the factors that influenced its coverage in a particular way and the main actors that determine theformation of public opinion.
The authors distinguish the main historical stages of development of the Circassian nationalmovement, give a detailed description of each of them, reveal the basic mechanisms and features, examinetopical Circassian issues. The article gives a large amount of data on the Circassian organizations, theirappeals to the governmental and international organizations.
As follows from the analysis, the authors conclude that the sharp growth of the relevance of theCircassian problematics after 2007 is conditioned not only by the objective internal processes of theCircassian national movement, but even more by foreign policy factors and the Circassian questionperceprion in the international arena has historically predetermined outcome.
Keywords: Circassians; Adyghes; Circassian Diaspora; Circassian National Movement; CircassianQuestion; Caucasus.
The public space discussion of various aspects of the Circassian (Adyghe) problematics became extremely actual in the mid-2000s. The so-called Circassian question of the political status of the NorthwestCaucasus  nowadays is familiar not only to the scientists, public figures, politicians, but also, thanks to the media, to the ordinary citizens at least of three continents.Many experts attribute the actualization of the Circassian question with such a momentous event as the Olympic Games of 2014 in Sochi . Indeed, one of the key demands voiced by Circassian activists wasthe abolition of sport mega-event on the ―Circassian lands‖ whereз they claimedз the Russian Empir committed ―genocide of Circassians‖ in the 19th century.The accentuation of political engagement of the theme leads researchers to the belief that the end ofthe Olympics also means the end of the international attention to the Circassian question. As Petersson stated ―once the Games are over they will risk returning to the status of an internationally little-known minority that they have basically had until just a few years ago‖ [о]й Moreoverз the viewpoint that the Circassian question itself does not exist outside the Olympic agenda is prevailing in the Russian research
environment . Research community does not take into account the nearly two-century history of thedevelopment of the Circassian question, accompanied by the transformation of its content and perception.
Materials and Methods
The structure of the article is set by an attempt to give the periodization of the phenomena in question, basing on the principle of historicism and using the comparative analysis. Tracing of changes in perception of the Circassian question was made possible due to the use of discourse analysis, and the constructivist approach enabled the identification of the main actors. The study is based on a wide range of materials inRussian, English and Turkish languages, including official documents and public statements by opinion leaders.
Although the Circassian national movement and the Circassian problematics as a whole have attracted many researchers, there are still not enough of the objective generalizing works  that provide a retrospective picture of the development of the Circassian question in relation to the place, time and processes of both local and global significance. The aim of this paper is twofold to examine the Circassian question in a broad historical and cultural context and trace the transformation of its perception by the world community. For this it is necessary to identify the factors that influenced the coverage of the Circassian question and the actors that determine the formation of public opinion.
The Eastern Question and the Circassian Answer
The first half of the 19th century marked the emergence of the Circassian question in European agenda.By that time, the balance of geopolitical forces had changed significantly. The Ottoman Empire got, according to the figural expression of the Russian Tsar Nicholas I, the status of the “sick man of Europe” which provoked intense conflicts of interest among the claimants upon the Ottoman legacy. The victory of theRussian Empire in the Russian-Turkish war of 1828-1829 caused the strengthening of its position in the region and in the international arena, making the competition between the great powers even more acute. In the Treaty of Adrianople it was said that ―the whole Black Sea coast from the mouth of the Kuban to the pier of St. Nicholas inclusively would abide be in the eternal possession of the Russian Empire.
This opened up new opportunities for Russian trade and led to a serious confrontation with the BritishEmpire, which perceived the presence of Russia in the Black Sea and the Caucasus as a direct threat to its trade interests not only in the Ottoman Empire, but also in Iran and India. The great concern was caused by the growing influence of the Russian Tsar over Mahmoud II, backed by military support that Nicholas I gave to the Sultan in the Turkish-Egyptian war with the former Ottoman vassal Muhammad Ali. The presence of the Russian fleet and 30 thousand soldiers saved Constantinople in 1833 from occupancy by the Egyptian troops. In the same year the Unkiar-Skelessi treaty of peace, friendship and defensive alliance between the two empires was signed, engendering the official protests of England and France.
In this tense atmosphere of the Eastern Question aggravation, the British diplomats‘ attention was attracted to the possibility of usage of the Northern Caucasus Circassian tribes to counter the advance of the Russian Empire in the region. Construction and maintenance of national liberation movements in the Ottoman Empire territories was a trend of the time, and these developments could be successfully used against Russia. Constantinople became the center of Anglo-Circassian contacts, and the key person in the implementation of these plans was David Urquhart – turkophil and a leading Russophobia propagandist[6;7], a trade mission employee since 1931, and a Secretary of the British Embassy since 1935, who had gained the support of the King William IV himself.
Having experience of participating as a volunteer in the liberation war of Greece, Urquhart in 1834 went to the Circassians, urging them to unite in the fight against the Russians and promising them full support of Britain. He not only made every effort to consolidate disparate Circassian clans and tribal groups,creating for them a unity government, a declaration of independence and the national flag , but did everything possible to bring the international attention to the Circassian question.
Urquhart allies were Polish immigrants of Hôtel Lambert, for whom the Circassian question became a way of attracting the major powers for solution of the Polish questionз asх “For them it was the most means of likely involving England in a dispute with Russia, which would serve in turn to make the restoration of Polish independence a live issue for the diplomats of Europe . Together they engaged in propaganda of the Circassian question through newspapers, magazines, and as of 1854 through Foreign Affairs Committees,together planned the creation of the Polish Legion in Circassia , together realised ambitious plans on sending Vixen (1836) and Chesapeak (1862) schooners filled with weapons to the Circassians, provoking an open confrontation between Russia and Great Britain . These projects were supported by otherEnglishmen who were carrying on agitation work among the Circassians, supplying them with weapons,teaching the latest techniques of warfare, creating secret aid societies and so on . The texts of theirarticles, speeches and memoirs have served as the source for the formation of ideas about the Circassianquestion in Europe .
Bylye Gody, 2015, Vol. 36, Is. 2
However, despite the fact that “At the beginningз the project of unifying Circassians under a single government seemed quite simple and natural‖ [мп]з attempts to create a unified Circassia did not bring the expected result. According to Charles King: “For all the desire of outsiders to present the Circassians as a nation-in-the-making, boundaries and territorial control remained blurry at best” . The interest of British elites to the Circassian question was gradually fading and up to 60th the attempts to extend the Circassian resistance turned into ―the work of private individuals like Urquhart, supported by a small number of wealthy backers in such centres of industry as Newcastle or Sheffield, and not the result of Government action‖ .
Although the project of creating a separate Circassian state under the protection of the Ottoman Empire or Britain was actively developed during the Crimean War, the Treaty of Paris of 1856, due to the position of France, did not include a mention of the independence of the Circassians. Petitions sent by the Circassians to Queen Victoria and Napoleon III in 1856, 1857 and 1861 did not receive any official support. The Circassian delegation of 1862 consisting of Haci Hasan and Haydar Kustaroklu Ismail also could not influence the high society decision-making of Britain and France, and even failed to make summit meeting. However, it fulfilled the other function as through the active mediation of Urquhart “The arrival in England of the two deputies, the first time a delegation of such a nature had been seen in this country, created, indeed, something of a sensation. Throughout their tour of the midlands and north, which took them also into Scotland, they addressed, with the help of their interpreter, large and enthusiastic audiences attracted in large measure by the exotic figures of the two Circassians‖ .
1864, the year of the end of the Caucasian war, summed up the first period of the actualization of the Circassian question. Mass migration of the Circassians into the Ottoman Empire was carried out with the encouragement of Russia and Turkey , as well as Britain, assisting in the development of the resettlement plan . The Circassian resistance in the Caucasus became impossible. Russian diplomacy made every effort to prohibit the settlement of Circassian immigrants in the vicinity of its borders, and to prevent their return to the Caucasus, taking into account their anti-Russian sentiments and participation in all actions of the Ottoman Empire directed against Russia [20; 21]. According to Borov, after the end of the Caucasian War “Circassians in the Russian and the Ottoman Empire had no real power and opportunities for active and mass struggle for their own interestsз and political ‗national movement‘ of the Circassians did not develop either in the one or the other Empire” .
Caucasian national movement during the First World War
The next period of the Circassian question actualization  was due to the global changes in the balance of geopolitical forces, that clearly demonstrated itself during the First World War. It should be noted that since the center of the Circassian resistance moved to Turkey, the Circassian problematics closely intertwined with the common Caucasian one. This trend entrenched itself due to the expansive understanding there of the ethnonym “Circassian” as a representative of any North Caucasian people.
By this time, the process of institutionalization of the Circassian national movement had already begun in the Ottoman Empire . Naturally, Germany, to whom Turkey was an ally in the World War I, took advantage of the Circassian question to achieve its military and political objectives. Even before the formal entry of Turkey into the war in 1914, realizing the strategic importance of the Caucasus the German authorities through the ambassador in Istanbul H. Wangenheim promised the North Caucasian diaspora leaders Circassian Müsir Fuad Pasa and Dagestani Muhammed Fazıl Pasa – material support and information assistance in the organization of anti-Russian actions in the Caucasus, and after the war the recognition of the independence of the Caucasus confederated state. Germany had also nurtured plans for creation the Circassian Legion to use it in fighting in the Caucasus .
In 1915 under the leadership of Müsir Fuad Pasa and with the support of the Ottoman government the Committee for the Liberation of the Caucasus (Kafkasya Istiklâl Komitesi ) was formed, aiming at the formation of the Caucasian Confederation a voluntary union of the North Caucasus, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. In the same year the Committee sent a delegation  to Germany and Austrio-Hungary, that voiced to the Foreign Affairs Ministers of the two states the requirements for independence of the Caucasus and the request for both moral and material support . The opportunity to carry out agitation work among the North Caucasus emigrants in Germany and Austrio-Hungary and in camps for Russian prisoners of war was given to the Committee. In 1916 the organization was renamed into the Committee of the NorthCaucasian political refugees in Turkey (Türkiyeвdeki Сimali Kafkasya Siyasi Muhacirleri Komitesi) and under this name participated in the Third Congress of the “Union of Nationalities” in Lausanne that had wide response . The independent Caucasian state was represented at the conference by a Dagestani delegateSeyid Tahir El Husein and a Circassians delegate Ismail Bedanok, and at the same time, another Circassian delegate Aziz Meker met in Switzerland Vladimir Lenin to discuss the situation of non-Russian peoples ofRussia .
In 1918 under the mediation of the Circassian diaspora leaders the first formal contacts of the OttomanState first persons (Enver Pasha, Talaat Pasha and the sultan Mehmed V) with the representatives of the newly formed Mountainous Republic of the Northern Caucasus were established. The Delegation of theRepublic declared the need for the separation of the North Caucasus from Russia and its entry into confederal union with the South Caucasus peoples under the Ottoman protectorate, and asked the YoungTurks for military, economic and political support .