Ethnic cleansing of Circassians
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In the middle of the 19th century, large numbers of native inhabitants of the Northwest Caucasus left or were expelled (the reason for their departure is disputed) to the neighbouring Ottoman Empire, following Russian conquest of the region after a long war.
Circassians, the indigenous peoples of the Northwest Caucasus were cleansed from their homeland at the end of the Caucasian War by victorious Russia, which, some argue, by its manner of suppression of the Caucasus directed at the Crimean Tatars and Circassians can be credited with "inventing the strategy of modern ethnic cleansing and genocide". The expulsion was launched even before the end of the war in 1864 and it continued into the 1870s, although it was mostly completed by 1867. The peoples involved were mainly the Circassians (Adyghe in their own language), Ubykhs, Abkhaz, and Abaza.
This expulsion involved an unknown number of people, perhaps numbering hundreds of thousands. The Russians had come to refer to them as mountain-people (горцы, górtsy). The Russian army rounded up people, driving them from their villages to ports on the Black Sea, where they awaited ships provided by the neighboring Ottoman Empire. The explicit Russian goal was to expel the groups in question from their lands. They were given a choice as to where to be resettled: in the Ottoman Empire or in Russia far from their old lands. Only a small percentage (the numbers are unknown) accepted resettlement within the Russian Empire.
An unknown number of deportees perished during the process. Some died from epidemics among crowds of deportees both while awaiting departure and while languishing in their Ottoman Black Sea ports of arrival. Others perished when ships underway sank during storms. Two other Muslim peoples in the northwest Caucasus, the Karachay and the Balkars, were not deported in large numbers after 1864. According to the Russian government's own figures at the time, about 90 percent of the affected peoples were deported.
The Ottoman and Russian fought at least 17 wars between 1568 and 1917. The Ottomans lost vast and often solidly Turkish and Muslim, territories spanning from the Crimea to Circassia to the Russians. The Russians killed many inhabitants of these Ottoman lands and expelled the rest to Turkey. So many Turks descend from refugees from Russia that the adage in Turkey is: "If you scratch a Turk, you find a Circassian persecuted by Russians underneath." 
Background and motivations
In 1857, Dmitry Milyutin first published the idea of mass expulsions of Circassian natives. Miliutin argued that the goal was not to simply move them so that their land could be settled by productive farmers, but rather that "eliminating the Circassians was to be an end in itself- to cleanse the land of hostile elements". Tsar Alexander II endorsed the plans, and Milyutin later would become the minister of war in 1861, and from the early 1860s expulsions began occurring in the Caucasus (first in the Northeast and then in the Northwest).
General Nikolai Yevdokimov advocated expelling the natives 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". On the other hand, the Tsarist command was very much aware of the possibility of the migrants being used by Turkey as a strike force against Christian populations during the impending Russo-Turkish War. The Circassian resettlement plan was eventually agreed upon at a meeting of the Russian Caucasus commanders in October 1860 in Vladikavkaz and officially approved on May 10, 1862 by Tsar Alexander II.
The Ottomans sent emissaries, including mullahs who called for leaving the dar al-Kufr and moving to the dar al-Islam. The Ottomans hoped to increase the proportion of the Muslim population in areas of the empire with restive non-Turkish populations. "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". Local mullahs and chiefs favoured resettlement, because they felt oppressed by the Russian administration. They warned their people that in order to gain full Russian citizenship they would have to convert to Christianity. 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. Russia's obligatory conscription was also among the factors that worried these populations, although in fact they would never be subject to military draft.
"In this year of 1864 a deed has been accomplished almost without precedent in history: not one of the mountaineer inhabitants remains on their former places of residence, and measures are being taken to cleanse the region in order to prepare it for the new Russian population." – Main Staff of the Caucasian Army
After the surrender of Imam Shamil (Chechnya and Dagestan) in 1859, Russia's war of conquest in the North Caucasus narrowed down to Circassia. Following the conquest of the North Caucasus by the Russian Empire, the Russian Empire implemented a policy of evicting the Circassians from their ancestral territories.
Among the main peoples that moved to Turkey were Adyghe, Ubykhs, Muslim Abkhazians (especially Sadz branch)- hence the reference in the name to the deportation being of Circassians. However, Although Circassians were the main (and most notorious) victims, the expulsions also gravely affected other peoples in the region. It was estimated that 80% of the Ingush left Ingushetia for the Middle East in 1865. Lowland Chechens as well were evicted in large numbers, and while many came back, the former Chechen Lowlands lacked their historical Chechen populations for a long period until Chechens were settled in the region during their return from their 1944–1957 deportation to Siberia. The Arshtins, at that time a (debatably) separate people, were completely wiped out as a distinct group: according to official documents, 1366 Arshtin families disappeared (i.e. either fled or were killed) and only 75 families remained. These 75 families, realizing the impossibility of existing as a nation of only hundreds of people, joined (or rejoined) the Chechen nation as the Erstkhoi tukhum. Small numbers of Muslim Ossetians and Lezgins were also swept up in the expulsion.. After the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878), the Ottoman Empire ceded to Russia the largely Muslim Georgian provinces (Adjara, Lower Guria and a South Caucasian one Lazistan. Thereupon thousands of Muslim Georgians (Chveneburi) became muhajirs (the Georgians were predominantly Christian); the Muslim Laz people (ethnically similar to the Georgians and who speak a Kartvelian language most closely related to Mingrelian) also emigrated.
Special commissions were set up by the Russian imperial authorities to reduce mortality rates and "survey needs of the migrants", that is, to prevent ships from being overloaded, to profitably auction bulky possessions, and to provide clothing and food for the poorest families, who would be transported "without fee or charge of any kind". 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.
During the year of 1864 alone about 220,000 muhajirs disembarked in Anatolia. Between March 6 and May 21, 1864, the entire Ubykh people had departed the Caucasus for Turkey. By the end of the resettlement, 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 expulsion resulted in the depopulation of vast swaths of the Western Caucasus, specifically the fertile Pontic littoral near Sochi. The Tsarist government was so alarmed by the resulting decline in the regional economy that in 1867 it banned emigration with the exception of "isolated exceptional cases". 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 Istanbul would often report.
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 the 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".
After a brief stint in Turkey, many Circassian households petitioned the Russian embassy in Istanbul for a right to return to the Caucasus. By the end of the century, 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 the Western Caucasus. Later, reemigration was sanctioned only on a limited scale, as entire populations of former villages (up to 8500 inhabitants) applied for reemigration en masse and their relocation posed formidable difficulties to the imperial authorities. Russian Emperor Alexander II also suspected that Britain and Turkey had instructed Circassians to seek a return with the purpose of sparking a new war against their Russian overlords. In consequence, he was known to personally decline such petitions.
The overall resettlement was accompanied by hardship for most people. A significant part died of starvation — many Turks of Adyghe descent still do not eat fish in modern times in memory of the tremendous numbers of their kinsfolk they lost during the passage of the Black Sea.
All nationals of Turkey are considered Turkish for official purposes. However, there are several hundreds of villages considered purely 'Circassian', with estimates of the total population of 'Circassians' going as high as 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 centre right parties, often with varying degrees of Turkish nationalism, generally do well in regions where Circassians constitute a sizable fraction of the population (such as in Akyazı).
Ethnic minorities fared better in those countries of the Middle East that were subsequently created from the dismembered Ottoman Empire and were initially under British protectorate. The Jaysh al-Arabi (Arab Legion), created in Trans-Jordan under the influence of the British agent T. E. Lawrence had a significant contingent of Chechens — arguably because the Bedouin were reluctant to serve under a centralized command. In addition, the modern city of Amman was born after Circassians settled there in 1887.
Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's May 1994 statement admitted that resistance to the tsarist forces was legitimate, but he did not use the term genocide in his statement. 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.
Although there is no legal continuity between the Russian Empire and the modern Russian Federation, and the concept of genocide was only adopted in international law in the 20th century, on 5 July 2005 the Circassian Congress, an organization that unites representatives of the various Circassian peoples in the Russian Federation, 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". Other sources give much higher numbers, totaling 1–1.5 million deported and/or killed. The movement has since been campaigning for the recognition of the "Circassian Genocide". Nevertheless, the Circassians view the memory of the brutal expulsions and killings by the hand of Russia and the suffering they caused as a central part of the Circassian identity. Circassians have also taken issue with the 2014 Winter Olympics, to be held in Sochi, the Black Sea coast city and the supposed site of the final expulsion of the Circassians.
On May 21, 2011, the Parliament of Georgia passed a resolution, stating that "pre-planned" mass killings of the Circassians by the Imperial Russia, accompanied by "deliberate famine and epidemics", should be recognized as "genocide" and those deported during those events from their homeland, should be recognized as "refugees". Georgia, which has poor relations with Russia, has made outreach efforts to North Caucasian ethnic groups since the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. Following a consultation with academics, human rights activists and Circassian diaspora groups and parliamentary discussions in Tbilisi in 2010 and 2011, Georgia became the first country to use the word "genocide" to refer to the events.
President of the Federal National Cultural Autonomy of Russian Circassians, Alexander Ohtov, says the term genocide is justified in his Kommersant interview:
- "Yes, I believe that the concept of genocide against the Circassians was justified. To understand why we are talking about the genocide, you have to look at history. During the Russian-Caucasian war, Russian generals not only expelled the Circassians, but also destroyed them physically. Not only killed them in combat but burned hundreds of villages with civilians. Spared neither children nor women nor the elderly. The entire fields of ripe crops were burned, the orchards cut down, so that the Circassians could not return to their habitations. A destruction of civilian population on a massive scale is it not a genocide?"
However, the head of the Strategic Research on Religion and Policy, Maksim Shevchenko, says that the Tsarist actions must be understood in their 19th-century context, where imperial powers, including the Ottoman Empire which he claims enslaved Circassians, "often behaved brutally to strengthen their borders".
Expulsion from the Caucasus to the Ottoman Empire
- 1828–1829: 10,000 Abkhaz left the North Caucasus
- 1852–1858: Abkhaz population declined from 98,000 to 89,866
- 1858–1860: Over 30,000 Nogais were expelled
- 1860–1861: 10,000 Kabardians were expelled
- 1861–1863: 4,300 Abaza, 4,000 Natukhais, 2,000 Temirgoi, 600 Beslenei, and 300 Bzhedugs families were exiled
- 1865: 5,000 Chechen families were sent to Turkey
- 1863–1864: 470,703 people left the West Caucasus (according to G.A. Dzidzariia)
- 1863–1864: 312,000 people left the West Caucasus (according to N.G. Volkova)
- 1858–1864: 398,000 people left the Kuban oblast (according to N.G Volkova)
- 1858–1864: 493,194 people left (according to Adol'f Berzhe)
- 1863–1864: 400,000 people left (according to N.I Voronov)
- 1861–1864: 418,000 people left (according to the Main Staff of the Caucasus Army)
- Circassian nationalism
- Hidden Nations, Enduring Crimes conference
- Circassians in Turkey
- Circassians in Syria
- Circassians in Iraq
- Population transfer
- Memoirs of Miliutin, "the plan of action decided upon for 1860 was to cleanse [ochistit'] the mountain zone of its indigenous population", per Richmond, W. The Northwest Caucasus: Past, Present, and Future. Routledge. 2008.
- Tanner, A. The Forgotten Minorities of Eastern Europe - The History and Today of Selected Ethnic Groups in Five Countries. East-West Books. 2004.
- Kazemzadeh 1974
- King 2007
- Turkey Fears Russia Too Much to Intervene in Syria
- King, Charles. The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus. Page 94. In a policy memorandum in of 1857, Dmitri Miliutin, chief-of-staff to to Bariatinskii, summarized the new thinking on dealing with the northwestern highlanders. The idea, Miliutin argued, was not to clear the highlands and coastal areas of Circassians so that these regions could be settled by productive farmers...[but] Rather, eliminating the Circassians was to be an end in itself- to cleanse the land of hostile elements. Tsar Alexander II formally approved the resettlement plan...Milyutin, who would eventually become minister of war, was to see his plans realized in the early 1860s.
- L.V.Burykina. Pereselenskoye dvizhenie na severo-zapagni Kavakaz. Reference in King.
- Berzhe 1882:342–343 (Russian)
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- RGVIA f. 400, op. 1:Д. 1551 [delo 1551] (Russian)
- Napso 1993:111 (Russian)
- Jersild 2002:12
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- Kumykov 1994:15 (Russian)
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- "Это намеренное уничтожение народа". Kommersant.
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- Orientalism and Empire: North Caucasus Mountain Peoples and the Georgian Frontier, 1845–1917, Austin Jersild, page 23, 2003
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In Russian (given in Latin alphabetical order). For a guide to the citation format of Russian archival material, see Materials in Russian/Soviet Archives
- Aliyev, U. 1927. Алиев У. Очерк исторического развития горцев Кавказа и чужеземного влияния на них ислама, царизма и пр. Ростов-н/Д. [Ocherk istoricheskogo razvitiia gortsev Kavkaza i chuzhezemnogo vliianiia na nikh islama, tsarizma i pr.] (Russian)
- Berzhe [Berger], A. P. Берже А[дольф]. П[етрович]. 1882. Выселение горцев с Кавказа // Русская старина. СПб. Кн. 2. [Vyselenie gortsev s Kavkaza. Emigration of mountaineers from the Caucasus. Russkaya Starina 1882 January, 33, kn. 2. St. Petersburg.] (Russian)
- Dumanov, Kh. M. Думанов Х. М. 1994. Вдали от Родины. Нальчик. [Vdali ot rodiny. Far from the homeland.] Nal'chik: Kabardino-Balkar Republic. (Russian)
- Dzidzaria, G. A. 1982. Дзидзария Г. А. Махаджирство и проблемы истории Абхазии XIX столетия. 2-е изд., допол. Сухуми. 1982. [Makhadzhirstvo i problemy istorii Abkhazii XIX stoletiia. Makhadzhirstvo and problems in the history of Abkhazia in the 19th century. 2nd edition. Sukhumi, Georgia.] (Russian)
- (GAKK) Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Krasnodarskogo Kraia [The State Archive of Krasnodar Territory]. ГАКК. Ф. 454. Оп. 1. [Fond 454, opis' 1] (Russian)
- Kokiev, G. Кокиев Г. 1929. Военно-колонизационная политика на Северном Кавказе. Революция и горец. № 6. [Voienno-kolonizatsionnaia politika na Severnom Kavkaze. Military-colonization policy in the North Caucasus. Revolution and the mountain dweller, 6.] (Russian)
- Kumykov, T. Kh. Кумыков Т. Х. 1994. Выселение адыгов в Турцию – последствие Кавказской войны'. Нальчик. 1994. Стр. 93–94. [Vyselenie adygov v Turtsiiu – posledstvie Kavkazskoi voiny. Emigration of Adygeys to Turkey—aftermath of the Caucasian War. Nal'chik: Kabardino-Balkaria. (Russian)
- [Bouillane de] Lacoste, [Commandant Émile Antoine Henri] de. 1908. Лакост, Г [енри] де ("Lacoste, G. de"). Россия и Великобритания в Центральной Азии. Ташкент. [Rossiia i Velikobritanniia v Tsentral'noi Azii. Russia and Great Britain in Central Asia. Tashkent.] (Russian)
- Napso, D. A. and S. A. Chekmenov. 1993. Напсо Д. А., Чекменов С. А. Надежда и доверие. Из истории дружественных связей народов Карачаево-Черкесии с русским народом. Черкесск. [Hope and faith. From the history of the fraternal relations of the peoples of Karachay–Cherkessia with the Russian people. Cherkessk: Karachay–Cherkessia.] (Russian)
- (RGVIA) Rossiiskii Gosudarstvennyi Voenno-Istoricheskii Arkhiv (РГ ВИА) (Russian State Military-Historical Archive). Ф. 400, Оп. 1 [Fond 400, opis' 1]. (Russian)