: Черке́сы, romanized
), also known by their endonym Adyghe
: Адыгэхэр, Adıgəxər Russian
: Ады́ги, Adygi
), are a Northwest Caucasianethnic group
native to Circassia
, most of whom were exiled to Turkey
and the Middle East
during the Circassian genocide
in the aftermath of the Russo-Circassian War
. The Circassians used to mainly speak the Circassian languages
, a Northwest Caucasian dialect continuum
with two main dialects and numerous sub-dialects, but the Circassian language has been mostly forgotten over the years and today most Circassians speak Turkish
, having been exiled by Russia
to lands of the Ottoman Empire
, where the majority of them live today.
The majority of Circassians are Muslim
The term "Circassian" includes the twelve historic Adyghe
tribes of Circassia (three democratic and nine aristocratic); Abdzakh
each star on the Circassian flag
representing one tribe.
Historical Circassia has been divided by Soviet and Russian administrations into the modern-day republics of Adygea
and Krasnodar Krai
, as well as southwestern parts of Stavropol Krai
and Rostov Oblast
. Accordingly, Circassians or Adyghe have also been designated as the following: Adygeans
in Adygea, Kabardians
in Kabardino-Balkaria, Cherkess in Karachay-Cherkessia, and Shapsug
in Krasnodar Krai, although all four are essentially the same people. About 800,000 Circassians remain in historical Circassia, while others live in the Russian Federation outside these republics
. The 2010 Russian Census
recorded 718,727 Circassians, of whom 516,826 are Kabardian, 124,835 are other Adyghe in Adygea, 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" lives in their homeland), and that, of these 3.7 million, more than 2 million live in Turkey,
300,000 in the Levant
(mostly in modern-day Jordan
and Syria) and Mesopotamia
and 50,000 in Western Europe and the United States.
The Circassians refer to themselves
(also transliterated as Adyga
). 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".
Circassian, Charkas, Cherkess
) is an exonym
, Latinized from Russian "Cherkesy", which is of unknown/debated origin.
The Russians referred to all Circassian tribes as Cherkesy
, which may be derived from Kerkety
, the name of one of the Adyghe tribes native to the northwestern Caucasus.
The ancient Greeks
referred to Circassia as "Siraces". Although most scholars argue that the name "Cherkes" is derived from the word Siraces, there are various opinions. According to one view, the name "Cherkes" was given to them by the Turkic states that were neighbors in the Middle Ages. According to another view, its origin is Persian. According to another, and no longer widely accepted, view, it is possible to explain the etymology of the name with the Turkish word for soldier "çeri", and the imperative mode of the verb cut "kes" (Çeri-kes), roughly giving the meaning "soldier cutter". This is an example of folk etymology
and it is not correct.
In languages in the geography close to the Caucasus, the name has been settled as "Cherkes/Circassian". It is the same or similar in many world languages that cite these languages.
In early Russian sources, the Circassians are referred to as Kasogi
, whereas in medieval Arabic sources, Kasogi
is written as Jarkas
The spelling Charkas
may be an abbreviation of Persian Chahār-kas
("four people"), denoting four tribes.
Though "Jahārkas" was used by Ibn Khaldun
(died 1406) and Ali ibn al-Athir
(died c. 1232/3), the Persian hypothesis remains uncertain.
With the advent of the Golden Horde
in the 13th century, the designation Cherkess
"came to refer to the Adyghe who remained in the Caucasus".
This in turn created terminology "anomalies", and as a result, Cherkes
became often used alongside other names such as Adyghe
, and Abkhaz
. In Medieval Oriental and European texts, "the Adyghe people were known by the name Cherkess/Circassians".
The Encyclopaedia Islamica
adds: "This is because the Cherkess, the Kabardians and the western Adyghe people share a common language, which is spoken by the north-western Caucasian (Abkhazi) people, and belongs to the family known as Abkhazian-Adyghe".
In Persian sources, Charkas/Cherkes
is used to refer to the "actual" Circassians of the northwest Caucasus, and in some occasions as a general designation for Caucasians
who live beyond Derbent
Remaining Circassian populations in historic Circassia, 21st century
Despite a common self-designation and a common Russian name,
Soviet authorities applied four designations to Circassians remaining in the historic lands of Circassia:
The ancestors of present-day Circassians are known as the Sind
Findings obtained as a result of archaeological research show that these tribes were the indigenous people of the Caucasus. Some researchers have claimed there may be links between Circassians and Indo-European-speaking communities,
and some have argued that there are connections between Circassians and Hatti
, who are from ancient Anatolian peoples,
but these theories have not been addressed further and are not widely accepted. Within the scope of genetic tests performed on Circassians, the closest relatives of Circassians were found to be Ingush
Some groups of nationalist Turks
have claimed that the Circassians are of Turkic origin, but no scientific evidence has been published to support this claim, and has been strongly denied by Circassians,
around the world. Circassian language is not similar to the Turkish language except for borrowed words. According to various historians, the Circassian origin of the Sind-Meot tribes refutes the claim that the Circassians are of Turkic origin. The community, including Circassians, is today classified as "White Caucasian Peoples".
Still, some Turkic groups have persisted in claiming Circassians are of Turkic origin, and argued that no proof is needed.
Feudalism began to emerge in Circassians by the 4th century. As a result of Armenian, Greek and Byzantine
influence, Christianity spread throughout the Caucasus between the 3rd and 5th centuries AD.
During that period the Circassians (referred to at the time as Kassogs
began to accept Christianity as a national religion, but did not abandon all elements of their indigenous religious beliefs. Circassians established many states, but could not achieve political unity. From around 400 AD wave after wave of invaders began to invade the lands of the Adyghe people
, who were also known as the Kasogi
(or Kassogs) at the time. They were conquered first by the Bulgars
(who originated on the Central Asian steppes
). Outsiders sometimes confused the Adyghe people with the similarly named Utigurs
(a branch of the Bulgars), and both peoples were sometimes conflated under misnomers such as "Utige
". Following the dissolution of the Khazar state, the Adyghe people were integrated around the end of the 1st millennium AD into the Kingdom of Alania
. Between the 10th and 13th centuries Georgia
had influence on the Adyghe Circassian peoples.
In 1382, Circassian slaves took the Mamluk
throne, the Burji dynasty
took over and the Mamluks became a Circassian state. The Mongols, who started invading the Caucasus in 1223, destroyed some of the Circassians and most of the Alans. The Circassians, who lost most of their lands during the ensuing Golden Horde attacks, had to retreat to the back of the Kuban River. In 1395 Circassians fought violent wars against Tamerlane
, and although the Circassians won the wars,
Tamerlane plundered Circassia.
, who during the 1400s
owned land in the Taman peninsula, established an army declared that his goal was to unite the Circassians,
which were divided into many states at that time, under a single state, and after declaring his own princedom, conquered all of Circassia one by one.
Circassian nobles and princes tried to prevent Inal's rise, but 30 Circassian lords were defeated by Inal and his supporters.
Although he united the Circassians, Inal still wanted to include the couisn people, the Abkhaz, Inal, who won the war in Abkhazia, officially conquered Northern Abkhazia and the Abkhaz people recognized the rule of Inal, and Inal finalized his rule in Abkhazia.
One of the stars on the flag of Abkhazia
represents Inal. Inal divided his lands between his sons and grandchildren in 1453 and died in 1458. Following this, Circassian tribal principalities were established. Some of these are Chemguy
founded by Temruk, Besleney
founded by Beslan, Kabardia
founded by Qabard, and Shapsug
founded by Zanoko.
Early modern period
In 1708, Circassians paid tribute to the Ottoman sultan in order to prevent Tatar raids, but the sultan did not fulfill the obligation and the Tatars raided all the way to the center of Circassia, robbing everything they could.
For this reason, Kabardian Circassians announced that they would never pay tribute to the Crimean Khan and the Ottoman Sultan again.
The Ottomans sent their army of at least 20,000 men
to Kabardia under the leadership of the Crimean khan Kaplan-Girey to conquer the Circassians and ordered him collect the tribute.
The Ottomans expected an easy victory against the Kabardinians, but the Circassians won
because of the strategy set up by the Kazaniko Jabagh.
The Crimean army was destroyed in one night on 17 September 1708. The Crimean Khan Kaplan-Giray barely managed to save his life,
and was humiliated, all the way to his shoes taken, leaving his brother, son, field tools, tents and personal belongings.
In 2013, the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences
recognized that the Battle of Kinzhal Mountain with the paramount importance in the national history of Circassians, Balkarians and Ossetians.
In 1714, Peter I established a plan to occupy the Caucasus. Although he was unable to implement this plan, he laid the political and ideological foundation for the occupation to take place. Catherine II started putting this plan into action. The Russian army was deployed on the banks of the Terek River.
A map of the expulsion of Circassians to the Ottoman Empire. The light-green area denotes the final borders of Circassians, who had already been pushed southwards prior to their expulsion to the Ottoman Empire. In the late 18th century, Circassians lost their northern territories, which do not appear in green on this map.
The Russian military tried to impose authority by building a series of forts, but these forts in turn became the new targets of raids and indeed sometimes the highlanders actually captured and held the forts.
Under Yermolov, the Russian military began using a strategy of disproportionate retribution for raids
. Russian troops retaliated by destroying villages where resistance fighters were thought to hide, as well as employing assassinations, kidnappings and the execution of whole families.
Because the resistance was relying on sympathetic villages for food, the Russian military also systematically destroyed crops and livestock and killed Circassian civilians.
Circassians responded by creating a tribal federation encompassing all tribes of the area.
In 1840 Karl Friedrich Neumann
estimated the Circassian casualties at 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.
"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"
Circassians established an assembly called "Great Freedom Assembly" in the capital city of Shashe (Sochi) on June 25, 1861. Haji Qerandiqo Berzedj was appointed as the head of the assembly. This assembly asked for help from Europe,
arguing that they would be forced into exile soon. However, before the result was achieved, Russian General Kolyobakin invaded Sochi and destroyed the parliament
and no country opposed this.
In May 1864, a final battle took place between the Circassian army of 20,000 Circassian horsemen and a fully equipped Russian army of 100,000 men.
Circassian warriors attacked the Russian army and tried to break through the line, but most were shot down by Russian artillery and infantry.
The remaining fighters continued to fight as militants and were soon defeated. All 20,000 Circassian horsemen died in the war. The Russian army began celebrating victory on the corpses of Circassian soldiers, and so May 21, 1864, was officially the end of the war. The place where this war took place is known today as Krasnaya Polyana.
"Krasnaya Polyana" means red meadow. It takes its name from the Circassian blood flowing from the hill into the river. The river ran red for weeks after the war.
The proposal to deport the Circassians was ratified by the Russian government, and a flood of refugee movements began as Russian troops advanced in their final campaign.
Circassians prepared to resist and hold their last stand against Russian military advances and troops.
With the refusal to surrender, Circassian civilians were targeted one by one by the Russian military with thousands massacred and the Russians started to raid and burn Circassian villages,
destroy the fields to make it impossible to return, cut trees down and drive the people towards the Black Sea coast. It has been recorded that Russian soldiers used various methods such as tearing the belly of pregnant women and removing the baby inside to entertain themselves. Some Russian generals, such as Grigory Zass, argued that the killing of the Circassians and their use in scientific experiments should be allowed.
Although it is not known exactly how many people are affected, researchers have suggested that at least 75%, 90%,
or 95% -97%
of the ethnic Circassian population are affected. Considering these rates, calculations including those taking into account the Russian government's own archival figures, have estimated a loss 600,000-1,500,000. Ivan Drozdov
, a Russian officer who witnessed the scene at Qbaada in May 1864 as the other Russians were celebrating their victory remarked:
"On the road, our eyes were met with a staggering image: corpses of women, children, elderly persons, torn to pieces and half-eaten by dogs; deportees emaciated by hunger and disease, almost too weak to move their legs, collapsing from exhaustion and becoming prey to dogs while still alive."
— Drozdov, Ivan. "Posledniaia Bor’ba s Gortsami na Zapadnom Kavkaze". Pages 456-457.
The Ottoman Empire regarded the Adyghe warriors as 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.
"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".
As of 2020, Georgia
was the only country to classify the events as genocide, while Russia actively denies the Circassian genocide, and classifies the events as a simple migration of "undeveloped barbaric peoples".
The actions of the Russian military in acquiring Circassian land through expulsion and massacres
have given rise to a movement among descendants of the expelled ethnicities for international recognition of the perpetration of genocide.
On 20 May 2011 the Georgian parliament
voted in a 95 to 0 declaration that Russia had committed genocide when it engaged in massacres against Circassians in the 19th century.
Traditional Circassian sword dance
Russian-Circassian wrestler Beslan Mudranov
won Russia's first gold medal of the Rio 2016 Olympics
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.
Yinal speaking Adyghe and Kabardian.
The Circassian dialects and sub-dialects development
The isolated Northwest Caucasian language family
Circassians mainly speak the Circassian languages
, two mutually intelligible languages of the Northwest Caucasian language family
, namely Adyghe
(West Circassian) and Kabardian
(East Adyghe). Adyghe is based on Temirgoy (Chemirgoy) dialect, while Kabardian is based on the dialect of the same name. Circassians also speak Russian
, and Hebrew
in large numbers, having been exiled
to lands of the Ottoman Empire, where the majority of them live today, and some to neighboring Persia
, to which they came primarily through mass deportations by the Safavids
or, to a lesser extent, as muhajirs
in the 19th century.
Linguists divide the Northwest Caucasian languages into three branches, namely Circassian (Adyghe and Kabardian), Ubykh (consisting only of the Ubykh language, which is considered to have diverged from the Circassian languages and is now a dead language), and Abazgi (Abkhaz and Abaza)
. The Ubykhs lived on the Black Sea coast, around the city of Sochi, the capital of Circassia, north of Abkhazia.
Although related, Abazgi and Circassian are mutually unintelligible. Abazgi is spoken by Abkhazians
and the Abazins
. The Abkhazians lived on the coast between the Circassians and the Georgians, were organized as the Principality of Abkhazia
and were involved with the Georgians to some degree. The Abazins or Abaza, their relatives, lived north of the mountains and were involved with Circassia proper. They extended from the mountain crest northeast onto the steppe and partially separated the Kabardians from the rest. Sadz
were either northern Abkhazian or eastern Abaza, depending on the source.
Walter Richmond writes that the Circassian languages in Russia are "gravely threatened." He argues that Russian policy of surrounding small Circassian communities with Slavic populations has created conditions where Circassian languages and nationality will disappear. By the 1990s, Russian had become the standard language for business in the Republic of Adygea
, even within communities with Circassian majority populations.
of Abu Darwish (Adyghe descendant), one of the oldest mosques in Amman
and considered as a major landmark
It is the tradition of the early church that Christianity made its first appearance in Circassia in the first century AD via the travels and preaching of the Apostle Andrew
Subsequently, Christianity spread throughout the Caucasus between the 4th century
and the 6th century.
A small Muslim presence in Circassia has existed since the Middle Ages, but widespread Islamization occurred after 1717, when Sultan Murad IV ordered the Crimean Khans to spread Islam among the Circassians, with the Ottomans and Crimeans seeing some success in converting members of the aristocracy who would then ultimately spread the religion to their dependents.
Moreover, the ever increasing threat of an invasion from Russia helped expedite the already centuries long process of gradual islamization of the region.
Significant Christian and pagan presence remained among some tribes such as the Shapsugs and Natukhai with Islamization pressures implemented by those loyal to the Caucasus Emirate
Sufi orders including the Qadiri
orders gained prominence and played a role in spreading Islam.
Today, a large majority of Circassians are Muslim, with minorities of Habze
Atheist Circassians tend to be of the younger generation (20–35 years old), in which they were found to constitute a quarter of Circassians in Kabardino-Balkaria.
Among Christians, Catholicism, originally introduced along the coasts by Venetian and Genoese traders, today constitutes just under 1% of Kabardins.
Some Circassians are also Orthodox Christian, notably including those in Mozdok
and some of those Kursky district
Among Muslims, Islamic observance varies widely between those who only know a few prayers with a Muslim identity that is more "cultural" than religious, to those who regularly observe all requirements.
Both Islam and the Habze are identified as national characteristics even by those that do not practice.
Today, Islam is a central part of life in many Circassian diaspora communities, such as in Israel, while in the Circassian homeland Soviet rule saw an extensive process of secularization
, and there is wide influence of many social norms which contradict Islamic law, such as widespread norms like social alcohol consumption; in Israel, meanwhile, such non-Islamic social norms are not present.
In the modern times, it has been reported that they identify primarily as Muslims.
There have also been reports of violence and threats against those "reviving" and diffusing the original Circassian pre Islamic faith.
The relationship between habze
and Islam varies between Circassian communities; for some, there is conflict between the two, while for others, such as in Israel, they are seen as complementary philosophies.
Traditional social system
Society was organized by Adyghe khabze
, or Circassian custom.
Many of these customs had equivalents throughout the mountains. The seemingly disorganized Circassians resisted the Russians just as effectively as the organized theocracy of Imam Shamil
. The aristocracy was called warq
. Some aristocratic families held the rank of Pshi
or prince and the eldest member of this family was the Pshi-tkhamade
who was the tribal chief. Below the warq was the large class to tfokotl
, roughly yeomen or freemen, who had various duties to the warq
They were divided into clans of some sort. Below them were three classes approximating serfs or slaves. Of course, these Circassian social terms do not exactly match their European equivalents. Since everything was a matter custom, much depended on time, place, circumstances and personality. The three 'democratic' tribes, Natukhai, Shapsug, and Abdzakh, managed their affairs by assemblies called Khase or larger ones called Zafes.
Decisions were made by general agreement and there was no formal mechanism to enforce decisions. The democratic tribes, who were perhaps the majority, lived mainly in the mountains where they were relatively protected from the Russians. They seem to have retained their aristocrats, but with diminished powers. In the remaining 'feudal' tribes power was theoretically in the hands of the Pshi-tkhamade, although his power could be limited by Khases or other influential families.
In addition to the vertical relations of class there were many horizontal relations between unrelated persons. There was a strong tradition of hospitality similar to the Greek xenia
. Many houses would have a kunakskaya
or guest room. The duty of a host extended even to abreks
or outlaws. Two men might be sworn brothers or kunaks
. There were brotherhoods of unrelated individuals called tleuzh
who provided each other mutual support. It was common for a child to be raised by an atalyk
or foster father. Criminal law was mainly concerned with reconciling the two parties. Adyghe khabze
is sometimes called adat
when it is contrasted to the kind of Islamic law
advocated by people like Imam Shamil
Traditional Circassian clothing
The traditional female clothing (Adyghe
: Бзылъфыгъэ Шъуашэр, Bzıłfıǵe Ȿuaşer[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, Janer [d͡ʒaːnar]
), coat (Adyghe
: Сае, Saye [saːja]
), shirt, pant (Adyghe
: ДжэнэкӀакор, Jeneç'akuer [d͡ʒanat͡ʃʼaːkʷar]
), vest (Adyghe
: КӀэкӀ, Ç'eç' [t͡ʃʼat͡ʃʼ]
), lamb leather bra (Adyghe
: Шъохътан, Ȿuex́tan[ʂʷaχtaːn]
), a variety of hats (Adyghe
: ПэӀохэр}, Peꜧuexer [paʔʷaxar]
), shoes, and belts (Adyghe
: Бгырыпхыхэр, Bğırıpxıxer [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 Circassian dresses were embroidered with gold and silver threads. These embroideries were handmade and took time to complete as they were very intricate.
The traditional male costume (Adyghe
: Адыгэ хъулъфыгъэ шъуашэр, Adığe X́uıłfıǵe Ȿuaşer[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, Sas̨x́ue) which means "long knife". On the breast of the costume are long ornamental tubes or sticks, once filled with a single charge of gunpowder (called gaziri cartridges) and used to reload muskets.
An old country house and traditional cuisine with Haliva
(Хьэлжъо, Helɀwa) and Mataz
(Мэтазэ, Metaze), two of the prominent traditional Adyghe snacks.
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
: хьэлжъо, Helɀua) (fried triangular pastries 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 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[clarification needed]
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
: екӏэпцӏэ, Yeç'epc'e [jat͡ʃʼapt͡sʼa]
The carpets were adorned with images of birds, beloved animals (horses), and plants, and the image of the Sun was widely used.
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, Şxuençımre[ʃxʷant͡ʃəmra]
) and pistols (Adyghe
: къэлаеымрэ, Qelayeımre), 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. These carpets would give the grooms an impression as to the success of their brides in their homes after marriage.
From the late Middle Ages
, a number of territorial- and political-based Circassian tribes or ethnic entities began to take shape. They had slightly different dialects.
Dialects came to exist after Circassia was divided into tribes after the death of Inal of Kabardia
, who united Circassia for the last time before its short reunion during the Russo-Caucasian War. As the logistics between the tribes became harder, each tribe became slightly isolated from one another, thus the people living under the banner of each tribe developed their own dialects. In time, the dialects they speak were named after their tribes.
At the end of the Caucasian War
most Circassians were expelled to the Ottoman Empire, and many of the tribes were destroyed and the people evicted from their historical homeland in 1864.
The twelve stars on the Circassian flag symbolize the individual tribes of the Circassians; the nine stars within the arc symbolize the nine aristocratic tribes of Adygea, and the three horizontal stars symbolize the three democratic tribes. The three democratic tribes or tribes were the Natukhai, Shapsug, and Abdzakh. They managed their affairs by assemblies while the other tribes were controlled by "princes" or Pshi
. The twelve tribes are the Abdzakh, Besleney, Bzhedug, Hatuqwai, Kabardian, Mamkhegh, Natukhai, Shapsug, Temirgoy, Ubykh, Yegeruqwai, and Zhaney.
Adyghe tribes with remnants still in Circassia
are: Kabarda (the largest), the Temirgoy and Bzhedug in Adygea, and the Shapsug near Tuapse and to the north of Tuapsiysiy Rayon of Krasnodarskiy Kray. There are also a few Besleney and Natukhai villages, and an Abdzakh village. The majority tribes in diaspora
are Kabardian, Abdzakh, and Shapsug.
Twelve Circassian (Adyghe) tribes (sub-ethnic groups)
Other Adyghe groups
Small tribes or large clans that are included in one of the twelve Adyghe tribes:
The Circassian tribes can be grouped and compared in various ways:
Approximate location of Circassian tribes, Tsutsiev's Atlas
- The narrow Black Sea coast was occupied, from north to south by the Natukhai, Shapsug, and Ubykh. The main part of the Natukhai and Shapsug tribes were located in the north of the mountains. The Natukhai were enriched by trade since their coast was not backed by high mountains and opened onto the steppe.
- The north slope was inhabited, from north to south, by the Natukhai, Shapsug, and Abdzakh. They seem to have been the most populous tribes after the Kabarda and its inland location gave then some protection from Nogai and Cossack raiding.
- In the far west were three small tribes that were absorbed into the Natukhai and disappeared. These were the Adele ru:Адале on the Taman peninsula and the Shegak and Chebsin (ru:Хегайки and ru:Чебсин) near Anapa.
- Along the Kuban were the Natukhai, Zhaney, Bzhedug, Hatuqwai, and Temirgoy. The tribes along the Kuban and Laba rivers were exposed to Nogai and Cossack raiding than those in the interior.
- On the east, between the Laba and Belaya, from north to south, were the Temirgoy, Yegeruqwai (ru:Егерукаевцы), Makhosh (ru:Махошевцы), and Besleney. The Besleney were a branch of the Kabardians. Along the Belaya River were the Temirgoy, the ill-documented Ademey (ru:Адамийцы) and then the Mamkhegh near the modern Maykop.
- The Guaye (ru:Гуайе) are poorly documented. The Tchelugay lived west of the Makhosh. The Hakuch lived on the coast south of the Natukhai. Other groups are mentioned without much documentation. There are reports of tribes migrating from one place to another, again without much documentation. Some sketch maps show a group of Karachays on the upper Laba without any explanation.
- In the Far east the Kabarda occupied about a third of the north Caucasus piedmont from mid Circassia proper eastward to the Chechen country. To their north were the Nogai nomads and to the south, deeper in the mountains, were from west to east, the Karachays, Balkars, Ossetes, Ingushes, and Chechens. The Kabardians were fairly advanced, interacted with the Russians from the sixteenth century and were much reduced by plague in the early nineteenth century.
Circassians commemorate the banishment of the Circassians from Russia in Taksim
Much of Adyghe culture was disrupted after the conquest of their homeland by Russia in 1864. The Circassian people were subjected to ethnic cleansing
and mass exile mainly to the Ottoman Empire, and to a lesser extent Qajar Iran
and the Balkans. This increased the number of Circassians in the region and even created several entirely new Circassian communities in the states that got created after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. However, Adyghe have also lived outside the Caucasus region since the Middle Ages
. They were particularly well represented in Turkey and Egypt
Turkey has the largest Adyghe population in the world, around half of all Circassians live in Turkey, mainly in the provinces of Samsun
(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 Turkey's Government assimilation policies
and marriages with non-Circassians. Circassians are regarded by historians to play a key role in the history of Turkey. Some of the exilees and their descendants gained high positions in the Ottoman Empire. Most of the Young Turks were of Circassian origin. Until the end of the First World War, many Circassians actively served in the army. In the period after the First World War, Circassians came to the fore in Anatolia as a group of advanced armament and organizational abilities as a result of the struggle they fought with the Russian troops until they came to the Ottoman lands. However, the situation of the Ottoman Empire after the war caused them to be caught between the different balances of power between Istanbul and Ankara and even become a striking force. For this period, it is not possible to say that Circassians all acted together as in many other groups in Anatolia. The Turkish government removed 14 Circassian villages from Gönen and Manyas regions in December 1922, May and June 1923, without separating women and children, and drove them to different places in Anatolia from Konya to Sivas and Bitlis. This incident had a great impact on the assimilation of Circassians. After 1923, Circassians were restricted by policies such as the prohibition of Circassian language,
changing village names, and surname law
Circassians, who had many problems in maintaining their identity comfortably, were seen as a group that inevitably had to be assimilated.
Cyprus Circassians had settled n Cyprus during the Memluk period. However these were mainly members of Memluk Army and majority of them left the island during the Venetian period. Even though, Circassians have arrived to the island during the Otttoman Empire from Caucasus by ships and they settled Limasol Circassian Farm (Cerkez Ciftlik) and villages of Larnaca; Arsos (Yiğitler), Vuda, Tremetousa (Erdemli), Paralimni in October, 1864. Cypriot Circassians had joined to Turkish Cypriot Community and some of them to Greek Cypriot Community. Although they lost their languages and cultures, they still express themselves as Circassian.
Circassians play a major role in the history of Syria. In Syria, they settled mainly in the Golan Heights
. Prior to the Six-Day War
of 1967, the Adyghe people – then estimated at 30,000 in number – were the majority group in the Golan Heights region. The most prominent settlement in the Golan was the town of Quneitra
. The total number of Circassians in Syria is estimated[by whom?]
at between 50,000 and 100,000.
In 2013, as tensions between the Baath government
and the opposition forces escalated, Syrian Circassians said they were exploring returning to Circassia. 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 lobbied the Russian and Israeli governments to help evacuate refugees from Syria; Russia has issued some visas.
In Israel, the Adyghe initially settled in three places—in Kfar Kama
, and in the region of Hadera
. Due to a malaria epidemic, the Adyghe eventually abandoned the settlement near Hadera. Though Sunni Muslim, Adyghe within Israel are seen as a loyal minority who serve in the Israeli armed forces
Circassian Guards in Jordan
The Adyghe had a major role in the history of the Kingdom of Jordan.
Over the years, various Adyghe have served in distinguished roles in the kingdom of Jordan. Adyghes have served as a prime minister (Sa'id al-Mufti
), as ministers (commonly at least one minister should represent the Circassians in each cabinet), as high-ranking 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
Jordanian Circassians cluster around several areas, most notably Sweileh
Tuman bay II
(reigned 1516–1517) the last Mamluk sultan of Adyghe origins
During the 13th century the Mamluks seized power in Cairo. Some 15th-century Circassian converts to Islam became Mamluks
and rose through the ranks of the Mamluk dynasty
to high positions, some becoming sultans in Egypt such as Qaitbay
, Mamluk Sultan of Egypt (1468–1496). The majority of the leaders of the Burji Mamluk dynasty
in Egypt (1382–1517) had Circassian origins,
while also including Abkhaz, Abaza, and Georgian peoples whom the Arab sultans had recruited to serve their kingdoms as a military force. With the rise of Muhammad Ali Pasha
(who ruled Egypt from 1805 to 1848), most senior Mamluks were killed by him in order to secure his rule and the remaining Mamluks fled to Sudan.
Most Circassian communities in Egypt were assimilated into the local population.
As of 2016 several thousand Adyghe reside in Egypt; in addition to the descendants of Burji Mamluks of Adyghe origin, there are many who descend from royal Circassian consorts or Ottoman pashas of Circassian origin as well as Circassian muhajirs
of the 19th century.
Adyghe came to Iraq
directly from Circassia
. They settled in all parts of Iraq—from north to south—but most of all in Iraq's capital Baghdad
. Many Adyghe also settled in Kerkuk
, and other places. Circassians have played major roles 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.
has a significant Circassian population.
It once had a very large community, but the vast amount were assimilated in the population in the course of centuries.
(1501–1736) and Qajar
(1789–1925) dynasties saw the importing and deporting of large numbers of Circassians to Persia, where many enjoyed prestige in the harems
and in the élite armies (the so-called ghulams
), while many others settled and deployed as craftsmen, labourers, farmers and regular soldiers. Many members of the Safavid nobility and élite had Circassian ancestry and Circassian dignitaries, such as the kings Abbas II of Persia
(reigned 1642–1666) and Suleiman I of Persia
(reigned 1666–1694). While traces of Circassian settlements in Iran have lasted into the 20th century, many of the once large Circassian minority became assimilated into the local population.
However, significant communities of Circassians continue to live in particular cities in Iran,
like Tabriz and Tehran, and in the northern provinces of Gilan
Rest of Western Asia
Rest of Europe
Out of 1,010 Circassians living in Ukraine (473 Kabardian Adyghe
338 Adygean Adyghe
and 190 Cherkessian Adyghe
—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 their native language, and 697 (69%) marked "other language" as being their native language. The major Adyghe community in Ukraine is in Odessa
There is a small community of Circassians in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia. A number of Adyghe also settled in Bulgaria in 1864–1865 but most fled after it became separated from the Ottoman Empire in 1878. The small part of the community that settled in Kosovo
(the Kosovo Adyghes
) moved to the Republic of Adygea
in 1998, after the reprisals of the Serbian occupation forces became heavily intensified. The majority of the community, however, remained in Kosovo
where they have been well established and integrated into Kosovan society. Many members of this community can be identified as they carry the family name "Çerkezi", or "Qerkezi". This community is also well established in the Republic of North Macedonia
, usually mingling with the Albanian Muslim population.
There are Circassians in Germany and a small number in the Netherlands.
Numerous Circassians have also immigrated to the United States and settled in Upstate New York
, California, and New Jersey. There is also a small Circassian community in Canada.
Sochi Olympics controversy
The 2014 Winter Olympics
facilities in Sochi
(once the Circassian capital)
were built in areas that were claimed to contain mass graves
of Circassians who were killed during genocide by Russia in military campaigns lasting from 1860 to 1864.
Adyghe organizations in Russia and the Adyghe diaspora around the world requested that construction at the site stop and that the Olympic Games not be held at the site of the Adyghe genocide
, to prevent desecration of Adyghe graves. According to Iyad Youghar, who headed 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."
The year 2014 also marked the 150th anniversary of the Circassian Genocide which angered the Circassians around the world. Many protests were held all over the world to stop the Sochi Olympics, but were not successful.
Depictions in art
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- ^ Sarah A.S. Isla Rosser-Owen, MA Near and Middle Eastern Studies (thesis). The First 'Circassian Exodus' to the Ottoman Empire (1858–1867), and the Ottoman Response, Based on the Accounts of Contemporary British Observers. Page 16: "... with one estimate showing that the indigenous population of the entire north-western Caucasus was reduced by a massive 94 per cent". Text of citation: "The estimates of Russian historian Narochnitskii, in Richmond, ch. 4, p. 5. Stephen Shenfield notes a similar rate of reduction with less than 10 per cent of the Circassians (including the Abkhazians) remaining. (Stephen Shenfield, "The Circassians: A Forgotten Genocide?", in The Massacre in History, p. 154.)"
- ^ Richmond, Walter. The Circassian Genocide. Page 132: ". If we assume that Berzhe's middle figure of 50,000 was close to the number who survived to settle in the lowlands, then between 95 percent and 97 percent of all Circassians were killed outright, died during Evdokimov's campaign, or were deported."
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