Circassians in Turkey

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Circassians in Turkey
Тыркуем ис Адыгэхэр
Türkiye Çerkesleri
Circassians marching to commemorate the Circassian genocide in Taksim Square, Istanbul
Total population
Estimated 2,000,000[1][2][3][4]–3,000,000[5]
Regions with significant populations
East Circassian
West Circassian
Arabic (in Antakya and Reyhanlı)
Sunni Islam
Circassian native faith Khabzeism[6]  • Atheism-Agnosticism[7]
Related ethnic groups
Abazins, Abkhazians, Chechens
The distribution of Circassians in Turkey
Circassians commemorate the massacre of their ancestors and exile of the Circassians from their homeland in Taksim Square, Istanbul
Ethem the Circassian, his Circassian hands and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in front of the main building of the station, who were on their way to the Yozgat rebellion (June 1920)

Circassians in Turkey[a] refers to people born in or residing in Turkey that are of Circassian origin. The Circassians are one of the largest ethnic minorities in Turkey, with a population estimated to be two million, or according to the EU reports, three.[8]

Circassians are a Caucasian people, and although the Circassians in Turkey were assimilated to some degree, a portion of the diaspora still speaks their native Circassian languages as it is still spoken in many Circassian villages, and the group that preserved their language the best are the Kabardians.[9] With the rise of Circassian nationalism in the 21st century, Circassians in Turkey, especially the young, have started to study and learn their language. The Circassians in Turkey mostly identify as Muslim. The largest association of Circassians in Turkey,[10] KAFFED, was the founding member of the International Circassian Association (ICA),[11] until it left in 2022 due to "ICA acting as a Russian puppet organisation".[12]

The closely related ethnic groups Abazins (10,000[13]) and Abkhazians (39,000[14]) are also often counted among them. The term "Circassian" was formerly used in the Ottoman Empire in the late 1800s to refer to all North Caucasians.


Arrival in the Ottoman Empire[edit]

Circassians in the Ottoman Empire mainly kept to themselves and maintained their separate identity, even having their own courts, in which they would tolerate no outside influence, and various travelers noted that they never forgot their homeland, for which they continually yearned.[15]

After the Circassian genocide, Circassians who were exiled to Ottoman lands initially suffered heavy tolls. The Circassians were initially housed in schools and mosques or had to live in caves until their resettlement. The Ottoman authorities assigned lands for Circassian settlers close to regular water sources and grain fields. Numerous died in transit to their new homes from disease and poor conditions.[16]

In Romania, the Circassians were granted privileges by the Ottoman authorities because of their Muslim religion and would frequently enter in conflict with the Christian population of the region. They would give parts of their gains to the Ottoman authorities. Palace of the Pasha (now the Tulcea Art Museum) and the Azizyie Mosque of Tulcea were built with funds coming from Circassians.[17][18]

In Bulgaria, one of the major spots of arrival for the Circassians, the lives of Circassians were not easy, as diseases spread. Many families completely disappeared within a few years. Around 80,000 Circassians lived in "death camps" on the outskirts of Varna, where they were deprived of food and subjected to diseases. As a result, both the Muslim and Christian population of Vidin volunteered to support the Circassian settlers by increasing grain production for them. The Circassians were seen as a "Muslim threat" and expelled from Bulgaria and other parts of the Balkans by Russian armies following the end of the Russo-Turkish war. They were not allowed to return,[19][20] so the Ottoman authorities settled them in new other lands such as in modern Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Syria and Turkey.

In Jordan, the Bedouin Arabs viewed the Circassians very negatively. The Circassians refused to pay the khuwwa ("protection" fees), and the Bedouin declared that it was halal (allowed) to murder Circassians on sight. The mutual hostility between the Circassians and their nomadic and settled Arab neighbors led to many clashes. Despite the superiority of Bedouin arms and mobility, the Circassians maintained their positions and population.[21] Later, Circassians in Jordan marked the founding of modern Amman.[22]

Traditional Circassian dishes

In Palestine, the Circassian exiles established the towns of al-Rihaniyya and Kafr Kama.[23][24] The Bedouin Arabs viewed them as "squatters". Circassian culture occasionally clashed with Arab culture, with local Arabs looking with horror upon the equality of men and women in Circassian culture.[25] In various areas of the wider Levant region armed conflict broke out between Circassians and other local groups, especially Bedouin and Druze, with little or no Ottoman intervention; some of these feuds continued as late as the mid-20th century.[26]

In Syria, just like in Jordan and Palestine, clashes occurred between the Circassian exiles and the Bedouin. They were, however, less fierce compared to the other regions and slowly cooled down. Also, The Circassians which lived in the Ottoman Empire spoke a Tartar dialect like language, which they write with Arabic characters. [27]

Ottoman Circassian renaissance[edit]

Circassians are regarded by historians to play a key role in the history of Turkey. Circassians took active role in the Ottoman state in high positions from their arrival until the collapse of the empire. A large portion of influential entities, such as the Ottoman Special Organization, Hamidiye regiments, and the Committee of Union of Progress were made up by Circassians. Key figures include Eşref Kuşçubaşı and Mehmed Reşid. Circassians in the Ottoman lands embraced their Caucasian identity, while also maintaining a primary Ottoman-Muslim identity. After the 1908 Revolution in the Ottoman Empire, Circassian nationalist activities started. Organizations such as the Çerkes İttihat ve Teavün Cemiyeti (Circassian Union and Mutual Aid Society) and Çerkes Kadınları Teavün Cemiyeti (Circassian Women’s Mutual Aid Society) published journals in the Circassian language and opened Circassian-only schools. Some were less cultural and more political, such as the Şimalî Kafkas Cemiyeti (North Caucasian Society) and the Kafkas İstiklâl Komitesi (Committee for the Liberation of Caucasus), both of which aimed for the independence of Circassia and were supported by the CUP.[28][29]

Assimilation of Turkey's Circassians[edit]

Turkey has the largest Circassian population in the world, 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), along the shores of the Black Sea; the region near the city of Ankara. All citizens of Turkey are considered Turks by the government, but it is estimated that approximately two million ethnic Circassians live in Turkey. The "Circassians" in question do not always speak the languages of their ancestors, and in some cases some of them may describe themselves as "only Turkish". The reason for this loss of identity is mostly due to natural assimilation, but also due to Turkey's government assimilation policies[30][31][32][33][34] and marriages with non–Circassians.

Especially after the 1940s, Circassians were restricted by policies such as the prohibition of Circassian language,[30][32][35][36][37][38] Turkification of village names, and the ban on Circassian surnames.[39][40][33] Despite these policies, the Circassians remained loyal to the Turkish state.

In December 2021, Deutsche Welle's Turkish language documentary "The story of the Circassians from the Caucasus to Turkey" led to substantial discussions regarding the state of Circassian assimilation in Turkey.[41][42] This gave rise to heavy xenophobia, racism and hate speech in Turkish media questioning loyalty of Circassians to the Turkish state and accusing Circassian NGOs of playing in foreign hands. Turkish ultranationalists were seen posting genocidal and racist quotes of Nihal Atsız.[41]

According to Fahri Huvaj, a prominent Circassian nationalist, the Circassian population has gone through assimilation in the world and now approximately only one fifth of Circassians can speak their language and that the Circassian language and culture is about to disappear from Turkey. UNESCO reports state that Adyghe and Abkhazian are among the "severely endangered" languages in Turkey .[41]

Most Circassian organizations, including KAFFED, the biggest one, confirmed Deutsche Welle's claims while still declaring loyalty to the state and calling for friendship between Circassians and Turks. However, some smaller local organizations like Çerkes Forumu denied the claims. Çerkes Forumu's statement read: "We are Circassians. There are no traitors among us. You can not turn us into traitors. Stop lying."[43]



A Turkish boy of Circassian origin wearing the North Caucasian traditional dress Chokha

In the census of 1965, those who spoke Circassian as first language were proportionally most numerous in Kayseri (3.2%), Tokat (1.2%) and Kahramanmaraş (1.0%).

Notable people[edit]

(* = Circassian descent only on paternal side)

(** = Circassian descent only on maternal side)


Presidents and prime ministers of Turkey[edit]

Sultans of the Ottoman Empire with Circassian mothers[edit]

Grand viziers of the Ottoman Empire[edit]

Military officers[edit]

Cultural figures[edit]

Historians and writers[edit]

Film, TV, and stage[edit]

Musicians and painters[edit]

Sports people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kabardian and Adyghe: Тыркуем ис Адыгэхэр, romanized: Tyrkuiem is Adygekher; Turkish: Türkiye Çerkesleri


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Works cited[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Dogan, Setenay Nil. “No Matter How Close: Relationships of the Circassians With the State Apparatus in Turkey”. Kafkasya Çalışmaları, 2024, doi:10.21488/jocas.1427336.
  • Besleney, Zeynel. The Circassian Diaspora in Turkey: A Political History. United Kingdom, Taylor & Francis, 2014.

External links[edit]