Shapsugs, Once Among Largest Circassian Sub-Ethnoses, Now Struggle to Survive

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Shapsugs, Once Among Largest Circassian Sub-Ethnoses, Now Struggle to Survive

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 4 – Two hundred years ago, the Shapsugs who live along the Black Sea coast, were among the very largest of the sub-ethnic groups of the Circassian nation. But more than 90 percent of them were killed or exiled, and now the 10,000 remaining in that region are struggling to avoid assimilation, according to Madzhid Chachukh, their leader.

            They attracted broader attention in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics which Vladimir Putin organized on the lands from which they and other Circassians were expelled 150 years earlier and more recently when officials allowed to be put up and then took down a memorial honoring tsarist conquerors.

            But generally, the Shapsugs are the forgotten Circassians, with far more attention going to the Adgeys, the Cherkess, and the Kabardins, who are far more numerous in the national homeland than they are and who have their own statehood, albeit in two of the three cases, a binational one (Karachay-Cherkessia and Kabardin-Balkaria.

            That makes a new interview Chachukh, head of the Adygey Khase in Krasnodar, has given to Sabina Vakhidova of the Prague-based Caucasus Times portal especially valuable for the light it casts on this community and its current situation (

            His regional organization, established in 1989, has 24 primary branches representing the auls and population centers where Shapsugs live in compact groups. Its primary goals are to preserve the use of the Circassian language and to ensure that the Shapsugs are full-fledged participants in the economic and political development of the kray.

            That means that the Adygey Khase simultaneously promotes the survival of the Shapsugs as an ethnic community and their integration as a community “into contemporary society” in which is taking shape “an all-Russian civic identity.”  Because his group seeks cooperation with the Russian authorities, it took part in cultural activities during the Sochi Games.

            According to Chachukh, “there are Adygs [Shapsugs] in the organs of power at all levels” in Krasnodar. “But we believe that officials and specialists should be selected not on the basis of ethnicity but on the basis of their business and professional qualities” – although he appears proud that there have been so many near the top of the regional government.

            Those Shapsugs who are prepared to cooperate fully with the Russians are provided with extensive aid and opportunities. (For descriptions of some of these, see But those Shapsugs who challenge the Russian authorities are discriminated against and excluded from such possibilities, just as is the case with other Circassian groups.

Posted by paul goble at 9:36 AM

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