Circassian children in traditional costume holding the Circassian flag
|(c. 4–8 million)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Turkey||Estimated 1,000,000 – 2,000,000 – 3,000,000 – 5,000,000 to 7,000,000|
720,000 (2010 Census)
|Jordan||65,000 – 180,000|
|Syria||80,000 – 120,000|
|United States||9,000 – 25,000|
|Israel||4,000 – 5,000|
|Bulgaria||600 (1994 Census)|
(West Adyghe, Kabardian Adyghe, extinct Ubykh Adyghe dialects), also Turkish, Russian, English, Arabic, Hebrew, German, Persian
Minority Habze, Orthodox Christian and Catholic as well as Abkhazo-Circassian neopaganism
|Related ethnic groups|
|Abazgi (Abkhaz, Abazin)|
The Circassians (Circassian: Адыгэхэр, Adygekher) are a Northwest Caucasian ethnic group native to Circassia, many of whom 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.
Most Circassians are 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 whom 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.
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 name Circassian represents a Latinisation of Siraces, the Greek name for the region, called Shirkess by Khazars & later Cherkess, the Turkic 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 Cherkess. Folk etymology usually explains the name Cherkess as "warrior cutter" or "soldier cutter", from the Turkish words çeri (soldier) and kesmek (to cut).
Despite a common self-designation and a common Russian name, Soviet authorities applied four designations to Circassians:
- Kabardian, Circassians of Kabardino-Balkaria (Circassians speaking the Kabardian language), one of two indigenous peoples of the republic.
- Cherkess (Adyghe: Шэрджэс Šărdžăs), Circassians of Karachay-Cherkessia (Circassians speaking the Cherkess, i.e. Circassian, language), one of two indigenous peoples of the republic who are mostly Besleney Kabardians. The name "Cherkess" is the Russian form of "Circassian" and was used for all Circassians before Soviet times.
- Adyghe, the indigenous population of the Kuban including Adygea and Krasnodar Krai.
- Shapsug, the indigenous historical inhabitants of Shapsugia. They live in the Tuapse District and the Lazarevsky City District (formerly the Shapsugsky National District) of Sochi, both in Krasnodar Krai and in Adygea.
Genetically, the Adyghe have shared ancestry partially with neighboring peoples of the Caucasus, with some influence from the other regions. The Circassian language, also known as the Cherkess language, including West Adyghe, Kabardian Adyghe, and Ubykh, is a member of the ancient Northwest Caucasian language family. Archaeological findings, mainly of dolmens in Northwest Caucasus region, indicate a megalithic culture in North West caucauses. Around the beginning of the 4th Millennium BCE, the North West Caucasus region and western Steppes became influenced by the Maykop culture.
As a result of Greek and Byzantine influence, Christianity spread throughout the Caucasus between the 3rd and 5th centuries CE. 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.
From around 400 CE, wave after wave of invaders began to invade the lands of the Adyghe, who were also known as the Kasogi (or Kassogs) at the time. They were conqered first by the Bulgars (who originated on the Central Asian steppes). Outsiders sometimes confused the Adyghe with the similarly-named Utigurs (a branch of the Bulgars), and both peoples were sometimes conflated under misnomers such as "Utige". The Bulgar state, with its capital at Phanagoria, reached the apex of its geopolitical sway in 632–668, as Old Great Bulgaria (which also occupied present-day southern Ukraine).
The Adyghe, following the dissolution of the Khazar state, were integrated (around the end of the 1st millennium CE) by the Kingdom of Alania.
In the 17th century, under the influence of the Crimean Tatars and of the Ottoman Empire, some Circassians started to adopt Islam. However, there were instances of Circassians adopting Islam even in the late 15th century, and such groups subsequently became Mamluks and rose through the ranks to become sultans in Egypt during the Mamluk dynasty (1250–1517). Although the make-up of the Burji Mamluk dynasty were mostly Adyghe (including Kabardian), there were also Abkhaz, Abaza, and Georgian people who were recruited by the Arab sultans to serve their kingdoms as a military force. However, former Bahri Mamluk dynasty was composed mainly of Cumans and Kipchaks. During the 13th century the Mamluks seized power in Cairo, and as a result the Mamluk kingdom became the most influential kingdom in the Muslim world. The majority of the leaders of the Mamluk kingdom were of Adyghe origin. Even after the Ottoman Turks conquered Egypt in 1517, the Adyghes continued to rule in Egypt until the 18th century.
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. Until the rise of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt in the 1950s, the Adyghe formed an élite group in the country. Besides the Adyghe, the Egyptian Abaza family (of Abazin origin) still holds to this day an élite place in Egyptian society, and constitutes Egypt's largest family.
In Safavid and Qajar Persia, large numbers of Circassians were imported and deported to Persia, where many enjoyed prestige in the harems and in the élite armies (the so-called ghulams), while many others were 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 and Suleiman I. 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 and Mazandaran.
Russian Invasion of Circassia
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.
Between the late 18th and early-to-mid-19th centuries, the Adyghe people lost their independence as they were slowly invaded by Russia in a series of wars and campaigns. During this period, the Adyghe plight achieved a certain celebrity status in the West; but pledges of assistance were never fulfilled. After the Crimean War, Russia turned its attention to the Caucasus in earnest. Following major territorial losses for Persia in the Caucasus in the aftermath of the Russo-Persian War (1804–1813) and the Russo-Persian War (1826–1828), forcing them to cede what comprises now Georgia, Dagestan, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to Imperial Russia, the latter found itself now able to focus most of its army on subdueing the rebelling natives of the North Caucasus, starting with the peoples of Chechnya and Dagestan. In 1859, the Russians had finished defeating Imam Shamil in the eastern Caucasus, and turned their attention westward. Eventually, the long lasting Russian–Circassian War ended with the defeat of the Adyghe forces. Some Adyghe leaders signed loyalty oaths on 2 June 1864 (21 May, O.S.).
The Conquest of the Caucasus by the Russian Empire in the 19th century during the Russian-Circassian War, led to the destruction and killing of many Adyghe—towards the end of the conflict, the Russian General Yevdokimov was tasked with driving the remaining Circassian inhabitants out of the region, primarily into the Ottoman Empire. This policy was enforced by mobile columns of Russian riflemen and Cossack cavalry. "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" This expulsion, along with the actions of the Russian military in acquiring Circassian land, has given rise to a movement among descendants of the expelled ethnicities for international recognition that genocide was perpetrated. In 1840, Karl Friedrich Neumann estimated the Circassian casualties to be 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.
Like other ethnic minorities under Russian rule, the Adyghe who remained in the Russian Empire borders were subjected to policies of mass resettlement.
The Ottoman Empire, which ruled large parts of the area south of Russia, considered the Adyghe warriors to be 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.
- Kazbech Tuguzhoko, Circassian resistance leader
The Adyghes who were settled by the Ottomans in various near-border settlements across the empire, ended up living across many territories in the Middle East. At the time these belonged to the Ottoman Empire and are now located in the following countries:
- Turkey, which has the largest Adyghe population in the world. The Adyghe settled in three main regions in Turkey: Samsun, along the shores of the Black Sea; the region near the city of Ankara, the region near the city of Kayseri, and in the western part of the country near the region of Istanbul. This latter region experienced a severe earthquake in 1999. Many Adyghe played key roles in the Ottoman army and also participated in the Turkish War of Independence.
- Syria. Most of the Adyghe who immigrated to Syria settled in the Golan Heights. Prior to the Six-Day War, the Adyghe people were the majority group in the Golan Heights region—their number at that time is estimated at 30,000. The most prominent settlement in the Golan was the town of Quneitra. The total number of Circassians in Syria is estimated to be between 50,000 and 100,000. In 2013, the Syrian Circassians said they were exploring returning to Circassia, as tensions between the Baath government and the opposition forces escalates. 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 been lobbying the Russian and Israeli governments to help evacuate refugees from Syria. Some visas were issued by Russia.
- Israel. The Adyghe initially settled in three places—in Kfar Kama, Rehaniya, and in the region of Hadera. Due to a malaria epidemic, the Adyghe settlement near Hadera was eventually abandoned. Though Sunni Muslim, Adyghe are seen as a loyal minority within Israel, who serve in the armed forces.
- Jordan. The Adyghe had a major role in the history of the Kingdom of Jordan. They make up around 1% to 2% of the total population. Over the years, various Adyghe have served in distinguished roles in the kingdom of Jordan. An Adyghe has served as a prime minister (Sa'id al-Mufti), ministers (commonly at least one minister should represent the Circassians in each cabinet), high rank 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 have several clusterings, most notably Sweileh in Amman.
- Iraq. The Adyghe came to Iraq in two waves: directly from Circassia, and later from the Balkans. They settled in all parts of Iraq—from north to south—but most of all in Iraq's capital Baghdad. A reported 30,000 Adyghe families live in Baghdad. Many Adyghe also settled in Kerkuk, Diyala, Fallujah, and other places. Circassians played a major role 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.
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.
Circassians mainly speak the Circassian language, a Northwest Caucasian language with numerous dialects, the primary ones being Adyghe (West Circassian) and Kabardian (East Adyghe). West Adyghe language is based on Temirgoy dialect, while East Adyghe language is based on Kabardian dialect. Circassians also speak Russian, Turkish, English, Arabic, and Hebrew in large numbers, having been exiled by Russia 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 and Qajars or, to a lesser extent, as muhajirs in the 19th century.
The native language is spoken among all the Circassian communities around the world, with about 125,000 speakers who live in the Russian Federation, some of whom live in the Republic of Adygea where the Adyghe language is defined as the official language. The world's largest Adyghe-speaking community is the Circassian community in Turkey—it has about 150,000 Adyghe speakers.
The Circassians who migrated to the United States are facing an assimilation crisis. Each new generation of Circassians are not preserving their language. Historians predict the language will be extinct within the next 50 years in the U.S.
The ethnic religion of Circassians (Adyghes) was Habze—a philosophical and religious system of personal values and the relationship of an individual to others, to the world around him, and to the Higher Mind. In essence, it represents monotheism with a much-defined system of worshipping One God—the Mighty Tha (Tha, Thashxue). During the time of the settlement of Greek cities / colonies on the coast of the Black Sea there was an intermingling of cultures. Circassian mythology has noticeable aspects from Roman mythology. In return, there is evidence that Roman mythology also borrowed from Circassian legends. In the 6th century, under Byzantine influence, many Adyghes became Christian, but under the growing influence of the Ottomans, many of them became Muslims. Throughout Circassian history the ethnic religion of Circassians has interacted with Christianity and Islam.
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 under Greek Byzantine influence and later through the Georgians between the 10th century and the 13th century. During that period, Circassians began to accept Christianity as their national religion, but did not fully adopt Christianity as elements of their ancient indigenous religious beliefs still survived.
Islam reached the northeastern region of the Caucasus, principally Dagestan, as early as the 7th century, but was first introduced to the Circassians between the 16th century and in the middle of the 19th century under the influence of the Crimean Tatars and Ottoman Turks.
In the modern times, it has been reported that some Circassians practice their traditional religious faith Habzism, the adherents of which constitute 12% of the population of Karachay-Cherkessia and 3% of the population of Kabardino-Balkaria. There have also been reports of violence against those practising the older religion. Aslan Tsipinov, an advocate of Habzism in Kabardino-Balkaria, was murdered in 2010 by Islamist radical non-Circassians who had accused him of mushrik (disbelief in Islamic monotheism) and months earlier threatened him and others they accused as idolaters and munafiqun ("hypocrites" who are said are outwardly Muslims but secretly unsympathetic to the cause of Islam) to stop "reviving" and diffusing the rituals of the original Circassian pre-Islamic faith.
Since the late 18th and early 19th century, the majority of Circassians are predominantly Sunni Muslim and adhere to the Hanafi school of thought, or law, the largest and oldest school of Islamic law in jurisprudence within Sunni Islam. However, there are still Orthodox Christian Circassians—e.g., Mozdok Kabardians—who have been Christian since the early 3rd century to present. There are also a few Roman Catholics, who now account for just under 1% of Russia's Circassians, the faith having been introduced to the area during the Middle Ages by Venetian and Genoese traders.
Adyghe Habze, Khabze, or Xabze (Adyghe: Адыгэ Хабзэ) is the native Circassian philosophy, worldview, and quasi-religion, it is the epitome of Circassian culture and tradition having deeply shaped the ethical values of the Adyghe. It is their code of honour and is based on mutual respect and above all requires responsibility, discipline and self-control. Adyghe Xabze functions as the Circassian unwritten law yet was highly regulated and adhered to in the past. The Code requires that all Circassians are taught courage, reliability and generosity. Greed, desire for possessions, wealth and ostentation are considered disgraceful ("Yemiku") by the Xabze code. In accordance with Xabze, hospitality was and is particularly pronounced among the Circassians. A guest is not only a guest of the host family, but equally a guest of the whole village and clan. Even enemies are regarded as guests if they enter the home and being hospitable to them as one would with any other guest is a sacred duty.
Circassians consider the host to be like a slave to the guest in that the host is expected to tend to the guest's every need and want. A guest must never be permitted to labour in any way, this is considered a major disgrace on the host.
Every Circassian arises when someone enters the room, providing a place for the person entering and allowing the newcomer to speak before everyone else during the conversation. In the presence of elders and women, respectful conversation and conduct are essential. Disputes are stopped in the presence of women and domestic disputes are never continued in the presence of guests. A woman can request disputing families to reconcile and they must comply with her request. A key figure in Circassian culture is the person known as the "Tkhamade" or "T'hamata" (Adyghe: Тхьэмадэ – Тхьэматэ), who is often an elder but also the person who carries the responsibility for functions like weddings or circumcision parties. This person must always comply with all the rules of Xabze in all areas of his life.
Traditional social system
Society was organized by Adyghe khabze, or Circassian custom. Many of these customs had equivalents throughout the mountains. It should be noted that 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 Abzakh, 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 inforce 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.
The Adyghe traditional clothing (Adyghe: Адыгэ Щыгъыныхэр [aːdəɣa ɕəʁənəxar]) refers to the historical clothing worn by the Adyghe people.
The traditional female clothing (Adyghe: Бзылъфыгъэ Шъуашэр [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 [d͡ʒaːnar]), coat (Adyghe: Сае [saːja]), shirt, pant (Adyghe: ДжэнэкӀакор [d͡ʒanat͡ʃʼaːkʷar]), vest (Adyghe: КӀэкӀ [t͡ʃʼat͡ʃʼ]), lamb leather bra (Adyghe: Шъохътан [ʂʷaχtaːn]), a variety of hats (Adyghe: ПэӀохэр [paʔʷaxar]), shoes, and belts (Adyghe: Бгырыпхыхэр [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 traditional male costume (Adyghe: Адыгэ хъулъфыгъэ шъуашэр [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) 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.
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 (Adyghe: хьэлжъо) (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 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 leaves (Adyghe: екӏэпцӏэ [jat͡ʃʼapt͡sʼa]).
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 [ʃxʷant͡ʃəmra]) and pistols (Adyghe: къэлаеымрэ), 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; a big carpet, a small carpet, and the last for praying as a prayer rug. 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. Their culture, traditions, and way of life differed little.
At the end of the Caucasian War with most Circassians were expelled to the Ottoman Empire, many of the tribes were destroyed or evicted from their historical homeland.
Most Adyghe living in Circassia are Bzhedug, Kabardian, and Temirgoy, while the majority in diaspora are Kabardian, Abzakh, and Shapsug. West Adyghe language is based on Temirgoy dialect, while East Adyghe language is based on Kabardian dialect.
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 twelve tribes are the Abdzakh, Besleney, Bzhedug, Hatuqwai, Kabardian, Mamkhegh, Natukhai, Shapsug, Temirgoy, Ubykh, Yegeruqwai, and Zhaney.
|Geographical designation||Main dialect||Tribe||Circassian name||Notes|
|Adygeans (Adyghe of Adygea)||West Adyghe||Abzakh (Abdzakh or Abadzekh)||Абдзах [aːbd͡zaːx]||Second largest Adyghe tribe in Turkey and the world, largest in Jordan, sixth largest in Russia|
|Bzhedug (Bzhedugh or Bzhedukh)||Бжъэдыгъу [bʐadəʁʷ]||Third largest Adyghe tribe in Russia, lesser in other countries|
|Hatuqwai (Hatukay or Khatukai)||Хьэтыкъуай [ħaːtəq͡χʷaːj]||Completely expelled from the Caucasus, found almost exclusively in Turkey, US, Jordan, and Israel|
|Mamkhegh||Мэмхэгъ, Мамхыгъ [maːmxəʁ]||a large clan, but a small tribe|
|Natukhai (Notkuadj)||Натыхъуай [natəχʷaːj], Наткъуадж [natəχʷaːd͡ʒ]||Completely expelled from the Caucasus after the Caucasian War|
|Temirgoy (Chemgui or Kemgui)||КIэмгуй [t͡ʃʼamɡʷəj]||Second largest Adyghe tribe in Russia, lesser in other countries|
|Yegeruqwai (Yegerukay)||Еджэрыкъуай [jad͡ʒarqʷaːj]||Completely expelled from the Caucasus|
|Zhaney (Jane or Zhan)||Жанэ [ʒaːna]||Not found after the Caucasian War on a tribal basis|
|Shapsugians (Adyghe of Krasnodar Krai)||Shapsug (Shapsugh)||Шэпсыгъ, Шапсыгъ [ʃaːpsəʁ]||Third largest Adyghe tribe in Turkey and the world, largest in Israel|
|Ubykhians (Adyghe of Krasnodar Krai)||Ubykh Adyghe (extinct) and Hakuchi Adyghe||Ubykh||Убых [wəbəx], Пэху||Completely expelled from the Caucasus, found almost exclusively in Turkey where most speak East Adyghe, and some West Adyghe (often Hakuchi sub-dialect) as well as Abaza|
|Kabardians (Adyghe of Kabardino-Balkaria)||Kabardian Adyghe||Kabardians (Kabardinian, Kabardin, Kabarday, Kebertei, or Adyghe of Kabarda)||Къэбэрдэй [qabardaj], Къэбэртай [qabartaːj]||Largest Adyghe tribe in Turkey (over 2 millions), Russia (over 500,000), and the world (3–4 million), second or third largest in Jordan and Israel|
|Cherkessians (Cherkess or Adyghe of Karachay-Cherkessia)||Besleney (Beslenei)||Беслъэней [basɬənəj]|
Other Adyghe groups
Small tribes or large clans that are included in one of the twelve Adyghe tribes:
|Adele (Khatko) (Khetuk or Adali)||ХьэтIукъу||Not found after the Caucasian War on a tribal basis, included in the Abzakh and Hatuqwai tribes|
|Ademey (Adamei or Adamiy)||Адэмый [aːdaməj]||Included in the Kabardian tribe|
|Guaye (Goaye)||Гъоайе||Not found after the Caucasian War|
|Shegak (Khegaik)||Хэгъуайкъу||Not found after the Caucasian War|
|Chebsin (Čöbein)||ЦIопсынэ||Not found after the Caucasian War|
|Makhosh (Mequash) (Mokhosh)||Махошъ [məχʷaʃ]||A large clan, but not enough to be a separate tribe|
The Circassian tribes can be grouped and compared in various ways. The term "Circassian" sometimes includes the Abkhaz and Abaza people since they are originally related to the Adyghe. Linguists divide the Northwest Caucasian languages into Adyghe (including Kabardian), Ubykh (originally an Adyghe dialect), and Abazgi (Abkhaz-Abaza). The three language groups are mutually unintelligible. The Ubykhs lived on the Black Sea coast north of Abkhazia. The Abkhazians lived on the coast between the Ubyks and the Georgians, were organized as the Principality of Abkhazia and were involved with the Georgians to some degree. The 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 separated the Kabardians from the rest. Sadz were either northern Abkhazian or eastern Abaza, depending on the source. The Kabardians occupied about a third of the north Caucasus piedmont from east of 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.
As for the Circassians proper, apparently called Kiakhs, some writers speak of twelve tribes and some do not.
- The narrow Black Sea coast was occupied, from north to south by the Natukhai, Shapsug, Ubykh, and the Abkhaz (Sadz sub-branch). The main part of the Natukhai and Shapsug tribes lived 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, Abzakh, and Abaza. They seem to have been the most populous tribes after the Kabardians and their 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.
- On the east, between the Laba and Belaya, from north to south, were the Temirgoy, Yegeruqwai (ru:Егерукаевцы), Makhosh (ru:Махошевцы), Besleney and Abaza. The Besleney were a branch of the Kabardians. The Tapanta (ru:Тапанта), a branch of the Abaza, lived between the Besleney and Kabardian tribes on the upper Kuban. 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.
The tribes along the Kuban and Laba rivers were exposed to Nogai and Cossack raiding while those in the interior has some protection. The three "democratic" tribes were the Natukhai, Shapsug, and Abzakh. They managed their affairs by assemblies while the other tribes were controlled by "princes" or Pshi. Tribes with remnants in the Caucasus are: Kabardians (the largest group), the Temirgoy and Bzhedug in Adygea, and the Shapsug near Tuapse and elsewhere. There are also a few Besleney and Natukhai villages, and an Abzakh village.
Adyghe have lived outside the Caucasus region since the Middle Ages. They were particularly well represented in the Mamluks of Turkey and Egypt. In fact, the Burji dynasty which ruled Egypt from 1382 to 1517 was founded by Adyghe Mamluks.
Starting from the 16th and 17th century up to the course of the 19th century, a massive Circassian diaspora was created in Iran and Turkey due to deportation, importation, resettlement, and to a much lesser extent voluntary migration.
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.
The total number of Circassians worldwide is estimated at 8 million.
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).
Iran once had a very large community, but the vast amount were assimilated in the population in the course of centuries, however significant numbers remain present. Notable places of traditional Circassian settlement in Iran include Gilan Province, Fars Province, Isfahan, and Tehran (due to contemporary migration). Circassians in Iran are the nations' second largest Caucasus-derived ethnic group after the Georgians.
Egypt and Libya
Out of 1,010 Circassians living in Ukraine (473 Kabardian Adyghe (Kabardin), 338 Adygean Adyghe (Adyghe proper), and 199 Cherkessian Adyghe (Cherkess)—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 native language and 697 (69%) marked "other language" as their native and most likely the latter is Russian, though none openly declared it. The major Adyghe community in Ukraine is in Odessa.
There is a small community of Circassians in Serbia and Macedonia. A number of Adyghe also settled in Bulgaria in 1864–1865 but most fled after it became separate from the Ottoman Empire in 1878. The small community that settled in Kosovo (the Kosovo Adyghes) repatriated to the Republic of Adygea in 1998.
Sochi Olympics controversy
The 2014 Winter Olympics facilities in Sochi (once the Circassian capital) were built in areas that are 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 have requested that the construction at the site would stop and that the Olympic games would not be held at the site of the Adyghe genocide to prevent the desecration of the Adyghe graves. According to Iyad Youghar, who heads 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.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Circassians.|
- International Circassian Association.
- Britannica – "Circassian".
- Famous Circassians.
- Map of the diaspora.
- Justice for North Caucasus.
- The Cherkess Fund Organization.
- Circassian Education Foundation, USA.
- EuroXase (Federation of European Circassians), EU.
- NART TV (National Adyghe Radio & Television), Jordan.
- KAFSAM (Kafkasya Stratejik Araştırmalar Merkezi), Turkey.