The Circassian Question… A Journey in History
The following is the English language translation of Mohydeen Quandour’s controversial Interview in the title of “The Circassian Question …A Journey in History” with the Satellite TV Channel, “Russia Today”, which was performed in Arabic language and was published on YouTube in 03, August, 2012.
Translated by: Adel Bashqawi
17, August, 2012.
The presentation of R.T. about this particular interview which was performed in Arabic language:
In this episode, the Jordanian Circassian historian and creator Mohydeen Quandour, hosts Sargon Hedayeh and the work team of “Reading between the lines” program, at his home in the Jordanian capital city of Amman, where the talk goes on about the most important turning points in the history of the Circassian people and the different readings of the Diaspora Circassians regarding the history of their ancestors. Dialogue is focused about the reasons of the migration of the Circassians from Motherland in the Russian Caucasus, and the modality of the spread of this people in various parts of the world. Mohydeen Quandour talks about the history of relations of the Circassian people with Tsarist Russia and the political and social life, and the differences that prevailed in that era between the Circassians themselves and between the superpowers of that era, also Quandour mentions the Circassian Mamluks who ruled Egypt and Syria for 140 years and they could not build a Circassian state, and to the services provided by the Circassians to the Arab and Islamic state.
R.T.: Dr. Mohydeen, welcome, Ibn Khaldoun says about Circassians:
They are a generation of people living in the Caucasus Mountains, they are the most perfectly created of human beings, who have the best faces, the most courageous in heart and the strongest in resistance to hardships.
R.T.: Dr. Mohydeen, who are the Circassians, where did this name come from and who does it include?
M.Q.: This is a big question as if you ask me who are the Arabs and you didn’t ask me who they are. Egyptians, Syrians or Iraqis. The question got two answers; the question has two answers, the historical answer and the moral/historical answer. The historical answer is easier, for a beginning, the population of Circassian nationality according to Western estimates is 8-10 million people, where most of them, the vast majority of them are in Diaspora, I mean in Turkey, for example Circassian population is 5-6 million, at Motherland in the Russian Federation, their population is not more than 500-600 thousand people. From this we clearly see the Circassian Question and the Circassian problem. Where from, who are they and where their name had come from. It is regrettable that the Circassians, Diaspora Circassians believe that the Circassian History began in the eighteenth and nineteenth era (centuries) with the Caucasian/Russian wars, deportation or migration and they do not know that there is a very deep-rooted and very old history, as old as the Circassian people. The famous Russian scholar, Ivan Vasilyevich had proven after 35 years of study, study of the Hittite language, the Hittite civilization and the Circassian civilization that the Circassians descent from the Hittites, and no more dispute has been left on where the Circassians had come from; Herodotus in his book, wrote that the people who live in Anatolia and the mountains, meaning the Caucasus Mountains, they call themselves the tika, meaning Adigha and Circassians actually had their names changed over the centuries, but they always call themselves Adigha, they were called Zik, Mit, Cricket, and old Russian called Circassians, Kasogs. In the old historical Russian archive the Redada’s story is well known, the Circassian leader in the 10th Century, Redada is known in the Russian archives, as there was long-rooted and very old history the way Arabs did, but Circassians should be divided the way Arabs did. For an example the Egyptian is an Arab and the Moroccan is an Arab, but their language doesn’t match, also, their customs, traditions and policies do not match; that is with Circassians, Diaspora Circassians are not aware of this reality, Circassians are divided into two parts which are very different, not by nationalism, but by political history, social history, and even civilization ranking, The Eastern Circassians who are the Minor Kabarday and Great Kabarday, and the Western Circassians who are the inhabitants of the mountains, the Western Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea coasts.
R.T.: What are aspects of differences between them, and aspects of similarity?
M. Q.: Similarity of course, they are Circassians and one nationalism, but the history, Kabarday history is very different from the Western Circassians, the history of Western Circassians are Shapsough, Bjedough, Temirkoy, Abkhaz qa (Abkhazians are not Circassians), Abzakh, and Ubyh, etc … Firstly, the Kabarday had an old history with Russia and they had relations and treaties with Russia; in Kabarday, there was a political presence of quasi-state; it is not possible to say that there was a state, but a quasi-state, a group of princes headed by one Prince, and they meet in a quasi-parliament. Also they had a court and they used to enact laws that were able to sign treaties and agreements with their neighbors, the Russians and Tatars… etc… While the Eastern tribes, their composition, that means their way of adopting policies and their living were different, in the meaning that they were various tribes who had no princes, every village had Imam, or a leader which they did not unite except in battle time, they unite and fight, but when battle is over, each and every one return to his village, that is one of the reasons that they were defeated against the Russian forces, When we talk on later date about Caucasus-Russian wars, we find that the Kabarday did not enter the war, Kabardians of course fought the Russians in the mid-nineteenth century and were overwhelmed in the known battle of Khumbelay, and signed a treaty with Russia to allow Russia to enter Kabarday and to use it as a pass to Georgia… etc. But Kabarday remained semi-independent. The Caucasian – Russian War had occurred with Chechnya and Dagestan in the East and with Western Circassians.
R.T: We talked about the historical meaning of the Circassians; you said that there is a philosophical meaning, please go on.
M.Q.: And this is the more difficult question that is the philosophical meaning. The great philosopher Gumbolt has mentioned theoretical books that I like and they convince me, and the theory is as follows: all nationalities in the world live in a closed circuit, in this circuit they protect their language, customs, traditions and all what is included in the meaning of nationalism, and if a breakage happens in this series, in this circle, the people will extinct “assimilation” in the West, and I think this what has happened to the Circassian people. I don’t think that this had happened in the nineteenth century in the Caucasian – Russian Wars, it may have occurred during the days of the Hittites, may have occurred in another time, but this incident had occurred in the Circassian people and went out to extinct, and there is prove for this statement, the Circassian Mamluks who ruled Egypt and Syria for a period of almost 139 – 140 years in a row, why didn’t they think about the founding of a Circassian State? There was large number of Circassian Mamluks, they were bringing soldiers and their families from the Caucasus, there was a huge presence in Egypt; I believe they had served the Islamic State, they had served the Arab State, they fought and supported Islam, as Circassians, but they did not establish a Circassian State.
R.T: Here, I repeat your question, what are your interpretations to the history of the Circassian Question, and its dimensions?
M.Q.: History of the Circassian Question means we settle on where you want to start, if we choose to talk, if we want to say about what comes after the Russian – Caucasus Wars.
R.T.: Let’s begin from prior to that, you have said that there is a history that Diaspora Circassians are not aware of, so let us talk about it.
M.Q.: The Kabardians had their connection and relation with Russia solid, that means that there was deep-rooted families who served Russia, present in the history, ten very deep-rooted families in Russia from Circassian origins, and high ranking generals had served in the Tsarist army during the Russian – Caucasian War, for an example, the Muscovite airport known by Sheremetyevo was called after the Sheremetyev area, who was big aristocrat from a Circassian origin, and his family, Sheremetyev is present in Kabarda. A known actress who acted in my film last year, is named Liudmila Sheremeteva, the family has been located in Russia and in Kabarda. It means there was a strong relationship between Kabarda and the Russian state.
This did not ever exist at all between Russia and the Western Circassian tribes, that reality, and from there we proceed to identify the problems that had occurred because when it took place, when Russia defeated Shamil in Dagestan, it set out to the West and fought the tribes and defeated them in 1864, and the war ended. There has been a deportation or migration. Some of the Kabardians had immigrated to the Ottoman Empire, but they had migrated because of the strong Ottoman preaching at the time. They did not migrate because of the war, my family, for an example…
R.T.: I want to ask you, there are many who say that immigration was the cause of the Russian – Caucasian War, but you have said it was the Ottoman preaching! Are there other reasons??
M.Q.: I believe that the migration or deportation that had occurred was due to two reasons, the defeat in the war or preaching, which means there was no economical reasons; the people that is defeated in the war does not forsake its country, the Germans had not migrated from Germany when they were defeated, so there must had been a cause, which means that Western Circassians when they found themselves in a position that they must immigrate, we can’t deny that Russia had wanted the Caucasus strategically and geographically, it have had…
R.T.: May be this is a conflict between superpowers!
M.Q.: Of course superpowers’ conflict!
R.T.: Turkey was there, Russia was there, and the conflict had meant if Britain had existed there, it would have struggled too and here I want to ask you…
M.Q.: There is, there is a very important legal answer that Russia had used to occupy the Caucasus, which is the Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji between the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire, 21, July, 1774, Russia had signed a treaty with the Ottomans, stating literally in Article 21, and I can read this article from my book “A Study in the Russian-Caucasian Wars”, and the article 21 says: The two Kabardas, meaning Greater and Minor Kabarda, and because their proximity, these countries (entities) must be subjected to the Imperial Russian Court.
Russia had an international legal lawful excuse for the occupation of the Caucasus!
R.T.: You are using the word “occupation”, but you are saying, there are legal excuses, there is a strong conflict, why is this term?
M.Q.: Look, because they were not present there, that means it turned out to be an occupation, because there was a resistance, hence Turkey wasn’t occupying the Caucasus to be able to give its signature of the Caucasus to Russia, therefore the Circassians had said: Turkey got nothing to do with us, why is it signing a treaty, and give up our homeland to Russia, accordingly they resisted and an occupation had taken place; a Russian advance had taken place over a period of many years until the war had ended in the year 1864, this is a real historical reality. So it was in…
R.T.: Britain’s role in these events, the Turkish role, you are saying that the reason for migration was not only the war, is there a role for those forces, that were in that era great countries in the migration of Circassians from the Caucasus??
M.Q.: The history in my belief, the history entirely in my opinion interpretation and analysis, except if the historian is an eyewitness in the event, therefore the historian searches in letters and memoranda of eyewitnesses in that event in order to clarify the picture and to reach the truth and even this fact is a personal analysis for the historian, because historians might not conform in analyzing the situation. In Russian history, especially in the Soviet history, often the British were mentioned that the Britons had a part, they had a motive and they were supporting the Mountaineers in the wars and that is wrong… Wrong… wrong…, there are no indications to this topic. There is a British figure called David Urquhart, David Urquhart was an employee at the British consulate in Istanbul during the war and was sympathetic with the Mountaineers and tried to persuade the British state to contribute to support the Mountaineers, but he was not successful, he even invited, called Circassian leaders, from Western Circassians to London, he hosted them, he made them travel to all Britain, give lectures about the war and so on, etc… And every effort he made to meet a British public official did not succeed. “Palmerstone” had categorically refused to meet them because he didn’t want to be embroiled. Britain did not want to damage its relations with Russia at the time, which there was a great business relationship, and thereafter the top leaders, the Russian Emperor and the British Queen were cousins, which was a very important Russian-British relationship, regardless of the policies and wars that had taken place, so they didn’t interfere at all. Two Britons came, merchants and adventurers you may say, “Long Worth and Stanislaus Bell” and they actually came and fought with the Mountaineers the East, in the West and they spent a long time with them, as they tried to unite the fighting forces, but they failed, they took up their experience and left, then they wrote, each one of them wrote two books and these books are not historical books which they are about their view of what happened at the time of their stay, Britain’s role in the Caucasian wars did not exist, except of what I have mentioned, there was no political role at all.
R.T.: Other than the Caucasus War, are there significant turning points in the history of this people and the history of migration??
M.Q.: What do you mean by turning points? Always remember that when we talk about Circassians, we are talking only about the one nationalism, but two parts; the Western and Eastern parts and their history is very different. The turning point of course was the immigration for the Western Circassians. Today, the Circassian presence in the Russian Federation, 80-90% of it is from the Kabardians, that means in the Republic of Adygea, there are 45 thousand Circassian people, in Karachay-Cherkessia, Circassians are about 15 to 20 thousand people, in Kabarday approximately 400-420 thousand people. Here you would recognize the history and what has happened to the Kabardians, the turning point that occurred in history actually is their association with Russia, for example the marriage of Princess Ghoshinah that was named Maria to “Ivan the Terrible”, which was his second wife, there was a family link between princes of Kabarda and the Russian princes, this had a significant impact in history, that had taken place later on.
Why Kabardians did not enter the war? Why did Kabardians join the Tsarist army as soldiers and officers? In the tenth century, it is mentioned in the Russian history the relation, the Kabarday, even the Kabarday and the father of “Ivan the Terrible”, “Ivan III” as they call him, they fought jointly against the Tatars, which means there was relations, this turning point, this relationship had affected the history of Kabardians. But it is completely different from the history of Circassians of the West.
R.T: In your opinion, when Circassians arrived to Diaspora countries, did their arrival support the relationship between Arab countries and Tsarist Russia? Meaning that, when your grandchildren had arrived to Jordan, did they maintain their ties with homeland?
(It seems mistakenly, the interviewer had pronounced “grandchildren” instead of “grandparents”)
M.Q.: Of course, after the communist revolution the link had broken, and the link did not disengage except in the early 1980’s with the organization, that was called “Rodina”, which began to link the relations between the Diaspora Circassians and Motherland Circassians.
R.T.: Today, how do you diagnose this link?
M.Q.: Circassians, look I mean that Circassians for example, in Jordan they don’t think themselves as a minority because they are of the founders of this country, and Jordan doesn’t look at Circassians as a minority for the same reason, Circassians are loyal Jordanians. But they are proud being Circassians, although most of them, I mean have forgotten the language, the language is going to be lost.
R.T.: The time sort of ran out, we’re going to continue our talk about the Circassians in Diaspora in the next episode.