Ethnic cleansing of Circassians

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The mountaineers leave the aul, by P. N. Gruzinsky, 1872

Muhajirism was the massive emigration of Muslim indigenous peoples of the Caucasus into the Ottoman Empire following the Caucasian War (in the last quarter of the 19th century). During this mass movement, hundreds of thousands Muslims left Russia. "Muhajir" (Arabic: مهاجر) is an Arabic word meaning refugee, immigrant or emigrant.


After the surrender of Imam Shamil (Chechnya and Dagestan) in 1859, Russia's war campaigns concentrated in the Circassian lands of the North Caucasus and the Black Sea coast, at that time the largest Muslim nation in the region. Following the conquest of the North Caucasus by the Russian Empire, its Muslim populations began emigrating, driven by a combination of various reasons: the imperial policy of Russia in the conquered lands, promises of Turkey, as well as the urges of the local Islamic clergy.

The Ottomans sent emissaries, including mullahs that called for leaving the dar al-Kufr and move to dar al-Islam. Ottomans hoped to increase the proportion of the Muslim population at the peripheries of the Empire, where Christian populations constituted sizable populations in those times. Mountaineers were invited to "go to Turkey, where the Ottoman government would accept them with open arms and where their life would be incomparably better".[1]

Local mullahs and chiefs favored resettlement, because they felt oppressed by the Russian administration. They threatened their people that in order to gain full Russian citizenship they would have to abolish Islam and convert to Christianity.[2] Additionally, local chieftains were keen to preserve their ancient privileges and feudal rights that had been abolished throughout the Russian Empire by the Emancipation Manifesto in 1861.[3] The obligatory conscription was also among the factors that worried these populations, although in fact they would never be made subject to military draft.

For her own part, Russia was eager to get rid of "disquiet" peoples and settle the area by Cossacks and other Christian settlers. It was General Nikolay Yevdokimov (1804–70) who first came up with the idea of resettling mountaineers of the Western Caucasus to the Ottoman Empire. He wrote that "resettlement of intractable mountaineers" to Turkey would be the easiest way to bring the prolonged Caucasian War to an end, while giving freedom to those who "prefer death to allegiance to the Russian government".[4] On the other hand, the Tsarist command was very much alive to the possibility of the migrants being used by Turkey as a striking force against Christian populations during the impending Russo-Turkish War.[5] The plan on the subject of the Circassian resettlement was eventually agreed upon at a meeting of the Caucasus commanders in October 1860 in Vladikavkaz and officially approved on May 10 1862 by Tsar Alexander II.[6]

Among peoples that moved to Turkey were Abadzekhs, Shapsugs, Ubykhs, Muslim Abkhazians (especially Sadz branch), Muslim Ossetians, Adyghe, Hatuqwais, Chechens, Lezgins and Karachays, mostly from West Causasus. Thousands of Muslim Georgians (Chveneburi) and their Laz relatives also became Muhajirs when the Ottomans ceded the largely-Muslim Georgian provinces (Adjara, Lower Guria, former Tao-Klarjeti) and Lazistan to Imperial Russia in 1878.


As early as 1857, Dmitry Milyutin remarked that "our obligations to the human kind require that we take anticipatory measures to provide for the existance of even those tribes that are hostile to us, having been ousted from their own lands on account of public necessity". Therefore, the resettlers were given some money, paid the road to Turkey, and provided with ships - something which was denied to the Empire's Christian migrants to the Americas, such as the Dukhobors.

Special commissions were set up by the Russian imperial authorities to reduce mortality rates and "survey needs of the migrants", that is, to prevents ships from being overloaded, to profitably auction bulky movables, and to prepare clothes and victuals for the poorest families, which would be transported "without fee or charge of any kind".[7] On the other hand, the Ottoman authorities failed to offer any support to the newly arrived. They were settled in the inhospitable mountainous regions of Inner Anatolia and were employed on menial and exhausting jobs.[8]

Shamil's son Muhamed Shafi was appalled by the conditions the migrants had faced upon their arrival to Anatolia and went to investigate the situation: "I will write to Abdülmecid that he should stop fooling mountaineers... The government's cynicism could not be more pronounced. The Turks triggered the resettlement by their proclamations, probably hoping to use refugees for military ends... but after facing the avalanche of refugees, they turned turtle and shamefully condemned to slow death those people who were ready to die for Turkey's glory".[9]

During the year of 1864 alone about 220,000 muhajirs disembarked in Anatolia. Between March 6 and May 21 1864, the entire Ubykh nation had departed the Caucasus for Turkey, where they linguistically vanished. By the end of the movement, more than 400,000 Circassians, as well as 200,000 Abkhazians and Ajars, fled to Turkey. The term Çerkes, "Circassians", became the blanket term for them in Turkey because the majority were Adyghe.

The Muhajirism resulted in the depopulation of vast swaths of Western Caucasus, specifically the fertile Pontic littoral near Sochi. The Tsarist government was alarmed by the palpable decline in the regional economy. In 1867 the resettlement was officially forbidden, with the exception of "isolated exceptional cases".[10] Nevertheless, a large number of households later managed to leave Russia when they went on the Hajj to Mecca and remained with their relatives in Turkey, as the Russian embassy in Constantinople would often report.[11]


After a brief stint in Turkey, many Circassian households petitioned the Russian embassy in Constantinople for their resettlement back to the Caucasus.[12] By the end of the century, the Russian consulates all over the Ottoman Empire were deluged with such petitions. According to one estimate, 70% of pre-1862 emigrants were allowed to return to their homeland in Western Caucasus.[13] Later, re-emigration was sanctioned only on a limited scale, as mostly large villages (up to 8500 inhabitants) applied for re-emigration and their relocation posed formidable difficulties to the imperial authorities. Perhaps more importantly, Alexander II suspected that Britain and Turkey had instructed Circassians to seek return with the purpose of sparking a new war against their Russian overlords.[14] As a consequence, he was known to personally decline such petitions.


Resettlement of Circassians to the Ottoman Empire
See articles "Circassians", "Adyghe" and "Ubykh" for more details.

The overall resettlement was accompanied with hardships for common populace. A significant part died of starvation — many Turks of Adyghe descent still do not eat fish in our day, in memory of the tremendous numbers of their kinsfolk they lost during the passage of the Black Sea.

Some of the resettlers did well and made it to higher position within the Ottoman Empire. There was a significant number of former muhajirs among Young Turks.

All nationals of Turkey are considered Turkish for official purposes. However, there are several hundreds of villages considered purely "Circassian", with population of "Circassians" estimated to 1,000,000, although there is no official data in this respect, and the estimates are based on informal surveys. The "Circassians" in question may not always speak the languages of their ancestors, and Turkey's center-right parties, often with varying tones of Turkish nationalism, generally do well in localities where they are known to constitute sizable parts of the population (such as in Akyazı).

Along with Turkey's aspirations to join the European Union population groups with specifities started receiving more attention on the basis of their ethnicity or culture.

In Middle Eastern countries, which were created from the dismembered Ottoman Empire (and were initially under British protectorate) the fate of the ethnos was better. The Al Jeish al Arabi (Arab Legion), created in Trans-Jordan under the influence of Lawrence, in significant part consisted of Chechens — arguably because the Bedouin were reluctant to serve under the centralized command. In addition, the modern city of Amman was born after Circassians settled there in 1887.

Jordanian citizen of Chechen ethnicity, Shamsutdin Yusef, was Foreign Minister in Dzhokhar Dudayev's government of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.

Genocide question[edit]

During the last decade or so, especially after the two Chechen wars, pro-Chechen sympathizers based in the West started to investigate the history of the Caucasian War and came to label the Caucasian Muhajirism as "Circassian ethnic cleansing", although the term had not been in use in the 19th century. They point out that the Muhajirism was not really voluntary but rather involved what is today called ethnic cleansing – the systematic emptying of villages by Russian soldiers[15] and was accompanied by the Russian colonization of these lands.[16] They estimate that some 90 percent of Circassians (estimated at more than three million[17]) had relocated from the territories occupied by Russia. During these events, and the preceding Caucasian War, at least hundreds of thousands of people were "killed or starved to death", but the exact numbers are still unknown.[18]

Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's May 1994 statement admitted that resistance to the tsarist forces was legitimate, but he did not recognize "the guilt of the tsarist government for the genocide."[19] In 1997 and 1998, the leaders of Kabardino-Balkaria and of Adygea sent appeals to the Duma to reconsider the situation and to issue the needed apology; to date, there has been no response from Moscow. In October 2006, the Adygeyan public organizations of Russia, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Syria, the USA, Belgium, Canada and Germany have sent the president of the European Parliament a letter with the request to recognize the genocide against Adygean (Circassian) people.[20]

Although there is no legal continuity between the Russian Empire and the modern Russian Federation and the concept of genocide has been adopted in international law only in the 20th century (ex post facto law), on July 5, 2005 the Circassian Congress, an organization that unites representatives of the various Circassian peoples in the Russian Federation, has called on Moscow first to acknowledge and then to apologize for tsarist policies that Circassians say constituted a genocide. Their appeal pointed out that "according to the official tsarist documents more than 400,000 Circassians were killed, 497,000 were forced to flee abroad to Turkey, and only 80,000 were left alive in their native area."[19]

Numbers of refugees[edit]

  • 1828–1829: 10,000 Abkhaz left the North Caucasus[21]
  • 1852–1858: Abkhaz population declined from 98,000 to 89,866[21]
  • 1858–1860: Over 30,000 Nogais left[21]
  • 1860–1861: 10,000 Kabardians left[22]
  • 1861–1863: 4,300 Abaza, 4,000 Natukhais, 2,000 Temirgoi, 600 Beslenei, and 300 Bzhedugs families were exiled[22]
  • 1865: 5,000 Chechen families were sent to Turkey[22]
  • 1863–1864: 470,703 people left the West Caucasus (according to G.A. Dzidzariia)[23]
  • 1863–1864: 312,000 people left the West Caucasus (according to N.G. Volkova)[23]
  • 1858–1864: 398,000 people left the Kuban oblast (according to N.G Volkova)[23]
  • 1858–1864: 493,194 people left (according to Adol'f Berzhe)[23]
  • 1863–1864: 400,000 people left (according to N.I Voronov)[23]
  • 1861–1864: 418,000 people left (according to the Main Staff of the Caucasus Army)[23]


  1. ^ Кумыков Т. Х. Выселение адыгов в Турцию - последствие Кавказской войны. Нальчик. 1994. Стр. 93-94.
  2. ^ РГВИА. Ф. 400. Оп. 1. Д. 1551.
  3. ^ Напсо Д. А., Чекменов С. А. Надежда и доверие. Из истории дружественных связей народов Карачаево-Черкесии с русским народом. Черкесск. 1993. Стр. 111.
  4. ^ Берже А. П. Выселение горцев с Кавказа // Русская старина. СПб. 1882. Кн. 2. Стр. 342-343.
  5. ^ Кокиев Г. Военно-колонизационная политика на Северном Кавказе. // Революция и горец. 1929. № 6. С. 32.
  6. ^ Defeat and Deportation University of Southern California, 1994
  7. ^ Кумыков Т. Х. Op. cit. Стр. 15.
    Лакост Г' де. Россия и Великобритания в Центральной Азии. Ташкент. 1908. Стр. 99-100.
  8. ^ Напсо Д. А., Чекменов С. А. Op. cit. Стр. 113-114.
  9. ^ Quoted from: Алиев У. Очерк исторического развития горцев Кавказа и чужеземного влияния на них ислама, царизма и пр. Ростов-н/Д. 1927. Стр. 109-110.
  10. ^ РГВИА. Ф. 400. Оп. 1. Д. 1277. Л. 2-3.
  11. ^ ГАКК. Ф. 454. Оп. 1. Д. 215. Л. 17.
  12. ^ Думанов Х. М. Вдали от Родины. Нальчик, 1994. Стр. 98.
  13. ^ Напсо Д. А., Чекменов С. А. Op. Cit. С. 113-114.
  14. ^ Дзидзария Г. А. Махаджирство и проблемы истории Абхазии XIX столетия. 2-е изд., допол. Сухуми. 1982. С. 238, 240-241, 246.
  15. ^ A new war in the Caucasus?. Review of book Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus by Georgi M. Derluguian The Times February 1, 2006
  16. ^ Andrei Smirnov Disputable anniversary could provoke new crisis in Adygeya on the website of the Center for Defense Information sourced from the Jamestown Foundation's Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume 3, Number 168 September 13, 2006
  17. ^ From Terror to Terrorism: the Logic on the Roots of Selective Political Violence The Eurasian Politician July 2004
  18. ^ The Circassian Genocide The Eurasian Politician - Issue 2 (October 2000)
  19. ^ a b Paul Goble Circassians demand Russian apology for 19th century genocide on a website called Circassian World claims sourced from Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 15 July 2005, Volume 8, Number 23
  20. ^ Circassia: Adygs Ask European Parliament to Recognize Genocide
  21. ^ a b c Orientalism and Empire: North Caucasus Mountain Peoples and the Georgian Frontier, 1845–1917, Austin Jersild, page 23, 2003
  22. ^ a b c Orientalism and Empire: North Caucasus Mountain Peoples and the Georgian Frontier, 1845–1917, Austin Jersild, page 24, 2003
  23. ^ a b c d e f Orientalism and Empire: North Caucasus Mountain Peoples and the Georgian Frontier, 1845–1917, Austin Jersild, page 26, 2003