See also: Chorni Klobuky
Адыгэ Adyge

Circassian children in traditional costume holding the Circassian flag
Total population
(c.4–8 million)
Regions with significant populations
 Turkey Estimated 1,000,000[1] – 2,000,000[2][3] – 3,000,000[4][5] – 5,000,000[2][6] to 7,000,000[7]

720,000 (2010 Census)[8]

 Jordan 65,000[10] – 180,000
 Syria 80,000[10][11][12] – 120,000[13]
 Germany 40,000[10][14]
 Iraq 34,000
 United States 9,000[10] – 25,000
 Saudi Arabia 23,000
 Egypt 12,000
 Israel 4,000[15][16] – 5,000[17]
 Serbia 2,800
 Iran ?
 Uzbekistan 1,600
 Ukraine 1,100
 Bulgaria 600 (1994 Census)[18]
 Netherlands 500[19]
(West Adyghe, Kabardian Adyghe, extinct Ubykh Adyghe dialects), also Turkish, Russian, English, Arabic, Hebrew, German, Persian
Predominantly Muslim
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[20] 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,[21] 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.[22] 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.[23] 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.[8]

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),[24] 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,[24] 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".[25][26]

The exonym Circassians (ser-KASS-ee-uhnz) is occasionally applied to Adyghe and Abaza from the North Caucasus.[27] 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.[27][28]

The Turkic peoples[29] and Russians call the Adyghe Cherkess.[30] 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,[31] Soviet authorities applied four designations to Circassians:



Tuman bay II (reigned 1516–1517) the last Mamluk sultan of Adyghe origins.

Genetically, the Adyghe have shared ancestry partially with neighboring peoples of the Caucasus, with some influence from the other regions.[35] 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.[36] Around the beginning of the 4th Millennium BCE, the North West Caucasus region and western Steppes became influenced by the Maykop culture.

An Adyghe kingdom was founded in about 400 BCE.[36]

Medieval period

As a result of Greek and Byzantine influence, Christianity spread throughout the Caucasus between the 3rd and 5th centuries CE.[37][38] 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).

Under pressure from the Khazars, Great Bulgaria declined quickly and collapsed, to be succeeded by the Khazar Khaganate.

The Adyghe, following the dissolution of the Khazar state, were integrated (around the end of the 1st millennium CE) by the Kingdom of Alania.

Between the 10th and 13th centuries Georgia had influence on the Adyghe, adopting Christianity.

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.[39] 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.[40] Even after the Ottoman Turks conquered Egypt in 1517, the Adyghes continued to rule in Egypt until the 18th century.

With the rise of Muhammad Ali Pasha (who ruled Egypt from 1805 to 1848), most senior Mamluks were killed and the remaining Mamluks fled to Sudan.

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.

Large numbers of Circassians converted to Islam from Christianity in the 17th century.[41]

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.[42] However, significant communities of Circassians continue to live in particular cities in Iran,[43] like Tabriz and Tehran, and in the northern provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran.[44][45]

It has been estimated that some 200,000 slaves—mainly Circassians—were imported into the Ottoman Empire between 1800 and 1909.[46] The Circassian beauties were desirable as concubines.[47]

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 [48]

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,[49] 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.[50][51][52] "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"[52] This expulsion, along with the actions of the Russian military in acquiring Circassian land,[53] has given rise to a movement among descendants of the expelled ethnicities for international recognition that genocide was perpetrated.[54] In 1840, Karl Friedrich Neumann estimated the Circassian casualties to be around one and a half million.[55] Some sources state that hundreds of thousands of others died during the exodus.[56] Several historians use the phrase "Circassian massacres"[57] for the consequences of Russian actions in the region.[58]

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.[59]

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.

Post-exile period

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:


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.


The Circassian dialects and sub-dialects development
The isolated Northwest Caucasian language family

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.[69][70][71][72]

Lesser numbers of Circassians speak German and Persian.

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 mosque of Abu Darwish (Adyghe descendant), one of the oldest mosques in Amman and considered as a major landmark.

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.[73] Subsequently, Christianity spread throughout the Caucasus between the 4th century[37] and the 6th century[38] 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.[74][75] 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.[76][77]

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,[78] the faith having been introduced to the area during the Middle Ages by Venetian and Genoese traders.

Adyghe Khabze

Habzist "hammer cross" symbol, representing the highest god Tha.[79]
Main article: Adyghe Habze

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.[80] 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.

Traditional clothing

Traditional Adyghe clothing

Traditional Adyghe clothing

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.

Traditional cuisine

An old country house and traditional cuisine with Haliva (Хьэлжъо) and Mataz (Мэтазэ), two of the prominent traditional Adyghe snacks.

The Adyghe cuisine is rich with different dishes.[81][82] 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.

Circassian cheese is considered one of the more famous types of cheeses in the North Caucasus.

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.[83]

Traditional crafts

The Adyghes have been famous for making carpets (Adyghe: пӏуаблэхэр [pʷʼaːblaxar]) or mats worldwide for thousands of years.

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 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 [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.[84]

Circassian tribes

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.[85]

Twelve Circassian (Adyghe) tribes (sub-ethnic groups)
Geographical designation Main dialect Tribe[86][87] Circassian name Notes
Adygeans (Adyghe of Adygea) West Adyghe Abzakh (Abdzakh or Abadzekh[86]) Абдзах [aːbd͡zaːx] Second largest Adyghe tribe in Turkey and the world, largest in Jordan, sixth largest in Russia
Bzhedug (Bzhedugh or Bzhedukh[86]) Бжъэдыгъу [bʐadəʁʷ] Third largest Adyghe tribe in Russia, lesser in other countries
Hatuqwai (Hatukay or Khatukai[86]) 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[86]) Натыхъуай [natəχʷaːj], Наткъуадж [natəχʷaːd͡ʒ] Completely expelled from the Caucasus after the Caucasian War
Temirgoy (Chemgui or Kemgui[86]) 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[86]) 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[88] 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[88] (Beslenei[86]) Беслъэней [basɬənəj]

Other Adyghe groups

Small tribes or large clans that are included in one of the twelve Adyghe tribes:

Name Circassian name Notes
Adele (Khatko) (Khetuk or Adali[86]) 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[86]) Хэгъуайкъу Not found after the Caucasian War
Chebsin (Čöbein[86]) ЦIопсынэ Not found after the Caucasian War
Makhosh (Mequash) (Mokhosh[86]) Махошъ [məχʷaʃ] A large clan, but not enough to be a separate tribe
Peoples of the Caucasus

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.

Approximate location of Circassian tribes, Tsutsiev's Atlas

As for the Circassians proper, apparently called Kiakhs, some writers speak of twelve tribes and some do not.

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.

Circassian diaspora

Main article: Circassian diaspora
Adyghe horsemanship in Transjordan, April 1921
Circassians immigration to Jordan formed a new part of Jordan's ethnic fabric. The guards responsible for the protection of the King of Jordan are Circassians. This picture shows a Circassian guard in Amman 1940 during a celebration commemorating the Great Arab Revolt.

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.

Western Asia

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).

Significant communities live in Jordan,[89] Syria (see Circassians in Syria),[89] and smaller communities live in Israel (in the villages of Kfar Kama and Rehaniya—see Circassians in Israel)[89]

Iran once had a very large community, but the vast amount were assimilated in the population in the course of centuries,[90][91][92] however significant numbers remain present.[43] Notable places of traditional Circassian settlement in Iran include Gilan Province, Fars Province,[93] Isfahan, and Tehran (due to contemporary migration). Circassians in Iran are the nations' second largest Caucasus-derived ethnic group after the Georgians.[43]

Circassians are also present in Iraq. Baghdad, Sulaymaniyah, and Diyala comprise the country's main cities with Circassians,[94] though lesser numbers are spread in other regions and cities as well.

Egypt and Libya

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

Most Circassian communities in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia were assimilated into the local population.[95] A prominent example is Egypt's Abaza family, a large Abazin clan.


There are Circassians in Germany and a small number in the Netherlands.

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.[96] 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.

North America

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)[97] 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.[98]

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."[97] 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.

See also


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