Circassian People: The Circassians are one of the oldest nations in the European North Caucasus

Circassian People: The Circassians are one of the oldest nations in the European North Caucasus

 

Circassians

ETHNONYMS: Adyghe, Cherkess (Tscherkess), Dzhigets, Kabardians, Ubykhs (Oubykhs)

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Languages
Circassian
(West Adyghe, Kabardian Adyghe, extinct Ubykh Adyghedialects), also Turkish, Russian, English, Arabic, Hebrew,German, Persian
Religion
Predominantly Muslim
Minority Habze, Orthodox Christian and Catholic as well asAbkhazo-Circassian neopaganism
Related ethnic groups
Abazgi (Abkhaz, Abazin)

 

Adyghe people (Circassians) are people of the historical (now defunct) Circassia. In the XXth century, the Soviet authorities divided the historic region into different republics  – Adygea, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia. The Soviet authorities also divided the unitary Circassian ethnicity into different categories: Kabardins (Kabardino-Balkaria), Cherkess (Karachay-Cherkessia), Adyghe (Adygea republic).

A significant part of the Adyghe population was killed during the Russian-Circassian war, and other Circassians were displaced to the Middle-East following forced migration.

Below is a first-hand outlook on the Circassians, as seen by a British traveler in the 1830’s (before the expulsion of Circassians from the Caucasus).

wedding-costumes circassia

 

After the Circassian genocide and expulsion from the Caucasus (when most Circassian chose muslim Ottoman empire as destination), rural slavery was imported by Circassians. Circassian women gained fame for their beauty in the XIX century, when they were sold as sex slaves to the Ottoman empire. The term “Circassian beauties” was born.

adyghe

adyghe traditional costume 2

adyghe traditional costume circassian couple

adyghe traditional costume circassian men dancing

adyghe traditional costume Kabardino-Balkaria Karachay-Cherkessia North Caucasus 1

adyghe traditional costume men Kabardino-Balkaria Karachay-Cherkessia

adyghe traditional costumes North Caucasus

adyghe traditional costume North Caucasus horse rider

adyghe women traditional costume North Caucasus

Via: northcaucasusland.wordpress.com

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Circassia is a region and historical country in the North Caucasus and along the northeast shore of the Black Sea. It is the ancestral homeland of the Circassian people.

The name Circassia is a Latinisation of Cherkess (modern Turkish: Çerkes), theTurkic name for the Adyghe people, and originated in the 15th century with medievalGenoese merchants and travellers to Circassia. The name Cherkess is traditionally applied to the Adyghe by neighbouring Turkic peoples (principallyCrimean Tatars and Ottoman Turks).

Another historical name for the country was Zyx or the Zygii. The Zygii have been described by the ancient Greek intellectual Strabo as a nation to the north of Colchis.

At the end of the 15th century a detailed description of Circassia and of its inhabitants was made by Genoese traveler and ethnographer Giorgio Interiano.  
The Circassians (Circassian: Адыгэхэр, Adygekher) are a Northwest 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 in 1864. In its narrowest sense, the term “Circassian” includes the twelve Adyghe (Circassian: Адыгэ, Adyge) tribes (three democratic and nine aristocratic), i.e. Abzakh, Besleney, Bzhedug,Hatuqwai, Kabardian, Mamkhegh, Natukhai, Shapsug, Temirgoy, Ubykh,Yegeruqwai, and Zhaney, each one representing a star on the green-and-gold Circassian flag. However, due to Soviet administrative divisions, Circassians were also designated as the following: Adygeans (Adyghe in Adygea), Cherkessians (Adyghe in Karachay-Cherkessia), Kabardians(Adyghe in Kabardino-Balkaria), Shapsugians (Adyghe in Krasnodar Krai) although all the four are essentially the same people residing in different political units.
The majority of Circassians are predominantly Sunni Muslim. The Circassians mainly speak the Circassian language, a Northwest Caucasian language with three main dialects and numerous sub-dialects. Many Circassians also speak Turkish, Russian, English, Arabic, and Hebrew, having been exiled by Russia to lands of the Ottoman Empire, where the majority of them today live.  About 800,000 Circassians remain in historical Circassia(modern-day titular Circassian republics of Adygea, Kabardino-Balkaria,Karachay-Cherkessia as well as the southern half of Krasnodar Krai and the southwestern part of Stavropol Krai), and others live in the Russian Federation outside these republics and krais. The 2010 Russian Census recorded 718,727 Circassians, of which 516,826 are Kabardian, 124,835 are Adyghe proper, 73,184 are Cherkess, and 3,882 Shapsug.The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization estimated in the early 1990s that there are as many as 3.7 million “ethnic Circassian” diaspora (in over 50 countries), outside the titular Circassian republics (meaning that only one in seven “ethnic Circassians” live in the homeland), and that, of these 3.7 million, more than 2 million live in Turkey, 300,000 in the Levant (mostly modern-day Jordan and Syria) and Mesopotamia, and 50,000 in Western Europe and the United States.

Ethnonyms

The Circassians refer to themselves as Adyghe (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”.

The exonym Circassians (ser-kass-ee-uhnz) is occasionally applied to Adyghe and Abaza from the North Caucasus.The nameCircassian represents a Latinisation of Siraces, the Greek name for the region, called Shirkess by Khazars & later Cherkess, theTurkic name for the Adyghe, and originated in the 15th century with medieval Genoese merchants and travellers to Circassia.

The Turkic peoples  and Russians call the Adyghe CherkessFolk etymology usually explains the name Cherkess as “warrior cutter” or “soldier cutter”, from the Turkish words çeri (soldier) and kesmek (to cut), so that Cherkess would mean “soldier-cutter”.[citation needed]

Despite a common self-designation and a common Russian name,[34] Soviet authorities applied four designations to Circassians:[citation needed]

Russian Invasion of Circassia

Map of the expulsion of Circassians to the Ottoman Empire

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 

Via: wikipedia

 

Circassian Flag
Circassians commemorate the banishment of the Circassians from Russia in Taksim, İstanbul

The last struggle

The Circassians did not hesitate to react to this policy. They even met with Russian tsar and presented their own conditions, making clear they were open to negotiations. However, the Russians had already made their decision. The region was besieged by over a hundred thousand Russian soldiers. The Circassians were forced out of their homes, their villages were set on fire, and tens of thousands of people were massacred.

Around 20,000 Circassian resistance fighters gathered in Kbaada on May 21, 1864. They were surrounded by around 100,000 Russian soldiers. In the end, the Circassians chose martyrdom above surrender. The rivers flowing through the nearby Acepsu valley to the Black Sea turned red with the blood of Circassians. Meanwhile, the Russian tsar Alexandre declared that day a national holiday marking the Russian victory.

Russia gained complete control of the region by May 21st 1864. Michel, who was commissioned by his brother Sharin as the Grand duke of Caucasus, made this public announcement in the month of August to the people of the western Caucasus: “If the Caucasus isn’t abandoned within a month’s time, the whole population will be exiled to different regions as Russia’s prisoners.” Like this, the Circassians’ great tragedy began.

 
Circassia Putin should recognise Circassian genocide
Circassians: a tragic tale of 150 years in exile
Exactly 150 years ago on May 21, 1864, hundreds of thousands of Circassian Muslims were forcibly deported as their homeland of Circassia, which lies in the northern Caucasus and along the eastern Black Sea coast, was purged and pillaged by the Russians. Old wounds were recently reopened when the world gathered in the Circassian capital of Sochi to participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Little did they know that the games were held on the site of one of the bloodiest genocides in human history. A century and a half on, Circassians still feel the pain.
Circassians: a tragic tale of 150 years in exile
The 1856 Crimea war showed Russia just how strategic the region of Circassia was. Russia, which was on the receiving end of one of the most embarrassing defeats in its history, failed to send its troops to Circassia in time to prevent the Ottoman-English-French alliance from getting there first. Within that region, the presence of the Circassian’s and other communities seemed to be the greatest obstacle for Russian expansion plans. After the war, Russia began planning on ways to gain complete control over the Circassians and the rest of the Caucasian people or exile them from their lands in order to acquire complete dominance over the region.
In the 1860s, Russia had taken over all of the Caucasus – a region wedged between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. The only place they couldn’t conquer was Adige, otherwise known as Circassia. On the shores of the Black sea, the region of Circassia served as open land for both the Ottomans and the West, and was an independent region which continued its existence within the domain of Russian sovereignty.
Russia, which was seeking to seize complete control over the land, made two different decisions regarding the region. The first decision was to gain the friendship of the Circassians and in time solve the problem peacefully, with the second being to exile the Circassians from the lands in which they lived. The idea of exile was first introduced by the Russian Caucasus Army General Milyetun in the year 1857. Milyetun suggested that they exile some of the Adygeins (Circassians) living in the area to the north. However, the authorities feared that exile could trigger a reaction from the Muslim community of Russia and could have possibly cause new problems. For these reasons, the idea of exile was rejected.
Not long after, the idea of exile was re-introduced in another way. The Commander of the Caucasian Army General Prince Baryatinski made an essential change in Milyetun’s report and presented a new suggestion. The Circassians living in the region would be exiled not to the north, but to the Ottoman lands in the south. This way, Russia would avoid incurring any problems within its own country. After Sharin agreed to the plan, as of the year 1860, exile became the Russian government’s new policy.

The last struggle

Circassians plant 150 seedlings to mark 150 years in exile

Circassians plant 150 seedlings to mark 150 years in exile (worldbulletin.net)

The Circassians did not hesitate to react to this policy. They even met with Russian tsar and presented their own conditions, making clear they were open to negotiations. However, the Russians had already made their decision. The region was besieged by over a hundred thousand Russian soldiers. The Circassians were forced out of their homes, their villages were set on fire, and tens of thousands of people were massacred.

Caucasus peoples gather in Istanbul to mark 150 years of exile

Caucasus peoples gather in Istanbul to mark 150 years of exile. The Caucasus Peoples Congress elected a new leader and urged unity in the stuggle for an independent Caucasia. (worldbulletin.net)

Around 20,000 Circassian resistance fighters gathered in Kbaada on May 21, 1864. They were surrounded by around 100,000 Russian soldiers. In the end, the Circassians chose martyrdom above surrender. The rivers flowing through the nearby Acepsu valley to the Black Sea turned red with the blood of Circassians. Meanwhile, the Russian tsar Alexandre declared that day a national holiday marking the Russian victory.

Russia gained complete control of the region by May 21st 1864. Michel, who was commissioned by his brother Sharin as the Grand duke of Caucasus, made this public announcement in the month of August to the people of the western Caucasus: “If the Caucasus isn’t abandoned within a month’s time, the whole population will be exiled to different regions as Russia’s prisoners.” Like this, the Circassians’ great tragedy began.

The mass exile of Circassians

Circassian Genocide: 150 years later

The Circassians who were exiled departed via sea from the Caucasus docks of Taman, Tuapse, Anapa, Tsemez, Sochi, Adler, Sohum, Poti, Batum, ect. They arrived at the Ottoman ports of Trabzon, Samsun, Sinop, Istanbul, Varna, Burgaz and Kostence and placed into the camps prepared for them. Unfortunately, within a short period of time, thousands of refugees died due to starvation and illness.

source: pinterest.com

The extent of the ordeals that was endured due to this exile were seen in the people who arrived at these camps. General Katrachef, who was in charge of migration at the Russian Consulate in Trabzon, showed this in his written report: “Of those going to Turkey, 70,000 Circassians came to Batum. From these, 7 people die every day. Of the 24,700 people sent to Trabzon, 19,000 have died so far. Now from the remaining 63,900 people, every day 180-250 of them are dying. Of the 110,000 in Samsun, 200 people die on a daily basis. And of the 4,650 people sent to Trabzon, Varna and Istanbul, I receive news that of them 40-60 die daily.

source: youtube.com

Along with the uncertainty of how many Circassians were exiled, various figures show between seven hundred thousand to one million were banished from their lands. The famous historian Kemal Karpat indicates that the number of Circassians exiled from 1859 to 1879 were around 2 million, and the number of those who reached the Ottoman State were around 1.5 million.

en.academic.ru (source)

The Circassians who reached the Ottoman ports in a secure state were placed in camps within Ottoman territory, such as Anatolia, Thrace, the Balkans, Iraq, Syria and Jordan. They continue to live in these regions today with a firm sense of attachment and longing to return to their homeland.

silkroadreporters.com (source)

 

“THIS SHAME MUST BE RECTIFIED”

150 years ago, the Circassians living in Caucasus is not just Circassian or Causcasian issue. In fact, it is not just an issue pertaining to Muslims. Being one of the most ancient living human race, the Tzarist regime and the USSR applied genocide and the crimes against humanity of which they must clean this shame. International and united joint commissions must be established to determine the amount of genocide and the exile, restore the dignity of the oppressed, a statement of apology by the heirs of the unjust tyrants, financial compensation and the right of return to their homeland – humanitarians steps which are not impossible. I have hope for the future of humanity. I believe that the Muslim world will be able to gather the family of humanity under a peaceful roof for all.

Via : .worldbulletin.net
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Marriage and FamilyMarriage. Marriages traditionally were based on love or interest on the part of both man and woman as long as exogamy beyond the clan was observed and both members were deemed Adyghe. Flirting took place around the well or stream, and romantic trysts were arranged by maternal uncles. Circassians married late, usually in their early thirties. The ceremony consisted of a nocturnal abduction, with the young man being assisted by his friends and the family of the bride offering token resistance and pursuit. (The man paid a bride-price beforehand.) The woman came to live with her in-laws, who then held a celebration that often consisted of several days of feasting and horse races. The young men would observe the odd custom of vying with one another to be the first to throw himself on the bed of the newlyweds before the couple themselves could use it. At one time the young women wore elaborately knotted, tight leather corsets to ensure a thin figure. After the wedding night this corset had to be publicly presented intact as a sign that the groom had exhibited self-control. In some tribes divorces were common, amounting almost to a pattern of sequential marriages. The man continued to support his “divorced” wife and children. Both men and women could obtain divorces. In a valid (legally recognized) divorce the bride-price was not repaid, but it did have to be repaid by the family of the woman if she incurred shame.Inheritance. The males alone inherited land and other significant wealth.Socialization. Children were taught to be respectful, particularly of the elderly, and they often enjoyed loving relationships with the elders in a village, often helping the elderly with their needs, waiting upon them at banquets, and such. Boys were taught to be proud both of their clan and of their social presence, to show courage and stamina, and to acquire skill in arms and horsemanship. Girls were taught to be discreet, to observe household etiquette and patterns, to be graceful, and to be knowledgeable regarding remedies and cures. Girls were taught to be thoughtful and generous hostesses so that they could observe the all-important functions of welcoming and housing guests. Girls of marriageable age were given their own reception room in which they could entertain young men. A code of strict etiquette governed such entertainment, and at the first offensive or suggestive remark from the young man, the girl would summon one of her kinsmen to eject him. Both sexes were taught to dance, a paramount form of socializing. Refinement and skill in speech were valued for both sexes. Respect was displayed toward someone, especially the elderly, not only by standing in their presence but also by standing at the mere mention of their name.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. With the exception of the Natukhay and Shapsegh tribes, all Circassians were organized into four castes: princes (pshi ), nobles (warq ), freemen (tlfaquat’l; tlkhwaquat’l in Kabardian), and slaves or vassals (pshit’l ). Within these rigid strata, various families had rankings. The princes organized the overall wealth (storing and distributing surplus) and external relations of their village. They conducted raids and warfare, drawing upon the fighting skills of the nobles. The freemen practiced agriculture, animal husbandry, and small industry. The slaves, usually prisoners of war, served the princes and nobles as servants and workers. Today this old system survives merely as a tradition of origin for families. Its dissolution was precipitated by the emigration of most of the freemen and slaves in 1864, with the princes and nobles primarily staying in the Caucasus. There is a tradition that this emigration followed a bout of internecine warfare between the social castes after the defeat by the Russians. The most important form of social organization among the present-day Circassians of the Russian Federation consists of the Circassian Council (Adyghe-khaasa). This is composed of elders from all the various Circassian groups, and its cultural and social authority transcends the boundaries of the three political regions to encompass all Circassians living in or near the Caucasus. In 1989 it was influential in dissuading many Circassian youth from going south to help their Abkhaz kinsmen in the fighting between the latter and the Georgians. Furthermore, in 1990, to bolster the council’s cultural role and perhaps to reward it for its prudence, Moscow granted the council a sum of several million rubles to encourage the growth of Circassian cultural institutions and activities throughout the Caucasus.

Political Organization. The prince presided over a village and promoted village cohesion with feasts, bestowing honor among individuals by assigning to them the position of t’hamata, master of ceremonies. Outside the village the highest level of organization was the tribe. The tribes were the Ubykh, the Natukhay, the Shapsegh, the Hakuchi, the Abadzekh, the Bzhedukh, the Hatukay, the Yegerukhay, the Chemgwi (earlier Kemirgoy), the Mamkhet, the Makhochey, the Besleney, and the Kabardians. The Bzhedukh consisted of two subtribes, the Khamych and the Chercheney. These tribes themselves had rankings, with the Kabardians being ranked high because of their cultural and political influence and the Ubykhs being ranked high because of old religious status, whereas the Shapseghs and Natukhays were looked down upon because of their lack of a caste system and their involvement in trade. Tribes had councils of princes, and grand councils could be called involving more than one tribe. Tribes were based on fictive kinship, such as Besleney, “Those of (Prince) Beslen,” or regional identity, such as Abadzekh, “Those in the region of the Abaza.” Others may reflect ancient cases of assimilation, as with the Natukhay, “White-Eyed [light-eyed] Ones,” perhaps Circassianized Crimean Goths, or the Shapsegh, “Pointed Head or Hat Ones,” perhaps an old Alanic tribe.

Social Control. A body of oral, traditional law tightly governed conduct. Furthermore, rules of etiquette were extremely important: these usually consisted of hospitality coupled with a conversational discretion that bordered on taciturnity. The wrong words could ruin social face and engender bloody conflict. The princes and nobles practiced fosterage with their slaves or vassals. It was a great honor for a vassal to rear a child of his prince or noble. The child was returned to his biological home at maturity. The greatest honor for a vassal was for such a mature child to choose to stay in the house of the slave, to become a qan, “one who remained.” Such fosterage formed a fictive blood link between slave and master.

Conflict. A Circassian was never without his dagger, and few things were more important to him than his weapons. This reflected the prevalence of the blood feud. Indeed, the word “vengeance” (tlish’ezhen, “to make blood again”) must take the marker of inalienable possession in West Circassian. The blood feud, in turn, sprang from the khabza (custom, law) that any death inflicted upon a member of another clan, regardless of whether it was intentional or accidental, had to be avenged by a corresponding death. The obligation of blood feud extended to the protection of one’s guests as well as to one’s “milk brother,” a fictive-kinship bond. Indeed, blood feud obligations could be abrogated by a man of one clan putting his lips to the breast of a woman of the other, thereby forming a fictive-kin link of milk brotherhood between the two warring groups. Blood feud obligations were temporarily suspended during times of war, so that armies could be assembled. Women tended to be outside the blood feud. Injuries were recompensed by money, the amount being determined by a council of elders or by the prince. Theft of livestock within the clan was intolerable; material goods could be stolen by stealth, but it was a disgrace to be caught. This reflected the relative contempt for material possessions. In fact, if a fellow clan member asked for some item, one was obligated to give it. In this way, material goods tended to circulate among the Community. In matters of dispute, the council of elders, headed by the prince, interpreted khabza to reach a settlement. Such decisions were usually obeyed since the dreaded blood feud was the most frequent alternative. A husband could mete out punishment for violations within the sphere of the family. Women enjoyed great respect and status in that they could halt the bloodiest fights merely by dropping their kerchief between the combatants. A maiden could also bestow her kerchief upon a favored youth, in classic feudal manner, so that he could act as her champion in acts of valor and adventure.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Circassians have been Sunni Muslims for the past three or four hundred years, though as late as the first half of the nineteenth century some of the woodland Abadzekh seem to have retained a form of Christianity. The Circassianized Armenians of Armavir (Yermedls) are Christian, and there were some Jewish Circassians in the bodyguard of Chaim Weizmann, the founder of Zionism. Nevertheless, many pagan relics are to be found in their oral traditions, particularly the heroic Nart sagas or Nart epics, which are myths of great antiquity with many striking parallels to the mythologies of ancient India, Greece, and Scandinavia. Herein are a host of pagan gods, each dedicated to one simple function, such as the god of cattle, the god of forests, the god of the forge, a female fertility figure, etc. The gods held Olympian banquets, led by their own t’hamata, at which they drank a sacred brew, sana (wine). They conducted war and intrigues. The gods themselves had gods, but these were nameless. Also evident from the folklore is a belief that the universe was self-creating, that the world had no boundary and is made up of nine layers. In the myths are numerous monsters, cyclopean giants, lizard men, demons, giant eagles, and dragons. Heroes are defined by slaying these monsters, by thrusting their weapons into all nine layers of the earth and then by being the only ones capable of extricating them again, and by their prodigious appetites and thirsts. Certain groves and large trees were held to be sacred.

Various individuals were thought to be warlocks or witches, with the power of the evil eye and control over the weather and the well-being of livestock. A woman could not cross a man’s path if she was carrying an empty pail without running the risk of being labeled a witch. There was a belief in ghosts as well, demonic forms that lurked in cemeteries. Eclipses of the sun were thought to be caused by a devil.

Religious Practitioners. Old engravings show that the prince conducted religious ceremonies among the Christian Abadzekh. Today the community elects an imam.

Ceremonies. Some Circassians would shoot arrows at nearby lightning bolts and then look for blood to see if they had made a hit. The Abadzekhs conducted a dance around a tree to the god of thunder, offering sana “(the Peaceful One)”. Abadzekh princes would also sacrifice cattle before the cross. Other rites seem to have been conducted in sacred groves or before a sacred tree. Funerals were accompanied by wailing among the women. The deceased’s clothes were displayed, and, if a man, his weapons were also laid out. Much effort was expended to retrieve for burial in tribal soil the bodies of those killed on raids. Today the usual Muslim holidays and rituals are observed.

Medicine. Traditional medicine was the provenance of the women, who were highly esteemed for their skills and knowledge. Healing and medicinal springs were also prized; They were associated with a warrior princess, Amazan, “the Forest Mother” (the source of the Amazon myth), who was skilled in medicine and from whose blood the first healing spring arose.

Death and the Afterlife. After a life spent largely outdoors, Circassians viewed paradise as a comfortable, well-stocked room. The more virtuous the life led, the bigger and more sumptuous the room of eternity. It was said that the afterlife room of an evil man would be so small that he would not be able to turn over in it. From the Nart sagas, the realm of the dead appears to have been under the grave mound. The souls of the dead were guarded from supernatural depredations by a little old man and woman. Links with the dead were maintained by setting a place for them at the table for one full year after death. Feasts were held in their memory and toasts were offered to them by the t’hamata. A particularly illustrious warrior could serve as the head of a t’lawuzhe (“the successors to a man”) and thereby be remembered by name even if his lineage did not achieve the status of a clan.

 

Via: encyclopedia.com

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