||It has been suggested that Kabarday be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since July 2013.|
The Circassian Flag
|4 million, 5-8 million|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Turkey||140,000 - 3,000,000|
also Turkish, Arabic, Russian, Ukrainian, Hebrew
minority Habze, Orthodox Christian, Catholic
|Related ethnic groups|
|Abkhaz, Abaza, Kabarday, Ubykh|
The Circassians (Circassian: Адыгэ, Adyge; Arabic: شركس, Sharkas; Turkish: Çerkez, Çerkes, Cherkes), or Adyghe people, are a North Caucasian ethnic group native to Circassia who were displaced in the course of the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the 19th century, especially after the Russian–Circassian War of 1862.
Circassians mainly speak the Circassian language, a Northwest Caucasian language with numerous dialects, the primary ones being Adyghe (West Circassian) and Kabardian (East Circassian). Circassians also speak Turkish and Arabic in large numbers, having been exiled by Russia to lands of the Ottoman Empire, where the majority of them today live. The predominant religion amongst Circassians is Sunni Islam.
There remain about 700,000 Circassians in historical Circassia (the republics of Adygea, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, and the southern half of Krasnodar Krai), as well as a number in the Russian Federation outside these republics. The 2010 Russian Census recorded 718,727 Circassians, of which 516,826 are Kabardins, 124,835 are Adyghe proper, 73,184 are Cherkess, and 3,882 Shapsugs.
The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization estimates that there are as many as 3.7 million "ethnic Circassians" in the diaspora outside the Circassian republics (meaning that only one in seven "ethnic Circassians" lives in the homeland), of whom about 2 million live in Turkey, 700,000 in the Russian Federation, about 150,000 in the Levant and Mesopotamia, and about 50,000 in Europe and the United States.
- 1 Name
- 2 History
- 3 Culture
- 4 Circassian tribes
- 5 Circassian diaspora
- 6 Sochi Olympics controversy
- 7 Depictions in popular culture
- 8 Gallery
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
In their own language the Circassians refer to themselves as Adiga (also transliterated as Adyga, Adyge, Adygei, Adyghe, Attéghéi). The name is believed to derive from atté "height" to signify a mountaineer or a highlander, and ghéi "sea", signifying "a people dwelling and inhabiting a mountainous country near the sea coast", or "between two seas".
A common name for the Adyghe is Circassians (ser-KASS-ee-uhnz), a name which is occasionally applied to Adyghe and Abaza from the North Caucasus. The name Circassian is a Latinisation of Cherkess, the Turkic name for the Adyghe, and originated in the 15th century with medieval Genoese merchants and travellers to Circassia. But the first mentioning about the word "Cherkess" believed to be from the Mongols who invaded the North Caucasus in medieval times, and called the Adyghe as "Serkesut", that term appears in Mongol scriptures from the 12th century.
The name Cherkess is applied to the Adyghe by the Turkic peoples (principally Tatar and Turkish) and the Russians. The name Cherkess was usually explained to mean "warrior cutter" or "soldier cutter" from the Turkic words cheri (soldier) and kesmek (to cut), so that Cherkess would be synonym for soldier cutter.
The Adyghe people originate in the North Caucasus region, an area they are believed to have occupied as early as the Stone Age period, with traces of them dating back as far as 8000 BC. In about 4000 BC, the Maykop culture flourished in the North Caucasus region, which influenced all subsequent cultures in the North Caucasus region as well as other parts of the region that is now southern Russia. Archaeological findings, mainly of dolmens in North-West Caucasus region, indicate a megalithic culture in the region.
The Adyghe kingdom was established in about 400 BC. After 460 AD, reports of "Utige" begins to feature in connection to a state established around Phanagoria, which grew into Old Great Bulgaria. After the collapse of this state under pressure from the Khazars, the Adyghe people did not seem to unite politically. This reduced their influence in the area and their ability to withstand periodic invasions from groups like the Mongols, Avars, Pechenegs, Huns, and Khazars.
Christianity reached and spread throughout the Caucasus between the 4th century and the 6th century under Greek Byzantine influence and later through the Georgians between the 10th century and the 13th century. During that period, the Circassians (referred to in the medieval period as Kassogs) began to accept Christianity as their national religion, but did not fully adopt Christianity as elements of their ancient indigenous religious beliefs still survived. In the 15th century, under the influence of Crimean Tatars and Ottoman clerics, the Circassians adopted Islam.
Most of the Mamluks were originally Georgian, Adyghe and Turkish slaves who were gathered by the Arab sultans to serve their kingdoms as a military force. Others, however, say that the Mamluks were mostly Cumans and Kipchaks. During the 13th century, the Mamluks seized power in Cairo, and as a result the Mamluk kingdom became the most influential kingdom in the Muslim world. The majority of the leaders of the Mamluk kingdom were of Adyghe origin. Even after Egypt was conquered by the Ottoman Turks, the Adyghes continued to rule in Egypt until the 18th century.
Today, several thousand Adyghes reside in Egypt and they are the descendants of these Mamluks. Until the rise of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, the Adyghes were an elite group in the country. The single remaining exception is the Egyptian Abaza family that holds to this day an elite place in Egyptian society. It constitutes Egypt's largest family and largest Abazin minority. (See Abaza family.)
Russian conquest of Circassia
Circassia was a small independent nation on the northeastern shore of the Black Sea. For no reason other than ethnic hatred, over the course of hundreds of raids the Russians drove the Circassians from their homeland and deported them to the Ottoman Empire. At least 600,000 people lost their lives to massacre, starvation, and the elements while hundreds of thousands more were forced to leave their homeland. By 1864, three-fourths of the population was annihilated, and the Circassians had become one of the first stateless peoples in modern history.
— Walter Richmond, The Circassian Genocide 
Between the late 18th and early-to-mid-19th centuries, the Adyghe people lost their independence as they were slowly conquered by Russia in a series of wars and campaigns. During this period, the Adyghe plight achieved a certain celebrity status in the West, but pledges of assistance were never fulfilled. After the Crimean War, Russia turned her 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 turned their attention westward. Eventually, the long lasting Russian–Circassian War ended with the defeat of the Adyghe forces. Adyghe leaders signed loyalty oaths on 2 June 1864 (21 May, O.S.).
The Conquest of the Caucasus by the Russian Empire in the 19th century during the Russian-Circassian War, led to the destruction and killing of many Adyghe—towards the end of the conflict, the Russian General Yevdokimov was tasked with driving the remaining Circassian inhabitants out of the region, primarily into the Ottoman Empire. This policy was enforced by mobile columns of Russian riflemen and Cossack cavalry. "In a series of sweeping military campaigns lasting from 1860 to 1864... the northwest Caucasus and the Black Sea coast were virtually emptied of Muslim villagers. Columns of the displaced were marched either to the Kuban [River] plains or toward the coast for transport to the Ottoman Empire... One after another, entire Circassian tribal groups were dispersed, resettled, or killed en masse" This expulsion, along with the actions of the Russian military in acquiring Circassian land, has given rise to a movement among descendants of the expelled ethnicities for international recognition that genocide was perpetrated. In 1840, Karl Friedrich Neumann estimated the Circassian casualties to be around one and a half million. Some sources state that hundreds of thousands of others died during the exodus. Several historians use the phrase "Circassian massacres" for the consequences of Russian actions in the region.
Like other ethnic minorities under Russian rule, the Adyghe who remained in the Russian Empire borders were subjected to policies of mass resettlement.
The Ottoman Empire, which ruled most of the area south of Russia, considered the Adyghe warriors to be courageous and well-experienced. It encouraged them to settle in various near-border settlements of the Ottoman empire in order to strengthen the empire's borders.
Kazbech Tuguzhoko, Circassian resistance leader
The Adyghes who were settled by the Ottomans in various near-border settlements across the empire, ended up living across many different territories in the Middle East. At the time these belonged to the Ottoman Empire and are now located in the following countries:
- Turkey, which has the largest Adyghe population in the world. The Adyghe settled in three main regions in Turkey: Samsun, along the shores of the Black Sea; the region near the city of Ankara, the region near the city of Kayseri, and in the western part of the country near the region of Istanbul. This latter region experienced a severe earthquake in 1999. Many Adyghe played key roles in the Ottoman army and also participated in the Turkish War of Independence.
- Syria. Most of the Adyghe who immigrated to Syria settled in the Golan Heights. Prior to the Six Day War, the Adyghe people were the majority group in the Golan Heights region — their number at that time is estimated at 30,000. The most prominent settlement in the Golan was the town of Quneitra. The total number of Circassians in Syria is estimated to be between 50,000 and 100,000. In 2013, the Syrian Circassians said they were exploring returning to Circassia, as tensions between the Bashar al-Assad regime and opposition forces escalates. Circassians from different parts of Syria, such as Damascus, have moved back to the Golan Heights, believed to be safer. Some refugees have been reportedly killed by shelling. Circassians have been lobbying the Russian and Israeli governments to help evacuate refugees from Syria. Some visas were issued by Russia.
- Jordan. The Adyghe had a major role in the history of the Kingdom of Jordan. They make up around 1% to 2% of the total population. Over the years, various Adyghe have served in distinguished roles in the kingdom of Jordan. An Adyghe has served as a prime minister (Sa`id al-Mufti), ministers (commonly at least one minister should represent the Circassians in each cabinet), high rank officers, etc., and due to their important role in the history of Jordan, Adyghe form the Hashemites honour guard at the royal palaces. They represented Jordan in the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in 2010, joining other honour guards such as the Airborne Ceremonial Unit.
- Iraq. The Adyghe came to Iraq in two waves: directly from Circassia, and later from the Balkans. They settled in all parts of Iraq — from north to south — but most of all in Iraq's capital Baghdad. A reported 30,000 Adyghe families live in Baghdad. Many Adyghe also settled in Kerkuk, Diyala, Fallujah, and other places. Circassians played a major role in different periods throughout Iraq’s history, and made great contributions to political and military institutions in the country, to the Iraqi Army in particular. Several Iraqi prime ministers have been of Circassian descent.
- Israel. The Adyghe initially settled in three places — in Kfar Kama, Rehaniya, and in the region of Hadera. Due to a malaria epidemic, the Adyghe settlement near Hadera was eventually abandoned. Though Sunni Muslim, Adyghe are seen as a loyal minority within Israel, who serve in the armed forces.
Adyghe society prior to the Russian invasion was highly stratified. While a few tribes in the mountainous regions of Adygeya were fairly egalitarian, most were broken into strict castes. The highest was the caste of the "princes", followed by a caste of lesser nobility, and then commoners, serfs, and slaves. In the decades before Russian rule, two tribes overthrew their traditional rulers and set up democratic processes, but this social experiment was cut short by the end of Adyghe independence.
Circassians mainly speak the Circassian language, a Northwest Caucasian language with numerous dialects, the primary ones being Adyghe (West Circassian) and Kabardian (East Circassian). Circassians also speak Turkish and Arabic in large numbers, having being exiled by Russia to lands of the Ottoman Empire, where the majority of them today live.
The native language is spoken among all the Circassian communities around the world, with about 125,000 speakers who live in the Russian Federation, some of whom live in the Republic of Adygea where the Adyghe language is defined as the official language. The world's largest Adyghe-speaking community is the Circassian community in Turkey — it has about 150,000 Adyghe speakers.
The ethnic religion of Circassians (Adyghes) was Habze — a philosophical and religious system of personal values and the relationship between an individual to others, to the world around him, and to the Higher Mind. In essence, it represents monotheism with a much-defined system of worshipping One God — the Mighty Tha (Tha, Thashxue). During the time of the settlement of Greek cities / colonies on the coast of the Black Sea there was an intermingling of cultures. Circassian mythology has noticeable aspects from Greek mythology. In return, there is evidence that Greek mythology also borrowed from Circassian legends. In the 6th century, under Byzantine influence, many Adyghes became Christian, but under the growing influence of the Ottomans, many of them became Muslims. Throughout Circassian history the ethnic religion of Circassians has interacted with Christianity and Islam.
Christianity reached and spread throughout the Caucasus and was first introduced between the 4th century and the 6th century under Greek Byzantine influence and later through the Georgians between the 10th century and the 13th century. During that period, Circassians began to accept Christianity as their national religion, but did not fully adopt Christianity as elements of their ancient indigenous religious beliefs still survived.
Islam reached the northeastern region of the Caucasus, principally Dagestan, as early as the 7th century, but was first introduced to the Circassians between the 16th century and in the middle of the 19th century under the influence of the Crimean Tatars and the Ottoman Turks. It was only after the Russian conquest of the Caucasus when Circassians as well as other peoples of the Caucasus were forced out of their ancestral homeland and settled in different regions of the Ottoman Empire did they begin to fully accept and adopt Islam as their national religion.
The Naqshbandi tariqa of Sufi Islam was also introduced to the Circassians in the late 18th century under the influence of Sheikh Mansur who was the first to preach the Naqshbandi tariqa in the northeastern region of the Caucasus and later through Imam Shamil in the middle of the 19th century.
In the modern days, it has been reported that some Circassians practice their traditional religious faith Habzism, whose adherents constitute 12% of the population of Karachay-Cherkessia and 3% of the population of Kabardino-Balkaria. There have also been reports of violence against those practising the older religion. Aslan Tsipinov, an advocate of Habzism in Kabardino-Balkaria, was murdered by radical Islamists in 2010, who had warned him months earlier to stop publicizing the rituals of the original Circassian faith.
Today, the majority of Circassians are predominantly Sunni Muslim and adhere to the Hanafi school of thought, or law, the largest and oldest school of Islamic law in jurisprudence within Sunni Islam. There is also a small number of Catholics, the faith having been introduced to the area during the Middle Ages by Venetian and Genoese traders, who now account for just under 1% of Russia's Circassians.
Adyghe Khabze (Adyghe: Адыгэ Хабзэ) is the native Circassian religion, philosophy and worldview, it is the epitome of Circassian culture and tradition having deeply shaped the ethical values of the Adyghe. It is their code of honour and is based on mutual respect and above all requires responsibility, discipline and self-control. Adyghe Xabze functions as the Circassian unwritten law yet was highly regulated and adhered to in the past. The Code requires that all Circassians are taught courage, reliability and generosity. Greed, desire for possessions, wealth and ostentation are considered disgraceful ("Yemiku") by the Xabze code. In accordance with Xabze, hospitality was and is particularly pronounced among the Circassians. A guest is not only a guest of the host family, but equally a guest of the whole village and clan. Even enemies are regarded as guests if they enter the home and being hospitable to them as one would with any other guest is a sacred duty.
Circassians consider the host to be like a slave to the guest in that the host is expected to tend to the guest's every need and want. A guest must never be permitted to labour in any way, this is considered a major disgrace on the host.
Every Circassian arises when someone enters the room, providing a place for the person entering and allowing the newcomer to speak before everyone else during the conversation. In the presence of elders and women respectful conversation and conduct are essential. Disputes are stopped in the presence of women and domestic disputes are never continued in the presence of guests. A woman can request disputing families to reconcile and they must comply with her request. A key figure in Circassian culture is the person known as the "T'hamade" (Adyghe: Тхьэмадэ - Тхьэматэ), who is often an elder but also the person who carries the responsibility for functions like weddings or circumcision parties. This person must always comply with all the rules of Xabze in all areas of his life.
The traditional female clothing (Adyghe: Бзылъфыгъэ Шъуашэр [bzəɬfəʁa ʂʷaːʃar]) was very diverse and highly decorated and mainly depends on the region, class of family, occasions, and tribes. The traditional female costume is composed of a dress (Adyghe: Джанэр [d͡ʒaːnar]), coat (Adyghe: Сае [saːja]), shirt, pant (Adyghe: ДжэнэкӀакор [d͡ʒanat͡ʃʼaːkʷar]), vest (Adyghe: КӀэкӀ [t͡ʃʼat͡ʃʼ]), lamb leather bra (Adyghe: Шъохътан [ʂʷaχtaːn]), a variety of hats (Adyghe: ПэӀохэр [paʔʷaxar]), shoes, and belts (Adyghe: Бгырыпхыхэр [bɣərəpxəxar]). Holiday dresses are made of expensive fabrics such as silk and velvet. The traditional colors of women's clothing rarely includes blue, green or bright-colored tones, instead mostly white, red, black and brown shades are worn.
The traditional male costume (Adyghe: Адыгэ хъулъфыгъэ шъуашэр [aːdəɣa χʷəɬfəʁa ʂʷaːʃar] ) includes a coat with wide sleeves, shirt, pants, a dagger, sword, and a variety of hats and shoes. Traditionally, young men in the warriors times wore coat with short sleeves—in order to feel more comfortable in combat. Different colors of clothing for males were strictly used to distinguish between different social classes, for example white is usually worn by princes, red by nobles, gray, brown, and black by peasants (blue, green and the other colors were rarely worn). A compulsory item in the traditional male costume is a dagger and a sword. The traditional Adyghean sword is called Shashka. It is a special kind of sabre; a very sharp, single-edged, single-handed, and guardless sword. Although the sword is used by most of Russian and Ukrainian Cossacks, the typically Adyghean form of the sabre is longer than the Cossack type, and in fact the word Shashka came from the Adyghe word "Sashkhwa" (Adyghe: Сашьхъуэ) which means "long knife".
The Adyghe cuisine is rich with different dishes. In the summer, the traditional dishes consumed by the Adyghe people are mainly dairy products and vegetable dishes. In the winter and spring the traditional dishes are mainly flour and meat dishes. An example of the latter is known as ficcin.
A popular traditional dish is chicken or turkey with sauce, seasoned with crushed garlic and red pepper. Mutton and beef are served boiled, usually with a seasoning of sour milk with crushed garlic and salt.
Variants of pasta are found. A type of ravioli may be encountered, which is filled with potato or beef.
On holidays the Adyghe people traditionally make Haliva (Adyghe: хьэлжъо) (fried triangular pasties with mainly Circassian cheese or potato), from toasted millet or wheat flour in syrup, baked cakes and pies. In the Levant there is a famous Circassian dish which is called Tajen Alsharkaseiah.
Making carpets was very hard work in which collecting raw materials is restricted to a specific period of time within the year. The raw materials were dried, and based on the intended colours, different methods of drying were applied. For example, when dried in the shade, its colour changed to a beautiful light gold colour. If it were dried in direct sun light then it would have a silver colour, and if they wanted to have a dark colour for the carpets, the raw materials were put in a pool of water and covered by poplar leaves (Adyghe: екӏэпцӏэ [jat͡ʃʼapt͡sʼa]).
The carpets were used for different reasons due to their characteristic resistance to humidity and cold, and in retaining heat. Also, there was a tradition in Circassian homes to have two carpets hanging in the guest room, one used to hang over rifles (Adyghe: шхончымрэ [ʃxʷant͡ʃəmra]) and pistols (Adyghe: къэлаеымрэ), and the other used to hang over musical instruments.
The carpets were used to pray upon, and it was necessary for every Circassian girl to make three carpets before marriage; a big carpet, a small carpet, and the last for praying as a prayer rug. These carpets would give the grooms an impression as to the success of their brides in their homes after marriage.
The main Adyghe tribes are:
- Abdzakh (Adyghe: Абдзах [aːbd͡zaːx])
- Baslaney (Adyghe: Бэслъыный [basɬənəj])
- Bzhedug (Adyghe: Бжъэдыгъу [bʐadəʁʷ])
- Yegeruqay (Adyghe: Еджэркъуай [jad͡ʒarqʷaːj])
- Zhaney (Adyghe: Жанэ [ʒaːna])
- Kabardai (Adyghe: Къэбэрдэй, Къэбэртай [qabardaj, qabartaːj])
- Mamkhegh (Adyghe: Мамхыгъ [maːmxəʁ])
- Natukhai (Adyghe: Нэтыхъуай, Нэтыхъуадж [natəχʷaːj, natəχʷaːd͡ʒ])
- Temirgoy (Adyghe: Кlэмгуй [t͡ʃʼamgʷəj])
- Ubykh (Adyghe: Убых [wəbəx])
- Shapsogh (Adyghe: Шапсыгъ [ʃaːpsəʁ])
- Hatukai (Adyghe: Хьатыкхъуай [ħaːtəq͡χʷaːj])
Other Adyghe tribes:
- Adamiy (Adyghe: Адэмый [aːdaməj])
- Mequash (Adyghe: Мыхъош [məχʷaʃ])
- Hakuts (Adyghe: ХьакӀуцу [ħaːkʷʼət͡sʷ])
Adyghe have lived outside the Caucasus region since the Middle Ages. They were particularly well represented in the Mamluks of Turkey and Egypt. In fact, the Burji dynasty which ruled Egypt from 1382 to 1517 was founded by Adyghe Mamluks.
The total number of Circassians worldwide is estimated at 6 million.
Around half of all Circassians live in Turkey, mainly in the provinces of Samsun and Ordu (in Northern Turkey), Kahramanmaraş (in Southern Turkey), Kayseri (in Central Turkey), Bandırma and Düzce (in Northwest Turkey).
Egypt and Libya
Out of 1,010 Circassians living in Ukraine (473 Kabardins, 338 Adygeis and 199 Cherkesses — after the existing Soviet division of Circassians into three groups), only 181 (17.9%) declared fluency in the native language; 96 (9.5%) declared Ukrainian as native language and 697 (69%) marked "other language" as their native and most likely the latter is Russian, though none openly declared it. The major Adyghe community in Ukraine is in Odessa.
There may be a small community of Circassians in Serbia and Macedonia. A number of Adyghe also settled in Bulgaria in 1864-1865 but most fled after it became separate from the Ottoman Empire in 1878. The small community that settled in Kosovo (the Kosovo Adyghes) repatriated to the Republic of Adygea in 1998.
Sochi Olympics controversy
The 2014 Winter Olympics facilities in Sochi (once the Circassian capital) are being built in areas that are claimed to contain mass graves of Circassians who were killed during ethnic cleansing by Russia in military campaigns lasting from 1860 to 1864.
Adyghe organizations in Russia and the Adyghe diaspora around the world have requested that the construction at the site would stop and that the Olympic games would not be held at the site of the Adyghe genocide to prevent the desecration of the Adyghe graves. According to Iyad Youghar, who heads the lobby group International Circassian Council: "We want the athletes to know that if they compete here they will be skiing on the bones of our relatives."
Depictions in popular culture
Over the years, Adyghes have been featured in various popular books and films:
- The 1962 Academy Award winning British film Lawrence of Arabia included a scene in which the British title character (Peter O'Toole) is captured by Turkish officers at the city of Daraa. His blue eyes and fair skin are remarked, leading to the question "Are you Circassian?", to which he replies "Yes, effendi".
- In the 1840 Russian novel A Hero of Our Time the narrator tells the story of a beautiful Adyghe princess named "Bela", whom a character abducts from her family.
- In Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar the author — who was the Princess of Zanzibar and was half Circassian and half Arab — narrates about the many Circassian Secondary Wives of the Sultan of Zanzibar.
- In a 2005 episode of the BBC drama Spooks lead character Adam Carter pretends to be a Circassian from Aleppo in order to infiltrate a people-smuggling route.
- The 2010 Jordanian film Cherkess, which takes place in 1900, depicts a unique encounter between the local Bedouin tribes and the Adyghe immigrants, in the region known today as Jordan, during the period in which this region was under Ottoman rule.
- Sarema is the Circassian heroine and title character in the 1897 opera of that name by the Austrian composer Alexander Zemlinsky (1871–1942).
Adyghes in the French mandate legion in Syria.
A painting from 1843 of an Adyghe warrior by Sir William Allan.
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