- Nov. 22nd, 2011 at 12:06 AM
Population: 709,003 spread across three republics within the Russian Federation: Adygea, where Circassians constitute 25.2% of the population; Kabardino-Balkaria, where they number 519,958 or 52.5% of the population and Karachay-Cherkessia, where they constitute 11.2% of the population.
Diaspora: Over 3 million Circassians live outside of Russian Federation: over 2 million in Turkey, 150,000 in Syria, Jordan and Israel, 40,000 in Germany and the Netherlands and 9,000 in the US.
Status: Circassians are spread across three republics within the Russian Federation: Adygea, Karachay-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria
Area: The total area of Circassian populated republics is 33,100 km2.
The area of Adygea is 7,600 sq km, the area of Karachay-Cherkessia is 14,200 km2 and Kabardino-Balkaria is 12,500 km2.
Capital City: The capitals of the three Republics are Maykop (Adygea), Cherkessk (Karachay-Cherkessia) and Nalchik (Kabardino-Balkaria).
Language: Circassian language, also known as Adyghe
Religion: Sunni Muslim of Hanafi School
The International Circassian Association became a member of UNPO in 1994, in order to stand up for the interests of the Circassian people living within and outside the homeland with non-violent means. The aim of the International Circassian association is to unite Circassians spiritually, politically and to preserve the ethnic unity of Circassians. It wants the Russian Federation to acknowledge the genocide against the Circassians, to recognize the status of exiled people, and to undertake efforts to let them return to their homeland and maintain dual citizenship (in their present country of residence and in Russia).
Founded at the beginning of the 1990s, the International Circassian Association (ICA) brings together Adyghe and Abkhaz activists from the republics and districts in which Adyghe (including Cherkess, Adygheans and Kabardians) and Abkhaz reside in the North Caucasus, as well as activists from the Circassian diaspora throughout the world.
To create a movement that will reinforce Circassian identity and will act to strengthen ties between Circassians the world over – particularly between Circassians in the Caucasus and the Circassian diaspora – through the establishment of a world Circassian movement. Beyond this objective lies the concept of working towards the return of Circassians from the diaspora to the Caucasus.
To get recognition of the “genocide and exile of the Circassian people” implying recognition of the movement, and of the Circassians’ right to return to their homeland, and to foster their own identity
Social and particularly cultural goals, including efforts to promote, resuscitate and preserve the language traditions, and general activities in the field of education and culture. A specific goal in the cultural realm which has encountered numerous difficulties is the aspiration toward the creation of a unified written Circassian/Adyghe language. At the moment two close written languages exist – Western Adyghe and the Eastern Adyghe (Kabarda). The differences between them are brought into sharper relief by dissimilar spelling systems. There are also voices advocating latinisation of the language (a demand coming mainly from Turkish Circassians)
Political objectives related to the current situation in the Caucasus, like the status of the Circassian-Adyghe republics and the issue of Abkhazia
“Circassians” is a Western term derived from the Greek Kerketos and the Turkic Cherkess. Although this term has sometimes been used in a broad sense to describe all peoples of the North Caucasus, it refers more precisely to the inhabitants of historical Circassia, the Adyghe. Historic Cherkessia (Circassia) occupied the territory from the Black Sea in the west to the River Sunzhi (in present day Chechnya) in the east until the Russian conquest in the 1860s. Documents show the existence of a confederated Circassia in 1830 with more than 4 million people. Following the 19th century Russian conquest of the Caucasus, the majority were forced to migrate to the Ottoman Empire, a process which was accelerated in the 1860s with murder and mass deportations of over 1.5 million Circassians, described as the ‘unknown genocide’. By the 1897 census, there were only 217,000 Circassians left in Russia. According to the 2002 census, a little over 700,000 Circassians continue to live in their ancestral homeland, which has been divided across three republics of the Russian Federation (Kabardino Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia and Adygheya). An estimated 3.5 million descendants of deported Circassians live outside the Caucasus, mainly in Turkey (circa 2 million) and in the Middle East (Syria 80,000 and Jordan 90,000) but also in Europe (with 40,000 in Germany) and the USA.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND Early History The ancient native people of the Northwest Caucasus are known in most historic annals as the ‘Circassians’, a term which has gained currency in recent history to refer to the groups of Cherkess, Shapsugs and Kabardin and related groups of Caucasian origin who live in the Northwest Caucasus and in Diaspora communities. The formation of the Circassian people over the millennia took place in close contact with the tribes of Western Asia, Greeks, Cimmerians, Scythians, and Sarmatians. The main Circassian 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. Circassian 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 celebrated Silk Route passed through the territory of historical Cherkessia (Circassia), as shown by various archaeological finds. The Circassians first emerged as a coherent entity somewhere around the tenth century A.D., although references to them exist much earlier. Historically the Western Circassians lived in free tribal societies whereas the Eastern Circassians (mainly the modern day Kabardians) fashioned a highly stratified aristocratic society. The north-western region of the Caucasus remained fairly autonomous until the 12th and 13th centuries. In 1234 the Caucasus region was overrun by Mongol hordes, and the region later passed under the rule of the Crimean Tatars. By the mid-16th century Russia and Circassia became allies and Russian tsar Ivan IV married Circassian princess Maria. From 1763 onwards the Russian Tsarist regime intensified its effort to conquer the North-Western Caucasus. As all the other North Caucasian peoples the Circassians fought the Russian Army fiercely. After the Crimean War, Russia turned its attention to the Caucasus in earnest, starting with the peoples of Chechnya and Dagestan. In 1859, the Russians had finished defeating Imam Shamil in the eastern Caucasus, and were able to concentrate all their forces westward where the last Circassian state with Sochi as capital city was established in 1861, finally subjugating the Circassians in 1864, when over 1.5 million Circassians were murdered or deported to the Ottoman Empire. Less than 800.000 survived the tragic exodus, the descendents of whom today comprise a sizeable Circassian Diaspora in Turkey and the Middle East. 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 Adyghe took part in World War I in the Circassian regiment known as the “Wild Division”. The Civil War resulted in another sizeable migration of Circassians to Turkey and Middle Eastern countries. The revival of the ancient Circassian people as a nation did not begin until after the October Revolution, with the formation of the Circassian (Adyghean) Autonomous Region on July 21, 1922. The Circassians who had remained in the North Caucasus participated, with the other North Caucasian peoples, in the short-lived independent state of Mountaineers Republic of the North Caucasus formed in 1918,which became part of the new Soviet Union and was renamed the Soviet Mountain Republic in 1921. Within a few years the Mountain Republic disintegrated and the Circassians were divided into three categories as the Adyghe, the Cherkess and the Kabardians.
In the Soviet period the imperialistic policy with regard to the original inhabitants of the northern Caucasus became more subtle. The Circassian people, with their own distinctive culture and language, were separated over the three mentioned different territorial and administrative units. They were forced to abandon their native language, in favour of Russian, in a policy intended to lead to assimilation.
Today Circassian nationalist organisations often organise their manifesto around the continuity of the scatteredness of the Circassian population and the demographic disadvantages of the Circassians in the republics they live. Establishing a close relationship with their ethnic kin, the Abkhaz, and supporting them in their “independence” war against Georgia also dominated the nationalist agenda throughout 1992-1994. Mass repatriation of the Diaspora Circassians and the unification of Circassian lands in one single republic within the Russian Federation are the objectives that were being pursued vigorously until recently. Nonetheless, since the beginning of the second half of the last decade the goal of establishing “Greater Circassia” seems to have been replaced by the appreciation that national interests are best served if the Circassians aim at acquiring more autonomy wherever they live. Exception to this is that Adyghe nationalist movement is the most powerful and popular in Karachaevo-Cherkessia from which it aims to secede to revive Cherkessian autonomy. As yet it failed to do so.
However the nationalists were partially successful in achieving some of their goals. Adygea Autonomous Oblast was upgraded to republican status in July 1991 and renamed Republic of Adygea. Also both in Adygea and Kabardino-Balkaria, the republican laws passed that gave the Circassian Diaspora constitutional rights to resettle in these republics. The day May 21st has been designated in both republics as official mourning day for the Circassians who, in the last century, had to flee their homeland. Since the early 1990s through the transition from Soviet Union to multinational Russian Federation, the Northwest Caucasus has seen an increasing polarization of these two national groups in the North Caucasus. On more than one occasion a civil war along ethnic lines seemed to be looming in both Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria. After the presidential elections held in the early 1999 in Karachaevo-Cherkessia there have been many street protests, attended by thousands of people, organised by the rival ethnic groups in support of their own candidate.
Political System and Representation of Circassians
Only 10% of the Circassian population remained on its native soil in the Caucasus by the end of the 19th century. After the Bolshevik Revolution, as part of Soviet nationality policy, the land of the Circassians was divided into several small administrative units of different statuses (autonomous republics, oblasts, and regions). These areas did not border each other, and the Circassian populations were grouped together with non-related nations in separate autonomous units under different names: Adygea, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkari. In addition, a Shapsugh autonomous area had been established in the 1920s, but was eliminated in 1941. Recently, the 15,000 Circassians-Shapsughs have begun an active campaign to resurrect this autonomy (many of Israeli Circassians are of Shapsugh origin). The area covered by these units represents a small fraction of the region inhabited by the Circassians before the Russian conquest and the subsequent dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous populations.
Following the creation of the Russian Federation, three Republics with Circassian populations – Adygea, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkari (with a total combined population of less than 2 million) were allocated the status of autonomous republics. This means that Adygea, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria are nominally autonomous with the supposed right to secede. Each has its own constitution, president and parliament. Constitutionally the republics are represented by the federal government in international affairs. For example, Adygea has a President and there is also a directly elected National Assembly (Khase), which comprises the Council of Representatives and the Council of the Republic. Both Councils are elected every five years and have 27 deputies each. The Prime Minister of Adygea is appointed by the President with the consent of the National Assembly. The republic sends three representatives to the parliament of the Russian Federation; one to the Duma and the other two to the Federation Council. The republic’s Constitution was adopted on May 14, 1995.
Commemorating the Expulsion of Circassians and the 1864 Genocide
After one hundred years of violent resistance to Russian expansion, approximately 1.5 million Circassians were expelled form Sochi in 1864. Many of the 1.5 million Circassians who were expelled died in the course of that action, leading their descendents and scholars who have studied that tragedy to label it “the forgotten genocide.” On 21 May 1989 the 125th anniversary of the end of the Russian-Caucasian Wars, a public commemoration event was arranged for the first time in the building of Kabardian Public Theatre, an event which precipitated the organization of similar commemoration events every 21st of May in the other Republics (Karachay-Cherkes and Adygeya) where Circassians live. On 21st May 2014 the more than 700,000 Circassians in the North Caucasus and their more than five million co-ethnics in Turkey, the Middle East, Europe, and around the world are marking the 150th anniversary of the expulsion of their ancestors.
Encouraged by Moscow’s recognition of Abkhazia, Circassians are seeking official Russian recognition of and an apology for the tsarist expulsion of the Circassians almost a century and a half ago, The Adyghe Khase organization issued an appeal to President Dmitry Medvedev calling on him to issue a statement “in which would be given an appropriate assessment of the bestial crime of tsarist autocracy in the North Caucasus”. Their descendents are asking for that not as a standalone measure but to also allow those expelled the chance for “a return to the land of their ancestors” as the basis for developing a special program for the rebirth of the Circassian nation.
The 2014 Olympics at Sochi
Sochi was the last capital of the independent Circassia and the site of the 1864 deportation and the Circassians believe that plans for the development of facilities for the Olympics there fail to respect the memory of that event and the life of the Circassians still living there. Circassian organizations have called for the site of the games to be moved (www.natpress.net/stat.php?id=3845).The Olympics are an especially sensitive issue. On the one hand, Vladimir Putin has made them a centrepiece of his career, but on the other, he and other Russian officials have ignored the sensitivities of the Circassians and the fact that the games scheduled for 2014 will occur on the 150th anniversary of the expulsion and genocide of the Circassians.
Expelled Circassians did not have a chance to immigrate to the Caucasus until the early 1990s. In 1990, Soviet authorities officially rejected an appeal by the Circassian Benevolent Association of Syria to allow 234 Circassian families to return to the Caucasus and obtain Soviet citizenship. The end of the Cold War started a wave of Circassian immigration to the Caucasus. In 1993, about 3,000 Circassians returned to Nalchik and 1,000 to Maykop. However, the post-Soviet realities of Russia and the instability of the Caucasus after the beginning of the war in Chechnya in 1994 slowed down the process. Another problem was the complicated process of obtaining temporary residency and Russian citizenship. Most returning emigrants obtained citizenship according to a November 1991 law that had three conditions making it harder to obtain Russian citizenship: an applicant had to reject the citizenship of his or her country of origin, live five years in Russia, and know the Russian language.
The political aspect of Circassian repatriation culminated in the case of Kosovo.
The International Circassian Association brought up the question at three sessions of the United Nations. Ultimately, the president of the Adygeya Republic, Aslan Dzharimov, appealed to the government of the Russian Federation to grant Kosovar Circassians the right to resettle in Adygeya. Between 1998 and 1999, a total of 174 did so. A new village, Mafakhabl, was built for repatriates. The president of the International Circassian Association, Boris Akbashev, stated in a speech at the International Circassian Congress in Nalchik in 2000 the significance of the Kosovar Circassian repatriation, noting that “this was the first time Russia not only admitted their right to return, but made practical, political, diplomatic, and economic steps for their moving home and settling here.”
Nonetheless, up to 2000, authorities in Kabardino-Balkaria and Adygeya issued only 1,711 temporary residency permits and granted only 610 requests for citizenship for returned members of the Diaspora. After a new law was passed in November 2003 on the legal status of foreign citizens in the Russian Federation, it became almost impossible to obtain citizenship. Only five passports were issued after that in Nalchik. A survey of 400 Circassian immigrants in Adygeya and Kabardino-Balkaria in 2006 by the Institute of Humanitarian Studies of Kabardino-Balkaria showed that their main problem, overwhelmingly, was the process of obtaining citizenship.
Circassians living in the North Caucasus and the more numerous Circassians living in the Diaspora are seeking a radical simplification of the procedures for the repatriation of the community and also for dual citizenship, neither of which the Russian authorities seem inclined to grant. Most Circassians who have tried to return have fallen under the provisions of the 1991 Russian citizenship law which requires that they give up their previous citizenship, live in the country for five years before getting Russian citizenship, and know Russian, all of which limits the attractiveness of coming back. And their situation has deteriorated as a result of the adoption in 2003 of the Russian law on the legal status of foreign citizens living in the Russian Federation. That measure makes it even more difficult for Circassians from the diaspora to return, even though Moscow officials say they would like to have more repatriates. Demands for recognition of ethnic unity
With a new urgency in 2008, the Circassians wish to reaffirm their common identity as Circassians. Although many of them are grateful to Soviet power for creating three Circassian republics in the North Caucasus, they are angry that Moscow divided their nation into Adygeys, Kabardinians, Circassians, and Shapsugs. Consequently, the Circassians in the Diaspora and in Russia have resumed the campaign they launched in the early 1990s to have all these subgroups of the Circassian nation eliminated in the upcoming census and to allow members of each to declare themselves as Circassians rather than one of the other Soviet-era identities. Most Circassians believe, their leaders insist, that “the recognition by the organs of state power of the Russian Federation of the ethnic unity of Circassians living in the Russian Federation and the reestablishment of a single ethnonym (unification) for their designation is at the present time the chief task” on whose resolution depend all the others.
Are the Circassians pursuing an independent state or self-government?
The Circassians in the North Caucasus and in the Diaspora would like to see the restoration of a single Circassian Republic, eliminating the ethno-territorial divisions Stalin imposed on the people with the goal of allowing the Circassians to resume a separate and distinct national life as they did prior to their defeat and expulsion in 1864. This would require a dramatic reordering of the North Caucasus, something that the Circassians say is a matter of simple justice but that Moscow views as a threat to stability. And although most Circassians insist that they see their future within the Russian Federation, their enthusiasm for the independence of Abkhazia suggests they have larger plans. As a result, even if the Russian government is willing to make concessions on all the other points, Moscow appears unlikely to yield on this one, thus continuing a situation in which the increasing nationalism of the rising generation will clash with the increasing authoritarianism of the Russian state well into the future.
What are the goals of the Circassian Organizations?
There are a number of Circassian organizations around the world.
KAFFED is the largest and most influential North Caucasian umbrella organization of 58 active Caucasian associations in Turkey. KAFFED is a member of the International Circassian Association.http://www.kafkasfederasyonu.org/
The Circassian Charity Organization – their principal concern is the welfare of indigent Circassian, whether they are members of not. It is purports to organize the affairs of Circassians in some social, cultural, and even political spheres.
The Cherkess Fund Organization – a non-profit International Organization working for the preservation of Circassian Language and culture established in 1991 in Nalchik, Kabardino Balkarian Republic.
The Emir Hanza School – supports fund-raising and other functions
The Ahli Club (1944) – aims to furthering the needs, ambitions and aspirations of its members to participate fully in the social, cultural, sporting and artistic scenes in Jordan and abroad.
The Folklore Committee (1993) – aims to preserve and develop Circassian culture
Al-Jeel Al-Jadeed Club (1950) – focuses on cultural renaissance, penning many books and plays, devising and disseminating a Circassian alphabet based on Roman characters.
Tribal Council – manages tribal affairs and resolves disputes that might disrupt harmony with other sections of society. Its work is invaluable in maintaining social stability.
The Friends of the Circassians in the Caucasus – an organization whose principal aim is to maintain and strengthen relationships with the fatherland.
Circassian Benevolent Association – http://www.cbaamerica.org/
Circassian Education Foundation – (March 2005) a non profit charitable organization in the state of New Jersey. Its mission is to promote education, culture, knowledge and acquisition of modern life skills to all Circassians in the USA and the world. It shall specifically emphasize the inspiration and support of children and youth toward higher education http://www.circassianfoundation.org/
Are the Circassians under threat from assimilation and loss of identity?
According to Hewitt (1999), Circassians have the feeling that their identity is under threat. Circassian organisations have been waging successful campaigns against proposals to merge the autonomous republic of Adygeya with the neighbouring Krasnodar region.
Are any programmes in place to protect and preserve the culture of the Circassians?
For example, pressure for measures to guarantee the survival of the Circassian language (under threat of demise both amongst the diaspora and even in the Caucasian homeland) comes from committed individuals, and there is surely a worthy role to be played here by Western organisations such as UNESCO or the EU’s cultural fund. A Caucasian Cultural Society founded in Turkey, where estimates place the number of Circassians anywhere between 2 and 4 million, in 1967. Turkey has witnessed in recent years a proliferation of publications dealing with cultural and linguistic problems of (especially N.W.) Caucasian peoples. A Circassian internet-site has been organised by a member of the small community in Israel. The Cherkess Fund, the brainchild of a Kabardian businessman and writer from Jordan investigates the possibilities of creating a common form of written Circassian not only to bridge the divide caused in the Caucasus by the existence of the two literary languages but to produce a unifying bond between ALL the Circassian peoples, and, in order to make such a form of Circassian attractive to Circassians unfamiliar with the Cyrillic script, the Roman script is envisaged as serving as base for the orthography.
CULTURE AND ENVIRONMENT
The Circassians speak a North-Caucasian language, which can be divided into five different dialects. Two of them are the West Circassian or Adyghe, mainly spoken by the Circassians in Adygea, and the East Circassian or Kabardian, mainly spoken by the Circassians in Karachay-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria. These languages are noted for the great number of consonant distinctions and the small number of vowel distinctions in their sound systems. Circassian was first written in its modern forms after the October Revolution of 1917, as the Soviet populist approach to linguistic diversity dictated that the written language was supposed to reflect as closely as possible the dialect spoken by the people. Therefore different Latin alphabets were devised for the western Circassians-the Adyghe, and for the central and western Circassians – the Cherkess and Kabardians. During the first two decades of Soviet Rule, the Circassian languages were used in all almost all domains, including education.
However in the late 1930s Soviet language policy began to shift away from the emphasis on the mother tongue and by 1936 the Circassian languages were obliged to use the Cyrillic alphabet. 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 both dialects of Circassian, were phased out of the school system as languages of instruction. Today, the official languages of Adygea are Russian and Adyghe, the official language of Karachay-Cherkessia is Russian, the official languages of Kabardino-Balkaria are Russian, Kabardian and Balkar (a Turkic language).
Today, most Circassians practice Sunnite Islam of the Hanafid kind. However, the Circassians have interacted with different faiths during the millennia. They practiced a pagan religion until the 5th century when Christianity from Byzantium and Georgia began to spread in the Northern Caucasus, reaching the Circassians in the 6th century. However, the influence of Christianity was limited and was practiced alongside the traditional pagan religion. Islam started to spread slowly among the Circassians from the 15th century, largely due to the efforts of the Crimean and Nogai preachers. Blending with Christian survivals and even pre-Christian folk beliefs, Islam became fully established only in the 17th-18th centuries. Circassians in the Diaspora tend to practice the dominant form of Islam in their host country.
The economy of this region was so well integrated into the economy of the former Soviet Union and subsequently of the Russian Federation that it has become independent of the natural environment and is now incapable of developing on its own. There are some initiatives to establish new companies, joint ventures and to find new opportunities. Unfortunately, the unstable situation in the Caucasus, with the recent war in Chechnya, an economic blockade around Abkhazia and large-scale refugee problems all around, is little encouragement to potential investors Unemployment in the North Caucasus is very high and a large part of the Adyge working population move North to work in Russia.
Although historic Cherkessia occupied fertile soils with large forest areas and is rich in oil, gas and gold, the bond with nature that was so typical for the Adyge people has been cut as a result of the diversion of rivers, the building of gigantic industries and the irresponsible use of the natural resources. In the 1970s, over 20 Circassian villages were resettled to create a huge reservoir, the so-called Kuban reservoir of Adygean sea. Due to the serious environmental consequences of this project, a federal program was created to drain this reservoir. However, due to lack of financial support from the Russian Government, the program has not been put into effect. Moreover, in spite of protests, the plans to re-route the Great and Small Zelenchuk into the Kuban reservoir continue. Several commissions have confirmed the technical and economic impossibilities of this project and the dangers fort the environment.
In the main, the mineral resources of Caucasus include petroleum, natural gas, manganese, copper, tungsten and molybdenum. Livestock is raised on the heavily forested slopes. Wheat, barley, corn, sunflower, many fruits and vegetables are grown in the northern piedmont of Caucasus and citrus fruits, cotton and tea, in the warmer valleys. Excellent resorts abound in Circassian Republics of Adighea, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia as well as in Shapsugia and the Abkhazian Republic. Circassia and the UNPO The Circassians, like the Abkhazians, are members of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO, The Hague). Hewitt (1999) acknowledges UNPO’s help as “Circassians have twice participated in conferences of the UN Working Committee for Human Rights and its sub-committee for National Minorities Rights in Geneva” where on 28 May 1998 T.Kazanokov was able to raise the question about the restoration of both the common name for the Circassian ethnos and Circassian surnames for all compatriots resident in Syria and Turkey. T.Kazanokov also requested the right to return to their motherland for all Circassian expatriates. Prince Ali ben Al-Hussein of Jordan, where Circassians form the palace-guard, has taken a keen interest of late in promotion of Circassian rights, having visited the Circassian regions of the N. Caucasus in October, journeying from Amman entirely on horseback and boat to retrace the route to Jordan taken by the early migrants — his mother was Circassian