Coverage of The tragedy of the Circassian People in Contemporary Georgian Public Thought (later half of the 19th century)

Coverage of The tragedy of the Circassian People in

Contemporary Georgian Public Thought (later half of the 19th century)

            By  professor Niko  Javakhishvili

Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University

My dear friend Professor Nikolai Javakhishvili in Caucasian national costume

Muhajirism (< Arab. – “displacement”) has been one of the tragic pages in the history of the fre­e­dom-loving mountaineer peoples of the Caucasus. After the imprisonment of Imam Shamil (1859), the leader of the national-liberating war of the Muslim mountaineers, and the end of the war in Chechnya and Dagestan, Russia’s positions in the North-East Caucasus were finally enhanced. In effect, the ruling circles of Russia did their best to take over the north-western part of the Caucasus; however, they regarded the local Muslim population as the principal obstacle for the fulfillment of their objectives. Therefore, they decided to expel disobedient mountaineers from their homeland and to deport them to the Ottoman Empire, and to inhabit their lands by ethnic Slavs. 1

Russian authorities believed that the number of Muslim mountaineers were to be decreased to the point that they could no longer threaten Russia’s strategic interests. 2

The Ottoman Empire was none-the-less interested in receiving the deportees. Its leaders presumed that, in case of a war with Russia, Caucasians would be beneficial for them as a reliable military force. Hence, Muhajirism of Caucasian mountaineers was conditioned by profound socio-economic, political and religious factors. The religious factor seemed to be dominant within the process in point; however, it was prevailed by the political factor – colonizing goals of the empire.

At various periods of time, subjected to the expulsion were both the North Caucasian peoples: Adyghes (Circassians and Kabardians), Ubykhs, Abaza, Vainakhs (Chechens and Ingush), Dagestanians, Muslim Ossetians, and South Caucasians, viz., Abkhaz and Muslim Georgians (inhabiting the south-western part of Georgia). The core of Muhajirs was representatives of the Adyghe peoples. The total number of deportees from the Caucasus estimated a million. 3

Caucasian Muhajirs were settled in various countries and provinces, including the Ottoman Empire. Thus, their settlements evolved Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Jordan, and even Bulgaria. Circassians were brought to Bulgaria in 1864, after the process of their settlement in other areas had been completed.4

Abkhaz too suffered from a twist of bitter fate of Muhajirs. The process of their organized deportation started when the expulsion of the North Caucasians had in fact been over, and it lasted for more than ten years (1867-1877). The total number of Abkhaz deportees estimated 50 000. 5



1 Niko Javakhishvili, narkvevebi qarTveli da adiReli xalxebis urTierTobis istoriidan, (Essays in the History of the Interrelationship of the Georgian and Adyghe Peoples), (Tbilisi, 2005), 180.

2 Р. Фадеев, Собранные сочинения, т. I, ч. 1, (СПб., 1889), 149-150.

3 Bejan Khorava, afxazTa 1867 wlis muhajiroba, (Muhajirism of Abkhazians in 1867), (Tbilisi, 2004), 50-62.

4 Kakha Tsertsvadze, Crdilo kavkasiis xalxTa istoria XIX saukunis qarTul presaSi, (History of the Peoples of the North Caucasus in the Georgian Press of the 19th Century), (Tbilisi, 1996), 69.

5 Bejan Khorava, afxazTa 1867 wlis muhajiroba, (Muhajirism of Abkhazians in 1867), (Tbilisi, 2004), 7.

As a result of the process in point, the Abkhaz people appeared on the edge of extinction. 6 The issue of Muhajirism among Abkhaz has been substantially studied, 7 and, hence, I will not elaborate here con­ce­rning this issue.

The tragedy of the Circassian people found heartfelt sympathy on the part of progressive rep­re­se­n­tatives of Georgian public of the time. It should be noted that Georgians have always deeply respected the Circassian people. This is why the heroic history and contemporaneity of the Circassian people and, specifically, Muhajirism and its grave outcomes have been covered rather extensively both in Georgian print media and fiction. 8 The Georgian print media of the 1860s-90s was particularly active.

My essay consists of two parts. The initial one analyzes the data, occurring in Georgian print media, and the other one deals with the best pieces of fiction.


I. Coverage of the Circassian tragedy in Georgian print media

The stance of Georgian society was overtly stated in the Georgian print media of the time. Georgian newspapers rather intensively published articles about freedom-loving Circassians, about the tactics of their heroic struggle, Muhajirism, and the essence of Russia’s colonizing politics.

When reading these articles, one can see how painfully Georgians perceived the misfortunes of the mountaineers, having been expelled from their native lands. The newspapers ”Droeba” (“Times”), 9 edi­ted by Sergei Meskhi, ”Iveria”,10 edited by Ilia Chavchavadze, also ”Kvali” (“Footprint”), 11 and others were particularly keen on the problem of Muhajirism of mountaineers.

The territories, deserted after the expulsion if the indigenous population, were settled by peasants, displaced from central provinces of Russia. However, Russian settlers could hardly get accustomed to the totally strange natural conditions for them.

In the article “Displacement of Slavs,” the newspaper “Droeba” tells about salient difficulties, associated with the Russian settlement: “Authorities paid attention to the country, deprived of its owners, and wanted to populate it. They decided to populate it by the Slavs, brought from central Russia. The Slavs, who expressed their desire to move, were given money, agricultural tools, etc. But what happened with them? The settlers could not accommodate themselves with the local climate, and, as a result, some of them died, and others went back”. 12



6 Ш. Инал-Ипа, Абхазы. Историко-этнографические очерки. Второе переработанное, дополненное издание (Сухуми, 1965), 150.

7 Г. Дзидзария, Махаджирство и проблемы историии Абхазии XIX столетия, (Сухуми, 1982), 21.

8 Niko Javakhishvili, narkvevebi qarTveli da adiReli xalxebis urTierTobis istoriidan, (Essays in the History of the Interrelationship of the Georgian and Adyghe Peoples), (Tbilisi, 2005), 171-178.

9 ”droeba” (“Droeba”), (Tiflis), 1867, No 23; 1871, No 36; 1876, No 37, No 97; 1877, No 112, No 125; 1878, No 24, No 66; 1879, No 138.

10 ”iveria” (“Iveria”), (Tiflis), 1877, No 48; 1878, No 11; 1886, No 151; 1891, No 8; 1897, No 13.

11 “kvali” (“Kvali”), (Tiflis, 1897), No 13.

12 ”droeba” (“Droeba”), (Tiflis, 1878), No 24, 1-2.

The articles, published in Georgian newspapers, praised brave Circassians as courageous warriors, the sight of which sowed fear in Russia. It is noteworthy that, in the Russian Empire of the time, a Circassian was a generalized image of all the North Caucasian peoples.

On September 10, 1871,”Droeba” wrote: “People in Saint Petersburg and Moscow are afraid of daggers that they escape them with fear”. 13

The newspaper in question published a lot concerning free-loving Circassians, tactics of their struggle, and the essence of Russia’s colonizing politics.

On April 16, 1876, the newspaper wrote: “Ottomans rejected the mountaineers under their influence. It will take Russians 35 years to subdue them. Imagine that not a numerous people, not exceeding a million, managed to oppose dozens of millions of Russians for such a long time. These areas were a precipice for Russians. They conducted wars all over the Caucasus: in the West – against Chechens, in the East – against – Adyghe-Circassians. Circassians are particular as far as they have never united into a single army. Each village gets involved in the fight against the Russian army. Thus, the war area comprises all the settlements.

Being defeated, Russians accused the English and Turks, allegedly having supported Caucasians by providing them with weapons and ammunition. However, Russia made a mistake. She took the example of mountaineers and sent smaller troops. Eventually, she understood her mistake and sent numerous troops against these peoples. As soon as they realized that it was impossible to assimilate Circassians, Russia decided to deport them to Turkey, Bulgaria, and Serbia, and to inhabit their lands by ethnic Russians”. 14

On September 10, 1876,”Droeba” wrote that the mass deportation of Circassians to the Ottoman Em­pire took place in 1863: “In December, 1863, Circassians rushed to the Black Sea coast. Men, women, children – everyone is going to the new homeland.

Thus, on July 10, 1864, Circassians, estimating 236 718, appeared at the Black Sea coast, only in Asia Minor. In the Ottoman Empire, their number estimated 200 000… Their guest was hunger, their brother was death, their songs were a coronach!”. 15

As is known, a certain part of mountaineers took part in the 1877-78 Russia-Turkey war.

On May 4, 1877, the newspaper ,”Iveria” wrote: “After Gudauta was fired from cannons and was burnt, the enemy landed. The landed detachment consisted of 200 men. They were the displaced from these places (Circassians). Their participation in the hostilities was a great support for Ottomans and their government”. 16

The Georgian press observed the return of a part of the deportees from Turkey to the North Caucasus, aiming at provoking of an uprising of the indigenous population.



13 ”droeba” (“Droeba”), (Tiflis, 1871), No 36, 3.

14 ”droeba” (“Droeba”), (Tiflis, 1876), No 37, 1-3.

15 ”droeba” (“Droeba”), (Tiflis, 1876), No 97, 3.

16  ”iveria” (“Iveria”), (Tiflis, 1877), No 48, 1.

On August 3, 1877, the newspaper ”Droeba” wrote: “Recently, a company of soldiers (135 men) were sent to cut the forest near Grozny as far as visitors, together with the rebellious Chechens, hide themselves in them. People also told them that a detachment was sent to Baksan Gorge (Greater Kabarda) in order to protect the bridge across the river Terek as far as they feared the Circassians, having come from the Ottoman Empire, who could easily provoke an uprising of local Muslims”. 17

Georgian journalists learnt about the controversies between a Circassian commander and the Turkish leadership. On August 20, 1877, ”Droeba” wrote: “Some controversies evoked between Mukhtar Pasha and the commander of Circassians, a son of Shamil, concerning domestic problems, allegedly resulting in the fact that the Chechens abandoned the Ottoman troops”. 18

The Ottoman authorities settled a part of mountaineers on the territories adjacent to Anatolia.

On January 10, 1878, ”Iveria” reported: “The Sublime Porte (government of the Ottoman Empire) issued a decree to displace all the Circassians from Europe to Asia Minor (Anatolia). The Smolny informed that, in late February, several thousands of Circassians passed those areas, being settled in the border villages, assigned by the government”. 19

On March 31, 1878, ”Droeba” published the following information: “The correspondent from Istanbul reports the following sensation: “The local English ambassador Layard frequently visits Circassians, deported to the Ottoman Empire, and conducts negotiations with them. He agreed with Mussa Pasha, Qazi Muhammad (son of Shamil), Ibrahim Pasha and others, who promised him that, when needed, they would collect warriors among their compatriots and support them in the war against Russia… I was assured that an army, consisting of fifty thousand Circassian and Abkhaz soldiers, was being collected for England’s money”. 20

It should be noted that even in Russia itself there were controversies concerning the settlement of Russians and Cossacks in the places where mountaineers were deported from.

On July 4, 1879, ”Droeba” wrote: “Mr. Vasiliev says that the territories, earlier inhabited by Sha­p­sougs and Ubykhs, were populated by Cossacks and Russians from central Russia. When in 1878 he visited these settlements, he noted that “albeit the Cossacks were economically in better conditions than indigenous Circassians (Shapsougs), they could not foster the improvement, rather they even destroyed what had been there.”

The article was written to oppose those who ascertained that the state interests of Russia required that mountaineers be deported to Russia and the Ottoman Empire, and people from Russia to be settled in the Caucasus”. 21



17 ”droeba” (“Droeba”), (Tiflis, 1877), No 112, 3.

18 ”droeba” (“Droeba”), (Tiflis, 1877), No 125, 1.

19 ”iveria” (“Iveria”), (Tiflis, 1878), No 11, 1.

20 ”droeba” (“Droeba”), (Tiflis, 1878), No 66, 3.

21 ”droeba” (“Droeba”), (Tiflis, 1879), No 138, 1-2.


The Georgian press also paid attention to Muridism, one of the branches of Islam, widespread in the North Caucasus.

On July, 1886, ”Iveria” wrote: “Qazi Mullah Hamzat-beg and Shamil, the disciples of Mansour, fo­l­lo­wed and extended Muridism. It took Russia 60 years to eradicate that doctrine”. 22

On January 11, 1891, ”Iveria” wrote that the Russification policy faced serious obstacles in the Caucasus. ”Iveria” re-published the article from the magazine Severnyi vestnik (‘Northern Messenger’) in which we read: “Already settled Cossacks are unable to acquire all of these places. Authorities allocated both money and tools but in vain. It is no use saying that the area cannot be developed without colonization, there will be no success if hard-working people are not brought to this deserted area from internal provinces of Russia, and, thus, Russia will not expand if she does not acquire new lands”. 23

Articles, dealing with Muhajirism and written by Georgian journalists, sometimes appeared in the Russian press.

On July 20, 1877, in his article, published in the newspaper “Golos” (“Voice”), K. Machavariani wrote that, in that period, a great number of Circassians and Abkhaz – the Muhajirs, longing for their homeland, landed the eastern coast of the Black Sea from Ottoman ships.

The article reads: “Together with the pasha, there were a lot of Abkhaz and Circassians, deported from Abkhazia to Turkey in 1864 and 1866. If Circassians and Abkhaz agreed to go to Abkhazia, they were lured by Abkhazia itself – their homeland; they flattered themselves with hope that they would stay forever in the beloved home land”. 24

Muhajirism has been associated with another historical fact, repeatedly proving how profound have the common historical roots been linking the Georgian and North Caucasian (Circassian, among them) peoples.

In his book From the History of Writing in Abkhazia, the Abkhaz scholar Khukhuti Bgazhba wrote: “For centuries, Abkhaz have used the Georgian writing as a standard language. It was also spread among other peoples of the Caucasus (Ossetians, Adyghes, etc.)…

While visiting his Muhajir brother in Turkey, one Abkhaz nobleman told the following. In one of the Caucasian restaurants of Istanbul, Circassians (this is how all Caucasians were referred to) used to get together to have a word with each other. Once, a Circassian and a Turk engaged in a hot dispute; each of them ascertained the advantage of his nation. The Circassian said: “We are far from our native land, we live in a foreign country, but even here we conduct our affairs quite well. Have we been in our homeland…” The Turk hinted: “What were you there while you did not even have your own alphabet, your writing?” The Circassian replied: “Our common alphabet was Georgian”. 25




22 ”iveria” (“Iveria”), (Tiflis, 1886), No 151, 1-2.

23 ”iveria” (“Iveria”), (Tiflis, 1891), No 8, 2-3.

24 “Голос” (“Golos”), (СПб., 1877), No 199.

25 Х. Бга­жба, Из истории письменности в Абхазии (Тбилиси, 1967), 34-35.

In his book Reise auf dem Caspischen Meere und in den Caucasus, published in Stuttgart in 1837, the German scholar Eduard von Eichwald (1795-1876) wrote: “Abkhaz, Ossetian, and Circassian do not have their own alphabets and use Georgian in writing. As far as Abkhaz and Circassian use guttural sounds and pronounce them with particular sibilation, Russian letters meet the requirements of this language to a lesser degree, however, local scholars suggested using of Russian letters for their languages”. 26

Thus, the process of Muhajirism of Caucasian mountaineers and its consequences were rather comprehensively covered by the Georgian press of the later half of the 19th century. The articles, published by Georgian newspapers in that period, overtly demonstrate that the tragedy of the Circassian people was conceived of by progressive Georgian public of the time with great pain and sympathy.


II. Image of a Circassian in Georgian literature


As already mentioned above, Georgian public have always greatly respected Circassians, being famous for their chivalry and beauty; these circumstances found coverage in the best pieces of the Georgian literature of the 19th century.

The diary My Travel from Tiflis to Saint Petersburg by the famous Georgian poet and military figure Grigol Orbeliani (1804-1883) has been regarded one of the best pieces of the Georgian documentary prose. The diary was written in 1831-1832, when the poet, on his way to Saint Petersburg, visited Kabar­da. The diary contains noteworthy data about the way of life of Karbardians of the time, that is, of Cir­ca­ssians. 27  The author praises the freedom-loving and chivalrous character of the people.

Being excited by braveness of Circassians, G. Orbeliani wrote that they were “a freedom-loving people and fought Russia for their freedom for many years, who suppressed, humiliated and conquered all Kabarda but was unable to kill the love to freedom in them. They are always ready for a war and always look for a chance to liberate their homeland from Russians”. 28

Based on the author, the drastic decrease of the earlier numerous populations of Circassians was, to a significant degree, an effect of their persistent struggle against the Russian invaders. G. Orbeliani provides a detailed description of the traditions of Circassians, among them, their hospitality, wedding ceremony and the custom of blood feud. He emphasizes their fighting efficiency, being inherited genetically, and having empowered them to subdue neighboring peoples: Abaza, Karachays, Balkars, Ossetians, a part of Vainakhs (Ingush), and to make them tributaries. 29



26 eduard aixvaldi saqarTvelos Sesaxeb (XIX saukunis pirveli me­sa­me­di), Targmna, Sesavali da sa­Ziebeli da­urTo gia gelaSvilma (Tbilisi, 2005), 191; Eduard Eichwald about Georgia (initial third of the 19th century). Translation, introduction and indices by Gia Gelahsvili (Tbilisi, 2005), 191.

27 Grigol Orbeliani, TxzulebaTa sruli krebuli, akaki gawere­lia­sa da jum­ber WumburiZis Sesa­va­li we­riliT, redaqciiTa da SeniS­v­nebiT (Introduction, edited and indices by Akaki Gatserelia and Jumber Chum­bu­rid­ze), (Tbilisi, 1959), 164-168.

28 Ibid., 164.

29 Ibid., 165-166.


One should not spare the data, provided in the diary, about customs of the feudal social structure and children’s upbringing.

G. Orbeliani notes that Circassians “are stately and nimble, Waists of their women and legs of their men are well-known all over the world”. 30

Beauty of Circassian women has been particularly praised both in Georgian literature and folklore. With respect to this, Elguja, a story by the prominent Georgian writer Alexander Kazbegi (real name – Chopikashvili, 1848-1893), has been rather noteworthy; initially, it was published by the newspaper  “Droeba” (No 125-251) in 1881. The story depicts an image of a devoted Georgian young man Elguja being in love with “a beautiful, 16-year-old” Circassian girl Mzago who was “slim like an arrow and her lips resembled an unfolded rose”. 31

In his highly artistic and diverse creative work, the great Georgian writer Vazha-Pshavela (real name – Luka Razikashvili, 1861- 1915) provides plenty of space for the themes associated with the North Caucasian peoples. One of his poems is Blood Feud (From the Life of Circassians). Written in 1897, the poem tells about the freedom-loving character of Circassians, about their chivalrous features. The writer praises the Circassian people, having suffered from great casualties during their long-lasting and bloody war against Russian invaders. 32

Vazha-Pshavela portrayed the staunch character of the real Circassian knight Kichir-bey, being strong both physically and spiritually. Meanwhile, the poet presented an image of the Circassian prince As­lan-bey who was a traitor, having secret links with Russian invaders. His duplicity, perfidy, ruthless­sness and greed are in no way characteristic of Circassians, traditionally having a chivalrous nature. Being treacherously captured by Aslan-bey and sentenced to death, Kichir-bey says: “I love the country of Cir­cassians with a pure Circassian heart”. 33

The poem saliently demonstrates that Vazha-Pshavela, one of the leading representatives of prog­re­s­sive Georgian public, totally sympathized with Circassians, selflessly fighting for their freedom.

Historian and publicist Alexandre Proneli (real name – Kipshidze, 1862-1916) wrote: “Circassians behaved in a chivalrous way, as befits this brave and courageous people. Circassians did not spare their lives while fighting Russians, fighting for freedom till the end, and, eventually, when defeated, they however did not resign to fate, did not bow to the enemy, and left for a foreign country”. 34

The memoirs of the political and public figure Giorgi Laskhishvili (1866-1931), one of the prominent representatives of the Socialist-Federalist Party, later a minister of education of Democratic Republic of Georgia, contain rather interesting information about his encounter with a Kabardian prisoner in the late 19th century.



30 Ibid., 165.

31 Alexandre Kazbegi, moTxrobebi, wgn.: “qarTuli proza”, (In Georgian Prose), XI, (Tbilisi, 1986), 10-11.

32 Vazha-Pshavela, poemebi, (Tbilisi, 1990), 312-324.

33 Ibid., 339.

34 Alexandre Pro­neli (Kipshidze), mTiuleTi 1804 wels, istoriuli ambavi, (Tiflis, 1896), 232-233.


When he was a student at the Faculty of Law, Odessa University, G. Laskhishvili got actively involved in the student movement, for what, in 1887, he was arrested and, together with other Georgian prisoners Vasili Tsereteli and Kote Meskhi, was sent to Georgia under the police supervision.

In the description of the convoyed trip through the North Caucasus, G. Laskishvili wrote: “Two more prisoners were brought into the prison carriage. One of them immediately attracted my attention: a tall, good-looking, slender, dressed in our way old man who we thought was an Imeretian prince. Soldiers seated him beside us. That old man appeared to be a Kabardian…  He was fluent in Russian, almost no accent… I started a conversation hinting on the situation in the Caucasus. He answered my questions without any enthusiasm and I left him alone. Later, he started asking us about who we were. When he learnt that we were Georgians, he was glad.

Then, he took a deep breath and said: “When the sun of the Caucasus went down, our country perished.”

I thought that he meant Imam Shamil and asked him about it.

“No, young man, — answered the old man, — I did not mean Shamil. Georgia was the sun of the Caucasus. Georgia killed herself and pulled the Caucasus”. 35

Thus, Georgian public always particularly respected and loved the Circassian people. This is visible both in the Georgian press of the later half of the 19th century and in the writings by the prominent Georgian authors: Grigol Orbeliani, Alexandre Kazbegi, Vazha-Pshavela; besides, in the studies by the historian and publicist Alexandre Kipshidze and in the memoirs by the political and public figure Giorgi Laskhishvili.


35 Giorgi Las­khi­s­h­vili, memuarebi, uSangi sidamoniZis winasityvaobiT, (Introduction by Ushangi Sidamonidze), (Tbilisi, 1992), 39.

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