Circassian Flag Day Highlights a National Unity Russians have Never Been Able to Break

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Circassian Flag Day Highlights a National Unity Russians have Never Been Able to Break

Paul Goble


Staunton, Apr. 26 – The Russian state has repeatedly tried to destroy the Circassian nation, first by expelling from the Russian Empire 90 percent of the Circassians in 1864, then by splitting up the Circassians on the basis of subethnic groups, and most recently by promoting divisions among Circassian groups not only in the homeland but in the diaspora as well.

But despite those efforts, Russia has not been able to destroy the national unity of the Circassians, something highlighted at the end of April every year by the celebration of the Day of the Circassian Flag, a banner that as Circassian historian Adel Bashqawi notes emphasize what unites Circassians not what divides them (

The Circassian flag, he points out, features “twelve golden stars and three golden crossed arrows. Each of the twelve stars represents a major [and equal] Circassian tribe … and the crossed arrows symbolize that the Circassians do not seek war but will defend themselves and their existence when they are exposed to aggression.”

This year, as in every year since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Circassians in Adygeya, Kuban, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and Sochi joined their co-nationals in the diaspora to celebrate this symbol of national unity, again despite efforts by the Russian government to block these events.

In the North Caucasus, Moscow and its representatives restricted how Circassians could celebrate this day; and in the diaspora, which numbers more than five million people across the world, Moscow’s agents sought to set various groups against each other to limit this celebration ( and

But Moscow failed; and its failure to do so highlights not only the weakening of Russian power and influence but also both the growing strength and increasing radicalism of Circassians who are increasingly convinced that the Russian empire by invading Ukraine is committing suicide and that the Circassians and other peoples will only benefit from its demise.

One of the clearest articulators of that view and why it is spreading is Ibragim Yaganov, who has been a Circassian activist for more than 15 years, has been in the emigration for two years, and now heads Free Circassia and calls on residents of the Muscovite state to fight on the side of Ukraine against the Russian invaders.

In an interview he gave to Izabella Yevloyeva of the Kavkazr portal timed to coincide with the Day of the Circassian Flag, Yaganov says that “practically all” young Circassians now favor independence (

There are some who don’t, of course, he continues; but they mostly work for the government or are “former Soviet people.” And even they now “understand that the idea [of a Russian world and a Russian empire] has outlived its usefulness” and that the future belongs to others.

“It is quite possible,” Yaganov continues, “that our freedom may fall at our feet.” But if that happens, Circassians and others must be ready to defend it. “Otherwise, someone will come [in Russia] and suppress it; and everything will start all over again.” Only independent statehood will give Circassians and the other nations a chance.

Yaganov, long an advocate of the federalization of Russia, now believes that only independence followed by the arrangement of confederal relations among some of the successor states can prevent a recrudescence of a Russian empire. “Dreaming of federalization within a rotting empire is futile,” he says.

One reason he says he is optimistic about the future is the vitality of the Circassian diaspora. It has existed for almost 200 years without losing its language, ethnicity, and sense of mission, a sharp contrast to the first Russian emigration which disappeared through assimilation in less than a century.

But another Yaganov suggests, is that the Circassians share with the other peoples of the North Caucasus a commitment to adat law; and once the Russian “big brother” is removed from the scene and with him all of Russia’s “divide and rule” tactics, all these nations will be able to resolve any differences peacefully and with justice.

Posted by paul goble at 5:15 AM

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